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Westerly council: Finish job at beaches by May 20

WESTERLY — Despite the protests of one member, the Town Council has asked the town engineer and others involved with the town beaches project to readjust a schedule to ensure that work at the two beaches is complete by the Memorial Day weekend.

As temperatures plunged Monday night, the council was focused on making sure that residents get another full summer season of enjoyment at Westerly Town Beach (old town beach) and Wuskenau Town Beach. The planned work is part of the town’s ongoing response to the destruction wreaked on the two beaches by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Still more work will be done preceding the 2015 beach season, officials said.

Councilors asked Town Engineer Paul LeBlanc, Recreation Director Paul Duffy and Paul Azzinaro, a private architect working on the projects, to readjust the desired completion dates to May 20, the Wednesday before the weekend considered by many to be the unofficial start to summer. Some of the completion dates had been set for May 30.

LeBlanc said he had intentionally built extra time into the schedule and that the work could be completed “easily” in time for Memorial Day weekend.

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., who also serves as executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association, pressed for the work to be competed for the holiday. “All along we’ve said Memorial Day is the cutoff because of the volume of what goes on at that town beach and those are Westerly town taxpayers who want their beach,” Cooke said.

He was countered by Councilor Patricia Douglas, who praised LeBlanc, Duffy, and Azzinaro for their efforts and said residents would understand if the work stretched past Memorial Day. “So what if it’s not May 23 or 30 and we have portable bathrooms. The people of Westerly understand how difficult it was to get to this stage,” she said.

A new septic system to replace the temporary system used last summer is planed for the Westerly Town Beach. LeBlanc said design of the system is nearing completion. On Monday, the council reaffirmed an earlier decision to use rinse stations at the facility rather than showers.

Changes to the Westerly Town Beach north parking lot, across the street from the beach, are also scheduled for completion by May 23.

Work on one of the largest elements of the beach facility renovation is also moving along. Azzinaro discussed plans to move the Frank P. “Shorty” Comforti Pavilion about 30 feet to the north, away from the water. Construction bids are expected to be advertised in June and a contract awarded in July. Work on the project would occur from Oct. 1 to before Memorial day 2015.

Azzinaro said the pavilion would be fortified to withstand winds of about 120 mph and a storm similar in impact to Superstorm Sandy. The parking lot on the beach side of the facility will be regraded to improve drainage problems.

LeBlanc said he is studying possible use of a product called TrapBag to protect rebuilt dunes from storm damage. It is approved for use in Rhode Island by the state Coastal Resources Management Council. The product is a series of connected vertical bags that are flat on one side and sloped on another. In 100-foot long sections the bags are linked to create barriers that absorb the energy of waves before they pound dunes or other structures.

The planned work at Wuskeneau Town Beach, all of which is scheduled to be completed by May 23, involves reshaping dunes, installation of a system to protect the dunes, regrading the parking lot and installation of rinse stations.

LeBlanc and Duffy said the plans call for planting dune grass at Wuskeneau this year. They said the grass would help to fortify the dunes , making them less susceptible to erosion from storms.

Cooke noted that state officials have said dune grass will not be planted on the new dunes at Misquamicut State Beach, based on a theory that the dunes will naturally develop a more sustainable shape without the grass.

Duffy said dune grass will also be planted at Westerly Town Beach after the pavilion is relocated.

Under previously discussed funding schemes, town officials anticipate that the Westerly Town Beach project will cost $498,838, of which the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to pay $374,126. The town plans to use a different federal grant to pay the remaining amount.

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