Westerly races to bring back the beach by tourism season
By: Melissa Toupin
The beaches in Misquamicut are a shell of what they once were—the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy is still visible 3 months later.
"For my whole life being here I've never seen anything like this. Ever," said Barbara Stillman, owner of the Atlantic Beach Casino Resort on Atlantic Avenue.
250 homes were damaged in last years hurricane. 45 businesses were destroyed. The resort town was left in shambles and put the livelihoods of many at stake.
"There's no looking back. You got to get through it. If you stop and start feeling sorry for yourself you're never going to get through it," said Stillman. "Got to keep moving every day."
Stillman says she is losing more than $6,000 for every week her time share business is closed for repairs.
"So it's very, very important for us to get open as soon as possible," said Stillman.
With building permits now in hand some businesses have re–opened. For others the recovery process will take more time—time they don't have. The summer retreat needs to be ready to welcome back tourists by Memorial Day weekend. The town is vowing to make that happen.
"It's not going to look exactly the same, and we're not going to be complete, but we will be open," said Town Manager Steven Hartford.
Misquamicut has come a long way. The day after sandy hit roads were under water and buried in 6 feet of sand and debris. Today clean up is nearing completion.
"One of the most visible changes is the sand—which now sits in more than a dozen pyramids along the stretch of the beach. The next step will be to carefully sift through nearly 100,000 cubic yards of it, and then put it back where it belongs," said ABC6 reporter Melissa Toupin.
The town says it will be a year and a half before the beaches are fully re–stored. They plan to open in May with temporary facilities hoping that will be enough to encourage visitors to return. The population in Westerly doubles in the summer time.
Each year tourists spend more than 9 million dollars at the state and town beach. They play a vital role in the local economy.
"The taxes that are received from the southern end of Westerly are about 30% of our tax roll," said State Representative Samuel Azzinaro of Westerly. "To eliminate that our taxes would go up considerably."
The Chamber has already raised more than $170,000 to help the community get back on their feet and restore the area. Each month a check is delivered to local business owners allowing them to pay their bills and workers. Konicki's goal is to raise $400,000 for recovery efforts by Memorial Day weekend. She is optimistic this will be one of Misquamicut's best seasons to date.
"All eyes are on Misquamicut right now," said Lisa Konicki, Executive Director of the Westerly–Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce. "People are going to want to see what's new. What's different? How properties changed. What's improved? That's actually kind of exciting."
With time running out the race is on to bring back the beach.
"In the snow, in the rain, in the wind we're out here. We're working," said Stillman.