By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward with plans to put back at Misquamicut State Beach what Mother Nature took away: 90,000 cubic yards of sand.
If all goes as planned the sand will bring the beach back to how it looked in 1959, when the state beach opened. Work is expected to begin in late March and be completed in late May.
Chris Hatfield, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager, estimated about 3,000 truckloads of sand will be needed. Once commenced, Hatfield said, the work will occur around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the project is complete. Sand deliveries will also be made every day but will be limited to business hours. Contractual provisions will be made to repair roads should they be damaged from intense use by heavy trucks.
“It’s ambitious, but hopefully we’ll get a good contractor and pull it off. It’s a lot of material and it’s a lot of trucks. Essentially, everything that we put out there in 1960 is gone,” Hatfield said.
The project is being paid for with funds made available through the federal Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, approved by Congress to address the widespread damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. The work falls under the Army Corps’ mission of mitigating potential flooding during coastal storms and protecting public resources, utilities and facilities like the state beach pavilion and parking lot, and Atlantic Avenue, an evacuation route for the Misquamicut area.
To illustrate the scope of the project and for comparison, the “Misquamicut pyramids” — the sand that was reclaimed immediately after Sandy and temporarily stored in the state beach parking lot — amounted to 68,280 cubic yards. That sand was distributed to the state beach, town beaches, private beaches and to private homeowners.
The Army Corps recently obtained sand samples from four local sites within 10 miles of the beach, Hatfield said. The sand will be purchased from a local supplier. It will be placed along a 150-foot-wide area between the dunes and the water’s edge to a depth of about 2 to 3 feet. To meet the 150-foot specification, some sand will be pushed out into the surf zone. The sand will be distributed along the entire 3,200-foot length of the beach with some sections receiving more than others, depending on current conditions and erosion trends.
The cost of the project cannot be disclosed, Hatfield said, because it could influence bids from contractors who will be used to perform the work and provide the sand.
The project will be staged to accommodate the annual Springfest event in May, and steps will be taken to avoid interfering with the piping plover nesting season, Hatfield said.
Representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council, and the state’s congressional delegation, met with Town Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. and town staff members on Wednesday to discuss the sand project as well as plans to dredge Winnapaug Pond and the Weekapaug Breachway.
Town Manager Michelle Buck, who attended the meeting, said the state beach project would soon be presented to the Town Council.
“The Misquamicut Beach project will definitely benefit the town by improving and restoring the beach. This should generate more interest in our town and boost tourism,” she said.
During the meeting, Kevin Farmer, state conservation engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, delivered some good news: His agency might be able to pay for part of the cost of dredging a portion of the pond.
The USDA had previously rejected an application from the town seeking funding for the project. But after a site visit with Town Engineer Paul LeBlanc before Wednesday’s meeting at Town Hall, Farmer said it looks as though his agency could help. He said the earlier decision had been based, in part, on a mistaken belief that the pond fell under the Army Corps’ jurisdiction.
Farmer cautioned, however, that funding would only be released after officials could prove a positive cost benefit for the dredging project. The funds, if approved, would come from an emergency watershed protection program set up as part of the federal government’s response to the October 2012 storm. Farmer said he would meet next week with CRMC officials to document critical habitats that are threatened by sediment buildup in the pond.
If the dredging is approved, Farmer said his agency could provide 75 percent of the cost. Grover Fugate, CRMC executive director, said his agency could provide the required 25 percent match.
“Any little bit that we can get to help with the pond is a step forward,” Amy Grzybowski, Westerly director of code enforcement and grants administrator, said after the meeting.
The town hopes the pond can be dredged to improve habitat and to use the sand to further restore town beaches. Grzybowski said any funds NRCS provides could be used to help leverage additional money from other sources to be used for more dredging work. Buck said she was pleased to learn that NRCS may be able to help pay for a portion of the cost of dredging at least part of Winnapaug Pond. “This has been a project that the town has been trying to get done for a very long time,” she said.
The town is also planning to partner with CRMC, the town of Charlestown, Save the Bay, and the Salt Ponds Coalition to seek a $3 million grant from the federal Department of the Interior’s Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants Program. If approved, the money would be used to dredge Ninigret Pond in Charlestown and for planning, design and permitting work for dredging Winnapaug and Quonochontaug ponds.
The town is also seeking a grant from NRCS to pay for dredging a section of the Weekapaug Breachway called “the elbow.” The elbow is a section of the breachway where it curves around Breach Drive. The Breach Drive Association pooled its resources to dredge the area about two years ago but the storm is believed to have redeposited a heavy volume of sand.