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April 18, 2013

RUGGLES SAVED

Inspiring cooperation between the City of Newport, DOT, CRMC, and passionate surfers halts destructive plans

By Matt Pruett
Less than two weeks after we first learned of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s plans via a Coastal Resources Management Council application to repair Newport’s famed Cliff Walk post-Sandy with expeditious construction that would ultimately destroy the most iconic surfbreak in all of New England — victory belongs to Ruggles. Or more astutely, Ruggles’ guardian angels.
After talking to Surfline and rallying fervent support from the global surfing community, Newport surf/skate godfather and Water Brothers owner Sid Abruzzi led local knights, many of whom proudly clothed in “SAVE RUGGLES” t-shirts, to a Newport City Council meeting this week.

“That meeting was packed, and a majority of the people were behind us,” said Sid. “The City didn’t have any real power to shut anything down, but just having them on our side made the DOT pay more attention to us as more than a bunch of surfers getting a yell out. That was a major factor. City Councilmen Mike Farley wrote up a resolution, which the mayor supported. He said never in Newport City Council history has he seen a more polite and knowledgeable crowd in attendance with such opposition in front of them. Everyone was well behaved, and we left there with a good feeling.”
But it wasn’t until 1pm yesterday that Sid and crew became aware that their fight to save Ruggles was won. A few minutes before the RIDOT meeting, Director Michael Lewis approached Sid and revealed, as chance would have it, that he himself had some personal interest vested.

“He basically took me aside before the meeting and told me, ‘Listen, Sid, we’re not gonna go through with this plan. We’re open for suggestions on how to get around this, but there’s not gonna be any jetties and we’re gonna discuss minimal armor stone. My son actually goes to the University of California at Santa Cruz. He’s a surfer. I just got back from Hawaii myself.’ This is the head of the RIDOT we’re talking about. The main guy. The one at the middle of the front of the table! He and his assistant, Peter Healey, both those guys were right on the money.”

The meeting began with an “Away Team” engineer explaining the original plan configuration. He showed charts, jetty blueprints, slides of the damaged Cliff Walk, holes in the wall, all that stuff… Sid’s camp responded with a more logical argument that got the ball rolling as more and more scientifically sound suggestions strengthened their case.

“Drew Carey, a marine biologist, gave an excellent presentation,” Sid added. “He came with extensive charts and photographs of the natural coastline of the area in question, showed the marine life and the tidal pools, and offered other possible ways to amend the problem. As far as enlightening everyone from RIDOT, it was all really about Drew’s presentation.

“The final home run came from Scott Wheeler, the Newport City Manager who does most of the work on the Cliff Walk. Scott presented a plan that had all the engineers from RIDOT and CRMC right there paying attention. That guy was awesome! Brian Burns, a great local surfer who did all his homework, was another huge contributor. Brian, Drew and Scott represented ulterior plans with such good case studies, we left knowing that Plan A [large, armor stone break wall spanning 20-feet at some points from the Cliff Walk to the mean high water line; and two temporary causeways 200-feet out and 40-feet across erected smack-dab in the channels of the Ruggles lineup] will NEVER happen. All in all, a pretty victorious day. Now we’re waiting to hear about Plan B next week, but that doesn’t look like it will raise nearly as much concern as what we just went through.”

But the meeting didn’t conclude without its share of heat. Or condescendence.

“A major protest was launched by Bob Power of the Cliff Walk Commission,” Sid said. “He saw the opportunity to get $8 million in federal money and just armor stone the entire cliff so he wouldn’t have to worry about anything anymore. This guy actually commented, ‘Well, until this surfer thing came along…’ That really caught me, the way he worded that, but he was just in the background because the majority of the people were showing valid plans in respect to the ecology, the proper way to fix things, how the money could be better spent…He was just screaming for his own concerns, emphasizing that this has gotta be done right away and the money’s not gonna be around…Once I heard him say that, though, ‘this surfer thing,’ I said, ‘You know, I’m really glad this surfer thing did come along.’ Because this issue really rallied the global surf community behind us, and the media. This plan was already well in motion, and we stopped it.”

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