'Sconset Beach Preservation Fund Update

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'Sconset Beach Preservation Fund Update

We wanted to update you on the current status of the erosion project in ‘Sconset, as well as pass on two letters to the editor that we thought might be of interest.

Last week about one third our annual commitment of sacrificial sand was delivered from island sand pits and moved over the top of the bluff to the top of the geotube project.   One of the unique features of this project is the commitment to place the amount of sand that would normally erode from the bluff if it were unprotected, on top of the geotubes so that there is sand that can wash away in an amount that mimics natural erosion.  The sand delivery was completed on Wednesday so everything could be cleaned up in advance of Daffodil Weekend.

As you are aware there had been a fairly large nor’easter in late March that, as expected and designed, washed away some of the sand and exposed a section of the geotubes.  With this delivery the geotubes are once again covered and there is enough extra sand on top to re-cover future exposures from storms through the spring and summer.   We don’t expect to deliver sand again until the fall.

There has been some concern expressed about the amount of truck traffic from delivering sand and the possible disruption to ‘Sconset.  Things have gone smoothly this week with the sand being delivered in just two full days and two half days.  We actually have the ability to deliver at more than twice this speed if we use two conveyors instead of one.  While nobody likes dump trucks, most people feel that this impact, restricted to the off-season, is well worth the ability to keep Baxter Road open and show that an effective erosion system can really work to preserve the ‘Sconset Bluff community.  

We look forward to having many conversations this summer about the successful work done since December and our desire to expand the project soon so that it protects the entire area from the Sankaty Lighthouse property to the place that erosion has advanced so far, about 63 Baxter. One opportunity to experience the historic neighborhood of Baxter Road is planned for May 11, 2-4pm as part of National Preservation Month.  The public is invited to tour three homes on Northern Baxter Road including the home in which John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden.  Stop by if you are around.  Just look for the balloons at 77 Baxter Road.

[Photo 900 Feet of Geotube in March, courtesy George Riethof/Sconset Trust]

Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

This letter was originally sent to the Board of Selectmen.

We wanted to share our appreciation with many of you for the 'public private partnership' to save Baxter Road this past winter. Your ability to rise above the debate and take steps to protect the Town's interest with a robust and lasting solution deserves our sincere gratitude. As the neighbors who are most impacted by the Town's decision to protect the bluff in ‘Sconset, we hope that you will use this project as a blueprint for other areas on Nantucket in need of protection against rising sea levels.

We live on an island made of sand, and it is shrinking. This issue is not just about ‘Sconset, it's about our entire Island community. I met with Chairman Atherton in a conference room in the Town building last summer, and behind us was a large aerial photo of the Nantucket taken many decades ago. The loss of beaches in critical areas was startling. The problem of erosion is not going away. We can no longer fool ourselves and do nothing. As homeowners, we must act in an environmentally responsible way, and are grateful that you, the Town leaders chose this path.

Today, the sewer beds are approximately 300 feet from the dunes edge. The fence for the airport is hanging on the bluff over Nobadeer beach. Relocating these municipal properties is not feasible. They can however, be protected, much the same way that Baxter Road and access to the Sankaty Lighthouse has been protected.

Global sea levels are expected to rise at least two feet by 2050, and three to six feet by 2100, according to a recent report by UMASS Boston professor Ellen Douglas. Boston is preparing a plan, as are other coastal cities. As both residents and strong supporters of the environment, we care deeply about all of Nantucket. We are hopeful that our project can serve as the beginning of a plan by the Board of Selectman to combat rising sea levels for the entire Island, not just our ‘Sconset community.

The Island of Nantucket can learn a great deal over time with the protection of Sankaty Bluff. The partnership with the Town was a success for all parties involved. This project saved Nantucket taxpayers many millions of dollars by avoiding the relocation of an important public road, helped to preserve a tax base, and can serve as a model for protecting other Town properties.

A sincere thank you to the Selectman and Town staff.

JIM & DEBORAH WALKER                                             BILL MATTESON
DAVID & DOROTHY BAILEY                                           MARILEE MATTESON
STEVE & ERIN FREEMAN                                              LARRY MC QUADE
SAM & ANN FURROW                                                    MARGARET MC QUADE
DANNY KORENGOLD                                                     DEXTER AND SUSAN PAINE
MARTHA DIPPELL                                                         PAT AND MOLLY RYAN
JOHN DEANGELIS                                                        TOBY AND LAURIE WEBB


To the Editor:

I hope that the back-and forth about the joint effort of the ‘Sconset Beach Preservation Fund and the town to protect the ‘Sconset Bluff, Baxter Road and access to the Sankaty lighthouse is clarifying the issues. My comments this time address some specific concerns as well as the bigger picture.

