Picking Up the Pieces in Westerly

The Andrea, like so many businesses along R.I.’s southern shore, is trying to keep pace with erosion, flooding, and storms.

The Andrea, formerly a hotel built upon three generations and an iconic locale along Rhode Island’s Misquamicut Beach, has now been transformed into an open, seaside restaurant and bar.

Judy Pataluci, third-generation owner of The Andrea, talks to Coastweeks coastal tour about recovery after Superstorm Sandy.

Judy Colucci, third-generation owner of The Andrea, talks to Coastweeks coastal tour about recovery after Superstorm Sandy.

“It’s the second year, and it’s actually done really well,” said Judy Colucci, owner of The Andrea, to a large crowd for Rhode Island Sea Grant’s Coastweeks coastal tour to showcase impacts from erosion and storms, and how people are adapting.

The restaurant, which used to be part of a 24-room, century-old hotel, is built to be taken apart for storm forecasts and winter storage, and sits behind a stone revetment. Despite these measures, the future for The Andrea is still uncertain.

“The new wall has been very stable, though we haven’t had another storm to test it,” said Colucci, jokingly. “We’re not making any big plans, and will see how this works.”

Since the loss of The Andrea Hotel, hotel revenue in the area has decreased dramatically, according to Barbara Cardiff of Westerly’s Economic Development Commission.

“We don’t have a place for people to spend the night anymore,” she said. “So they go to Connecticut and come over in the day, which is why we serve so much food and beverage.”

The Andrea, and so many other businesses and homes along the shore, showcases the impacts of coastal storms and erosion, and the challenges residents and businesses face for recovery and adaptation. Many have even placed mobile structures, such as tents, to protect their businesses from the effects of further erosion.

The Andrea, seaside bar and restaurant, is all that remains of the former hotel after Sandy.

The Andrea, seaside bar and restaurant, is all that remains of the former hotel after Sandy.

“Westerly is eroding, but more slowly than other places along Rhode Island’s southern shoreline,” said Janet Freedman, Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) coastal geologist, who led the tour, explaining how the town has been successful in dune restoration and beach nourishment efforts to reestablish and protect the shoreline, as well as working with homeowners to encourage elevating structures higher than required, but noting that everything is temporary.

Freedman discussed the dynamics of coastal processes, specifically of Misquamicut’s barrier and headlands, both of which erode, sometimes rapidly, so participants would have a better understanding of what happens to an eroding coast, and the impacts that storms and sea level rise can have to further exacerbate these conditions.

“Much of the sand is moving offshore,” she said, noting ongoing research as part of the Beach Special Area Management Plan to better understand these processes to develop better policies that deal with erosion, sea level rise, and extreme weather. “We want to have an idea about where it goes, how long it will last, and where additional sand may be found for future projects.”

Dune restoration efforts in Westerly expanded landward, widening the beach and filling over 100 parking spots.

Dune restoration efforts in Westerly expanded landward, widening the beach and filling over 100 parking spots.

Research is underway to also assess rates of sea level change, storm surge heights, and storm intensities. Sea levels are expected to jump 3 to 5 feet in the next century. This may not seem like a lot, but when you take into account tide and storm surge levels this could mean big losses to waterfront homes and businesses.

“One of the things we’re afraid of in the future is more extratropical storms with higher surges, like Sandy,” said Freedman discussing hurricane dynamics and what changes in water and land temperature might mean with regard to storm intensity.

What we may find in the future, according to Isaac Ginis, hurricane expert at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, is either the same number of storms or fewer in a season, but with greater intensity.

“We’ll see more Category 4 and 5 storms,” said Ginis in a presentation earlier this summer, explaining that as the climate gets warmer it will feed more energy into these storms. This is largely attributed to the impacts of climate change, as warmer water fuels these types of storms. “Hurricanes draw energy from the ocean, from evaporation…The higher the temperature, the higher the potential for hurricanes to gain energy.”

With more intense storms comes flooding, which is often the most destructive and overlooked aspect of a storm, and is what caused the most damage to The Andrea Hotel. Flood maps by the Federal Management Agency (FEMA) are used to predict various flood levels that determine insurance rates and structure allowances, such as freeboard height. Currently, homes in flood zones are allowed to elevate homes three feet above the base flood elevation and not be held to height restrictions in Westerly. This allowance would be well and good, said Freedman, if the current maps were correct.

Janet Freedman, CRMC geologist, speaks about coastal erosion on Coastweeks coastal tour.

Janet Freedman, CRMC geologist, speaks about coastal erosion on Coastweeks coastal tour.

“The new maps have lowered the elevation of the surge and wave height, and moved the v-Zone, the zone you don’t want to be in, further seaward,” she said explaining that many of the areas now mapped outside the v-zone, or velocity zone, still experience the same impacts aren’t equipped with the proper structures. “Houses now in the a-zone don’t have to be on pilings, and we know those areas flood in storms.”

The Beach Special Area Management Plan is underway to provide a basis of research to better understand our coasts in order to better adapt to these growing risks presented by erosion, flooding, and storms. The next stakeholder meeting will be on October 22, 2014.

 

+ Read more on the impacts and controversy of erosion in Rhode Island: Building on Borrowed Time

 – Meredith Haas | Rhode Island Sea Grant Research Communications Specialist

Coastweeks is a 4-week celebration dedicated to building awareness, understanding, and management of the coastal environmental and its resources. Events are supported by Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council(CRMC)

Visit us for more information on upcoming events.