Gail Cunningham Coen has lived most of her life on Soundview Drive — the Compo Beach exit road.
She’s acutely aware of the beauty of Long Island Sound — and the power of nature.
She knows when a storm is coming, and what to do when it hits.
And as a former president of the Compo Beach Improvement Association, she’s been intimately involved in the political process of protecting the beach — and the residents across the street.
Gail can recite the history of the retaining wall that runs from the boardwalk all the way to Schlaet’s Point jetty at Hillspoint Road.
It was built over 70 years ago to retain the seawaters and protect the new community of homes at Compo Beach, stretching all the way to the Minuteman statue.
Since that time, sand has built up against the seawall.
A nor’easter in December 1992 caused memorable devastation on Soundview and side streets. After that storm, many residents raised the heights of their homes.
In 1998 the CBIA staged a “Save the Seawall” event to show town officials how tall the wall had once been.
Last week — in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene — Gail was meeting with her insurance adjuster. She saw a group of men at the roped-off site by the wall.
When she asked if they were going to take the opportunity to repair and restore the entire wall — “since Mother Nature had so kindly excavated it with surgeon-like precision along its entire length,” Gail notes — they said no. They’d work only on the part that was roped off.
Gail is concerned that town officials will “do a patch job and then push sand back up against the wall to hide the cracks and crevices, leaving us with a weak little pie crust of a wall — poised and ready to find our homes and possessions in a bowl of seawater and sludge all over again.”
Town officials and the state Department of Environmental Protection have had many discussions about the seawall. Their engineers say it’s not the height of the sand that affects whether water overtops the wall — it’s the height of the water.
In other words, if tides are 12 feet above normal, they’ll be 12 feet above the normal sound height — not 12 feet above the sand. Water will flow over the wall regardless.
Water seeks its own level. So too, apparently, do storms at Compo Beach.