For years, the Town of Middletown relocated tons of sand on Sachuest Beach. This year, the Town is trying a more natural approach at the Sachuest Point Road summertime hotspot.
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LEAVE IT WHERE IT LAYS
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (JUNE 16, 2021) – For years, Town of Middletown staff would relocate sand at Sachuest Beach where it believed it should go.
This year, the Town is trying a new tact and letting Mother Nature call the shots in many areas of the beach instead.
Like the Town’s more recent move to not bulldoze sand from the mouth of the Maidford River at nearby Third Beach, local leaders said the change is more natural, less time consuming and makes sense in the long run.
“Year after year, we’d move tons of sand from in front of the concession stand and we’d need to do it all over again by the next season,” Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown said. “This year, there was a discussion and a consensus that we should leave (the sand) where it is and see how it goes. That’s where nature intended it, so why fight it, especially when it doesn’t interfere with the operation of the beach.”
Every spring leading up to the opening of the beaches on Memorial Day weekend, it was commonplace to see big machinery working in front of the main concession building at 315 Sachuest Point Road.
Mounds and mounds of sand would be cleared to give the area a clear view to the water, taking precious work hours away from other projects to get the beaches ready for the busy summer season.
As part of that prep work, paths through the dunes were also cleared of excess sand so beachgoers could get where they wanted.
However, the award of federal beach resiliency money in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the town was encouraged to keep the more natural, rounded look of the dunes in place. That way, the dunes could do their job and help keep seawater out of the parking lot.
Town officials said the move has allowed the dunes to grow uninterrupted and helped create a sturdier, more environmentally sound dune system that don’t require nearly as much maintenance.
In 2016, the Town adopted a similar approach to the mouth of the Maidford where it had been emptying into the Sakonnet River near the Town Beach on Third Beach Road. For decades, public works staff used a bulldozer to remove sand washing in from the Sakonnet that plugged the outlet for the Maidford under a culvert.
Looking to find a better alternative, the Town ceased bulldozing the area and now the water daylights south of the Third Beach boat ramp. That happens after stormwater has been filtered through a marsh on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service property.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is the Maidford River originally emptied out where Surfer’s End is on Second Beach,” Brown said. “It was routed all the way over to Third Beach and we’re trying to address it as best we can in a more natural, holistic type way.”
Overall, town staff said the moves in the beach area are reflective of a low impact-high return approach.
Instead of building costly infrastructure that relies on complicated solutions, the Town is using low tech, environmentally sound alternatives wherever possible. This approach is encouraged both on the state and national levels.
“The way it used to be, everyone used to try to build their way out of these issues,” Brown said. “Today, it’s a totally different approach, where we work hard to design solutions that make sense -- low impact, high return kind of projects. There are examples all over town from Middletown Valley all the way to our beaches.”