Options for a changing beach & popular overlook

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When boulders suddenly blocked a sandy, rutted stretch of beachfront on Brush Neck Cove from parking earlier this year, locals sounded the alarm. Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis got phone calls, and just as quickly as the stones appeared they were removed by the Department of Public Works.

That’s a relief to Bob Brown, a self-appointed caretaker for the stretch that offers flats to quahoggers at low tide, shallow wading and sunset vistas of Greenwich Bay. Here, the remnants of foundations to homes lost in hurricanes poke through the beach grasses and, like broken fingers, concrete jetties are reminders of what was once here. The location has its faithful, like Barbara Angel and Bobby Mandarelli of Johnston, who have been visitors for years.

They applaud Brown for picking up trash, raking the beach and filling the potholes in the stretch that serves as parking and a connection between Suburban Parkway and Strand Avenue treacherous. On Monday they got out the deck chairs, enjoyed the sea breeze and poked around on the flats for quahogs and whelk.

They were parked at a wooden guardrail that Brown cleared of growth and delineates where the parking stops and the beach begins. Some posts are exposed by erosion, and it’s evident that in the next big storm they could be gone. Even without a storm, rising sea levels are nibbling at the parking lot. The city planning department has drafted three possible proposals for the area, taking into account measures to maintain access to the beach while reducing impact and preserving the area for as long as possible.

Lucas Murray of the planning department outlined the proposals to about 30 people last Thursday at a meeting of the Oakland Beach Association at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Warwick. Also in attendance was Wenley Ferguson, Save The Bay’s director of habitat restoration. The association will meet again a week from this Thursday at 7 p.m. at the club to further review how best to address the changes occurring.

In a telephone call Wednesday, Ferguson said concerns over erosion and flooding of the area has been talked about for the past seven years. She said various concepts to be implemented in steps had been discussed and that she is actively reviewing possible funding alternatives.

“It is great to work with Luke [Murray] and put them [different concepts] onto paper,” she said. She applauded Murray for soliciting input on each of the plans.

“Everyone who wanted to be heard was heard,” she said.

Yet the permanence of any change is questionable.

“You can’t beat nature. If nature wants to take it, nature will take it,” says Murray.

Murray’s proposals fall in the range of minor, moderate and intensive changes. The intensive plan would bring back the boulders, closing the beach frontage to parking and creating parking areas at the end of Strand and in front of the sewer pumping station on Sea View Drive.

The complete closure of the parking and cutthrough between Suburban and Strand was the least favored proposal, Travis said Tuesday. She would like to see greater enforcement of regulations, pointing out that she found people with open fire grills over the weekend.

“Something has to be done; people aren’t paying attention to the signs,” she said. Travis notes people don’t want to lose the area, yet if nothing is done, “eventually, there’s going to be problems.” Travis prefers the moderate plan that would close vehicular access from Strand and keep some parking off Suburban. She would also like to see increased vegetation to combat erosion from storms and rising waters.

“We want input from all the neighborhood,” she said, urging people to attend the Aug. 8 meeting.

Brown realizes he must tread carefully when looking to enhance the location. He’s been warned that even filling parking lot potholes requires a permit from the Coastal Resources Management Council. He could face fines for his efforts to maintain and beautify the location.

His immediate concern is a section of battered jetty that is precariously balanced on a couple of sections of rusted rebar. He fears it could topple and injure someone. Brown is suspicious. He feels the effort to stabilize the area cloaks the intent to reduce its use to the benefit of those who bought nearby houses and “don’t want anyone else to come down there.”

Whether any changes beyond those on the planning sheets happen will depend on funding. Work being suggested could be in the range of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. The project might be eligible for state Green Bond funds that conceivably could be matched with Community Development Block Grant funds. There won’t be any funding requests until a course of action is decided.

Meanwhile, Brown is out there every day keeping this corner of Oakland Beach the way people love it.

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