Ocean Mist owner prepares to rebuild parts of seawall

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – Hurricane Jose brought a potential test for the new seawall near East Matunuck Beach, built to protect an iconic South County Village.

Even a smaller storm is a reminder of the 10-year fight involving the Ocean Mist that seems to finally be coming to an end.

Superstorm Sandy sent large boulders onto Matunuck Beach Road that ate away at more of the asphalt and swept sand from an eroding strip of beach.

But Jose was not quite powerful enough to even breach the dilapidated, 50-year-old rock seawall. So it was not a true test for the steel-and-concrete structure, completed within the past year with about $1.5 million in taxpayer money.

Ocean Mist owner Kevin Finnegan battled South Kingstown for years over where and how the wall would be built, but the two sides did agree on one thing. “You want to protect the road first and foremost,” he said.

Two lanes of traffic are the only way in and out for 240 homes, and there’s also a water line that serves 1,600 people under the road.

While Finnegan and his engineers disagreed with where and how the new wall was built, he said he is now moving forward with spending $2.5 million of his own money to rebuild 600 feet of the old wall.

He said he’ll spend millions more in a second phase to build another structure that’ll extend the protection from the sea in front of, and beyond, the Ocean Mist.

“It makes sense to us business-wise. And it’s kind of, restore what you have,” he said. “If global warming happens, either wall is going to be irrelevant.”

He said the walls might also be irrelevant if an actual hurricane hits the Rhode Island coast as hard as storms have in the past.

But hearing that his livelihood is doomed isn’t new.

“The first year I bought it, people said, ‘You’ve got a year or three left.’ And that was 31 years ago,” he said.

The final stage of the project will involve actually picking up the Ocean Mist and putting it on new, steel pilings.