CHATHAM — With erosion of the town’s east-facing coast once again making headlines, the town is moving ahead with a $250,000 study designed to guide management of the shoreline for the next 20 to 30 years. The idea has won the endorsement of the state’s Coastal Zone Management program, which is contributing more than $180,000 toward the effort.
Town officials are working with the Center for Coastal Studies and Applied Coastal Engineering on the scope of the study, and received word Wednesday that the town had been selected for a $182,122 grant under the state’s $3.2 million Coastal Resilience program. The program aims to help communities plan for coastal storm and climate change impacts, including storm surges, flooding, erosion and sea level rise.
The Coastal Zone Management grant specifically will support the use of computer models of tides, waves and sediment transport to better understand the inlet and tidal channel dynamics in Chatham Harbor and Pleasant Bay. That study will help inform the broader shoreline management analysis.
“As inlets and channel positions migrate due to the natural Nauset Barrier Beach evolutionary process, the town is focused on shoreline management in an environmentally responsible manner,” town officials wrote in a July 30 press release.
“An overall goal of the planned analysis is to produce a ‘road map’ the town, and private entities, can utilize to proactively plan projects that will improve coastal resiliency,” the news release reads.
The study acknowledges the shortcomings of the town’s previous approach of reacting to shoreline changes as they occur. The severe flooding that occurred in Chatham’s Little Beach neighborhood during last winter’s coastal storms made it clear that that town needs to be forward-thinking when it comes to anticipating storm surges and flooding related to changes in the barrier beach.
“While the rapidly changing inlet and barrier beach morphology is a primary driver to flooding and erosion problems along the east-facing shoreline, sea level rise and higher storm surge levels will exacerbate potential risks to public safety, coastal infrastructure and natural resources,” town officials wrote. The study will look at ways to improve “overall shoreline sustainability over the next 20 to 30 years, where solutions will be aimed at adapting more naturally to relative sea-level rise and rapidly changing inlet morphology.”
The 1987 break in the barrier beach, which created the inlet opposite Lighthouse Beach, prompted a number of coastal property owners to install revetments to protect their land. But coastal geologists argue that revetments and other so-called “hard solutions” tend to worsen erosion in adjacent areas.
Rapid erosion in the area of Minister’s Point has cased damage to at least one waterfront parcel. Property owners have threatened to sue the town, claiming that rapid currents caused by previous harbor dredging efforts are the reason for the erosion.
“All this recent coastal storm damage can be directly attributed to the ongoing natural morphologic changes of the Nauset Barrier Beach System,” the news release reads.
Town officials have indicated that they may call a fall special town meeting to seek the remaining necessary funds for the study, or they may use some funds from the $11 million waterways bond authorization passed last year.