Should the Scotch Beach access road be changed?
Although it was only the second-ever meeting of the Sea Level Rise Committee, the members were asked to commit to a plan from town planner Allison Ring to apply for an “Action Grant” from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank to enhance “resiliency” on the island.
Ring told the group that funding had just been released and that applications for the grants were due in February. Funding amounts were expected to be, on average $250,000, and that she had a couple of potential projects in mind. Final approval of the grant application will need to come from the Town Council upon the advice of the SLR Committee.
Some members of the committee seemed a bit taken aback, as they understand their mission is to explore and make recommendations themselves. But Ring referenced the town’s 2017 Hazard Mitigation Plan and the “Corn Neck Road Study” that both incorporate lessons learned from the damage done by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
During that late-October storm, the raging ocean swept through dunes on Corn Neck Road, particularly at Scotch Beach where waves ripped through the access roadway to the beach and then dumped sand and debris onto Corn Neck Road.
The erosion from Sandy inspired a research project by Professor of Environmental Geoscience Bryan Oakley of Eastern Connecticut University to study and document changes to the dunes on Block Island over time. (The study continues to this day with the assistance of “citizen scientists” who regularly go out and measure the dunes, some of whom are on the SLR Committee, including Chair Judy Gray.)
In October 2015, at an on-island presentation by the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council and the R.I. Sea Grant on “Adaptation Planning for Coastal Hazards,” Oakley suggested a seemingly simple fix for Scotch Beach. Instead of the access road being perpendicular to the beach and road, the end could be angled, or “meander” so that the storm surge wouldn’t funnel its way directly to the road. It seemed like a simple idea, and easily doable, but it still hasn’t been done.
Ring said that for the RIIB Action Grants, “nature-based projects are a plus,” and at Scotch Beach, the roadway could be curved, with some additional dune plantings added to the north. She added that she would like some more local input on if she should apply.
Gray asked “What kind of public outreach” could be done as the proposed project would impact a lot of people. “It seems like a project that needs at least one public meeting.”
Ring said the project had been included in the Corn Neck Road Transportation Study that was done in 2018, and in it “there is a small conceptual sketch.”
“Should there be a broader discussion” of the Scotch Beach road?” asked member Nigel Grindley, who also performs beach profiling with Oakley.
Member Tadgh O’Neill suggested talking to the fire and rescue departments about changes to the roadway.
(Gray told The Block Island Times after the meeting that there were some people, especially those wanting vehicular access to the beach, who were against the idea of a “meandering” roadway to Scotch Beach.)
Vice Chair Clair Stover-Comings said she wanted to “back this up a bit,” and that it was too bad the Sea Level Rise Committee wasn’t in existence earlier. She did however attend a workshop in September given by the RI Infrastructure Bank on the topic of resiliency. “I’m not saying ‘don’t go for this’” but are there other opportunities for funding?
Ring said she though the town would be eligible again next year for additional grants. “I don’t want the community to miss out,” adding that she thought the project had a good “likelihood of getting funding. It’s for shovel-ready projects.”
Some on the committee wondered whether there were more pressing projects they should be applying for.
“Even if it’s number 15 on our list of priorities, we’re still going to apply,” said Gray.
Still, concerned about the lack of public input, Gray called for another meeting as soon as possible, so the general public could weigh in on the Scotch Beach proposal before it goes to the Town Council. That meeting has been scheduled for Wed., January 4, at 3 p.m.