Pleasant Bay Alliance Publishes Erosion Management Guidelines

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Erosion , Pleasant Bay

A storm surge batters a boathouse on Pleasant Bay in South Orleans during a coastal storm last March. FILE PHOTO

EAST HARWICH By the end of the century, tide levels in Pleasant Bay could increase up to three feet because of sea level rise, meaning that places that were once high and dry could be subject to erosion. That’s a key reason the Pleasant Bay Alliance has been working to formulate a set of best practices that towns and individual property owners can use to manage erosion, without overly disrupting the natural flow of sediment.

Local, state and federal law already regulate the ways individuals and communities can use to control erosion, and those laws favor so-called soft solutions over the installation of revetments and other structures. While it’s well established that soft solutions are best for the coastal ecosystem, they’re sometimes an afterthought when a property owner seeks relief from a conservation commission, Alliance Coordinator Carole Ridley said.

Regulatory bodies often “focus on particular instances, particular properties,” and can lose sight of the guiding principle that some erosion is part of a healthy shoreline system, she said. The natural movement of sediment supports dunes and coastal banks, marshes and beaches, and “hard solutions” generally provide better long-term protection against storm surges, Ridley said.

“This often gets lost in the regulatory environment,” she said. To reinforce that principle, the Alliance has spent years developing erosion management guidelines, and the 37-page document was finalized this month. The guidelines call for an evaluation of alternatives to managing erosion, starting with those that cause the least interruption of natural sediment movement. They were developed by a working group of coastal resource managers from the four Pleasant Bay towns, state and county officials and Woods Hole Sea Grant.

The guidelines are designed to reinforce “why these regulations are there, why they’re important,” Ridley said.

The guidelines aren’t just about private waterfront properties. The document gives communities a framework to discuss how to respond to public lands likely to be threatened by erosion in the decades ahead. At some point, for instance, state and town officials will need to decide whether to attempt to protect portions of Route 28 which are already routinely flooding, or whether to adopt a “managed retreat” by relocating the road.

“We’re not taking anything off the table,” Ridley said. When it comes to the future of public lands along the Pleasant Bay shoreline, “that’s something we hope to continue to work on with the member towns,” she said.

The guidelines are available for download at