First, regarding the specifics from a letter to the editor in last week’s paper: The erosion project is working as designed. During large storms such as the nor’easter on March 27 some of the sand that covers the geotubes is expected to wash away. This mimics the natural erosion of the bluff releasing sand into the “littoral system” to wash up on other beaches north or south, or out to the shoals – wherever the currents take it. The SBPF has committed to deliver 22 cubic yards of sand over the course of every year for each linear foot of the 900-foot system. That’s about 1,000 truckloads of sand per year. During the March storm about 10 percent of this annual volume washed away, or about two cubic yards per linear foot.

Sand replenishment as part of the annual commitment is taking place this week in advance of Daffodil Weekend. We expect to deliver 300 truckloads and that no more will be needed until the fall. That’s because we will have enough sand on top of the system to cover expected geotube exposure from storms through the summer months. The protection system covers a portion of the beach but it is easy to walk in front of it almost all of the time. On occasion when certain wind, tide and storm conditions happen at the same time, the ocean could run up on the toe of the system, just as it often hits the toe of the bank in such conditions. On those limited occasions, generally not a great day for a beach walk to begin with, it is still possible to continue walking up and over the sand covering the geotubes on gradual sand ramps on either end. We encourage anyone interested to come down and try it yourself as have numerous people, including many public officials.

Now some comments on the bigger picture: The era of global warming and sea-level rise is upon us. The ‘Sconset Bluff is like the canary in a coal mine. We stick out farthest east into the Atlantic, so naturally we are often hit first in nor’easters. There are many things we should do as a society to address this crisis – reducing the amount of carbon and other pollutants we put into the atmosphere, expanding alternative energy, reducing consumption, ending deforestation and more. But even if we could roll back all the bad stuff immediately, something we aren’t doing yet, the momentum already baked into the climate system will keep seas rising for decades. Have you seen what the new maps with projected sea-level rise do to our island? We are going to have to adapt or watch big portions of coastal communities from New York and Boston to Nantucket wash away.

As nice as they sound, “Leave Perfect Alone” and “Don’t Mess with Mother Nature” are not going to save us. Many coastal communities are putting adaptation plans in place. Why not here? Our discussion in Nantucket is being overly dominated by an outspoken few with a philosophy that they themselves admit will surely sink us all. Are the advocates of this philosophy really saying we should do nothing as we wash away? This would be a first in human history. Who among us would not prefer an undisturbed beach to a costly engineered protection system? But that’s not the actual choice. We can choose to keep nearly all of our natural beaches and protect our historic communities. Our project is well-designed in accordance with best coastal engineering practices, impacts about 1 percent of Nantucket’s coastline, is privately funded, saves the town money, protects others from harm, is being meticulously monitored, and is removable if harm is discovered. Don’t we all benefit from learning more about what works and what doesn’t at private expense?

A few advocates may be stirring up our natural instinct as human beings to resist change and to find some group to blame (“those ‘Sconset people”), but they should not carry the day. While some disagree as to its cause, no one can deny the reality of sea-level rise and its threat to our very existence. We in ‘Sconset are families who have been coming to Nantucket for generations and love the island as much as anyone. We have been trying for years to find a reasonable and effective way to deal with the erosion that is destroying our historic community. We have had setbacks and tried various approaches. With the guidance of highly-respected coastal experts and the support of the Board of Selectmen we appear to have identified an environmentally- friendly protection system that provides a long-term solution to erosion along the ‘Sconset Bluff. Let’s continue to monitor the performance of this promising potential solution to confirm its effectiveness and assure no damage to neighboring beaches. This is no time to change course.

Josh Posner, Pres. 'Sconset Beach Preservation Fund



Nantucket Coastal Conservancy responses to SBPF letters

April 7, 2014


The Board of Selectmen

Town of Nantucket

Nantucket MA 02554


Dear Members of the Board:


You should be aware that your partner, the Siasconset Beach Preservation Fund (SBPF), with whom you entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, is disseminating false information.


In a lengthy email, as well as a Letter to the Editor that was printed in the paper last week, the SBPF President says, to cite just one example: “This project is privately funded, designed and constructed to high professional standards, and will save the Town the significant costs and engineering challenges of relocating Baxter Road.”


