The Key to First Beach’s Future: More Sand

The entire shoreline at Easton’s Beach will be underwater at high tide in less than 50 years, according to a recent study. However, the impact of the projected sea-level rise can be mitigated with strategies like annual sand replenishment, which would add more beach to the beach.

“With this beach nourishment, we’re saving the ability for recreational use,” said Lara Sup, a climate and flood resilience engineer, at a recent Newport City Council workshop. “Without that beach nourishment . . . [sea-level rise] will be hitting much closer to the existing seawall.”

The analysis was commissioned by the city of Newport and conducted by Woods Hole Group and Fuss & O’Neill, environmental engineering and consulting firms, utilizing data and projections from FEMA flood plain maps. Those predictions anticipate about five feet of sea-level rise and a high probability of annual flooding at Easton’s Beach by 2070, making the destination no longer practical as a recreational space.

The annual replenishment of sand is one component of a much larger mitigation proposal pitched to the city that also includes the creation of about 75 feet of beach grass dunes extending from the west parking lot down the beach, and the demolition of the current carousel and snack bar buildings to build more resilient ones.

The study found about 150 feet of sand in front of the proposed dunes would need to be annually replenished. The additional sand would also provide “protective adaptability” to the dune. Easton’s Beach is about a half-mile long.

“That’s going to help with wave action and wave break and protect the dune, which, in turn is going to be protecting [the beach facilities],” said Sup.

According to Sup, a wave analysis study still needed to be conducted in the area before the specifics around the potential mitigation strategy, such as volume and exact location, could be finalized. The entire project would cost between $30 and $35 million and would take about 42 months to complete.

Narragansett Town Beach, another large-scale, municipal beach operation with a heavy tourism draw, has undergone annual sand nourishment since 2007, with some years requiring more replenishment than others due to significant storm events.

In those 15 years, the town has spent more than $465,000 on around 14,000 cubic yards of sand for its beach, with the highest spending years being 2007 and 2013 due to a Nor’easter and Superstorm Sandy, respectively. In 2007, the town spent $60,000 on 3,000 cubic yards of sand, and in 2013, it spent nearly $170,000 on 5,365 cubic yards.

In years without major storm events, the town spent anywhere between $7,000 and $16,000 and replenished between 200 and 700 cubic yards of sand. The work is done via payloader and usually takes about two days to complete during the offseason.

Narragansett Town Beach is about three-quarters of a mile long. Measuring width of the beach greatly varies due to shifts in the tide.

Middletown does not replenish sand annually at Second or Third Beaches. According to Middletown spokesperson Matt Sheley, however, occasional beach grass plantings to grow the dunes and extend the longevity of the beach are necessary. Second Beach is a little over one mile long.

The state occasionally replenishes sand at non-surf state beaches, including Fort Adams, Lincoln Woods and George Washington state parks, by bringing in clean beach sand from a vendor. There is no annual sand replenishment program for state surf beaches, and the last time such a practice was required was in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, when the state purchased 84,000 cubic yards of sand, about 3,000 truckloads from a quarry in Charlestown, to replenish Misquamicut State Beach in Westerly. The project cost $3.1 million.

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