State prepares beaches for summer season

A federally funded project is restoring the sand at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly.

It could have been the middle of winter Wednesday in Misquamicut, with no beach-goers and a cold, wind-driven rain. But Springfest is only nine days away.

The only activity was contractors working on a $3.1 million federally funded beach replenishment program in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

"The 84,000 cubic yards being brought in by truck right now will make the beach look like it did over 50 years ago," Westerly Town Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said.

When the beach project is finished, it'll look dramatically different from the way it looks now.

"It'll kind of go out and go to whatever the point is in the water that they want it to go to, and then it will taper back to the other end of the state beach," Cooke said.

A half-mile of the three miles of beaches are getting the upgrade. The rest will be unaffected.

As late as 2005, city leaders have been trying to get Weekapaug Pond dredged and have that sand put back on the beach, but that hasn't happened.

Now, with the Sandy money, the job's getting done.

"Misquamicut State Beach, for example, is the largest revenue-generating state beach in the whole state of Rhode Island. No. 1, hands down," Cooke said. "Misquamicut Beach, in general, and Westerly is the largest generator of hotel tax for the entire of South County."

While Misquamicut took the biggest battering of all Rhode Island beaches from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, seven months later it was back to 90 percent of its annual business, and 95 percent is projected this year.

Other beaches fared pretty well this past winter, like Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett, only needing the regular spring clean-up.