Recovering from Sandy: Beach openings at what cost?

Atlantic Avenue in Misquamicut was one of the hardest hit areas after Superstorm Sandy swept through.

The storm destroyed businesses, tore apart beaches and caused millions of dollars in damage.

Urban search and rescue crews after the storm had to climb piles of sand, some as high as 6 feet, searching for signs of life and securing the area.

Six months later, NBC 10 returned to Atlantic Avenue to see what progress had been made and if the beaches will open on time for the summer.

"A lot of repairs have been done. We got hit pretty hard,"said Robert Paquette of the state Department of Environmental Management.

All the dunes have been lost.

"We had 6 feet of beach that was lost in height level," Paquette said.

The work to get the beaches open for the season has been a priority. On average, Misquamicut sees about 250,000 visitors each year.

Paquette said the major costs to fixing the beach are restoring the dunes.

"Pretty much all the dune restoration work, replacing all the snow fences, sifting sand, and putting it all in place," he said.

The state is getting involved with the repairs, with most being done by private contractors.

The DEM said it has spent about $2 million on repairs to state beaches, Colt State Park and Burlingame campground. The money does not include state or municipal road repairs.

"It's not money that we have budgeted, but tourism is a big thing in Rhode Island," Paquette said.

The DEM has received some reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but nothing "substantial." More money maybe on the way after requests are submitted and more work is completed. A separate federal grant through the state Department of Labor and Training helped hire temporary workers with clean up.

The beaches are scheduled to open May 11.

The DEM said East Matunuck State Beach, Scarborough North Beach, Roger Wheeler State Beach and Misquamicut State Beach are ready to open.

And businesses are ready too.

Paddy's Beach restaurant was heavily damaged during the storm. But thanks to the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, the business has received more than $30,000 in private donations to rebuild, which means they will open on time for the season.

"Some of the businesses down in Misquamicut would not have been able to start their recovery efforts because they weren't getting the insurance reimbursements in a timely fashion and there's been no governmental money available to them," said Lisa Konicki of the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce.

The state hopes tourism will pick up and that the beach season will be a huge success.

"The good news is virtually every business that you see looks like it's brand new because they've been forced by Mother Nature to undergo a major construction project of some sort. And we have the cleanest beaches on the East Coast because every granular of sand, more than 60,000 cubic feet of sand, has been processed," Konicki said.