‘We call this a catastrophic event’: Collapsed section of Newport Cliff Walk was not an ‘area of ​​concern’, city says

“We call this a ‘catastrophic event,'” Tom Shevlin, a spokesman for the city of Newport, said in a Friday afternoon call. “It was a beautiful day and there was no storm. But Mother Nature is a truly fierce adversary when it comes to caring for these coastal features.

“Over the next few weeks we will learn more about what happened in this very small but important part of the march,” he said.

A view of part of the 20ft piece of Newport’s beloved Cliff Walk broke off and plunged to the depths of the ocean on Thursday, which is a major landslide and partial collapse nearby between 40 Steps and Webster Avenue.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The boardwalk is a public road that winds through private property, and different sections are owned by different people or entities. Shevlin said the city takes care of day-to-day maintenance and regularly makes necessary repairs to the boardwalk, as do private owners.

“I wish it was as simple as saying that it’s agency A or agency B that owns Cliff Walk. But because of its long and important history, it’s more complicated,” said he declared.

When asked if having multiple owners made it harder to keep going, Shevlin replied, “On the contrary. This makes it easier to get more funds.

“There have been a number of real estate transactions in the area over the past 18 months. There are a lot of private works and improvements going on. And it seems like all the owners want to help out and preserve the boardwalk,” Shevlin said.

Meeting minutes released by the Newport Cliff Walk Commission show that wealthy private landowners and the nearby Salve Regina University, which owns properties along the Cliff Walk, helped fill cracks and carry out repairs.

The trail last received a major assessment in 2014 after Super Storm Sandy caused extensive damage along the trail. “It was devastating through and through,” Shevlin said.

These repairs took about 2.5 years and cost about $5.4 million, and focused on damaged areas and sections that could be affected by climate change. The part of the boardwalk that was damaged on Thursday was not part of this effort.

“The southern part of the boardwalk is usually hammered by coastal storms. But that’s not where this part of the wall is,” Shevlin said.

A 20ft piece of Newport’s beloved Cliff Walk broke off on Thursday.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When asked what makes part of the wall an “area of ​​concern” in need of maintenance, he said the city is looking at it through the lens of a coastal storm.

“But this area is no exception. It is relatively protected from wave action,” he said. “When we see sections where the waves are crashing, degrading the rock, it is elsewhere on the wall. Here, the geological features of this section form a mini creek.

“But the past few years have been very wet and we continue to see groundwater tables changing across [Aquidneck] Island,” Shevlin said. “It’s still too early to tell, but we’re looking at this from an erosion event that likely came from groundwater instead of seawater.”

The Commission, which meets monthly, has pointed to “areas of concern” in the past, including, more recently, some erosion that has occurred on the interior side of Breakers Mansion’s Overlook. They recommended that rocks or gravel be laid there in the fall or winter “depending on resources”.

Visitors to the Cliff Walk on Friday March 4, 2022 try to see the part that ended the day before.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Peter Janaros, a former state engineer who oversaw the construction of the Jamestown Bridge, is the chairman of the Commission. At a recent meeting, he announced that he would speak to Salve and The Preservation Society to come up with a plan to patch the cracks between Webster Street and The Breakers mansion.

In September 2021, the Commission reported that a wall needed to be repaired between Webster and Narragansett Avenues and the cracks needed to be sealed. The owners of Ocher Point and their contractor have agreed to repair and seal cracks in the sidewalk of Cliff Walk from Memorial Boulevard to Webster Street, which is near where the walk broke off on Thursday. These cracks were sealed in November 2021.

The city said Salve students regularly raise funds for the preservation of Cliff Walk, and the university is currently working with the Commission to secure a grant from a local organization to begin another technical assessment. This assessment will also identify areas where the city can be “shovel ready” to “take advantage of the infrastructure dollars that are starting to flow from Washington DC,” Shevlin said.

He said they were looking for about $100,000 from this grant.

“We also have a good baseline from the Superstorm Sandy restoration,” Shevlin said. “The areas that were restored as part of Sandy’s restoration have held up very well. We are now looking at areas that did not take damage during Sandy. These areas we want to improve.

But spokespersons for the Preservation Society of Newport County and Salve told the Globe they “have no responsibility for the upkeep of Cliff Walk.” Yet Salve owns the property at 16 Ocher Point Ave, which also includes the Cliff Walk location, according to property records.

Shevlin said what the city doesn’t know, and won’t know for several weeks, is whether any geological features may have contributed to this part of the wall that eroded over time.

“Was it a natural evolution of the territory? We’re just not sure yet,” he said. “It’s an event we’ve never seen before because it’s not related to a coastal event.”


Alexa Gagosz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.