Letter: What is to become of South Shore Beach?

Posted 6/5/24

I was startled that the page-one display story in the May 30th 2024 Sakonnet Times was not the news that for the first Memorial Day in memory, there was no sand beach at Little Compton’s …

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Letter: What is to become of South Shore Beach?


I was startled that the page-one display story in the May 30th 2024 Sakonnet Times was not the news that for the first Memorial Day in memory, there was no sand beach at Little Compton’s South Shore Town Beach.

The lack of sandy beach as South Shore’s main attraction was the product either of climate-changed nature or our adherence to what-worked-in-the-past management, or both. Whichever, this town beach challenge will likely lead to ongoing damage or even potential loss of this Little Compton institution.

It is time to start planning for this new future now. For, at this writing, there have been several significant storms since Memorial Day. Yet the sandy beach that visitors have relied on for generations has only been replenished scantily and spottily — even at lowest tide.

The argument for these issues being at least in part a product of climate-changed nature is serious. We speak as a family that has enjoyed and monitored Town Beach for 70 years — including Hurricane Carol — from our place on the nearby cliff shore at Ocean Drive. We and our neighbors have experienced consequential winter ocean-storm damage to our rock beaches and cliffs for two years in a row. Unprecedented in living memory in non-hurricane years. These are from the same waves that serve Town Beach. The times they are a-changin'.

If nature continues on this course, the winter waves crashing over the parking lot may not just smother it with rocks making it impassable for ordinary vehicles — as has been repeatedly the case now. What happens when, in addition, those impressive waves cause a channel breakthrough across the parking lot with the ocean flowing into Tunipus Pond? Fixing that will be expensive. Not to mention what it will do to the ecology. However we respond to that, how hard is it for us to imagine the year when we give up fighting the ocean there?  Will the shore of Tunipus become part of our new ocean Town Beach? If so, is it time to start thinking about a future when that new — previously Tunipus — shoreline becomes what we need for the new outline of our Town Beach? Making that land town property will not be trivial.

Our current business-as-usual management is apparently based on our financially driven parking-lot maximization. Town Beach mobilized a startling amount of heavy equipment in May to move new fill toward the ocean. This augmentation yields the result we now see, in which nature has not effectively replenished our sand yet — and maybe will not. This is an important financial issue. How much parking will we need if there is little sand at Town Beach in the future? The number of vehicles on Memorial Day weekend and since may answer the question. Attendance was and continues to be in decline. Left are those who like to watch the water from the comfort of their cars. Or who are willing to traverse themselves and their children and accoutrements across the extensive and loose expanse of rocks on foot to Goosewing. (Goosewing has its own challenges). Compare that to the rock-movement management of nearby private-sector Briggs Beach which has retained plenty of sand. The waters around us have grown.

Is a Town Beach Futures Commission in order? Now?

After all — speaking of financial issues — this future could clearly affect the town’s tax base – dependent as it is on assessed property values. If the value of the Town Beach experience declines, should we be thinking about the day when the value of every place advertised in part as being near Town Beach may also become less? If so, tax rates will have to go up, or services cut.

Let’s not in the future be like the editors of newspapers who failed to anticipate how catastrophic the competition from the Internet might be. Only to say — as they exited — “Who would have guessed all this could happen in only 15 years?”

Joel Garreau

Little Compton

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.