Selectmen: Long Term Erosion Solution Needed

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Town Meeting , Erosion , Beaches

The huge amount of sand flowing through the Morris Island cut from the inlet in South Beach is starkly visible in this aerial photo taken Feb. 24. SPENCER KENNARD PHOTO

Board Supports Beach Nourishment, Balloon Ban, Library Upgrade Town Meeting Articles

CHATHAM – Fighting erosion along the town's Nantucket Sound shoreline is worth sinking $450,000 worth of sand into, but selectmen said Tuesday they'd like to find a more permanent solution to the problem.

“This is going to be an ongoing cost to the town of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Selectman Jeffrey Dykens. “We need a long-term solution as well.”

The board voted unanimously to support a capital article for the beach nourishment project for the May 14 annual town meeting, but asked town staff to look into other ways to stop or slow erosion along Nantucket Sound, including groins or other structures.

Also Tuesday, selectmen voted to support town meeting articles to ban the sale of balloons after Sept. 15 and allocate $483,000 for improvements to the Eldredge Public Library. Board members also agreed to place on the warrant home rule petition articles to establish two new taxes to fund the town's other post-employment benefit trust fund, but held off on endorsing the articles pending final language changes.

Director of Natural Resources Robert Duncanson warned that groins are difficult to permit and may not solve the problem.

Groins are essentially long rows of boulders perpendicular to the beach designed to trap the sand that flows along the shore. On Nantucket Sound, the sand flows in a west-to-east direction, and groins from Yarmouth to Mill Creek in Chatham prevent sand from flowing onto beaches to the east. This is particularly evident at Cockle Cove Beach, which suffered significant erosion this year, as well as Ridgevale and Harding's beaches.

“Our sand is in Harwich and Dennis and to the west of us,” Dykens said, adding that he believes Chatham's beaches would be in good shape if not for the groins to the west.

Cockle Cove and Ridgevale are clearly in need of nourishment, Duncanson said, while Harding's Beach is still in good shape.

“There is a lot of sand to the east of Harding's if you will, in the Morris Island cut,” said Duncanson. “It's amazing how much sand has been moving there in the last couple of weeks.” In an earlier presentation about the nourishment project, Duncanson and Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said the sand flowing into the Morris Island cut from the break in South Beach could provide a nearly inexhaustible supply of sand to nourish Nantucket Sound beaches. The project will also require a second phase, costing about $300,000, for nourishment of Harding's Beach, and renourishment of south side beach will be required every five to seven years.

While groins are “harder to permit” today, “I won't say they're impossible,” Duncanson said, explaining that approval would be required from the Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries and other state, local and federal agencies, and it will take “time and effort and resources” to go through the process. A few years ago the town did a study of the south-side movement of sand and officials have a good handle on how the littoral flow there works. “Now we can build upon that and take the next step and see if groins can help us in any way, shape or form,” he said.

He warned that new groins would not solve the problem of sand being kept from flowing east toward Chatham by existing groins to the west. Long-term beach nourishment would probably still be necessary, although new groins may help keep the sand in place longer.

While she supported the project, Selectman Shareen Davis was concerned that sand placed at Cockle Cove Beach will end up in the Stage Harbor channel.

Town Manager Jill Goldsmith said if approved, the $450,000 would add seven cents to the tax rate. Addressing erosion and developing a long-term beach nourishment plan is one of the board's goals for the next fiscal year, she added.

Selectmen also voted unanimously to support an article creating a general bylaw banning the sale of inflated balloons in town. The measure also bans discarding or releasing balloons on the land, sea or in the air. Advocates had pushed for the ban to prevent balloons from being released into the air and causing land and marine pollution.

“Education really is the goal of this bylaw,” said Davis. A written warning would be issued for a first violation, with a $25 fine for a second violation and a $100 fine for a third violation.

A capital article seeking $483,000 for site improvements at the Eldredge Public Library was unanimously endorsed by selectmen. The project will improve handicapped access, upgrade sidewalks, stairs and drainage, as well as relocate the Pioneer Memorial along a new, low wall that will run along the sidewalk in front of the historic library. Repair and resetting of the monument is covered in a separate $3,000 community preservation funding request that will also be before voters. Another $115,000 is included in next year's capital plan to fund HVAC and other system upgrades for the library, bringing the total cost of the project to $601,000.

The project will require approval of the historic business district commission and planning board, said Principal Project Administrator Terry Whalen, and costs may be narrowed as the designs are finalized. Construction plans will come back before selectmen before the work begins in the fall or spring; at that time, the disposition of memorial trees on the library's front lawn will be determined, he added.

The library is “a tremendous asset to the town, and this project can only improve it,” said Dykens.

Board members also agreed to put two home rule petitions on the warrant seeking new taxes to fund the town's $16 million other post-employment benefit (OPEB) obligation. One would reposition the Cape Cod Land Bank 3 percent excise tax, set to expire in 2020, by cutting it to 1.5 percent, while the second would levy a new 0.5 percent tax on real estate sales, excluding the first $425,000. Combined, the taxes are expected to generate about $772,000 annually.

Some language changes were requested in the draft legislation drawn up by town counsel, including the addition of a sunset to the new taxes after 10 years, or whenever the OPEB obligation was fully funded. After reviewing the final language the board will vote on whether to support the proposals, which will be voted on as two separate articles.

Selectmen were scheduled to meet Wednesday to make recommendations on the town and school operating budgets as well as capital expenditure requests.