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On the beach: A tide of recovery in Westport a week after Sandy

Published 10:24 am, Tuesday, November 6, 2012

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  • Superstorm Sandy left behind major damage to the seawall at Burying Hill Beach. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    Superstorm Sandy left behind major damage to the seawall at Burying Hill Beach. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Despite enduring one of the most potent storms to strike Westport in recent years, the town Parks and Recreation Department's waterfront properties escaped the massive damage that Hurricane Sandy inflicted on other shoreline communities in Connecticut last week.

"There's property damage, but it's ultimately all repairable," Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy said Monday. "The damage was completely limited to shorefront areas. There was no damage to parks and ballfields."

Burying Hill Beach, off Beachside Avenue, was hardest hit by Sandy, McCarthy said. The superstorm thrashed the beach's seawall, leaving behind a mess of rocks. Along an embankment next to the shore, Sandy twisted a chain-link fence into a wiry snarl like a bent-out paper clip. The beach is scheduled to re-open later this week, but repairs will take much longer. McCarthy described the rebuilding of Burying Hill's seawall as "an expensive proposition."

At Compo Beach, Sandy knocked out a brick wall that divides the pavilion and bathhouses. The storm mostly spared the beach's seawall along Soundview Drive, which needed extensive work after it was battered last year during Tropical Storm Irene. The beach's Joey's by the Shore restaurant escaped with only a "dusting of sand" inside, according to McCarthy. At the neighboring Ned Dimes Marina, the storm flooded several seasonal buildings, but they remain intact.

Several parts of the Longshore Club Park golf course were also flooded, including five greens and the entire 17th-hole fairway. After Parks and Rec staff treated the grounds with fresh water last week, the golf course welcomed back players Saturday.

McCarthy rated Sandy's force as comparable to the damage wrought by Irene. Parks and Rec officials have not released a cost estimate of Sandy's impact on their department's assets.

"We're getting used to this, unfortunately," McCarthy said. "We just have to keep cleaning it up."

Assessing the sand berm

Town emergency management officials' decision to construct a sand berm on Compo Beach the weekend before Sandy's landfall may be one of the town's most widely debated storm-defense measures.

Extending from the intersection of Soundview Drive and Hillspoint Road to the south end of Compo Beach, the towering blockade was envisioned by town emergency management officials as a means of blunting the impact of Sandy's storm surge. But within hours of the storm hitting the town, the sand wall had washed away.

McCarthy offered an ambivalent evaluation of the sand berm's performance.

"It's really hard to tell because you know what happened, but you don't know what didn't happen," he said. "There was a lot of sand in the parking lots and in the residential area of Compo Beach. This storm was a couple of feet higher than anything we ever had, so it's very possible that the sand might have ended up there anyway."

Diane Cady, the chairwoman of the Representative Town Meeting's Environment Committee and a Compo Beach neighborhood resident, shared McCarthy's viewpoint.

"It would take a little more study," she said. "We still don't know what it would have been like without the berm. It's very hard to tell."

Soundview Drive resident Hal Fischel, who did not evacuate during the storm, watched from his house as Sandy demolished the sand berm.

"It was just sand and against the waves and wind it was just powerless," he said. "It all ended up on the road. It held a while, but eventually it gave away. The water found its way through it. It made openings, and once it sprung an opening, it just carried on and on until it was all gone."

Fischel added that he would advise against the town building a sand barrier at Compo Beach ahead of future storms.

High marks for town's response

Despite the demolition of the sand berm, Compo Beach re-opened by last Thursday morning. The restart of play at the Longshore course followed two days later. The expeditious cleanup of those waterfront town properties led some town residents to question whether the town could have assigned Parks and Rec workers to more urgent recovery operations. McCarthy responded that those workers were effectively deployed during the last week.

"I don't know that there was ever a time when something could have been done if a town employee did it and it didn't get done," he said. "The town was responding. The big issue here is power. It's not like the guys that are raking the leaves at the golf course could have been up in a bucket stringing power lines."

Several Compo Beach neighborhood residents, including Cady, praised town emergency management officials' response to Sandy.

"I think they were remarkable," she said.

Scott Smith, who lives on the same street as Cady -- Danbury Avenue -- concurred.

"I think the town handled it really well," he said. "It was nice to see police officers driving around here after the storm, because the houses were pretty much wide open. That was nice to see. I think the town did a great job."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott