Should the access road to Scotch Beach be changed?

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Although this is only the sea level rise committee’s second meeting, members have been asked to engage in a plan by city planner Allison Ring to apply for a ‘Grant of action” of the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank in order to improve “resilience” on the Island.

Ring told the group that funding had just been released and grant applications were due in February. Funding amounts were expected to average $250,000 and she had a few potential projects in mind. Final approval of the grant application will need to come from City Council on the advice of the SLR Committee.
Some committee members seemed a little surprised, as they understand that their mission is to explore and make recommendations themselves. But Ring referenced the city’s 2017 Risk Mitigation Plan and “Corn Neck Road Study,” both of which incorporate lessons learned from damage from Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

During this late October storm, the raging ocean swept over the dunes on Corn Neck Road, particularly at Scotch Beach where waves tore up the beach access road and then dumped sand and debris on Corn Neck Road.

Sandy’s erosion inspired a research project by Eastern Connecticut University environmental geoscience professor Bryan Oakley to study and document changes to Block Island’s dunes over time. (The study continues to this day with the help of “citizen scientists” who regularly go out and measure the dunes, some of whom are on the SLR committee, including chairwoman Judy Gray.)

In October 2015, during an on-island presentation by the RI Coastal Resources Management Council and RI Sea Grant on “Coastal Hazard Adaptation Planning”, Oakley suggested a seemingly simple solution for Scotch Beach. Instead of the access road running perpendicular to the beach and the road, the end could be sloped or “meandering” so that the storm surge does not head straight for the road. It seemed like a simple and easily doable idea, but it still hasn’t been done.
Ring said that for RIIB action grants, “nature-based projects are a plus”, and at Scotch Beach the causeway could be curved, with some additional dune planting added to the north. She added that she would like more local feedback on whether she should apply.

Gray asked “What kind of public outreach” could be done as the proposed project would impact a lot of people. “It looks like a project that requires at least a public meeting.”

Ring said the project was included in the Corn Neck Road Transportation Study that was done in 2018, and in that “there’s a little concept sketch.”
“Should there be a broader discussion ‘on the road to Scotch Beach?'” asked member Nigel Grindley, who also does beach profiling with Oakley.
Member Tadgh O’Neill suggested talking to the fire and rescue services about the pavement changes.
(Gray said Block Island time after the meeting that there were people, especially those who wanted vehicular access to the beach, who were against the idea of ​​a “winding” road to Scotch Beach.)
Vice President Clair Stover-Comings said she wanted to “buttress a bit” and said it was a shame the sea level rise committee hadn’t existed sooner. However, in September she attended a workshop given by the RI Infrastructure Bank on the theme of resilience. “I’m not saying ‘don’t go'”, but are there other funding opportunities?

Ring said it believes the city will 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 chance of getting funding.” This is for ready-to-use projects.

Some committee members wondered if there were more pressing projects they should apply for.
“Even though it’s number 15 on our priority list, we’re still going to apply,” Gray said.

Still, concerned about the lack of public participation, Gray called another meeting as soon as possible, so that the general public could weigh in on Scotch Beach’s proposal before it went to city council. This meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, January 4 at 3 p.m.

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