To the editor:
It is Saturday, September 21, 2013, the 75th anniversary of the Great New England Hurricane of 1938. I write this from the porch of a friend who owns one of the two beachfront houses in Westport Harbor that remained standing after that deadly storm.
Several hundred yards east of my friend’s house is Beach Avenue, a sand and gravel road that runs parallel to the shoreline. The 1,700-foot-long road dead ends at the Point of Rocks, otherwise known as “the Knubble.” Before the 1938 Hurricane, several houses and a small yacht club stood on what was then a much wider expanse of beach. Broken pieces of their concrete and stone foundations are all that remain today.
The eastern third of Beach Avenue is a barrier beach in the truest sense. It is a narrow strip of beach and dunes with water on both sides — the Atlantic Ocean on its south side, the Westport River on its north side. The Knubble barrier beach is the barrier beach for the mouth of the Westport River. The entire length of beach along Beach Avenue is designated as “priority habitat” under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. This is a critically important piece of land.
Prior to the 1938 Hurricane, the first 1,000 feet of Beach Avenue was paved. The road was destroyed by the storm and most of the pavement was washed away. In the 1980s, the Town of Westport cleared the western end of the road, but subsequent hurricanes and winter storms reburied much of it.
The town once again cleared the road in 2010. Dump trucks hauled away an estimated 10,000 cubic yards of sand and vegetation. (That would be equivalent to 5,000 full-sized pickup truck beds heaped with material.) After Hurricane Irene hammered Westport a year later, the town finally gated the road to prevent cars from getting stuck in the sand.
This August, bulldozers and dump trucks descended again on Beach Avenue and, working over a two-week period, slashed into the barrier dunes and carted off more sand, soil, and vegetation. Because no survey of the site was completed prior to this hasty action, bulldozers unwittingly plowed up Westport Land Conservation Trust property.
Those of us who have taken a stand against the town’s continued assault on Beach Avenue have been characterized by several prominent public officials as snobbish individuals who are only interested in keeping the rest of Westport out of the Harbor. This is not what we are about. Most Harbor residents are genuinely and rightfully concerned about the structural integrity of a barrier beach that protects our homes, the Westport River, and its harbor.
All Westporters care deeply about their homes and most, I hope, care about the ecosystem and navigability of the Westport River. This ought not to be a divisive issue among us. Public officials do us a terrible disservice when they purposefully try to divide a town for their own political gain and sad need to exhibit their power.
The New York Times recently published an article on how communities along the New Jersey shore fared during Hurricane Sandy. It reported on a $1 billion dune project carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect 50 miles of the state’s beaches. Where the corps had completed building dunes before Sandy hit, “the storm left relatively minor damage.” Where there were no dunes, “homes — even many seemingly safely inland — were destroyed.”
Why then is the Town of Westport dismantling the barrier beach to the mouth of the Westport River? And, for goodness sake, why have they done this during hurricane season?
The town has spent $100,000 on this “road to nowhere” over the past month. Why are our tax dollars being pumped into this project when there are so many more important public works that require attention? It makes no sense, fiscally or environmentally.
There has long been public parking at the western end of Beach Avenue. All are welcome to walk the beach, climb the Knubble, fish, and enjoy the view.
Many of us who live in the Harbor want only to keep intact and protect this fragile strip of land that, in turn, protects our homes and the beautiful Westport River. Rather than continuing to rip the place apart, let us find a fiscally responsible means to preserve this critically important barrier beach so that all Westporters can enjoy and cherish it for generations to come.