Posted by: coastlinesproject | July 29, 2013

Nantucket; public hearing on armoring Sconsett Bluffs. We will be monitoring this debate.

SBPF makes first public plea for hard armoring bluff

By Peter B. Brace

With a strong sense of urgency coloring all of their statements and responses to questions, the attorneys and coastal engineers representing the Siasconset Beach Preservation Fund began their public hearing campaign to convince Nantucket’s Conservation Commission that their client’s latest proposal is worthy of the ConCom’s approval.

Faced with what SBPF has determined as no other alternative in saving Baxter Road bluff property owners’ real estate from erosion and the road itself, this private group began lobbying the Conservation Commission on July 24. SBPF’s portion of this regularly scheduled ConCom meeting lasted nearly two and a half hours.

Between 60 and 70 people on both sides of this issue packed into the training room on the second floor of the town’s Public Safety Building, many of them standing or sitting on the floor because of the limited seating, to support or decry what SBPB is proposing, which is a rock revetment. A type of hard armoring, SBPF’s rock revetment would be built in two phases totaling 4,200 feet long between 119 and 51 Baxter Road and reach 16 feet up the bluff from the mean low water mark. Boulders weighing three to five tons each would be brought over to just off Nantucket’s eastern shore by barges. A barge would be moored at the beach acting as a transfer platform between the incoming boulder barges and earth-moving equipment, which would drive up onto the stationary barge to move boulders onto the beach for building the wall.

SBPF told the commission it proposes to place gravel on the bluff face covered with geotextile fabric to help with drainage where the boulders will be interlocked to form a tight wall. Additionally, the boulder wall is proposed to extend under the beach at the toe of the bluff eight to ten feet and each end of the revetment will be flared out and back toward the toe of the bluff to prevent end scour.

The pitch

Attorney Steve Cohen of the island firm, Reade, Gullicksen, Hanley, Gifford & Cohen, L.L.P. representing SBPF, in an effort to show the commission what support for this project is like, asked for a show of hands. More than half the people in the room raised their hands. Cohen then listed the erosion control projects that SBPF tried since the early 1990s when this group formed, most having only marginal success at slowing erosion, including the Sta-Beach dewatering system, bluff terracing, Dune-Guard fencing and geotube installations at the toe of the bluff, and beach nourishment and the rock-filled wire cage and mattress (gabions) projects, both of which never happened. Cohen told the commission that in light of the damage that could have been done by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 had it hit Nantucket and the loss of bluff, up to 30 feet in one section, and houses as a result of storms during the winter of 2012/2013, that SBPF has no other alternative but to build the revetment to protect the houses in imminent danger on Baxter Road.

SBPF and Cohen told the commission they believe certain sections of Baxter Road and houses on its ocean side are one storm away from being lost. Cohen told the commission that washout of Sheep Pond Road in Madaket in September 2003 should be reminder to the town that is has to maintain access to property owners’ houses. He then cited two 2012 Town Meeting articles, one of which he said allows hard armoring of Nantucket shoreline and the other which also allows hard armoring in case of an emergency, and then reminded the ConCom of the memorandum of understanding between the Board of Selectmen and SBPF in which an emergency was declared because of imminent erosion endangering certain bluff sections containing public roads and utility systems, an agreement that allows the use of town land for this project, exempting the revetment from the town’s current moratorium on coastal engineering structures on town land until Dec. 31 or the completion of finishes its Coastal Management Plan, which ever comes first. Under this MOU, SBPF funds all project design, permitting and construction including the town’s legal fees and pays for an independent consultant to do a peer review of SBPF’s proposal, but town support of this project is subject to peer review findings and the ConCom finding no significant environmental or erosion impacts from the revetment on untreated beaches.

Cohen cited public benefits of this project including the preservation and possible restoration of the Siasconset Bluff Walk, public beach access, protection of wildlife habitat due to stabilization of the top of the bluff and cleaning up the beach below because the geotube bags, which are the only real installation SBPF did that actually helped slow erosion, are “unattractive”. Cohen added, after admitting to the commission that the revetment would cause the ocean to remove beach in front of the rock wall and deprive neighboring beaches of sediment the bluff currently provides, that SBPF would also be mitigating this loss of a sediment source by constant monitoring of the project area and trucking in of sand via approximately 2,000 truckloads per year to the top of the bluff, moving it down to the beach by conveyor belt and replacing it at a rate of 9.3 cubic yards per lineal foot annually.

Cohen touted the revetment as not having any of negatives of other such projects including perpendicular rock walls called groins, anchors and parts that cause project debris such as terracing timbers and geotextile sand bags to be strewn down the shore during storms. He said that the geotubes and terracing installations work when one storm hits but that they can’t survive successive storms such as last winters’. However, while Cohen and Smith cited the 1,600 of revetments along the Massachusetts coastline, when pressed by the commission, they could not provide an example of one whose shoreline experiences the same type of extreme ocean wave energy as the bluff at Baxter Road. And only a handful of the ones SBPF showed to the commission in slide presentation actually faced the open ocean.

