Global Green visit puts focus on Misquamicut’s future

Global Green visit puts focus on Misquamicut’s future


WESTERLY — About two dozen people strolled down Atlantic Avenue Monday morning, discussing how the whims of Mother Nature must be considered alongside financial interests when discussing the future of Misquamicut.

“There’s got to be a balance,” said Caswell Cooke, executive director of the Misquamicut Business Association and a member of the Town Council.

The walk from the Old Westerly Town Beach to the State Beach, with a side trip to Winnapaug Pond, was to show members of Global Green USA the development issues that Misquamicut is facing. Global Green USA, an affiliate of Green Cross International, is in Westerly for two days to learn about Misquamicut from town officials and residents.

Monday’s 80-minute site walk was to be followed by meetings with several town officials and others with interests in the beach, and then a community workshop today at Town Hall from 6 to 8 p.m. Global Green will then prepare a report for town officials with sustainable planning suggestions for Misquamicut, as part of the organization’s Sustainable Neighborhood Assessment Program.

“This is an opportunity to have your voice heard,” Town Planner Marilyn Shellman told the crowd at the town beach before the walk.

The walkers left the Frank P. “Shorty” Comforti Memorial Pavilion at the town beach and headed west along the sidewalk. Along the way, members of the Global Green team took notes while locals described some of the issues facing the shoreline community.

Cooke, walking with Jessica Millman of both Global Green and the Natural Resources Defense Council, explained how Atlantic Avenue floods after a heavy rainfall. A pumping system keeps the western end of the road relatively dry, he said, but the eastern end can become impassible.

He also pointed out Sam’s Snack Bar, which washed across the road into the pond during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The operation is now mostly inside a trailer, he explained, which can be moved out of harm’s way before an impending storm. While standing in front of Sam’s Snack Bar, Cooke showed Millman the dunes on town-owned property next to the concession stand. There used to be buildings there, he said, but after Sandy damaged them the town decided not to rebuild. It set an example, he explained, but “you can’t force anyone to do that.”

But clearing the beach would not be good economics, he noted. He used nearby Paddy’s Beach Club restaurant as an example. “It employs 100 people in the summer,” he said. “So what do you do?”

Cooke noted, however, that most of the fire district’s newer buildings, built on pilings, survived Sandy’s onslaught with minor damage. He used the state beach pavilion, built in the late 1990s, as an example.

The group stopped at the state beach’s overflow parking lot to discuss ideas. Just behind them were large trucks rumbling in and out of the lot, replenishing the sand on the beach.

“Paying for repeated losses is not sustainable,” said Shellman. “The nation can’t afford this.”

Among her suggestions was a possible three-strikes policy, which would only allow a property to be rebuilt twice. She also suggested that a bike and pedestrian path could be added between Winnapaug Avenue and the pond across from the state beach, with viewing platforms and places to launch a kayak.

Paul Duffy, the town’s recreation director, said he’d like to see more than the occasional kayaker or clam digger using the pond, but the area needs parking and some infrastructure, like signs.

“It feels like it should be its own destination,” he said of Winnapaug Pond. “We’ve got some work to do.”

According to Cooke, Misquamicut has 350 hotel rooms in addition to rental cottages, and many of those people walk to the beach. If they stay all day, they have to walk back on an dark, unlit street, very close to the traffic.

“It’s not safe for people to walk back,” Cooke said.

Bike and pedestrian paths would also open the area up to a new group of tourists, Cooke said, and would allow residents to take walks and ride bikes by the pond and watch the birds all year long.

State Rep. Sam Azzinaro expressed concern about the sand-replenishment project, which he said was returning the beach to its 1960 condition.

“Some good New England storms are going to take all this stuff away,” he said.

Azzinaro added that Superstorm Sandy had a massive storm surge that moved buildings off their foundations and across the street. “Nothing’s gonna stop that,” he said.

Sandy also filled in the pond, and raised the bottom a few feet, said Misquamicut resident Walter Pawelkiewicz.

“Dredging should be a key,” he said.

Coastkeeper David Prescott of the Save the Bay organization noted that the pond and marshes contribute to the flooding on Atlantic Avenue.

“The water that’s ponding on the road isn’t just from the rain. It’s also from the marsh,” he said. “You have no place for that water to go.”

Back at the town beach, town engineer Paul LeBlanc said he’s seen the effects of the rising sea level over the past 10 years, through increased flooding and road deterioration. Raising Atlantic Avenue a few inches, as some suggested, is expensive and wouldn’t solve the problems for long.

A better solution, if the state Coastal Resources Management Council approved, would be to raise the road by 18 inches to 2 feet.

“I think we have to be flexible with Mother Nature here,” he said.

Follow Leslie Rovetti on Twitter at @STreporter.

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