CHARLESTOWN—Cleanup and restoration of the Charlestown Town Beach is set to begin as early as next month, and town officials plan to have it ready for the crowds when beach season arrives.
“There’s a lot of people who want to know, what’s the plan, what are we doing…to ensure that our beaches are back in place,” said Councilor Daniel Slattery at Monday night’s town council meeting.
To expedite the cleanup process and keep citizens informed, the council unanimously approved a motion authorizing Acting Town Administrator Patricia Anderson to coordinate and draft a comprehensive cleanup plan.
The plan will include a list of actions that need to be taken, a timeline for completion and associated cost estimates. Anderson will present the plan to the town council at their next meeting.
In her report to the council, Anderson said the town has received final approval from the R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council to return displaced sand back to the beach. The sand will be laid down in mid-February, Anderson said, and will only take a few days to put in place.
Once the beach is level, the town will remove any debris with beach-cleaning equipment, a process that could take a few weeks. Anderson also made clear that the town will not rebuild any sand dunes on the beach.
“Nature will eventually rebuild the dunes itself,” Anderson said.
FEMA will reimburse up to 75 percent of total beach-cleaning costs to the town.
Last Thursday, town councilors met with staff in a follow-up workshop on Hurricane Sandy. At that meeting, Alan Arsenault, director of public works, said that the Charlestown beaches are looking better than ever since the storm.
“It’s a beach profile such as we’ve never seen before, gently sloping down to the water,” Arsenault said. “It’s much better for swimming.”
Arsenault recommended an Earth Day community cleanup event in April. Although the town cannot clean up private property, Arsenault’s proposal would ease the cleanup process for homeowners, who would simply need to place any debris out by the edge of the road. The town would then haul away the debris free of charge.
At Monday’s meeting, the town council voted to send an informational letter to property owners informing them about plans for an Earth Day cleanup.
Slattery suggested that the town follow up its letter with a phone call if homeowners do not respond, and consider taking punitive action against those owners who fail to clean up their properties before beach season.
“I’m not trying to be heavy-handed, but I do want to get the ball rolling,” Slattery said.
Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said that the town can consider enforcing building and safety codes as a means of encouraging prompt cleanup, but Councilor George C. Tremblay argued that the council should be empathetic toward homeowners.
“These folks have a vested interested in cleaning up their property,” Tremblay said. “I think we should focus on cleaning up the town beach and give these people time to respond. I mean, what’s the rush?”
“Citizens are concerned,” Slattery said. “We have to do something.”
“I think we should start slowly, but start to get the word out,” said Councilor Lisa DiBello. “Really make it a big community effort, not just your regular Earth Day, but a real volunteer effort to help your neighbors clean up.”
It was DiBello who proposed Thursday’s Hurricane Sandy wrap-up meeting, not only to discuss beach restoration plans but also to pinpoint communication issues and streamline the town’s emergency response for future storms.
“There’s a lot of things that went well, but I also noticed a couple of things that could be improved upon,” DiBello said.
She received complaints from local residents about contractors allowed access to damaged areas in the days after the storm.
“A local contractor went down and knocked on doors trying to solicit business,” DiBello said. “They did have a right to be down there in some way, but to go knocking on doors, people were really devastated, and it didn’t go over well.”
To prevent such a scenario in the future, Council President Tom Gentz suggested that contractor passes restrict access to the properties they were hired to work on, and that all contractors sign an agreement in writing not to solicit business.
Other suggestions to improve future emergency response include providing radio training for town staff, planning for improved logistic efficiency, and installing an emergency generator at the senior center.
Everyone at Thursday’s meeting agreed that despite the room for improvement, the town’s response to Hurricane Sandy was a job well done.
“I was really impressed with how collectively we came together,” said Police Chief Jeffrey Allen, who called Hurricane Sandy his “trial by fire.”
“Everyone who got involved had a plan to start with, and they were smart enough to let that plan evolve,” Arsenault said. “Everyone did just an outstanding job.”