Working toward his closing remarks, Cohen read the relevant sections of the state Wetlands Protection Act and Nantucket’s wetlands bylaw, noting how SBPF’s proposal complies with each of these sections and stressing that the law requires the commission to issue a positive order of conditions if SBPF meets the code and that project impacts have to be minimized, but not completely eliminated. He mentioned several times SBPF’s perceived exemption from the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act of 1978, which Cohen said allows owners of houses built on coastal property prior to adoption of this act to employ hard armoring when no other erosion control option exists and he asked the commission to read the statutes, bylaws and regulations with a reasonable eye.

Wrapping up SBPF’s presentation, Cohen asked the commission if this latest proposal isn’t viable, then what is, adding that denial of the project by the ConCom means there is no erosion control solution for Baxter Road. He also told the commission that SBPF would need a positive decision from the ConCom by August 7 to get phase one of the wall built before the fall and winter storms. Most of the room erupted in loud applause when Cohen sat down.

The ConCom finally speaks

When the Conservation Commission took its turn picking apart SBPF’s revetment proposal, the mood in the room turned to skepticism. Conservation Commission chairman Ernie Steinauer remarked that SBPF’s self-generated average annual bluff erosion figure of 3.8 feet is not enough to justify the emergency of imminent danger outlined in the MOU and that if 3.8 feet annual erosion constitutes an emergency, then pretty much the whole island is in imminent danger. Cohen’s fellow attorney Arthur Reade and SBPF coastal engineer Les Smith told the commission that some of the losses are as much as 30 feet and requested that the commission not focus on just the annual average.

ConCom member Sarah Oktay stressed that the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management frowns on revetments. Sharing Steinauer’s concerns on how much renourishment of the beach will be needed, Oktay worried about that too much sand could wash out to sea, smothering rock cobble just off shore where fish feed and spawn. Commissioner Ian Golding, in addition to agreeing with Oktay by noting that eventually the low tide mark would be at the base of the revetment, wondered aloud whether the Massachusetts Public Trust Doctrine allowing all state residents access to all of the coast for fishing, fowling and navigation would continue to be honored while ConCom member Andy Bennett pointed out that SBPF’s people had yet to mention rerouting Baxter Road. And while Cohen told the commission rerouting Baxter Road out of harm’s way would cost the town an estimated $3.8 million in addition to his projection of tens of millions of dollars in legal fees for lawsuits spawned by eminent domain takings to create the new road, the MOU didn’t contain anything about moving Baxter Road.

Bennett also asked where all the sand for renourishment of the beach would come from and SBPF construction manager Jamie Feeley said the 39,000 cubic yards of sand needed every year for over 20 years would come from two island sand pits containing 900,000 cubic yards of sand. Oktay mentioned that the Northeastern tiger beetle has returned to undeveloped beaches on Martha’s Vineyard and that the revetment will surely destroy habitat where this beetle might reestablish itself on Nantucket and habitat of other marine coastal invertebrates, but Cohen replied that because the beach is already compromised, their habitat is already disturbed. Oktay also asked how much more the revetment would stabilize the toe of the bluff and also the top. Cohen responded the rate of improvement is 100 percent, although Smith, in answer to Golding’s query of whether the revetment would stabilize the bluff at a steeper angle, said the bluff face would continue to slump without vegetation and that SBPF would provide all angle of repose data with and without vegetation.

The public speaks

Here’s a sampling of the comments from the public from both sides of this issue with the opposition.

Eric Miller of 80 Quidnet Road urged the commission to do its due diligence in determining the impacts to downdrift beaches when their sediment source, the bluff, is cut off by the revetment and ensure that SBPF returns enough sand back into the system.

Ginger Andrews of 1 Stone Alley and former ConCom Chair expressed her concern about the design of the revetment, asking how the actual wave heights will change and if the beach narrows and the revetment fails, how SBPF accesses the beach to repair it.

John Merson of 71 Baxter Road told the commission that he is the recalcitrant property owner, that he bought his house in 2003 and moved it back 100 feet from the edge of the bluff. He added that the best way to have a beach and preserve it is to move the imperiled houses inland off their lots.

Dirk Roggeveen of 11 Academy Lane and former Conservation Commission administrator representing the Quidnet-Squam Association, in defiance of SBPF’s assertion that the commission “shall” approve hard armoring structures for owners of pre-1978 houses if all laws and regulations are met, pointed out a section of the state’s Wetlands Protection Act under Additional Regulations for Coastal Regulations, Coastal Banks 310 CMR 10.30 (7). Roggeveen read this section allowed, which states, “Bulkheads, revetments, seawalls, groins or other coastal engineering structures may be permitted on such a coastal bank except when such bank is significant to storm damage prevention or flood control because it supplies sediment to coastal beaches, coastal dunes, and barrier beaches.”

John De Angelis of 109 Baxter Road told the commission that he’s lost most his lot, that he has permission from the town to move his house to a lot he owns across Baxter Road, that if this project fails, he may have to demolish his house and that if he moves across the road, he might have four or five more years.

Erica Drazen of 41 Low Beach Road said she was concerned about the risks of SBPF building the revetment and asked to see examples of revetments built under similar conditions as ’Sconset’s heavy wave energy. She said she’s worried whether enough monitoring would be done, that public access may be lost and about the ConCom being forced to make a quick decision.

Read more in; Storm Surge; A Coastal Village Battles the Atlantic, Beach Wars; 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach and The View From Strawberry Hill; Reflections on the Hottest Year on Record. See Strawberry Hill, UPNE, and Schiffer book tabs at the top of this page.



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