Editorial: Tampering with beaches

Editorial: Tampering with beaches

Town equipment moves sand and rock along Beach Avenue early last week. Rosanne Aresty photo

Town equipment moves sand and rock along Beach Avenue early this week. Rosanne Aresty photo
Town equipment moves sand and rock along Beach Avenue early this week. Rosanne Aresty photo
Bitter experience should have taught Westport plenty about the fragility of barrier beaches.

Which calls to question the logic of allowing sand to be hauled away by the truckload from a stretch of shore on the town’s west side near the Little Compton line.

Town equipment descended on Beach Avenue last week in a state-permitted effort to clear this ‘road’ of sand and storm debris.

It’s a public place, some Selectmen argue, and ought to be kept free of barriers — those made by man or by storms. Just as important is the need — even if an exercise in futility — to keep passable a route for rescuers to reach the Nubble at the harbor entrance.

Clearing the way makes some sense. But loading that precious sand onto trucks and taking it away runs counter to the way most places — Westport included — go about protecting their barriers against the sea. It’s especially perplexing in the midst of hurricane season in an era of rising sea levels.

Alarmed recently that another of its barrier beaches (a stretch west of Cherry & Webb Beach) had nearly breached in a storm, Westport and federal partners pumped sand by the bargeload onto the threatened stretch. Crews then erected a network of snow fences and planted beach grass in hopes of keeping that sand from blowing away. They called it “beach nourishment” and it seems to be working for the moment.

Similarly, Little Compton has struggled to keep sand on its South Shore Beach, a costly struggle that it seems doomed to repeat.

Barrier beaches are a last line of defense against a rising sea. If they breach, consequences for the places they protect — whether the Westport River and harbor or Little Compton’s coastal ponds — can scarcely be imagined.

Public/private issues along Beach Avenue may make for good debate but Westport should beware doing anything to diminish its barrier beaches.

The ocean is winning this war and scarcely needs our help.


  1. To be fair you should tell both sides of the story. Every year the Town has cleaned the road they have put the sand on the beach. Why is it different this year? This year the residents made so many phone calls and sent so many emails that the Endangered Species Program they asked that the sand not be placed on the beach until they came down. The Town is stockpiling it down the road for future nourishment.
    Why are the residents complaining so much this year? Usually it is a day of complaints, but this year it is non-stop. Is it really about cleaning the road, or something else?
    The residents who are complaining about sand be trucked away are the reason it had to be done. Shame on them for using the environment to mask the real reason they do not want the road opened so the beach cannot be opened to the public.

    • Once again stating your misguided opinions as fact. In my opinion and many others whether they live nearby or not, there is no reasonable stewardship of a fragile, evironmentally sensitive beach area that is helped by gouging out sand and trucking it away. Do yourself a favor and google topics like “beach/dune management”, or better yet go to the State of MA website which has dozens of pages, resources, and regulations on proper management of barrier beaches.

      Contrary to your assessment, one has to wonder what the real agenda is for the town on this one? You stated it’s not for access for people with disabilities-so what is it? The road has been closed for many, many years-why is now the right time to “ensure” that the townspeople have improved access to a beach of questionable value (seaweed, rocks, currents etc). There are 13 parking spaces and unfettered access today-which are rarely used-so where is the demand, unless, perhaps, maybe, someone, perhaps a town employee, or a local abutter has a personal agenda and stands to gain.

  2. I’ve lived in the harbor my whole life. I don’t know anyone who is apposed to Westport residents using the town land or why it has become an “us” against “them” issue. The selectmen are the ones who voted to close Beach Avenue a few years back and put up a gate because there were too many environmental issues with maintaining it and they hadn’t done anything to the road since hurricane Bob. The issue is the town coming up here and bulldozing into fragile beach area without any impact study or surveying being done first. The town was donated a small 100 foot piece of property that abuts conservation land and other privately owned property. They operated for two days down here before having anything surveyed only to find out that they did indeed cut into conservation land. All the residents are asking is that they follow the proper protocol to do such work on the road and not desecrate the area or perform work that will open the town up to lawsuits. They are going forward with out any plan of how they will continue to maintain the road, or for trash removal, or for handicapped access, or for a turnaround for emergency vehicles etc. There are a lot of issues not being addressed, yet the bull dozers are here.

  3. DEP came down and was satisfied and issued no violations. Interesting, I went down this morning to check it out and I noticed the illegal fence that a neighbor had up is now down, good idea before DEP came down. Wait, that was to help the piping plover I guess.

    • The DEP actually stopped the town from proceeding any further and are still investigating. Hence no further work being done. I own said fence and there is nothing illegal about it. I used to have a six foot high chain link fence around my property which is perfectly within my rights to do as a property owner. The highway department crippled the fence when they dug into the dune. Don’t worry, once the town figures out what they are doing and the bounds are re-established, it will promptly and legally be going back up.

  4. Josh,
    They found no issues and did not stop the work. The work was stopped by the Selectmen who are going to hear a plan Monday night about a possible way to not have to clear the whole road. There was a meeting Saturday that I am sure your parents were at. I spoke with the Conservation office today to find out why the work stopped and they filled me in. I guess they are lying.

  5. Well, they ARE politicians, but nobody is accusing anyone of lying. My family and I missed the meeting Saturday and I was misinformed as to who stopped the work. Speaking for myself and knowing the feelings of my neighbors, I’d just like to address an underlying condescension. It feels like people have formed the opinion that harbor residents are making up issues to try to keep the road closed. That truly is not the case and the Conservation Commission stopping the work I think proves that. Do piping plovers not nest in the dunes? Is it not a barrier beach? A selectman stated that “us people”, referring to harbor residents, don’t want Westport residents to come down to the area. That is ridiculous and also a very irresponsible thing to say. The fact is, people already come down here and have for years. Whether the road is open, closed, flooded or paved. It really makes no difference. If the road is opened and maintained, nothing changes for the property owners in the harbor. They still have their ocean views and beach front property. It really does not change anything so I don’t see what the selectman’s argument is for implying they don’t want people to come down there. If anything, Westport residents are who they’d want coming down because they respect and appreciate the area just as much as everyone who lives there. Opening the road up to only residents is far from a bad thing for property owners in the harbor because it ensures that only Westport residents will be able to use the area, and there will be regulation in regard to access and parking. All good things. We are all a part of Westport and all pay taxes to the town. Harbor residents actually pay a much higher percentage, however, most are not town residents or voters so their opinions don’t seem to matter to elected officials. All the residents in the harbor ever asked for was what the towns plan was after opening the road and for the town to work within their legal guidelines. I hope they do and everyone gets to enjoy the area and that, should we pass each other on the beach, we are able to exchange kind greetings as this has never been a “have” vs “have nots” issue as the towns selectmen will have you believe.