Beach Avenue work a threat to fragile point, some say
The heavy equipment has moved on for the moment, but emotions are still running high after town work last week to plow many truckloads of sand and debris from Beach Avenue.
Town officials said they were simply clearing and opening a public road for pubic use.
"They are doing exactly what they did last year — opening that public road up so that people can access the public shoreline there," said Town Administrator John "Jack" Healey. "Some people don't want anyone else to use the beach there and that's not how it works."
He added that the clearing has nothing to do with a proposal to buy a stretch of shoreline there for a new town beach.
But others say Mr. Healey — and some members of the Board of Selectmen are missing the point — perhaps deliberately.
"They are trying to turn this into an us vs. them situation … talking about 'those people.' I don't understand the real motivation here other than perhaps political opportunism, an attempt to divide people," said Constance Gee of River Road. "Other than just a stick in the eye, it's not clear to some of us what the point of this all is."
Ms. Gee was among those who watched town machinery clear sand, storm debris and vegetation from Beach Avenue to a 40 foot width for several days last week.
"This is a fragile barrier beach and they are going at it with no engineering or environmental impact study," said Woody Woodward of River Road. He estimated that town trucks took away some 2,000 cubic
yards of sand, and "they'll be trucking out thousands of yards every year — forever. At some point the ocean will come right through this beach" which would be disastrous for the Westport River.
"We aren't saying nobody should come down here — far from it," Ms. Gee said. "Our big concern is the environment. This is a barrier beach that needs to be shored up, not trucked away. They are doing exactly the opposite of you would think they should be doing." She added that she suspects that Mass. Department of Environmental Protection, which permitted the work, has not been given a clear picture of what is actually going on.
Of course we are concerned about traffic, litter and trespassing "but truly the main thing that people have been talking about is the integrity of the barrier beach."
Mr. Healey last week said all work has been done with great care and with full approval of state environmental and town conservation officials.
Mr. Woodward also called untrue remarks that the town has cleared this road for many years.
"The town actually blocked the road with boulders long ago," he said —it was inaccessible for 40 years. "They didn't want to waste money trying to keep sand off that road after every storm." The point, he said, was to keep vehicles out. Without a barrier, "people would drive down there and get stuck." Neighbors likely saved several who got stuck there at night in the winter from freezing to death.
Also down at Beach Avenue for a look last Tuesday were representatives of the Westport River Watershed Alliance.
"We just wanted to see for ourselves," said Matt Patrick, WRWA's director.
While the work "doesn't look pretty," it does appear that they are staying well with the road layout … The town is operating within its permit," Mr. Patrick said.
"Our primary concern is the environment … had they been going up into the dunes, that would be another matter but we did not see that."
He added, "It looks ugly and of course we would rather that they didn't touch it at all," but said he understands the desire to maintain public access to the beach.
Mr. Patrick said he is confident that Tara Martin, the town's conservation agent, is doing a "wonderful job ensuring that they are doing the right thing. She has been paying close attention."
As for town efforts to purchase a beach lot there, Mr. Patrick said the WRWA has taken no position. "That is really not within out purview. It is more of a civic matter."
Supporters of the beach acquisition plan say it would provide senior citizens and disabled residents with easier beach access than is available at the town's Cherry & Webb Beach..
But Mr. Underwood said there are several better alternatives for such a beach.
That is "the worst possible beach for such a use," he said. "The road is four feet lower than the dune so they'd either have to raise the road or cut through the dune which would be a disaster." Also, there are boulders there, he said, lots of red seaweed and drop-offs — "not the sort of place I would think a disabled person would choose to go to the beach."