WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Chris Kennedy, the Martha’s Vineyard superintendent of the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit conservation organization that maintains several beaches and nature preserves there, about which parts of the island took a noticeable hit during the storm.
Chris Kennedy: I think for most people the telling point is the damage to the beaches. The surf is just beginning to recede to the point where within the next day or so we can begin to walk the beaches again and really assess the full impact. The east-facing beaches as well as the south-facing beaches received quite a bit of damage from storm overwash, flooding of many of the roadways, the walking trails. The dune grass has been buried on the beaches in many places. And especially on the south shore of the island, the storm overwash went into almost all of the coastal salt ponds.
Sacha Pfeiffer: When you talk about overwash, do you mean saltwater from the ocean flooding into these ponds?
Yes, the surf was just so high that it would break on the shore and it would rush up and over the sand dunes and it carried with it all sorts of debris from the water. Here on Chappaquiddick, we have a lot of trees that are in the water, so the beaches right now are littered with a whole collection of different weeds, trees, branches, root balls, shrubs. So it’s kind of messy right now.
So for Vineyard residents and people who visit the island, this looks very different than the beaches did before last weekend?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And we’ve seen quite a bit of erosion along the south shore here on Chappaquiddick. On one part of Chappaquiddick we lost 24 feet, and another spot on the southwest corner of Chappaquiddick we lost upwards of 30 feet in one spot.
Just in the past few days?
That’s correct. If you look at the beach right now you think, “My goodness — it will never come back.” But the reality is we’re talking very dynamic beach systems here and these beaches will bounce back fairly quickly.
Does this also have a financial impact on the Trustees of Reservations as you try to rebuild fences and trails?
Absolutely. I spent the better part of [Wednesday] morning looking at budgets, trying to figure out how we’re going to pay for this. We’ve lost anywhere from three to five miles of beach fencing and many hundreds of signs over the past three days. For instance, if we’ve lost 1,000 fence posts at $11 a post, it’s a lot of money. And especially if you have one or two of these storms every few years, it has quite an impact on nonprofits.
I’m seeing photos online that show beaches and dunes so eroded that there are houses — private homes — that look like they’re tipping on the edge of the dunes.
It’s one of these case where when many of these houses were built close to the shore 10, 20, 30 years ago, there was a lot of area between the houses and the water’s edge. Now, after several decades of sea level rise and of rapid beach erosion, many of these houses are getting closer and closer to the water’s edge, and for those people right now things look pretty dire.
But for the beaches and the properties that are basically nature preserves run by the Trustees of Reservations, you view this more as cyclical weather, cyclical impact?
Well, it’s a natural process, and so what we try to tell people is this is all part of nature and it’s not something to get alarmed at. For instance, at Norton Point at Edgartown we have a major opening in the beach, and that opening is traveling eastward towards Chappaquiddick. We know from past experience that this breach will eventually close and the beach will begin to build out seaward. From a natural point of view, it’s nothing to get alarmed at.