CHATHAM – Cockle Cove Beach has been in rough shape for some time. It's been almost two years since a significant amount of sand has been brought in to build up the eroding beach, and officials are worried that its condition could deteriorate further before a planned fall or winter dredging project at nearby Mill Creek can provide an additional buffer between Nantucket Sound and the beach parking lot.
Last week about 100 cubic yards of sand was dumped on the beach to try to both stem the tide and make it safer for beachgoers to access.
“We're trying to take the edge off so people can at least safely get to the beach,” said Natural Resources Director Robert Duncanson. The beach has eroded back to rocks that lie against the base of the parking lot, and the sand was feathered to the east to facilitate pedestrian access at that end of the lot.
Strong southwest winds and a lack of sand along beaches to the west contributed to the erosion of Cockle Cove over the winter, said Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon. “It doesn't take much to lose the sand if you've got nothing else to come in and replace it,” he said.
A hoped-for dredging of shoals that have formed across the mouth of Mill Creek by Barnstable County last winter didn't materialize, something that's likely to cause some consternation for boaters who use the area to get to Taylor's Pond. Keon said he's already received calls of concern about tidal restrictions, “which will happen,” he said. Sand dredged from the creek would have been used to build up Cockle Cove Beach.
He's requested that the county dredge Codfish clear out the shoals this coming fall or winter and pump the sand to Cockle Cove Beach and areas to the west. That won't provide a “substantial” amount of sand, perhaps 4,000 to 6,000 cubic yards, but that may be enough to buy some time until a more extensive dredge project can be done. In the early 2000s, 30,000 yards was dredged from Stage Harbor and pumped to the area, which provided a buffer that lasted six or seven years, he said.
That project, as well as work on the Ryder's Cove channel near Fox Hill, have been flagged as priorities for the county dredge, Keon said. Permits are already in place for the work. It's also possible that the county dredge will be asked to do work in the Morris Island cut, where shoaling has increased and the channel has jumped around in response to changes in the barrier beach, including the April Fool's cut in South Beach.
The town has never dredged that channel, Keon said, so before any work is done there he will bring the proposal to the board of selectmen, which rejected it in the past. “But things have changed,” Keon said; not just the physical dynamics of the area, but the increase in vessel traffic as boaters skirt around Morris Island to access the new cut in South Beach.
Last week's sand infusion at Cockle Cove Beach is not likely to be the last this summer, Keon said.
“It wouldn't take much of an event to lose what we just put there,” he said. Officials want to ensure that the parking lot does not get undermined at the eastern end, where it is not protected by rocks, and want to be responsive to neighborhood concerns about the lack of a good beach. That's a result of not doing the regular maintenance in the off season that has been done in the past, he added.
“People are seeing it the way it would be if we hadn't been doing what we've been doing,” he said.