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.