'Overwhelming' sand clogs region

Like all big storms, the winds and waters of Hurricane Sandy swirled through the region with a unique mix of flooding, destruction and debris in its wake.

True to its name, sand - tons and tons of it - was one of the signature legacies of Hurricane Sandy, so much that it buried roads, driveways, decks, mailboxes and benches and found its way inside garages in some coastal neighborhoods. It almost seemed like Sandy was pushing shoreline beaches inland and overtopped whatever human artifacts might be in the way, perhaps to make more room for the rising seas.

"It's a little overwhelming," said Laura Trinks Tuesday, as she and her husband Paul tried to dig about a foot of heavy, wet sand out of the garage near one of their two cottages at Hawk's Nest Beach in Old Lyme. Nearby, a small bulldozer attempted to find the pavement of a roadway all but lost under about 3 feet of sand, a necessity before utility trucks could get to the neighborhood to restore power.

Brian Thompson, director of the Office of Long Island Sound Programs for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the amount of sand carried onshore by Sandy seems unprecedented.

"In some areas, it's piled like snowbanks," he said Wednesday. "It seems like there's a lot more sand that's been moved and it's more widespread" than previous big storms.

In recognition of the need to remove all the sand as quickly as possible, DEEP on Tuesday issued an emergency authorization allowing sand to be removed back to the beach, near the mean high water line, without the usual required coastal permits. The authorization, which expires April 30, applies only to sand not contaminated by oil or other substances or mixed with substantial amounts of debris. If the debris is screened out first, it could be dumped back on the beach.

"We expect it will be put back on the closest beach," Thompson said. "If one side of the beach is particularly depleted, it's fine to put the sand there. We don't expect people to know where it came from."

If sand is believed to be contaminated, it would need to be tested before a determination can be made about whether it can be recycled or disposed at a permitted facility, Thompson said.

In Groton City, about 2 feet of sand blocked Beach Pond Road and plugged culverts in two nearby ponds, Groton City Mayor Marian Galbraith said. Tuesday night, city public works crews manned payloaders to begin clearing the road and moving the sand to Eastern Point Beach, which was badly scoured by the storm, she said. Crews also helped dig out at least one resident whose driveway was impassible because of sand, she said.

The task, Galbraith said, is somewhat like clearing roads after a big snowstorm - only sand doesn't melt, and it's heavier.

At the Old Lyme Shores neighborhood Wednesday afternoon, crews hired by the beach association had cleared the roads and were spreading mountains of the piled sand on the beach.

Tina DeLeo and her husband, Carl, cleaning up the flooding and damage to their two beach houses, said they felt weary to be faced with making repairs again just a year after the last big storm. Still, they were grateful that at least relatively quick progress had been made to clear the road, even if a pile of sand still covered part of their front lawn.

"This is nothing compared to yesterday," she said.

At the Crescent Beach neighborhood in East Lyme, town road crews had succeeded in clearing about 2 feet of sand from Atlantic Avenue, reopening the road to traffic Wednesday afternoon. Huge mounds of sand were piled in the parking lot at McCook Point Park next door to the neighborhood, apparently to be spread on the town beach.

About an hour after the road reopened, Randy Sturm was powerwashing his driveway, having just cleared away about an inch of sand that had covered it.

"This is getting to be a yearly thing," he said.

j.benson@theday.com

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