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A house on Sheep Pond Road succumbs to ocean storm waves.

Second Annual Erosion Forum - Saturday, May 9, 2015.

A summary of the second of this fascinating forum.

This is my summary of Day Two, Saturday, May 9, 2015, of the Second Annual Nantucket Forum on Beach Erosion: Strategies for Adaptation in an Era of Rising Sea Levels.

Enjoy!

Summary of the Second Annual Beach Erosion Forum
 
Saturday, May 9
 
Strategies for Adaptation in An Era of Rising Sea Levels: State Leadership and Local Adaptation Strategies
 
By Peter B. Brace

 
May 21’s Inquirer & Mirror ran Siasconset Beach Preservation Fund president Josh Posner’s letter to the editor that threatened that if negotiations between the town and SBPF didn’t go their way, SBPF would start aggressively pursuing its rock revetment proposal.
 
To date, according to Posner, negotiations involving the Conservation Commission and SBPF on the geotube project aren’t moving expeditiously enough and aren’t producing the results SBPF is comfortable with.
 
Apparently, to SBPF, its only recourse then is to awaken the revetment from its voluntarily induced notice of intent coma and request that the ConCom restart its public hearing at a near future meeting, which obviously means that Posner wasn’t serious about his open-minded comments during Friday, May 8’s, session of the Second Annual Nantucket Forum on Beach Erosion: Strategies for Adaptation in an Era of Rising Sea Levels, when he said that “stupid things have been done,” and that SBPF has an “environmentally sensible approach” in its geotube installation.
 
“What are the things that can be done? Let’s work together. It’s a small island and we need to get rid of the divisiveness,” said Posner.
 
So, it’s a very good thing there was a second day for this year’s erosion forum, which focused solely on local solutions, because clearly, using a rock revetment as a threat to get what it wants is more SBPF’s speed rather than actually contributing to the island conversation on erosion and sea level rise adaption.
 
During the morning after, those in attendance learned about some real solutions already in action on Nantucket and around southeastern Massachusetts. They heard about how sea level rise is impacting coastal communities in the state today. They found out the approach an island engineer takes when hired by a waterfront property owner to protect his or her real estate from erosion, and they got to share their own ideas at the forum.

Speakers  
 
Julia Knisel –
 
As the coastal shoreline and floodplain manager for the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, Julia Knisel seems to love her job in a time of accelerating sea level rise. For one thing, she told the audience that she gets to administer CZM’s Coastal Community Resilience Grant Program.
 
This state program doles out, as its web page states, “financial and technical resources to advance new and innovative local efforts to increase awareness of climate impacts, identify vulnerabilities, and implement measures to increase community resilience (i.e., the ability to endure impacts associated with coastal storms and the effects of erosion, flooding, and sea level rise and to respond, recover, and adapt to consequences).”
 
Knisel said in the first year of the program, CZM got more then 58 applications for grant money from coastal communities and funded 26 of them with the allotted $5 million budget.
 
“We’ve been able to leverage a lot of local resources as a result of putting forward this program,” said Knisel. “This is a good start. We’re very excited about this.”
 
Many of these projects are around Boston and down along the south shore, the Cape and the Islands, where Knisel said that for the latter, there are greater opportunities to utilize available sediment resources.
 
On Nantucket, the town’s emergency management coordinator Dave Fronzuto successfully secured one of these grants from CZM totaling $177,850 for erosion control measures on Smith’s Point, Quaise and Hummock Pond Roads, and to develop an island-wide geographical information systems (GIS) storm tide pathways database.
 
To be eligible for the grants, coastal communities must employ at least one of the following CZM “StormSmart” climate adaptation actions: Conducting public education and awareness or other communication initiatives; Assessing vulnerability and risk; Identifying and implementing management measures, standards, or policies; and or Redesigning to accommodate changing conditions.
 
Knisel cautioned that one of the criteria for applying for these grants that coastal communities get hung up on is their sea level rise target, but she stressed that applicants shouldn’t fret over their need to choose a time frame because most are going for either the 50- or 100-year target for their plans.
 
She also highlighted the plight of Plum Island in Newburyport, Mass., whose erosion control troubles sparked the state’s creation of its Coastal Erosion Commission in 2014 to evaluate coastal erosion severity and damages, and to generate solutions. This effort manifested itself in the release of the Coastal Erosion Commission Draft Report and Recommendations in January. This report identified 18 hot spots on the state’s coast including ’Sconset.
 

Jim O’Connell – 
 
Listing three strategies — do nothing; adaptive strategies including sacrificial dunes, building on pilings, increased setbacks, new zoning and building codes; and retreat — that all coastal communities must consider when considering how to handle sea rise, coastal geologist Jim O’Connell of Coastal Advisory Services of Brant Rock, Mass., said Nantucket’s fate is going to be that of Billingsgate Island, and that only sand transport, the natural movement of sand by currents and wind, can deconstruct or save islands whose foundations are sand. That island’s demise happened because sand transport changed naturally, no longer accreting on the island’s shores, but eroding them.
 
