Little Beach Seeks Disaster Declaration

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Erosion , Storms

The surge from a coastal storm on March 2 stranded a woman in her home. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM With more coastal flooding virtually certain in the weeks and months ahead, residents of the Little Beach neighborhood are asking for federal help. On Friday, they will make the case that the neighborhood should be designated a disaster area.

In late November, the officers of the Little Beach Association sent a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker asking for a disaster declaration, acknowledging the repeated flooding earlier this year. Association President Bill Hoffman admits he didn’t expect for the governor’s office to reply so quickly.

“They want to meet this Friday,” he said. “We were kind of surprised to hear it.”

The letter references the “devastating flooding which occurred from January 4 through late March of 2018. There were 88 owners directly affected by these floods between Little Beach and Morris Island Roads,” the letter reads. “In addition, residents of Morris Island and Stage Island were unable to access their homes for long periods [of] time, or [were] trapped in their homes, due to lingering salt water on Morris Island Road.”

The cause of the problem is the breach in South Beach last year, which exposes the neighborhood to wave energy from the Atlantic.

“This has subjected the Little Beach area and Morris Island Causeway to substantially higher tidal flooding from the Atlantic Ocean,” the letter reads. “South Beach is diminishing. As a result, flooding of the area will continue and will likely worsen.”

The letter describes the lack of dune protection for the low-lying area, and the tendency of the area to remain flooded for days after a period of high water. The neighborhood group has been working with the town and a consulting firm to devise a plan to solve the problems, and the town is working with the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies to research flood patterns, with results expected next spring.

“The town will not offer any financial assistance to fix these problems. We do not have the funds for re-nourishing the dunes and other weak areas,” the letter reads. “The neighborhood will likely be flooded again throughout this winter.” The association is seeking a disaster declaration so that property owners might be eligible for loans and disaster mitigation funding through FEMA and the Small Business Administration.

“If we were considered a disaster area, the town might be required to do emergency dredging to rebuild the dunes and to offer us assistance [in] other ways,” the association wrote.

The letter was signed by Hoffman and Little Beach Association officers Janet Dugan and John Hausner, and was copied to State Sen. Julian Cyr, State Rep. Sarah Peake, and the Chatham board of selectmen.

The town has declined to make significant improvements in the neighborhood because the roads are privately owned. It has made some drainage improvements along town-owned Morris Island Road.

Hoffman said Friday’s meeting will take place in Chatham, but he is not sure who will be representing the governor. Neither Peake, Cyr nor the governor’s office could be reached for comment.

The property owners are eager to have the state release funds from last summer’s environmental bond bill, which would allow improvements to catch basins and to the tide gate under Morris Island Road. Having those funds available “would be a big step forward,” Hoffman said. The gate is designed to protect the neighborhood from flooding that comes from the west, from Stage Harbor. Flooding from the east would be best addressed by the nourishment of dunes along the ocean-facing beach, and by making improvements at Outermost Harbor Marine.

The marina has installed a “muscle wall” flood barrier around its building and across the upper edge of its boat ramp, to keep storm surges from rising up the ramp and flooding the parking lot and adjacent road. But Hoffman said flood tides sometimes come up through two privately owned catch basins in the marina parking lot, and those may need to be covered with sandbags during storms.

“We hope to continue cooperatively with them,” Hoffman said of the marina owners.

Hoffman said the town needs to fix two failing culverts on Morris Island Road, which can impede the drainage of water from nearby wetlands into the tidal creek. He said the association would also like the town to do what it can to allow the construction of taller dunes around the neighborhood, running from the condominiums on Starfish Lane, north about 600 feet to higher ground, and from the southern side of Outermost Harbor Marine along Edgewater Drive.

Regardless of the outcome of this week’s meeting, Hoffman said he and some of his neighbors plan to be at their homes through the winter, despite the risks of getting stranded.

“We know there are ways we can get access, walking, if it comes to that,” he said.

From some properties in Little Beach, it’s now possible to look due east beyond the beach, and see the open Atlantic, unbroken by a barrier beach. In March, a storm surge caused waters to rise very quickly in the neighborhood, cutting off access in only a span of a few minutes. Does that prospect trouble Hoffman?

“It certainly does,” he said. “Dune protection way out would be the best protection for us.”