Published on August 27th, 2015 | by Ocean Mist0
Providence Journal Editorial by Kevin Finnegan
In 1988, I purchased the Ocean Mist in Matunuck as a young, eager entrepreneur. Although I knew the day might come when the ultimate storm could destroy the iconic building, I never imagined it would be bureaucracy, government and politics that could actually cause the demise of the Ocean Mist.
The Ocean Mist is a robust business that serves as the economic engine for the village of Matunuck. The restaurant employs 100 people, and generates millions of dollars to the Rhode Island economy, through local vendors providing produce, liquor and food-service items and taxes.
More than 300 local regional and national bands per year come from all over the United States to play at the Ocean Mist. Hundreds of thousands of vacationers and day-trippers are served an average of 3,000 meals weekly. It is not unusual to find an elderly couple enjoying lunch next to a group of 6-year-olds celebrating a birthday, while bikers enjoy a beer on the sunny deck. The clientele is eclectic — every walk of life, income level, young, old and in between. Many have been coming to Matunuck, which is part of South Kingstown, for generations.
For years, an impasse has existed between the town of South Kingstown and the community that relies on Matunuck for work, fun and a sweet place to live. Each party agrees that, for the purpose of public safety, Matunuck Beach Road must be protected from the ocean and the effects of beach erosion. The conflict resides in how best to protect the road.
If the town of South Kingstown has its way, all of the jobs, the taxes, the economic infusion and traditions will soon be but a memory. South Kingstown intends to install a steel wall at the curbside immediately to the right of the Ocean Mist. The town’s plan acknowledges the detrimental impact the wall will have on the Ocean Mist. Experts agree there are alternatives and that the proposed steel wall will not be effective.
The alternative, supported by the community, is to repair the existing rock wall, a structure that has been protecting the road since it was constructed in the early 1950s. The existing stone seawall is ineffective because it hasn’t been maintained. I have submitted written plans to the town by reputable engineering firms to repair the wall. I have made clear that I would save taxpayers the expense and bear the financial burden of nearly $2 million personally.
One needs only to walk along Matunuck Beach Road to realize that as recently as one month ago, the town has been repairing sea walls with one-, two- and three-ton stones piled in the traditional way. Farther down the coast, the town of Westerly has permitted the reconstruction of pop star Taylor Swift’s seawall. I am not being given the same option, despite my willingness to save the taxpayers a massive sum by using personal funds to repair the wall.
For a government insisting to voters that its priority is jobs and an improved economy, this doesn’t make any sense. The economic impact of a closed Ocean Mist is massive for the town and for the state, not to mention the 100 employees whose livelihoods depend on the iconic institution. (The town’s wall will also imperil Tara’s Tipperary Tavern, the jobs there and the economic contribution of another Matunuck institution.)
The building has withstood the test of time, and Mother Nature’s fury. It survived hurricanes Sandy and Gloria and countless coastal storms and Nor’easters. It will be tragic if the town proceeds with its ill-fated plan and allows the Ocean Mist to drift out to sea. Let’s work together to make sure that doesn’t happen. Go to www.protectmatunuck.com for more information.
Kevin Finnegan is the owner of the Ocean Mist in Matunuck, and a member of Protect Matunuck, a group of concerned business owners and community members working to influence government to protect the village.