In regard to the statement that the project is “constructed to high professional standards,” the reality is quite the contrary. The applicants were issued an Enforcement Order by the Conservation Commission citing four violations, for which SBPF took full responsibility. In addition, the construction process came under the scrutiny of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) for another possible violation, for which the ACOE has declined to provide a written finding of exoneration.


As to saving the Town money, you have been informed by Town Counsel that all of the costs related to relocating Baxter Road — including litigation — are recoverable by betterments, a special tax levied on the affected property owners. While there may be up-front expenses incurred by the Town for engineering and relocating Baxter Road, these costs will eventually be paid in full by the private property owners who are impacted, just as they did when Sheep Pond Road had to be moved.


The fact is this project has already cost the taxpayers money. During the past months, considerable staff time has been diverted from other Town priorities. The DPW Head has called her Baxter Road work “a second full-time job.” Other Town officials have also spent large amounts of time working on the project, turning staff attention away from important initiatives. As stated publicly by the Town Manager, these include implementation of the fertilizer regulations and collecting past-due sewer-fund payments. The latter, if not collected in timely fashion, will never be recoverable.


SBPF seems to presume that their hard-armoring project’s success is pre-ordained and guaranteed, and thus that Baxter Road will definitely not have to be relocated. This is, of course, an absurd presumption, especially as there has been ample photographic evidence since the construction was completed that the bluff continues to erode. Time will be the test of the geotubes: Touting their success at this point is premature.


We support an informed public dialogue, based on facts about the merits of the geotube project, as we are sure you do. To this end, we request that you insist that your partner do the same. Providing distorted, incomplete or downright misleading information to citizens for public relations purposes is simply unacceptable. While this has been going on for months, if not years, it is time for you to bring it to an end.

On behalf of the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy Coordinating Team of Sunny Daily, John Merson, Linda Spery, Liz Trillos, Charley Walters and Mary Wawro, Peter Brace

COPY: Letter to the Editor, Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror





April 27, 2014


The Board of Selectmen

Town of Nantucket

Nantucket MA 02554


Dear Members of the Board:


This is in response to the letter sent to you by 22 Baxter Road property owners who benefited personally from the “public private partnership,” which a majority of you voted to enter into, and which has resulted in the hard-armoring of 900 feet of Sconset Bluff. We would like, once again, to focus on the facts.


FACT: As we have pointed out previously, this project has NOT “saved Nantucket taxpayers many millions of dollars by avoiding the relocation of an important public road,” as repeatedly asserted by its proponents. According to Town Counsel, all of the costs related to relocating Baxter Road to provide alternative access, including litigation, are recoverable by betterments, a tax levied on the affected property owners, as happened with Sheep Pond Road.


FACT: To repeat, this project has already cost the taxpayers money. During the past months, considerable staff time has been diverted from other Town priorities which have had to be put on hold.


FACT: This project has already caused environmental harm. The letter writers contend that they are acting in “an environmentally responsible way.” However the Nantucket Land Council, our island’s environmental watchdog for over forty years, has publicly stated, “The Land Council is disappointed in the Board of Selectmen majority that favored this extremely reckless and environmentally destructive project.” [Emphasis added.]


FACT: This project has replaced 900 feet of natural beach below the bluff, owned by the citizens of Nantucket, with a coastal engineering structure that will eventually result in the destruction of the beach, according to expert testimony submitted to the Conservation Commission. Ownership of this beach was secured for future generations of islanders by the Proprietors in the late 1800s. In terms of public access, citizens will now have to traverse up and over the geotube sea wall in order to walk on what is left of their own beach. The license to use public land for this purpose was approved by three members of the BOS without the approval of Town Meeting.


FACT: As to “preserving the tax base” in this area, the fact is that Nantucket’s tax base has withstood 300 years of erosion. (The Surfside Hotel, the Nantucket Railroad, homes in Cisco, Sheep Pond Road, and Madaket, are a few examples.) While some properties lose value, others gain value. Properties north and south of the geotube sea wall could be adversely affected and lose value due to the impacts. Is it fair to put these properties at risk just to “save” Baxter Road real-estate investments made atop an eroding bluff? Far more taxes are at risk than any possible increase in value of a few properties on Baxter Road.


As we have stated, the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy supports an informed public dialogue, based on facts about the merits of the geotube project, as we are sure you do. However, for supporters to provide distorted, incomplete or downright misleading information continues to be unacceptable.



D. Anne Atherton

Peter Brace

Sunny Daily

Ashley Erisman

John Merson 

Linda Spery

Liz Trillos

Charley Walters

Mary Wawro


COPY: Letter to the Editor, Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror



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