By next Memorial Day, a $4 million pavilion complete with concession stands, bathrooms and showers will border the high dunes and sandy coastline at East Matunuck State Beach, but until then beachgoers are paying out for sub-par facilities according to officials.
Despite doubling fees for enjoying Rhode Island’s beaches on July 1, the state Department of Environmental Management said 10 Porta Pottys and an additional 2 two handicap-accessible stalls are all that will greet patrons. Robert Paquette, director of the state Parks and Recreation Department at the DEM said the park is still at full staffing and that Porta Pottys are supervised regularly by beach attendants.
On Wednesday, the johns were clean and full of toiletries, but beachgoers were less than satisfied with the arrangements. According to DEM officials, numerous complaints regarding cleanliness and a lack of toilet paper were heard throughout June.
“We thought, and we saw online, that the pavilion was still here,” said Deborah Choiniere, of Ohio, who traveled an hour and a half from her vacation in Cape Cod to enjoy South Kingstown’s coast.”I’m not too unhappy with the cleanliness, but they could use more trash cans and a discount on the parking would be nice.”
Choiniere’s sister, Faith Davidson, of Berkeley, Mass., agreed. “It seems to be temporary, but I would have liked to have been informed,” she said.
Stephanie Schultheiss, of Narragansett, said she likes to drive to East Matunuck because the beaches are typically less crowded than in her hometown.
“I’m paying so much to park here it would be nice to have something to show for it, but it’s a beautiful beach and I can always just run into the ocean to rinse off,” she said. “Plus I always wear my shoes in.”
Parking fees are high at $20 and $10 for senior citizens, and half of the site’s 600 parking spots have been eaten up by construction efforts for the duration of the summer season.
Later this week, said Paquette of DEM, the number of Porta Pottys will be doubled to 20, and instead of being cleaned twice per week the Porta Pottys will be flushed out three times weekly.
Ideally, said Paquette, rebuilding would take place in the off-season over the winter.
“The difference is that sand blows in winter, when you have to build in winter, the costs do go up,” he said. “There are other costs to consider, heating units for construction, and also because we are so limited on funds this year. Unfortunately we have to sacrifice a summer.”
According to Paquette, the new pavilion should last anywhere from 35 to 50 years, “and we hope it will last longer, thanks to new technology.”
The replacement is fitting for a beach that was named one of Rhode Island's best beaches in the recent issue of Yankee Magazine.
Despite efforts to keep facilities clean, both the South Kingstown Patch and DEM have received several complaints – from general disarray to a lack of toilet paper.
Paquette said the beach fees can’t be reduced at East Matunuck because the increase was sweeping and other state-run facilities, such as East Beach in Charlestown, always run with Porta Pottys.
“It was either close [the] facility or keep it open because we know people love it,” said Paquette. “It was the same thing with Salty Brine (State Beach) last year, we opened up with Porta Potty’s. We are trying to provide some minimum services because of construction, but we are never going to make everyone happy.”