CHATHAM — There’s more than just sand slipping away at Cockle Cove Beach. There’s revenue.
On the advice of Parks and Recreation Director Dan Tobin, selectmen Monday voted to waive the parking fees at the beach in recognition of the severe erosion that has made it nearly impossible to even walk the shoreline at high tide. But town officials say there’s hope that the beach could be nourished by the county dredge Codfish in the next few days, possibly providing enough sand to allow the beach to reopen for the summer.
Water now reaches the beachgrass at high tide for most of the length of the public beach, and town officials have dumped truckloads of sand to protect the parking lot from the encroaching waves. More sand was trucked in to provide a ramp for pedestrians getting to the shore, but as of Tuesday morning, that sand was eroding rapidly. The truckloads of sand are a short-term solution, and if there are brisk southwest winds with waves, the sand could be gone in a day, Tobin said.
Selectmen received a letter on June 12 from Donald Mackay of East Harwich, who owns a rental property near Cockle Cove.
“The beach is in terrible shape and we are embarrassed to have our renters...pay to spend a day at what was a beautiful area,” he wrote. He urged the board to suspend the parking fee there.
Tobin told selectmen he agrees with Mackay, and said for the first time in 34 years, he is recommending against charging for parking at that beach. At least in the short term, a gate attendant will be present to explain the situation to visitors, but no lifeguards will be on duty, Tobin said. The lot has nearly 70 parking spots, and with visitor passes sold at $20 per day, the town would be losing $1,400 or more on peak beach days.
But the town can’t rightly charge fees for the public for parking “for a beach that really isn’t pedestrian-accessible,” he said.
The erosion on all of the town’s south-side beaches is easy to see, but “it’s very in-your-face” at Cockle Cove, he said. Tobin decided to waive the parking fees on an emergency basis, and selectmen affirmed that decision Monday. The parks and recreation commission is expected to take up the matter at its next session.
Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said the erosion is serious, but by sometime next week, “it should look a lot different, I hope.” As of early this week, the county dredge was clearing Allen Harbor in Harwich Port, and was expected to come east after that job to clear Mill Creek. Some of the sand recovered by the dredge will be pumped to an area in front of the parking lot, but most will be deposited just to the west of the beach, where it will naturally spread to the public beach.
If the sand were put directly on Cockle Cove Beach, it would quickly disappear, “and nothing is coming in to replenish it,” Keon said. The work is expected to take place around the middle or end of next week. Ideally, the nourishment will allow the beach to be usable through the summer, and the town could seek to secure more sand over the winter. Town officials are planning to dredge the Morris Island Cut, with the express purpose of using the sand to nourish south-side beaches. Voters in May approved $450,000 for beach nourishment along Nantucket Sound, with a concentration on Cockle Cove and Harding's beaches.
The beach widens on the east end, where it becomes Ridgevale Beach. Parking fees will remain in place there, and there will be the usual lifeguard coverage. Selectman Cory Metters asked whether those guards will be able to watch swimmers at Cockle Cove Beach. While they would be available to respond to emergencies there, Tobin said, those lifeguards would not have a clear view of the beach to the west, and might not be able to spot trouble.
The erosion at Cockle Cove also means that Ridgevale Beach will not be regularly cleaned by the town’s beach rake, which can only access the area from the west.
Neighborhood resident Norma Avellar asked what steps are being taken to make sure people in vehicles don’t topple off the edge of the parking lot.
The trucked-in sand berms will provide adequate protection, Tobin said, but the end of the parking lot could be cordoned off with traffic cones if necessary.
Email Alan Pollock at alan @capecodchronicle.com