WESTERLY — A number of phone calls to state and local officials over the holidays have had less to do with the spirit of the season and more to do with Taylor Swift’s seawall in Watch Hill.
Instead of Christmas greetings, callers to Westerly’s building officials and Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Management Council have wanted to know what is going on along the hillside in front of Swift’s house, which borders a public right of way to East Beach and the ocean.
The project first surfaced on Facebook in November after surfers and beach walkers noticed work under way at Swift’s 5.23-acre property on Bluff Avenue. The latest wave of concern may be coming from surfing blogs and social media, where new photos of heavy machinery at the site have gone viral.
The $2 million project involves resetting and replacing boulders at the bottom of the hill and repairing the seawall damaged during Superstorm Sandy.
The CRMC has been “vigilant” with its oversight of the project, especially considering the high visibility of the location and the property owner, according to Laura Dwyer, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.
“They are doing just what they said they would be doing,” Dwyer said Monday. Swift’s on-site engineer is responsible for making sure the project remains in compliance, she said.
None of the topographical changes should affect wave action or the quality of surfing off East Beach, she said.
Westerly Town Manager Michelle Buck said Monday that she and her staff, including Town Building Inspector David Murphy, made certain that everything regarding the project was being done properly from the start.
“It is all within the jurisdiction of the CRMC,” Buck said.
The project does not need permits from the Town of Westerly, according to Amy Grzybowski, Westerly’s director of planning, code enforcement and grant administration.
The only thing that has changed since November is the progress of the project. Thomas Liguori Jr., house counsel for Cherenzia Companies, the firm doing the work on Swift’s property, said that 20 percent to 25 percent of the work has been completed.
On Nov. 7, the CRMC approved applications submitted by the Nashville-based Harbor Land Revocable Trust, the official owner of the Swift property. Permitted activities include repairing the existing riprap, replacing undersized boulders with larger ones, resetting the boulders, repairing the concrete seawall and installing a temporary access road and staging areas.
“The majority of the work proposed ... is related to the repair and replacement of the existing armor stone slope,” the application states. “Versions of this work have been done previously, with limited access. The current proposal seeks to provide a more permanent solution to the problem.”
“They’re resetting and restacking,” Dwyer said. “They are not trucking in new rocks. They are repairing and replacing.”
“Historically, the large boulders were much farther out in the water,” she said. “We’ve had them move them closer ... more inland ... they are not as far out into the water.”
A letter submitted on behalf of Edward F. Sanderson, executive director of the state’s Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, and part of CRMC records, said the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission staff had reviewed the application, and determined the project “will have no adverse effect on the Watch Hill Historic District, nor will it affect any other significant cultural resources.”
“Therefore, we have no objections to this project,” the letter said.
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