Posted by: coastlinesproject | August 13, 2013

Nantucket revetment fight continues.

SBPF continues its fight for revetment to armor Baxter Road Bluff


By Peter B. Brace
Cries of entitlement and pleas of exigency continued to be the refrain uttered by the Siasconset Beach Preservation Fund at the continuation of its public hearing on its proposed rock revetment for 4,200 lineal feet of the bluff on Baxter Road.

Around 60 people attended this meeting with an increasing number of Quidnet Squam and Codfish Park residents present. The meeting happened not even a week after the first meeting of this public hearing during which time SBPF attempted to broaden the reach of its message in two different public forums. The first, on July 26 billed as a neutral, non-political public forum by organizer, the Maria Mitchell Association, featured SBPF treasurer Josh Posner, David Porter, president of the waterfront engineering firm of Childs Engineering Corporation and planning director Andrew Vorce, but no representation from the Conservation Commission, Nantucket Land Council or the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy. The second was a public information forum on the revetment proposal held by SBPF at the ’Sconset Casino on July 29 at which, amid the pitches for support to ’Sconseters, SBPF vice president Helmut Weymar told the crowd of more than 100 people that the project would cost $15 million and that the revetment would ultimately need to be extended northward to just short of Sesachacha Pond. He explained that it would cost $500,000 to $1 million to maintain it annually, that a betterment tax would be levied on Baxter Road residents to fund their share of the maintenance with this tax becoming a deed rider and that the town would pay 25% of the cost of the project and would ultimately take over the maintenance of it.

At the July 30 ConCom meeting, SBPF Attorney Steve Cohen tried to provide almost all of the answers he and his client believed were the correct ones for the Conservation Commission, opening his answering session by repeating the brash statement he made at the July 24 meeting that if the ConCom doesn’t approve this erosion control measure, there is then no other alternative that the commission could approve and that this sets a bad precedent for the rest of the erosion-prone sections of the island’s coastline.

Cohen also continued to hammer away at the pre-1978 clause in the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, which states what he believes is a requirement that the ConCom approve a rock revetment if no other viable alternative exists. And Cohen refuted Quidnet-Squam Association attorney Dirk Roggeveen’s citing of Additional Regulations for Coastal Wetlands, Coastal Banks 310 CMR 10.30 (7), saying that Roggeveen twisted this section of the CMR to suit the needs of his client.

In a bit of backpedaling, after listing the five kinds of revetment failure including cover layer failure, pumping of fines through cover layer, toe scour, flanking and overtopping, Cohen told the ConCom that SBPF no longer intends to cover the revetment with sand. He then downplayed the impacts on wildlife, saying that the sand fleas, mole crabs and other invertebrate beach life, already dealing with bluff terracing maintenance on the beach now, are hardy enough to withstand building of the rock wall, a point that ConCom member Sarah Oktay would later contest with citations of studies done on the negative impacts of revetments on beach wildlife.

Next, construction manager Jamie Feeley elaborated on the method of movement of the 1,953 truckloads of sand from island sand pits to the bluff for the approximately 39,000 cubic yards of annual beach nourishment SBPF states will be required. He estimated that there would be 20 truckloads a day for just less than 100 days for each of the biannual renourishment periods of April/May and October/November. Sand would be dumped into a hopper that would deliver sand down a conveyer belt on the bluff and then into plastic pipes that would deliver the sand to six locations on the beach. Although the commission expressed concerns about road-damaging impacts of the nearly 2,000 truck trips running over Baxter Road, Feeley said SBPF would repair just 90 feet of Baxter Road where the trucks will be driving the most.

Feeley added that they would be building a public access walkway along the top of the revetment and several sets of stone steps leading down to whatever is going to be left of the beach, two points that ConCom member Ian Golding is deeply concerned about in terms of safety and loss of public access.

Cohen then took over to wrap up SBPF’s presentation with a final plea for the ConCom’s approval by reminding the commission that their primary mission was to make sure his client is in compliance with all the regulations and laws pertaining to this project so they can issue an order of conditions. Although he told the commission that SBPF is proposing the best available measures to minimize the impacts on untreated beaches, Cohen declared that SBPF doesn’t have to protect “everything everywhere” because the eastern end of the island is one giant ecological system and that the 4,200-foot revetment is one little part of it. In what had some members of the commission and members of the audience scratching their heads, and was one of the more bizarre comments Cohen made, despite the existence of plenty of local and regional studies, reports and SBPF’s own 20 years of admittedly exhaustive and comprehensive beach monitoring, he said that no one can know how these coastal processes work. This, after it had already been explained by SBPF’s coastal geologist, Les Smith and ConCom member Sarah Oktay, that within the project area, littoral drift or, longshore current, moves sand both to beaches south and north of the project site. However, he then said that SBPF has the correct average annual bank retreat data — 3.8 feet per year — through 2012, but that it’ll be about two weeks before they get the 2013 updated data.

