A man-made sand dune, stretching about 200 yards and engineered with steel rebar, its top covered with planted grasses, is the largest built object still standing along the entire Atlantic Avenue beachfront in Westerly.
To the dune’s left, facing the ocean, is an empty space where Sam’s Snack Shop once stood, before it was obliterated by Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge.
To its right are tons of sand covering the entire parking lot at Misquamicut State Beach, removed from buildings and homes along Atlantic Avenue in the aftermath of the storm.
Those piles of sand – which could be used to create new man-made dunes to protect the beach – may be the key to the beach community’s future survival, according to Caswell Cooke Jr., the executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association and a Westerly town councilman.
The reason is obvious. “The places protected by dunes survived,” Cooke said.
For instance, in Bradley Beach, N.J., man-made dune barriers constructed in 1996 at a cost of about $10,000 protected the community from the worst ravages of Sandy, leaving the town’s boardwalk and its houses 75 feet away intact. While the town suffered about $3 million in storm damage, it fared much better than many of its neighboring communities.
Meetings with Westerly official to discuss possible plans for man-made dune construction and beach re-nourishment are now under way, according to R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council spokeswoman Laura Dwyer. “We are encouraging the town to do one or the other, or both,” she said.
Beyond what happens with the beach and man-made dunes, plans for reconstruction of buildings and businesses are moving ahead slowly, as owners try to determine what the best options are, according to Westerly Town Manager Steven T. Hartford. “We’re still in the planning stages of reconstruction,” he said.
A site evaluation was conducted recently to determine a more precise estimate of commercial and residential property damages along Atlantic Avenue and, in particular, damages to their septic systems. Among the commercial properties examined were the Andrea Hotel and the Windjammer Lounge.