A Call for a County Corps of Coastal Geologists
August 30, 2016
On August 30th, Senator Tarr sent out invitations for the next irregular meeting of the Northeast Coastal Coalition. He had helped establish the coalition so town and state officials could work with the Army Corps of Engineers to identify sources of sand from Federal dredge sites that could then be used to defend areas threatened by erosion.
The process was long and complicated. Permits had to be drawn, Congress had to vote for funds and the President had to sign a water resources appropriations bill for the entire country before anything could happen.
Things often went and projects whole revert back to square one. For instance, Plum Island residents had been counting on getting sand from the Corp’s dredging of Maine’s Piscataqua River, but the deal fell through at the last hour and was now on hold for at least another year.
But what if you didn’t have to wade through the Army Corps of Engineers quagmire of politics and red tape? What if you had your own County Corps of Coastal Geologists that had its own dredge to transport sand from local sources to areas threatened by erosion?
Plum Island provides a perfect example. Longshore currents at the north end of the island have created two large sources of sand, a quarter mile long 30-foot deep prism of sand that has piled up behind the South Jetty and about 50 acres of sand 8 feet deep that has shoaled up the Captain’s Lady’s docks.
Captain Charos has provided the perfect proof of concept by purchasing his own lawn mower sized dredge that pumped enough sand from under his docks in less than two weeks, to lay down a 180-foot long, ten-foot high sand dune in Newbury’s Olga Way parking lot.
If the county owned their own slightly larger dredge it could pump sand directly from either the jetty or below Captain Charos’ docks to the houses lining Northern Reservation Terrace. This could then be shaped into a 20-foot high dune made out of local sand, which would be both the least expensive and most appropriate technology to protect the endangered homes.
There is a precedent for this. Barnstable County owns its own dredging vessel that it uses to keep Cape Cod’s many harbors open. But Essex County would not have to own a dredging vessel, because the county’s harbors and rivers are so diverse in size. It could simply buy or lease portable dredges like the one Captain Charos is using. These could be mounted on a small boat like a Boston Whaler or be on larger vessels as the projects required. They could also be used in tandem to pump sand to locations further away.
But the critical factor that would make this system work is to have coastal geologists rather than coastal engineers in on the planning stages. An engineer is trained to simply take what is given then build something to protect it.
Coastal geologists, on the other hand, are trained to look at the bigger picture over a longer time frame. When they look at Plum Island they see it eroding in the center but building at both ends.
So they might advise that communities not encourage people to rebuild houses along places like Annapolis and Fordham Ways where they will just be knocked back into the sea within the next two decades. But they might decide that it does make sense to protect houses on places like Northern Reservation Terrace where the island is already growing.
Then they would have the expertise to locate local sinks of sand and use them to build dunes to slow erosion. The important thing is that they would be trained to work with nature and not try to fight the Atlantic Ocean, which is a losing proposition in this era of ever more rapid sea level rise.
William Sargent’s latest book, Plum Island; 4,000 Years on a Barrier Beach, available in local bookstores and at http://www.ingramcontent.com.
Bill Sargent will be leading a beach walk starting from the Plum Island Point lighthouse Sundays at 2pm. Cost $10.