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Editorial: Shoveling sand against Mother Nature

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has one ambitious plan for Misquamicut State Beach in the wake of damage from Superstorm Sandy. Specifically, the Corps wants to take on Mother Nature and bring in an estimated 90,000 cubic yards of sand that agency engineers figure have been taken away over the decades. The vision is to bring the state beach property back to how it looked on opening day in 1959.

In keeping with that battle theme, this effort, as described in last Sunday’s edition, could take on war-like logistics given the challenge. Our story described round-the-clock work, thousands of truckloads of sand being carted over the roadways and heavy equipment battling the waves to deposit sand out into the water.

And we have to admit, we’re not sure what to make of this project at this early stage.

For some, this is routine beach replenishment in a tourist town reliant on a beach economy. For others, it’s a losing battle against Mother Nature and one we have no business waging.

Misquamicut is routinely battered by the pounding surge of Block Island Sound. While it may not be the open water of the Outer Banks in North Carolina, it’s still a significantly exposed beachfront that has suffered from storm damage essentially on a yearly basis, the only difference being the degree to which each storm batters our coastline and the homes, business and roads built along this barrier beach.

The project would be funded with money from the federal Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 approved by Congress to address damage caused by Sandy. The work would fall under the Army Corps’ mission of mitigating potential flooding during coastal storms and protecting public resources, utilities and facilities such as the state beach pavilion and parking lot, and Atlantic Avenue, an evacuation route for the Misquamicut area.

The proposal calls for about 3,000 truckloads of sand to be distributed along a 150-foot-wide area between the dunes and the water — and into the water — to a depth of about 2 to 3 feet. The sand would be spread along the entire 3,200-foot length of the beach with some sections receiving more than others, depending on current conditions and erosion trends. Trucks would deliver the sand every day during business hours, but as described, the work by heavy equipment on the beach to spread the sand would go on 24/7. The estimated cost is not being revealed so as not to taint the bidding process.

Some in this area felt it was foolhardy to restore the sand that had been pushed onto the neighborhoods and along the streets of Misquamicut just after Sandy, and that amounted to about 68,000 cubic yards of sand that was cleaned and stored in the parking lots of the state looking like pyramids this past spring.

Others felt it would be unconsionable to do nothing. Whether for reasons of protecting homes or our tourist economy along Atlantic Avenue, the latter argument won out, so much so that hundreds of volunteers put in time helping to restore properties in time for the summer crowds. We supported that effort and those who led the way and those who did the work. To many, Westerly is Misquamicut, and it sure has paid for lots of tuition bills and new cars.

The timeline calls for work to begin in March and be completed by the end of May. If it all comes to fruition, this would be a federally-funded project on state property, meaning the town has no say in the matter. This will be something to watch.

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