Cohen also repeated that the revetment would produce no debris as the bluff terracing and Geotube projects have in the past, that there would be no protruding rock formations such as groins or no anchors. He also offered that if there was another way out of maybe 15, 16 bluff protection options that he might list, to protect the bluff at their proposed potential level of success that has the same perceived amount of negative impacts, SBPF would like to hear about it. What Cohen did not suggest, despite saying many that were up close to their Baxter Road lot lines, was relocation of these 14 “imminently” endangered houses to available lots in other, safer parts of the island. Nor did he at any time during this second or the first ConCom meeting accurately characterize the true nature of these houses, which are summer houses only, and occupied for three or four months of the year by owners or their renters whose primary places of residence are off island and which are not in danger of falling into the ocean, a point never made not lost on the commission and some members of the audience.

He then listed some of the positives of SBPF’s project including SBPF’s perception that its revetment would have minimal impacts on beach and marine wildlife, shellfish and finfish, that the beach is already disturbed and that the animals in this area have already adapted and will continue to do so, that six existing paper roads could be used as access to the beach via beach stairs and that there will be plenty of public access along the top of the wall and down to the beach.

For its part, the commission had plenty of questions and comments. Commissioner Andy Bennett voiced concern that the sand covering of the revetment detailed in SBPF’s notice of intent would wash away during storms. Cohen said his client no longer intended to cover the wall with sand. Commissioner Jen Karberg noted that during the July 24 meeting SBPF admitted the revetment would cause the beach to disappear, adding sand on the ends and front of the wall would erode away.

Oktay, in asking SBPF how much more time did they think the revetment would buy them, said she wasn’t convinced that terracing wasn’t a better, less damaging way to protect the bluff and that erosion is still going to happen above the revetment from the top down. Oktay also wondered aloud how if the beach is washed away, how equipment could in get there to replace sand lost to storms and if walking along the revetment wall offers the same experience as walking on a beach.

Golding, who said he was not happy about the loss of the beach, pestered SBPF about public access, asking if SBPF could try to extend the Bluff Walk onto properties north of where erosion ended it. After Cohen told him that extending the Bluff Walk was beyond the scope of the project, getting easements from property owners would be challenging, Golding advised Cohen that the more public access SBPF provided, the more the public is likely to support the revetment concept.

Conservation Commission Chairman Ernie Steinauer asked how the rock wall would be removed if it failed and Cohen said the rocks wouldn’t be removed, but left on the beach. Steinauer then asked that a performance bond be posted to cover cost of project failure cleanup as was done with SBPF’s failed beach dewatering project.

As with the July 24 meeting, there were plenty of public comments.

Dirk Roggeveen, Quidnet-Squam Association attorney, clarified the section of the state’s Wetlands Protection Act under Additional Regulations for Coastal Regulations, Coastal Banks 310 CMR 10.30 (7), which Cohen said he twisted around for his clients’ needs by noting that in the preamble to this part of the regulations that this consideration “shall” apply when considering a coastal bank. He explained that a coastal bank can serve two functions, one as high vertical buffer preventing inland flooding and property protection, and as major source of sediment supplying downdrift beaches via littoral drift, and that the bank in question serves both of these purposes. Roggeveen added that these regulations clearly spell out that such projects — SBPF said its wall would last 100 years — that cut off sand to neighboring beaches, such as Quidnet’s and Squam’s, shall not be approved.

John Merson of 71 Baxter Road who moved his house back 100 feet from the edge of the bluff reminded the commission that only a small section of Baxter Road north of Bayberry Lane is in danger and that greater danger for the road is from construction along it for the revetment. He also said that since the town will have to do half of the maintenance of phase two of the revetment, maybe the Conservation Commission needs to be talking with town about this. Merson then questioned why moving the 14 erosion-imperiled houses off of the bluff wasn’t an option for SBPF and if the same consideration should be given to these pre-1978 houses that are lived in two or three months a year as is given to someone’s house lived in on a year-round basis. Merson also suggested moving the road a bit within its right of way.

Sarah Alger, a resident of ’Sconset and in this instance, the island attorney representing several Baxter Road property owners said that it wasn’t accurate that only a small portion of Baxter Road where the 14 houses are is threatened and that it’s not accurate that Baxter Road can be moved over as Merson said. She added she felt that the best practices were being proposed backed by 20 years of research and beach monitoring by SBPF.

Catherine Flanagan Stover, Nantucket’s town clerk and originator of Nantucket’s Coastal Management Plan, now being written, said that the beach on which the revetment would go belongs to Nantucketers and that it isn’t fair to continue on with this public hearing without island voters weighing in.

Helmut Weymar, SBPF’s vice president, said that ’Sconset is a “key character community” that is critical to the character of Nantucket and that he thinks it would be total hypocrisy to build an erosion control structure that would hurt other communities along the shore.

Emily MacKinnon, resource ecologist for the Nantucket Land Council said that the Land Council coastal engineer John Ramsey’s concern is that even though SBPF has provided examples of revetments built in New England, this applicant needs to provide examples of revetments built with the same level of erosion as ’Sconset’s. Apparently Mr. Ramsey also raises questions about the amount of sand needed for mitigation in a comment letter Ms. MacKinnon distributed to the Commissioners.

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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