O’Connell was hinting that erosion control structures put in place to protect coastal properties hasten the erosion process of the protected beach and those downdrift properties nearby, and that sea level rise is going to intensify erosion. He added that between 1965 and 2006, the ocean rose .95 of a foot and that it might rise six feet more within the next 100 years, but that the U.S. is planning for only a three-foot rise.
 
The other hint O’Connell seemed to be offering was that CZM’s Coastal Community Resilience Grant Program is something Nantucket needs to continue to seek funding from, because like Sandwich, Plymouth, Scituate and Plum Island, four coastal Massachusetts towns dealing with erosion on the same scale as Nantucket, erosion hot spots around the island are almost certainly in for the same level of property loss as was Plum Island in March 2013 when six houses went into the waves and 40 more were listed as at risk.
 
“After [Plum Island] residents took matters into their own hands and they built a rock wall, this spawned the formation of the coastal erosion commission,” O’Connell said. “Within one year of installation [though], they completely lost their beaches.”

Art Gasbarro – 
 
As an engineer working on Nantucket for Blackwell & Associates, Art Gasbarro spends a lot of his time working with coastal property-owner clients who, one way or another, are trying to buy more time for their erosion-imperiled water views with some form of erosion control structure.
 
As Gasbarro explained to the Saturday morning audience, there’s a process he goes through with clients to help them with their property protection needs.
 
When hired for such a job, Gasbarro does a site evaluation, whether the property is on the ocean or the sound or the harbor shoreline, so he can get a sense of the anticipated hydraulic forces of the body of water he’ll be dealing with, including wave height, storm surge and flood elevations, using weather buoys out in Nantucket Sound and the ocean to refine his calculations.
 
Next is collection of data including surveys of the property, an analysis of relevant state and local regulations pertaining to the property and his client’s needs, and then development of a site plan. The permitting process follows, including filing an application with Nantucket’s Conservation Commission, known as a notice of intent, and then a public hearing over a series of ConCom meetings.
 
Choosing a method of slowing erosion is next and some of the options are stone revetments, sand-filled geotubes, beach nourishment and steel bulkheads. Softer solutions include snow fencing and planting of American beach grass, along with sand-filled coir or jute sand bags, the latter not being Gasbarro’s favorites, as they require regular filling with sand.
 
In telling the crowd that Nantucket’s Conservation Commission and its staff, though top-notch, are overburdened with applications and enforcement issues, Gasbarro was inadvertently informing everyone that a “uniform approach” to erosion control and adaptation to sea level rise is probably coming in the future, but that for now, it’s going to be property by property.
 
Allan Reinhard and John Daniels -  
 
Reinhard, chairman of the Nantucket Islands Land Bank Commission, and Daniels, interim executive director of the Maria Mitchell Association and its board’s president, shared their organizations’ land swap of 2009, an example of one solution for how Nantucket might adapt to sea level rise. That year, the Land Bank bought 31 and 33 Washington St., and then swapped these parcels with Maria Mitchell for its aquarium property at 28 Washington St. across the street. When Maria Mitchell builds its new natural science and aquarium center at 31 and 33 Washington St., the Land Bank plans to remove the buildings from 28 Washington St.

Discussion and comments - 
 
After Nantucketer Andy Lowell remarked that the weight of the Three Gorges Dam in China may have offset the earth from its axis, affecting tides in the Northeast, an unidentified woman asked about top-down erosion.
 
“We’ve got geotubes on the beach and then the bluff seems to be eroding from the top. What can geotubes do to prevent erosion coming down from the top?” she asked.
 
Gasbarro indicated not much, but that proactive steps are being taken, such as vegetating the coastal bank with beach grass.
 
“Baxter Road has no storm water facilities,” he responded. “Plus, a lot of the land that would otherwise absorb the runoff, has eroded away.”
 
Getting his words in, Fronzuto said that the blizzard of Jan. 26 had a storm surge of 7.6 feet, and the No Name Storm in 1991 was eight feet, making this winter’s storm “seriously significant.”
 
“What we’re seeing is, these storms are happening every year,” he said. “These are terrible storms that happen every year.”
 
Former ConCom member Ginger Andrews posed the question: “When do you give up on innovations and rely on the old techniques of beach nourishment and revetments and groins, [and] how long do you give the fauna to recover before you move on?”
 
D. Anne Atherton of the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy closed the forum with this sobering statement:
 
“I think we all need to remember that when Town Meeting voted to do a coastal management plan, we had in mind the whole island, but the Coastal Management Plan was narrowed to exclude private property and have it only be town property.”