State Officials Get Up Close Look At Sandwich’s Erosion Troubles
By: Mary Stanley
State officials were in town last Friday to get an upclose look at the erosion troubles along Town Neck Beach.
Among those who visited were Senator Therese D. Murray, Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr. and Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection Kenneth L. Kimmell.
Director of Natural Resources Mark S. Galkowski led a tour, stopping at the stretch of beach near Hemisphere Restaurant and near the town’s Boardwalk so that state officials could have a clear understanding of how much beach dune has been lost in recent years. The visit provided town officials the opportunity to explain the cause of the problem and, more importantly, talk about possible solutions and some of the obstacles to reaching those solutions.
“I think it was very informative for Secretary Sullivan and his staff to see this. It was a great thing that we were able to get them out there,” said State Representative Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich).
Mr. Hunt, a former selectman in town, is quite familiar with the erosion issues along Town Neck, having produced a documentary in 2008 titled, “Sands of Change.” Mr. Hunt even went so far as to film aerial views of the coastline that clearly depicted the erosion.
Last week’s tour seemed to make an impression on the state officials. In a statement released this week, Sen. Murray said, “It was important for the secretary to come down and see firsthand what is happening to our beaches and I hope our meeting will allow us to move closer to a solution. We’ve been working with the town of Sandwich on this issue and will continue to work with the town and the secretary until this issue is resolved.”
The problems with the Sandwich shoreline are not new. For decades, the beaches have been starved for sand. The jetties at the Cape Cod Canal are widely considered the reasons why.
Sand in Cape Cod Bay flows from west to east with the currents. Much of the Cape’s sand comes from Plymouth, where waves and wind pull it from the sandy cliffs. Wave action pushes the sand eastward toward Provincetown, leaving much behind on beaches along the way.
This is why the so-called rocky groins were constructed on the town’s beaches, to better capture this flowing sand.
The canal jetties were built and then lengthened by the Army Corps of Engineers to stop sand from filling in the canal, which had been an ongoing problem for the Army Corps, one that required frequent dredging.
After this construction, Scusset Beach began to broaden noticeably as the jetty captured more and more sand. Sandwich’s beaches became rockier and rockier and the dune system slowly began to collapse.
A succession of storms in the 1990s made matters worse by pushing the entrance to Old Harbor beyond its own stone jetties, farther east toward Spring Hill. Besides shifting eastward, the entrance has also widened, allowing a greater quantity of water to enter the marsh more rapidly at high tides. This, along with the collapse of the barrier dunes, has raised concern about flooding in the low-lying areas of Sandwich Village.
Mr. Galkowski said last Friday’s meeting included discussions about possible solutions to the problem as well as some of the obstacles to those solutions.
One such solution is a beach nourishment project, which would require putting sand dredged from the canal back onto the beaches.
According to Kirk F. Bosma, a coastal engineer with the Woods Hole Group, the consulting company working on a plan for the Old Harbor inlet, one of the preferred options would be to rebuild the beach with dredged sand close to the Old Harbor entrance. But doing so would disrupt the nesting areas of the endangered piping plovers.
But once the work was done, Mr. Bosma said, the birds would have a larger nesting area to use.
But the permitting process for this portion of the project has not been an easy one, and Mr. Galkowski explained to state officials some of the roadblocks the town has come up against.
“We have been trying to get various agencies to sign off on the design. But Natural Heritage was not in favor of the plans that we originally put forward because it disrupts the inlet. So we redesigned the plans at their request, but they are still opposed,” Mr. Galkowski said.
“When we talked about the permitting issues, that drew [Sec. Sullivan’s] attention,” Mr. Hunt said.
Chairman of the board of selectmen Frank Pannorfi agreed.
“I was happy to see Secretary Sullivan so responsive. He asked some very good questions and specifically about the beach erosion plan, itself. I think he recognized the problem and that it has an economic effect,” Mr. Pannorfi said.
A statement released by Reginald Zimmerman, Sec. Sullivan’s assistant press secretary, this week said, “The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs is committed to working with Sandwich to identify and implement a solution to the severe erosion problem in the Town Neck area. EEA and its agencies look forward to sitting down with the town as well as the Army Corps of Engineers to discuss plans and options for beach nourishment, including the opportunities presented by the potential for beneficial re-use of sand dredged from the Cape Cod Canal as part of routine navigational maintenance.”
Overall, the town officials said they were pleased with the officials’ response to the visit.
“I thought we had a good exchange of ideas. I hope this is taken to heart and that these people understand what a significant problem this is, and the catastrophic risks that are associated with it,” Mr. Pannorfi said.