The 2,700 spaces of the Misquamicut State Beach parking lot now lie under a veritable mountain of sand, all of it removed from Atlantic Avenue and its businesses and residences in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The piled-up sand is a visible symbol of the destructive power of the storm, but it also serves as a daily reminder of the difficult tasks ahead in rebuilding – and a warning sign of the potential future damage to the state’s tourism industry.
Misquamicut is the No. 1 revenue-generating state beach in Rhode Island, according to Caswell Cooke Jr., executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association. In 2011, it generated $1.17 million, more than one-third of the $3.3 million in total state beach revenue, according to Gail Mastrati, R.I. Department of Environmental Management spokeswoman.
In addition, of all the towns in South County, Cooke says, Westerly generates the most hotel tax revenue. “We represent more than 50 percent of the entire South County hotel taxes in just one town.”
Tim Brennan and Kevin Urbonas, co-owners of Two Little Fish restaurant at 300 Atlantic Ave., say they are committed to be ready to reopen by April 1.
“We opened up on June 1 this year here at our new location on the beach,” Brennan said. The two owners had been in business together for 15 years, then sold that location and moved to the Atlantic Avenue location because it was a “great business opportunity.”
“We were in business for three months, and then the hurricane hit,” Brennan continued. “It took us about a week to get access to the building. When we first came here, no kidding, the sand was about this deep,” he said, holding his hand up to his neck.”
To begin the cleanup, Brennan said they needed a small front-loader, a backhoe and a dump truck. “It’s $1,000 a day for the backhoe and a dump truck to get the sand out of [the front of the restaurant],” he said. The parking lot took three days. “What we’re working on now is crawling under our deck ourselves, taking out the sand by hand,” Brennan said. “Next we’re getting a water truck, and we’re going to blow the remaining sand out with a hose.”