Rhode Island's Ruggles Threatened

Luke Simpson

No one is questioning the importance of the Cliff Walk to Newport's tourism economy but the proposed jetties would wreck that natural resource just beyond it.

On Easter Sunday what appeared to be a clever April Fools prank on or by East Coast legend Sid Abruzzi started making the rounds via social media. The posts were titled: "Ruggles under siege" and mentioned plans to repair the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy to Newport's famous cliff walk. The timing was suspect and the details of the project, including two new jetties in the middle of the Ruggles surf zone seemed ludicrous. At the time it was easy to dismiss as nonsense and click back to the Bells webcast to watch to the Brazilians crush your fantasy surf team.

By Monday morning, it became clear that the construction project was not a prank and that anyone who enjoys surfing Ruggles should be very worried. A document including the actual construction plans was now making the online rounds. In a classic case of truth being stranger than fiction, there were plans for a pair of 200-foot jetties extending out into the channels of the main surf breaks at Ruggles. The jetties, or "causeways," are intended to be "temporary structures" for heavy equipment to use to install "armor stone" along the shoreline in an effort to build a better, stronger cliff walk.

Saving Ruggles

The cliff walk is one of Rhode Island's main tourist attractions and a huge economic draw for the city of Newport. There is no debate that having the cliff walk back together for tourist season would be a good thing. What has the surfing community concerned is the impact the construction will have on the breaks. With work scheduled to last through hurricane season, how will the temporary causeways hold up through a triple overhead swell? Were alternatives that did not include building "roads" through one of the most famous waves on the East Coast even considered?

At this point there are more questions than answers, but the Newport surfing community is well organized, several generations deep and fired up to protect their spot. Abruzzi, a legendary surfer/skater since the '60s and owner of Water Brothers, has been busy rallying support and Clean Ocean Access, a grassroots environmental organization founded by Newport surfers has already organized an online petition to demonstrate support for repair alternatives that do not impact the natural environment or surf breaks. If you live in the area, you can also attend the city council meeting at Newport Town Hall on April 10th at 6:30 p.m. to voice your support for alternative repair solutions.

Robert Power, chairman of the Newport Cliff Walk Commission has stated about the repair project: "Hurricane Sandy has almost given us an opportunity to make it a better experience for everybody." While it is clear that Mr. Power's "everybody" does not include surfers, if he is in attendance at next Wednesday's meeting, he is certain to meet a lot of them.

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