Press Release By Stuart Ross, President of the Friends of Dumplings Cove. It was received on October 29.
Last night, by a 4-2 vote, with four council members absent, the state of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) acted to approve a long-standing and twice-revised application submitted by the Safe Harbor Jamestown Boat Yard (SH/JBY). The plan calls to add 448 square feet of floating dockage to three existing piers, and to dredge up to 2000 cubic yards of sediment from the sea bottom right up to the boundary of their marina perimeter limit (MPL) in historic Dumplings Cove in Narragansett Bay, considered one of the most iconic and sublime viewscapes in all of Rhode Island.
The decision followed two long and sometimes contentious virtual public hearings on October 20 and 27 where proponents and opponents of the SH/JBY proposal presented numerous experts to testify on the merits of the plan. Twenty-six concerned residents of Jamestown all spoke forcefully against the proposal, specifically citing concerns about navigational safety, environmental degradation, recreational safety and historic viewshed loss as powerful arguments.
The 26 Jamestown opponents of the application represented a larger group of over 550 residents who signed a petition this summer against the SH/JBY proposal. During both nights of hearings, over 150 petition signers filled CRMC’s Zoom platform in support of the testifiers against the proposal, with 170 on the second night. The petition and testimonies were organized by a new RI nonprofit corporation, Friends of Dumplings Cove (FoDC), that worked to oppose the application.
“We are truly disappointed that a minority of members of CRMC chose to place a higher value on a narrow, contested staff report to approve dredging of thousands of cubic yards of sediment and expanding the dock by hundreds of square feet in Dumplings Cove, ahead of the rights of many thousands of Rhode Island citizens who use the Cove for recreational and contemplative purposes,” said Stuart Ross, President of the Friends of Dumplings Cove. “The Council’s decision potentially puts those Rhode Islanders at greater risk in an already overcrowded and dangerous waterway.”
Of particular concern to the opposition was that Dumplings Cove is already overcrowded with large boats and an expanding mooring field, that have impeded its use for light, environmentally sustainable recreation on Narragansett Bay. Adding the dock extensions and dredged, deeper waters to attract and service larger boats will make Dumplings Cove even more dangerous than it already is.
In addition, many of the 26 Jamestown testifiers pointed to misstatements by SH/JBY management regarding the true nature of its proposal. For example, SH/JBY claimed that dredging and longer docks would only be to service current boats in the SH/JBY fleet. But, only two of JBY’s 66 boats catalogued last year with the Jamestown Harbor Master might need that expansion. The real business would more likely come from larger, transient boats, further adding to congestion in the Cove.
Several of the testifiers made the simple suggestion that all larger, deeper draft boats could easily be serviced at nearby Safe Harbor New England Boat Works in Portsmouth, which is also an authorized Nautor Swan service facility. That way no expansion would be needed at the much smaller SH/JBY. This idea, however, was not seriously discussed in the CRMC deliberations that followed the hearing.
The decision by CRMC caps a tumultuous 18 months for Jamestown Boatyard, which originally submitted a proposal in June 2019 to build hundreds of feet of new docks and dredge many thousands of cubic yards of sediment well beyond the marina perimeter limit (MPL) and into endangered eelgrass beds. That proposal was withdrawn due to strong environmental concerns and potential MPL violations. A new, reduced proposal was submitted in November 2019 and then again revised to the current form in February 2020. However, that version was disapproved by the Jamestown Conservation Commission in February and the Jamestown Town Council concurred with the JCC finding.
During this period, JBY was sold in January 2020 to Safe Harbors Marinas, a privately held real estate partnership based in Dallas that currently owns over 100 marinas across the country, including nine in Rhode Island. Then in September 2020, Safe Harbor itself was sold for $2.11 billion to a publicly-traded real estate investment trust (REIT) called Sun Communities, based in Southfield, MI, which specializes in “manufactured housing” and RV trailer parks across the country. The sale is expected to close by the end of the year.
“What used to be a family-owned boatyard that has co-existed peacefully with its neighbors in Dumplings Cove for generations is now simply a real estate asset owned by a distant corporation. So, we invite Sun principals to soon visit us in Jamestown to understand its extraordinary natural beauty, ideal boating and swimming waters and unique small-town charm,” said Ross.
Given that dredging can only take place in Narragansett Bay from October to January, Ross stated: “Now that we’re in ‘dredging season,’ we will look at all immediate options to prevent it from taking place, because once you dredge, you can’t un-dredge the sea bottom.”
But the Friends’ purview won’t begin and end in the Cove. “We recognize threats to Dumplings Cove and other areas of Conanicut Island’s coastline are ongoing,” said Ross. “Our organization will continue to be vigilant in monitoring and tackling irresponsible behavior and development that jeopardizes the environmental, recreational and scenic values of this spectacular corner of Narragansett Bay that we call home.”
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The mission of the Friends of Dumplings Cove is to protect for future generations the environmental, scenic, historic and recreational values of one of the most iconic harbors in Narragansett Bay, while working to promote public safety in this highly popular and actively used cove. We will use the experience gained from our work in Dumplings Cove to look for opportunities to safeguard these same values around all of Conanicut Island’s coastline. For more information and to support our work, please contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.