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Selectmen Call for Better Beach Management

9 February 2006

Source: Cape Cod Chronicle by William F. Galvin

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HARWICH --- There is old saying that Cape Cod wasn't here 12,000 years ago, and it won't be here in another 12,000 years. In the meantime, selectmen would like to take steps to ensure beaches, especially along Nantucket Sound, are suitable to accommodate residents and seasonal visitors next summer.

In recent years selectmen have heard a number of complaints from non-resident taxpayers and the tourist industry about the adverse impacts of beach scour and erosion along the shoreline. Waterfront property owners complain about high taxes, limited services and eroding beaches, which make property rentals and seasonal usage less attractive.

Selectmen on Monday night sought ways of addressing these issues in both the short and long term. They even considered mining sand from offshore to build up beach heads, before realizing the mining of sand is not allowed in the Nantucket Sound Marine Sanctuary.

One of the other ways of building back beaches is through use of dredge materials from harbor channels, a practice that has been in place for years, or purchasing sand at a price of more than $20 per cubic yard to be transported over the roadway and deposited.

Last summer residents adjacent to Grey Neck Road Beach complained about the absence of a beach and access to the waters because of erosion. In late August the stairs leading down to the beach were blocked by the town because of danger associated with the drop to the beach from the bottom step.

Selectmen scheduled a work session Monday night to examine ways of improving conditions, nourishing beaches, and addressing these issues on a long-term basis.

Selectman Robin Wilkins cited the need for a beach management plan like the one in place on Nantucket . He said there has been a lot of discussion before selectmen from chamber of commerce members and neighborhood associations about sand not being placed on beaches.

Assistant town administrator Rene Read said through a maintenance dredge program the town will pay $6.45 a cubic yard to have the Barnstable County dredge (an Ellicott® Series 670 "Dragon®" named the "Cod Fish") put sand from shoaling channels at specific beach locations. Town Engineer Joseph Borgesi said the current permit only allows sand to be placed above the mean high water mark. He said it gets very complicated to seek permits below that mark because of potential damage to eelgrass and shellfish beds.

The town engineer presented a list of 15 beaches in town in need of more than 55,000 cubic yards of sand nourishment, including Bay Road in Pleasant Bay. Most of those beaches can be reached with the 4,000-foot pipe system used by the county dredge, Borgesi said. The far end of Red River Beach may be an exception, he said.

"We need to figure out what the overall objective is going to be," Selectman Peter Piekarski said. "It's going to be a lot of work to put the big plan together. We need to figure out the long-term approach and what we do in the short term while we work on the long term. We've been told a number of times the Harwich beaches are important."

McManus said as part of a beach management plan they need to quantify cost. He said Red River Beach needs 22,000 cubic yards, and a few storms could wash it away. Grey Neck Road will probably never hold sand for an appreciable time, he said.

Borgesi said under the channel maintenance dredging permits, the town is not allowed to remove more than 10,000 cubic yards without triggering a more complicated environmental review. At present the town dredges Allen and Wychmere harbor channels, the engineer said.

Borgesi said Saquatucket Harbor is dredged through a federal program. Harbormaster Thomas Leach said that is done with the "Currituck", a small Ellicott® hopper dredge owned by the Corps of Engineers that dumps its sand offshore along Neel Road. They do not pump the material onto local beaches. But Leach said that sand can move in on the tide.

Selectman Larry Cole wanted to know if 10,000 cubic yards is enough sand to keep up with beach erosion. Borgesi said it depends on weather, but it would get the town "back up to speed."

Dredging costs money. Town Accountant David Ryan said there is $66,000 in the dredge account. He also pointed out there is $125,000 in the newly formed waterways management fund fed through a portion of boat excise taxes. Those funds have to be voted by town meeting, he said.

Leach said the town just awarded a contract to prepare seven permit applications for dredge maintenance to Coastal Engineering, Inc. of Orleans . Those permits are site specific, including placement of materials, Leach said. One of those permits seeks to take dredge material from Outer Wychmere channel and place it on Red River Beach .

Leach also told selectmen the planning department several years ago sought funding to do a beach management plan, but that grant did not materialize.  Piekarski wanted to know how the town gets sand to the smaller beaches.

"It's a good question. Many of those beaches do not have the permits," Leach said.

The harbormaster said there are no permits for Bank Street , Merkel, Belmont, Pleasant Road , Brooks, Sea Street and Jenkins beaches. Leach also said the $66,000 will get chewed up fast when the annual dredging begins. He said another $100,000 will be requested in town meeting. Leach also said the federal small harbor dredging program has been placed on hold through the Army Corps of Engineers and monies diverted to the Iraq War, diminishing chances for the Saquatucket channel being dredged.

"We need a short-term plan to get sand to the beaches or it's going to be another ugly season," Piekarski said.

 Leach said politics play a role in getting beaches nourished.

"As long as I'm here we'll keep politics out of everything long term," Piekarski responded. "We'll define priorities and take care of it. People need to see a plan so everyone is on the same page."  

Republished from Cape Cod Chronicle

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