State sees high levels of beach erosion after powerful storms - WFSB 3 Connecticut

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State sees high levels of beach erosion after powerful storms

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OLD LYME, CT (WFSB) -

The Connecticut shoreline is eroding at rates not seen in our lifetime, and the devastation was sped up by powerful storms like Irene and Sandy.

In some spots, five years of erosion was accomplished in just three months, and for the first time, Channel 3 Eyewitness News is showing you the dramatic transformation up close.

Beach season is now upon us and the rebuilding process is going strong in Old Lyme. Many beachfront homes got walloped from Irene and then a year later by Sandy.

"Changes are going on, especially along the Connecticut shore," said beachfront homeowner Catherine Roth.

It's a statement we've heard before and probably sensed. But not many know exactly how much land these storms stole from our state.

"There are some areas in Connecticut where it's been up to 400 to 500 feet. Some areas 600 feet," said University of Connecticut researcher Joel Stocker.

Stunning numbers, but since much of Connecticut's shore is protected by Long Island, we usually fly under the radar and many times miss out on government research and projects. But a team from UConn is picking up the slack.

"Our project here is to try to do all towns along the shoreline of Connecticut," Stocker said.

Stocker is using aerial shots from the months after Sandy hit the state and comparing them to shots taken each decade all the way back to the 1800s.

"It really does hit home because it shows something you'd never be able to see if you were standing on the beach," he said.

And when the maps are put into motion, you'll see the dramatic transformation unfold before your eyes.

"This is the shoreline back in the 1800s, and now the shoreline is pushed back," Stocker said, showing the maps.

It's amazing to see, but researchers said there are consequences for the masses. Summer won't be the same.

At Magonk Point in Waterford, locals said the cracked seawall always seems to be under renovation, and the beach itself is starting to disappear.

"There's less sand, or what sand we do have has been pushed way up," said beachfront homeowner Greg Conte.

But for those who have a front row seat to the slow and steady destruction, rapid erosion could ultimately force them out of home sweet home.

"You just fear that it's going to continue to happen, and what it does mean for future generations of folks living here," said Lorianne Griswold.

The effects of erosion are very apparent at Griswold Point in Old Lyme.

"The beach has gone back 12 to 15 feet," Griswold said. "We figured since the hurricanes and the winter we had."

She said her and her family are lifers in Old Lyme. They inherited the private land from their ancestors.

"So they're very interested in making sure the areas stay the way they are and we continue to look at the issue of erosion," Griswold said.

The state is helping out, too.

During the winter, crews were out preparing for summer by restoring sand after Sandy. It's beginning to become an annual chore. And for the homeowners, the state is sending out teams to help those affected and are doing studies to alleviate flooding problems in the future.

It doesn't do much to help those right on the front lines of the battle with Mother Nature.

"This is something that you knew could happen, but the reality is always quite harsher," Griswold said.

"We could still get hit very hard," said UConn researcher Juliana Barrett. "Between the surge and the tides, there's no question that there's going to be flooding and damage."

With the UConn project a few months from completion, researchers haven't been able to pinpoint immediate danger zones, but they're confident problem spots will be very apparent once it's done.

"Seeing in those cases, the amount of erosion is very eye-opening in some areas," Barrett said.

The next step will be working with those soon to be selected towns, figuring out how to adapt to the quickly changing environment before the next big storm rolls through.

"The models are showing that we're supposed to have more intense coastal storms, so how can we prepare for the erosion that we know is going to come?" Barrett asked.

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