Chatham Split Over Breach

At the elbow of Cape Cod in Chatham, waterfront property owners and fishermen have come together to undo an act of nature. The erosion that followed a major Spring storm there threatens coastal homes and the town's important fishing industry.

Tonight, residents of Chatham will choose between paying $4m dollars to reverse the damage or wait to see if things get worse. As more people move closer to the shore, it's a story being repeated up and down the New England coast. WBUR's Bianca Vazquez Toness reports.HERE'S A LIST OF SOME NEW ENGLAND TOWNS WHERE EROSION IS THREATENING HOMES.


The beach at Camp Ellis has been receding for more than a century, at a rate of more than three feet per year. Over this period, the shoreline has been moved back by 400 feet and 36 homes have been lost. The extremely accelerated rate of erosion springs from wave action and the influence of a 6,660-foot jetty built in 1869 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps released a detailed report in January that outlines 25 proposals for solving the erosion problem. Two involve building a 500-foot spur jetty off the existing jetty and either two or three segmented offshore breakwaters. A third calls for just a 750-foot spur jetty. All three of the plans require the periodic importing of sand to the beach, and all three would cost an estimated $600,000 a year for 50 years.


In 2004, the Barnstable County Dredging Department completed its Allen Harbor Dredging project, which pumped 12,000 cubic yards of sand to nearby beaches in an attempt to reduce beach erosion. The $66,000 project has had limited success; within a year of its completion, more than 8,000 cubic yards have been moved by wind or tide down the coast or back to nearby sandbars. Homeowners have attempted to stabilize the imported sand by planting beach grass and building sand fences, but their efforts have had little effect. The beach sees its fastest rate of erosion during extreme tides and storms.


April's massive storm sucked sand from along Rhode Island's coast from Westerly to Narragansett, striking hardest in Misquamicut. There, the beach dropped by six feet, unearthing boulders and automobile frames buried by the hurricane of 1938. Owners are planning to replace about one third of the sand, a job that will cost at least $30,000. The county loses sand every year, but this level of sudden erosion has not been seen since 1991, when a series of strong storms hit the area in succession.


Beach erosion has long been a problem in Nantucket, particularly on the south side, which erodes at a pace of 12 feet a year. In Sconset, residents plan to spend $25 million to pump 2.6 million cubic yards of sand from offshore to a 3.1-mile stretch of coast. The plan acknowledges that such a massive undertaking may be required as often as every five years. The April noreaster eroded the beach by almost 20 feet. Some residents have moved their homes inland rather than attempt to combat the ocean's assault.


In May, a noreaster pulled away sand, dunes and sea grass from Salisbury's four-mile beach. Residents have decided not to pump in sand to restore the beach, but rather to spend $54,000 to buy and install sand fences. The Salisbury Beach State Reservation hopes the fences will catch sand blown inland, which will over time develop into a dune that would ultimately cover the fence. Though much less expensive than other efforts, the plan will take far longer to take effect.


Since the building of Winthrop's seawall 107 years ago, its beach has been reduced from a popular recreational spot to a marred and forgotten coast. Frequent storms steal away huge masses of sand, erosion that has been accelerated by the construction of several jetties and apartment complexes. In 2005, the state responded with a $12 million to $15 million project to restore the beach with 500,000 cubic yards of sand, but the plan has been delayed and still needs state and federal approval.

This program aired on July 31, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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