Despite protests, Beach Avenue cleared for asphalt; dune repairs ordered


Beach Avenue is indeed a paved road for much of its length after all so Westport doesn't need further permission to push ahead with work to clear it and put down fresh asphalt, a state official has ruled.

That letter in hand, Westport town officials are moving forward with the project despite objections from some who live nearby.

Town Highway Department crews were back Friday doing more dune repair and prep work for the paving work to come. Meanwhile, new signs are being crafted a the Highway Department.

It's all part of an effort to reopen the road to all in Westport, say a majority on the Board of Selectmen.

Town Administrator John "Jack" Healey reported to the Board of Selectmen this week that, once signs are up, "we will open the road and residents of Westport with beach passes will be permitted to parallel park along the sidewalk side."

Since it will take an estimated eight weeks to prepare for paving and put the work out to bid, pavement likely won't go down until spring because the asphalt plants close when cold weather arrives.

But Mr. Healey said that town crews are putting a gravel bed on the road that should both make it passable until then and provide a solid bed for the asphalt to come.

The road will not be paved all the way to the Knubble but out approximately to the point that the barrier beach begins ("where there is water on both sides") he said.

Signs for "no parking, parking by permit, the location of the gate and locking system, beach access and a general welcoming sign as well as signage for handicapped parking at the entrance and at the end of the paved section were developed," Mr. Healey said, and are being made at the town Highway Department.


Fire hose reveals asphalt

Those developments followed a change of course by the state Department of Environmental Protection's Southeast Regional Office last week.

Previously, Liz Kouloheras of DEP's Waterlands Division visited the site and said that the town had agreed voluntarily to prepare a new Notification of Intent describing its intentions and methods at the road along the town's southwest shore. She said such a process, including public hearing, would be well advised, noting damage done already to dunes and questions concerning the historic extent of the road that runs east to the Knubble at the entrance to the Westport River and harbor.

"We he had received a number of complaints about the work by phone and email,"DEP spokesman Ed Coletta said then, adding that Mass DEP thinks it important that the town get input from its residents.

But last week, Ms. Kouloheras' superior at DEP, David Johnston, deputy regional director, Bureau of Resource Protection, made a several-hour visit after town crews had done work to expose the road's old pavement that had been buried beneath sand and debris.

Sand spraying videoThe Westport Fire Department brought two "brush breaker" forestry trucks to the road and, using a hose, blasted away sand to reveal old pavement. Elsewhere, town Highway Department workers dug down to find pavement.

Based on what he had seen, Mr. Johnston said a new Notice of Intent is no longer needed.

"There was evidence that the entire 40-foot roadway portion (at the west end of Beach Avenue) had been paved," Mr. Johnston wrote. "The evidence indicated that the pavement had a total width of 24 feet beginning at the southern end of the 3-foot, 3-inch concrete sidewalk and ending at what was coastal dune before it was cut and removed.

Further west, he said evidence shows that the roadway had been 30 feet wide — partially paved to a width of 20 feet plus sidewalk.

Based on that, Mr. Johnston said that the road may "be repaved so long as there is no width expansion in either the 40-foot or 30-foot alignment(s). That pavement can be 24-feet wide plus sidewalk in the wider stretch; 20-feet wide plus sidewalk in the narrower east stretch.

The town would have to prepare a new Notice of Intent if it wants to widen the road, he said, or if it wishes to build any new turnouts, do drainage work or alter the dunes in any way. Using removed sand for beach nourishment would also require new permission.

The town may actually seek to pave to a width of 27 feet, Mr. Healey said, "since that sidewalk is pretty well broken up." A stripe would be painted to mark off the walkway part of the pavement.

He also said that, for now, the 27-foot paved area should provide enough room for people to turn their cars around.

"If you can't do a three-point turn in a 27-foot road then you probably shouldn't be driving anyway," he said.

Eventually, he said he hopes a deal can be worked out whereby the town obtains land for a turnabout from the Land Trust in exchange for relinquishing the roadway at the far west end out to the Knubble.

Mr. Johnston also said the town needs to repair a dune that it cut into and partially removed during recent work there.

Paul Joncas of the town Conservation Commission said that Ms. Kouloheras' earlier call for a new Notice of Intent "was based on the information they had at the time."

That changed, he said, when sand was cleared away and Mr. Johnston was able to see and measure the old pavement and sidewalk. "DEP errs on the side of caution."

The Conservation Commission's interest is to see to it that the rules are followed, he said. "It is up to the Board of Selectmen what work they actually choose to do."


Mixed reaction

She remains disappointed by disruption of the beach and the cost of the work to Westport, but Beach Avenue neighbor Constance Gee said the ruling is also "so much better than it could have turned out."

The letter, she said, "is very clear. The town is under tight restraints and can go no wider than the 24 feet that has been specified."

That is better, she said, than what initially seemed to be happening.

"They went in there with their heavy machinery and just cut through all the way to the Knubble  … (they) worked on private land, on conservation land and cut into sand dunes without any apparent plan or guidelines."

She said it is also important that the town has been told to repair dunes it damaged. "It's a big job and a lot of people will be watching closely to make sure it is done right." Ms. Gee said town crews "spent three days packing sand up against those dunes last week in what I guess was an attempt to repair the damage and they haven't done one tenth of what needs to be done."

She said she believes the neighbors accomplished something important by causing the DEP to "take a good close, careful look at what is going on down there." Still, "I am disappointed that we didn't get the public hearing that I think this project deserved," she said, and added that she wishes the town would use a permeable surface rather than asphalt." Reminds me of the Joni Mitchell song — 'paved paradise and put in a parking lot.'

Mr. Healey said he hopes these actions serve to defuse some of the anger that the project has provoked.

"The town is sensitive to the concerns of people down there whether they think we are or not," he said. "We just want to make sure that everyone

from Westport has access to this beach that belongs to all in town."

Mr. Healey said there's a possibility the town will return for a new Notice of Intent to enable future beach nourishment or a turnabout at some point.


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