2014-10-02 / Front Page

Clean Ocean Access Achieves Milestone

By Olga Enger

Newport's Clean Ocean Access, known for its weekly coastal cleanups, also conducts regular water testing. Two special events are planned for Oct. 4. Newport's Clean Ocean Access, known for its weekly coastal cleanups, also conducts regular water testing. Two special events are planned for Oct. 4. A local organization, which has been working to improve water quality for the past eight years and is best known for its popular beach cleanups, is ready to ride the next wave. Clean Ocean Access (COA) was approved for nonprofit status this month and hopes to hire staff members for the first time.

COA will host its inaugural fundraiser at Easton’s Beach Rotunda on Saturday, Oct. 4, from 4 until 7 p.m.

“The group was growing with great momentum, but it came to a point when I had to start saying no,” said COA founder David McLaughlin, who was clocking around 1,500 volunteer hours every year.

When McLaughlin was diagnosed with cancer, which has since been removed, he took an inventory of his priorities. To meet the organization’s growing demand, he left his full-time job at Hasbro.

“Since then, I’ve been able to say yes to almost every opportunity related to COA,” said McLaughlin.

“Most people are unaware, but COA developed from a parking dispute,” he continued. On a winter afternoon in 2006, a Salve Regina security guard told McLaughlin and his friend Frank Hanson they could not park on Shepard Avenue to go surfing.

After an initial inquiry to Newport City Council, former Mayor Stephen Waluk, who was serving as a council member at the time, put a resolution on the docket to discuss issues of parking and waterfront access.

“A number of members of the surfing community were concerned about parking restrictions, so we started a conversation with all the stakeholders to maintain access to the Cliff Walk for the entire community,” Waluk recalled.

McLaughlin said the conversation was “open and positive” and both sides expressed interest in working together.

To this day, COA works in collaboration with the university on water quality and watershed issues, outreach and research. “We have never had another parking issue on Shepard Avenue,” McLaughlin laughed.

Around the same time, a public access point on Tuckerman Avenue was opening up after a 25- year dispute.

“We had driven by it our entire lives and it was always locked; it was about to become unlocked,” said McLaughlin. The Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council was looking for a community group to adopt and monitor the area.

Also that year, the beaches were frequently closed after a sewage pipe burst at Easton’s Beach, and there was no way for surfers to know if the water was safe that fall.

Interested in adopting the access point and concerned about water quality, the surfers gathered at the Elk’s Lodge in Newport in August of 2006.

At that meeting, they decided to form an organization and brainstormed potential names. Clean Ocean Access beat out other nominations such as SaltWater Hippos, Clean Seaweed Collaborative and Wave Riding Watch- Dogs.

Today, COA hosts a local beach cleanup every week, monitors 14 access points in Newport and Middletown, conducts water testing twice a week, and prepares extensive reporting, education and outreach. Over the past eight years, it has collected 56,000 pounds of marine debris from the beaches and 3,500 water samples.

“What started as a group of surfers concerned with public access and water quality has become a community of thousands of people who care deeply about taking care of our precious natural resources,” said McLaughlin.

Beginning next year, water quality improvements will no longer be optional. The Department of Health plans to issue more stringent standards, lowering the beach-closing threshold from 104 colony-forming units (CFUs) to 60 CFUs.

McLaughlin said COA supports the new threshold and will continue to work with governmental bodies to improve water quality and avoid beach closures.

In order to fund the new positions, the organization is aiming to raise $250,000. There is no set charge for the fundraiser; attendees are encouraged to donate what they feel is appropriate.

Before the fundraiser, the group is holding the second annual “Paddle to Remember” at Second Beach – Surfers’ End at 10 a.m. on Saturday to celebrate members of the ocean community who have lost their lives.

To become involved, visit cleanoceanaccess.org.

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