Battered East Beach Road due for fall rebuild

A car navigates around a broken stretch of East Beach Road two days after Hurricane Irene visited in 2011. Plans call for fixing the road this fall in its post-Irene route. A car navigates around a broken stretch of East Beach Road two days after Hurricane Irene visited in 2011. Plans call for fixing the road this fall in its post-Irene route.

A car navigates around a broken stretch of East Beach Road two days after Hurricane Irene visited in 2011. Plans call for fixing the road this fall in its post-Irene route.

A car navigates around a broken stretch of East Beach Road two days after Hurricane Irene visited in 2011. Plans call for fixing the road this fall in its post-Irene route.

Town backs low-tech plan; road to stay put

Rebuffed in grander schemes for protecting and rebuilding East Beach Road, Westport has settled instead on a plan to anchor the battered road where it stands.

The Board of Selectmen voted recently to approve and seek bids for a $177,000 repair job for East Beach Road.

The road will be reinforced in its present location, including the curved detour around areas that washed out in previous storms, since engineers studying the situation see little promise in attempting to put it back where it was before Hurricane Irene hit in 2011.

As recommended by Tibbits Engineering Corp.(Taunton and New Bedford), as well as the town’s Conservation Commission, the plan calls for pressing a blend of 75 percent reclaimed asphalt and 25 percent gravel into the existing road which is little more than a hard-packed blend of beach sand and cobble. That work will raise the road by just over a foot and will leave a surface hard enough that graders should be able to plow cobble away after future storms.

While it won’t be storm-proof, Tibbets engineer Walter Galuska said it offers the advantage of being more easily repaired or relocated if need be than a paved or more permanent structure.

The work will be done after the busy summer season. Mr. Galuska said that 80 percent of the project cost will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency because it involves storm damage.

After some discussion, selectmen approved the plan by a 3-1 vote (Chairman Antone Vieira voted no and Craig Dutra was absent).

Richard Spirlet, who has worked for years in search of a beach repair solution, called this a band-aid repair but said he supports it as “the most cost-effective” step available for now.

Mr. Spirlet and others have looked into a variety of cures to the chronic beach road problems, among them placement of surf-calming and sand-collecting objects (old military tanks were suggested), reefs and barriers offshore, or jetties or other structures along the beach that might guide drifting sand to beach sections that need sand “nourishment.”

Mr. Vieira said he was disappointed that Tibbits had not devoted more research to such longer term solutions.

Mr. Galuska replied that the state Department of Environmental Protection frowns on such structures and has already indicated that it would be unlikely to approve them. The town of Newburyport had only been allowed to pursue such a course because it already had the stone jetties in place.

Attorney Brian Corey Jr. and Mr. Vieira both asked about an earlier proposal to restore tidal flow through the barrier beach into The Let through a dug channel(s) that the road could cross with a small bridge. This might enable the water to rush through without taking the beach and road with it every time, they said. Even though Tibbets did not go with that plan, Mr. Vieira said he would like to see the town ask the Army Corps of Engineers to look into it.

Mr. Corey also questioned the wisdom of using the reclaimed asphalt since the petroleum-based product might cause environmental damage if washed by a storm across the beach and into the marsh..

But Mr. Galuska said that old crushed asphalt has a lower oil/tar content that the fresh asphalt that would be used in a new paving project.

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