WESTERLY — Banning all building south of Shore Road/Route 1A seems to be the most sensible way to properly preserve Westerly’s fragile barrier beaches, says Harriet Grayson, whose documentary film, “Aftermath,” about the destruction of Misquamicut Beach during Superstorm Sandy and the rebuilding that followed, will be shown Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Westerly Library.
“We need to take this issue seriously,” said Grayson. “We need to ask the question: ‘What are we going to do to save our beaches?’”
“I don’t think the Town Council has done a very good job addressing this,” Grayson said emphatically. “I think people have to start asking how much of a risk we want to take.”
Grayson is the host and producer of a local cable access TV show, “Community Culture Showcase.” Her documentary has been airing on Channel 12 in Connecticut and Channel 18 in Rhode Island since April. Grayson said she hopes her film will serve as a catalyst for real discussion about the shore front, how best to prepare for future storms and how best to protect the region’s most valuable asset.
Putting an end to building along the coast, she said, and beginning to buy back property from homeowners, is hardly an unheard of notion.
“People made some important decisions about Napatree Point,” said Grayson, referring to the Napatree Point Conservation Area in Watch Hill, which was lined with summer houses before the Hurricane of 1938 and is now a preserved sanctuary.
“So, it’s really not outside our thinking,” said Grayson, who is also president of 5 Star Seminars and publisher of the Ocean Breeze Press.
“But we’ve been very slow to pick up on this stuff,” she continued, again scolding council members for “walking away from the cesspool issue” — broadly speaking, the town’s rejection of sewers that would serve Misquamicut, which still relies on private waste disposal systems.
“You can’t walk away from these issues,” Grayson added. “We have a lack of leadership here. You can’t outlaw something and then grant extensions. It’s just not the way to do things.”
New cesspool construction has been banned in Rhode Island since 1968, but Department of Environmental Management enforcement efforts under the Cesspool Phaseout Act of 2007, which set a deadline of January 2014, began only this year with the issuance of violation notices to property owners whose cesspools are close to bodies of water or drinking supplies.Efforts to strengthen and extend the ban failed in the legislature this year, and the state still has about 25,000 cesspools, according to DEM estimates.
Grayson also commented on a planned $1 million hydraulic dredging project to restore Winnapaug Pond, which accumulated considerable sediment from Superstorm Sandy.
“They should have dredged the pond before and used the sand on the beach instead of bringing in the sand,” she said. A separate Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project at Misquamicut involved the trucking of sand from inland sources.
“I mean, the beach looks good,” Grayson said, “although the sand feels more industrial. It’s less soft.”
Grayson said that Misquamicut Beach “is like a bread line for the entire state.”
“It’s a major economic engine for the town of Westerly, local beach businesses, and the state of Rhode Island; any future actions taken by regulatory agencies will have a rippling effect,” she said.
Grayson said her documentary shows rebuilding process in Misquamicut during the year after Sandy bashed the coast in October 2012 and includes interviews with the people she considers to be the “important stakeholders in the rebuilding of Misquamicut Beach.”
Grayson interviews Chris DiPaola of WBLQ radio; Caswell Cooke Jr., president of the Misquamicut Business Association and a member of the Westerly Town Council; Lisa Konicki, executive director of the Westerly-Pawcatuck area Chamber of Commerce; Matthew Lewiss, a Westerly lawyer and Misquamicut Beach property owner; and David Prescott, Westerly’s coastkeeper for Save the Bay, an environmental organization.
Prescott will appear on the program Wednesday and plans to discuss the future of coastal communities in light of climate impacts. He said it is time for people to get together and come up with solutions.
“We are all stakeholders in this,” said Prescott. “And everyone needs to be at the table as we deal with the ever-changing climate.”
Prescott, noting that Misquamicut “is at the epicenter of a lot of these issues,” said “we are seeing higher tides and more frequent coastal flooding, making houses and roads more vulnerable.”
“Things are going to change,” he said. “Things are changing. We have to look towards the future and figure out how to deal with this.”
Grayson, who has lived in Westerly since 1999, called Superstorm Sandy “a particularly brutal force” that destroyed miles of local beach front.
Sandy was not an isolated incident, she said, “but one chapter in an evolving book.”
Such a storm, or storms, will happen again, she said.
“Eventually Mother Nature beats you,” she added.