Protecting the dunes a priority

Fri, 06/22/2018 - 9:15am
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The persistent habit of cyclists parking their bikes next to the Crescent Beach walkovers – instead of using the bike racks across Corn Neck Road from the beach – and walking over the dunes has led to the Town Council agreeing to discuss adopting an ordinance that, potentially, could fine people trespassing on the fragile ridges of sand and grass.

At Councilor Sven Risom’s request, the Council added an item — at the end of a long, mostly routine list on their June 20 agenda — to begin a discussion of “dune protection”. The core of his idea is to specifically prohibit walking over sand dunes to reach the beach, or parking any “wheeled vehicles” at the dunes, with a $50.00 fine for violations.

Risom proposed that the ordinance would initially apply only to a  “well-signed” stretch of Crescent Beach between the cut opposite the Beachead Restaurant to Beach Avenue.

He added that he had spoken to Town Manager Ed Roberge and Police Chief Vin Carlone about his idea. The Chief said that “as long as the fine is $50,” he would support it, Risom reported.

Having an ordinance “empowers the police, even the State Police, to actually enforce” measures to protect the fragile dunes, Risom said.

The response from the other Councilors and a few remaining audience members was positive, focusing on how to get the message across to residents and visitors.

“Having an ordinance is great, the enforcement is a problem, as it is with any new ordinance,” Councilor Chris Willi said; it will take “more than just signs.” He urged that a public information campaign targeting visitors be used, as has been done with the new Town ordinances banning balloons and single-use plastic bags from the island.

“A lot of our visitors don’t know” how fragile sand dunes are, Willi said. “How many of our visitors have dunes in their neighborhoods?” He suggested providing information to “a captive audience on the ferry.”

“I think both” signs and a campaign are a good idea,” Risom said.

First Warden Ken Lacoste would go further. “If we do adopt an ordinance, let’s have someone out from [Providence local news] Channel 10. That would go a long way.”

Bill McCombe, Director of Security for ferry operator Interstate Navigation, who was in the audience, endorsed “a three-prong approach” of “signs, enforcement and public education.”

Town Solicitor Kathy Merolla pointed out that Section 314 of the Zoning Ordinance already prohibits  “breaching or other disturbance of dunes or dune vegetation, no clear cutting of existing vegetation or alteration of wildlife habitats” in the Coastal Zone, which includes Crescent Beach and other “environmentally vulnerable coastal bluffs, dunes, and wetlands”.  She added that a new “dune protection” ordinance could also refer to the penalties in the General Ordinances.

Risom thanked Merolla for her input, but reiterated, “I’d like to add some teeth.”

From the audience, former First Warden Kim Gaffett agreed with Willi that public education is needed. She said that the RI Department of Environmental Management has some “informative” signs about the fragility of the beach and the role of beach grass in stabilizing it.

Gaffett relayed another idea to the Council. She had recommended to Town Facilities Manager Sam Bird that when sand is cleared from the beach pavilion parking lot, beach roses be taken also, and transplanted on either side of the dune walkovers to further discourage walkers and cyclists from crossing or parking there.

The plants would send the message, “Move on, don’t walk here.”

Lacoste closed the discussion, saying the Council would take the matter under advisement and add it to a future agenda for further discussion.