LITTLE COMPTON — Fierce storms have weakened Sakonnet Harbor’s breakwater but last week crews began rebuilding the structure, one giant stone at a time.
Repairs began Thursday, March 27, on the Sakonnet Point Breakwater, damaged by hurricanes Irene in August of 2011 and Sandy in October of 2012.
Under a $594,500 contract awarded by the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers on Dec. 10, 2013, a team from Kovilic Construction Co. of Franklin Park, Illinois, began the heavy lifting of many hundreds of tons of stones. They are working from a staging area near the Sakonnet Point Club.
The repair project is expected to take from four to six weeks. The contract calls for a completion date of May 15.
The day before repairs began — Wednesday, March 26 — a winter storm with winds gusting to 55 miles per hour hammered the area from the north-northwest, blowing directly into the open northward-facing entrance of Sakonnet Harbor. At least two boats were pushed briefly onto the beach, one observer said.
Such storms and recent hurricanes have torn huge stones from their places on the structure, especially on the seaward side, and lessened the protection the jetty provides for Sakonnet Harbor.
Michael Walsh, lead engineer for the Army Corps on the project, wrote a December, 2012, assessment of the damage done to the breakwater.
“There is one section approximately 25 feet in length,” he wrote, “where the smaller core stone has been displaced and the larger armor stones on the seaward side slope and crest have collapsed into the resulting void. Also, there are numerous smaller stones that have dislodged from the seaward slope of the structure and are lying on top of the crest.”
Subsequent assessments, he later wrote, caused him to revise his earlier estimates and to conclude that the damage “was slightly more extensive” than he’d first judged.
Last Thursday, two excavators were at work, one loading three- to five-ton rocks from the staging area onto a massive rubber-tracked dump truck, which would then crawl out onto the breakwater and offload the rocks, and return for another load.
Out on the breakwater, another excavator moved the rocks around, placing them precisely into position.
“We’re just getting started,” said Robert Zwahlen, construction representative at the scene for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the contractor’s work on the project.
Mr. Zwahlen said that the stones displaced over the years will be removed, then “core stones,” weighing about 90-160 pounds each would be put in place to form the core of the breakwater.
Then, over them, and especially on the seaward side, will be placed “armor stones,” each weighing from three to five tons, with some as much as eight tons. In all, some 570 tons of armor stone will be installed — numbering anywhere from 114 to 190 stones.
Mr. Walsh said the outer armor stones “lay on top, they interlock, and are carefully placed. It’s very much of a finesse operation.”
The big stones are all granite, said Mr. Zwahlen, dug from CoparQuarries in Westerly, Rhode Island.
The crew on the scene is small — a superintendent, a safety man, two equipment operators, and one laborer.