Selectmen Balk At Answering 'Up Or Down' Question On Nauset Beach Retreat

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Nauset Beach

“We are in a very precarious position” at Nauset Beach, DPW and Natural Resources Director Tom Daley told selectmen last week. “There's eight to 10 feet between the administration building and the North Atlantic.”  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS Rather than plunge into a multi-million-dollar plan to preserve Nauset Beach uses, the selectmen will consider treading water for a year.

Faced last week with two options presented by DPW/Natural Resources Director Tom Daley – reconstructing rest room and administration facilities in the parking lot or rebuilding up above on the Hubler property – the board asked its consultants to explore a third path.

“If we envision a scenario where we make a commitment to take out the (erosion-threatened) administration building this fall and do...some dune rebuilding but defer (the rest) for a bit of time, could we run the beach for the summer (of 2019) with alternative facilities?” Selectman Mark Mathison asked. That would allow the town to pursue negotiations with Cape Cod National Seashore for the Nauset Knolls property, “and after one summer of makeshift facilities, we'd be in position to make the decision whether we just go up top or if we stabilized the dune and we want to go down below.”

Ron Collins, the town's building and facilities manager, proposed what he called Option X: hold off until the fate of Nauset Knolls is decided. “Roll the dice,” he urged. “There may be a disaster next summer, but it's only one season.” Portable facilities would work, he said, but at a much diminished level of service.

“I envisioned us leaving (the administration/restrooms building) there until the ocean stole it from us,” said Natural Resources Manager Nate Sears. Even so, he said, “I don't want to put ourselves in a situation where we're scrambling overnight because the building's gone and there's much more damage.” He said an argument could be made to leave the building where it is, include placeholder funds for dune enhancement in a request to town meeting, and research contracts for temporary bathrooms. “If what you need is time,” he said, “that would suffice for a bare-bones operation.”

Voting unanimously, the board asked consultants Woods Hole Group and Tighe and Bond to put together an action plan, including costs, to accomplish those limited goals and report back in August. The deadline for the warrant for the Oct. 29 special town meeting, which the selectmen voted last week to hold, is Sept. 14.

Leading off the discussion leading up to the vote, Daley looked back on the 2015 study that underpinned a gradual retreat from the shore, a plan undermined by this year's fast-moving nor'easters. He noted that the ocean had been expected to overwash Liam's and the administration building by 2025, and to take out the parking lot “15 to 30 years out.”

Will the administration building make it to next year? “We won't have a next year because Mother Nature won't let us have it,” he said.

Daley outlined two options. The first would include taking down the administration building, removing parking to allow dune restoration, installing mobile facilities and creating a campus area for food trucks and picnic tables in the parking lot. The new entrance to the beach by Hubler Way would be built, with parking on the bluff above “substantially complete” by Memorial Day. That was the recommended option, at a cost of $6.7 million, including a 30 percent contingency.

“We're building a big dune, putting in facilities, all related utilities and building a parking lot up top,” Daley said. “We're taking a number of projects that have been talked about over the years and tying them into one project. Mother Nature has taken away a number of choices.”

Option 2, at $5.1 million with contingency, would see the dune restored but all facilities rebuilt up on the Hubler property, requiring a hike up the hill to reach rest rooms.

“The reason why people come to this beach over others,” Sears said, “is that they're able to tote their wagon onto the beach with all their stuff, and bathrooms are close by, food's close by, EMTS, people to answer questions. There's close to a million in revenue just from parking alone annually. There is a competition between beaches. If I have a choice, (do I) go up to Nauset Light and hike down the hill or up to Marconi and climb down the side of a dune and I have a family? It's not an option. I think we stand alone as one of the best beaches in this region, maybe the East Coast.”

Selectman David Currier said “the location of bathrooms won't stop people coming to Nauset Beach. Coast Guard Beach is rated one of the top 10 every single year; you got to get on a trolley, then hike down. They pack it every year. I'm a beach bum. I go all over the world to beaches. I never worried about where the bathrooms are.”

The number of parking spaces below that would be given over to the proposed food court and relocated restrooms in Option 1 raised concerns, but Sears said the town has not filled the lower and upper lot and had to turn people away. “At times last year, we filled the lower lot,” he said.

Another concern was the need for a convincing argument for funding to bring to town meeting; because the work is not on the capital plan, a three-fourths vote would be required, along with subsequent approval of a debt exclusion at the ballot.

“I'm not ready on July 18 to say whether we go up or down,” Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen said.