Series of storms bring substantial damage to Narragansett Town Beach

Planning is underway for the restoration of Narragansett Town Beach after a series of three storms caused substantial damage to the dunes, protective sand fencing and several concrete structures along the beach.

While storm damage is a yearly expectation, a string of three major high-tide storms in the span of a one-month period between Dec. 18 and Jan. 13 proved especially challenging, Narragansett Parks and Recreation Director Michelle Kershaw said. The stretch of extreme weather brought substantial storm surge and winds to the beach that caused damage beyond what had been seen in recent years.

“I characterize the Dec. 18 storm as a ‘mini hurricane Sandy,’” Kershaw said. “Because of the strength of the storm tide, the wind speed, the fact that it was a high tide as well…It was significant…In these storms, half of our dunes were wiped out.”

Almost 12 feet of sand, along with the protective fencing, were blown off of the dunes along the beach by excessive winds from the storms, creating a need to truck in beach-approved sand from an outside source in order to fill them in, Kershaw said.

The timeline for the restoration of the dunes, which play a major environmental role in protecting the beach, is set for early April, with no anticipated extended closures into the summer.

“They are very significant to the topography of the beach,” Kerhsaw said. “The dunes protect the buildings [behind the beach], protect the parking lots, and then of course protect Boston Neck Road, and the condos that are across the street as well. There’s ripple effects with losing dunes.”

The loss of sand from the beach also caused concrete walkways to be lifted and damaged due to the excessive sand movement, Kershaw said. Other damages included benches that were blown away, beach cabanas that sustained structural damage and significant damage to the seawall that will require further assessment in the south parking lot of the beach.

While the beach sustained significant damage during the storms, Kershaw was not concerned about the long-term impact on the beach, citing policies that were already in place to address the yearly reality of winter storm damage.

“Since we had three storms right in a row within a 30-day period, that’s the first time in quite a while we took such a big hit,” Kershaw said. “Being that it is a coastal beach that has high exposure…We do each year at least get one storm that causes damage without a doubt, it’s something that we always plan for.”

Part of the annual expectation includes a sand replenishment policy, allowing the beach to bring in outside sand to fill in erosion caused by storms, Kershaw said. This is not a new reality for the beach, which regularly brings in outside sand to mend major changes to the landscape.

Narragansett resident Mary Corcoran, who visits the beach multiple times per week during the offseason, said the storms have created difficulty in her weekly walk across the sand.

“The ocean created a [channel], so even at low tide, when you’re crossing in front of The Dunes Club, it’s risky,” she said. “You can get wacked by a wave…It’s not easy anymore, you have to time it, look at the waves and make a run for it.”

Another effect of the increase in storm activity, Corcoran said, was a buildup of trash on the beach that she thought was washed in from the ocean during the storms.

“The beach itself hasn’t been as sandy, and there’s also all kinds of garbage,” Corcoran said. “I have seen giant pieces of glass, like the size of a dinner plate. I’ve seen chunks of blacktop, I don’t know if the waves ripped off the road and pulled it back into the sea, but it’s been crazy.”

While the effects of the increased storm activity are relevant during the winter off-season, Kershaw said the cleanup efforts and sand restoration are not expected to force long-term beach closure heading into the major tourism summer months. The town is fully prepared to handle the expected cost of repairs as they exit the winter storm season.