HYANNIS, Mass. — Nina Coleman has been manager of Sandy Neck Beach Park for 15 years, witnessing many a storm pummel its fragile shoreline during that time.
But 2018 has been particularly brutal year so far for the popular nearly 5,000-acre barrier beach that juts into Cape Cod Bay from Barnstable’s north side.
“The worst by far,” Coleman said of the damage a steady procession of ferocious storms has inflicted upon Sandy Neck.
Since January, Sandy Neck has lost 15 to 40 feet of dune fronting the parking lot area and its gatehouse has flooded twice, causing an estimated $30,000 in structural and equipment damage.
As another powerful nor’easter, which would eventually turn into a blizzard, was bearing down on the region, the Sandy Neck Board held its monthly meeting at Barnstable Town Hall.
The board had reached a clear consensus 90 minutes later: Something needs to be done to save Sandy Neck from severe storm erosion to preserve it for future generations.
“Sandy Neck is too beautiful a place to allow Mother Nature to take over completely,” said Richards French, longtime chairman of the Sandy Neck Board.
Unlike many coastal areas affected by recent storms, Sandy Neck may have first-mover advantage for implementing a solution that goes above and beyond the placement of sacrificial sand on the beach to temporarily stall the effects of severe erosion.
Nearly $300,000 has been spent on sand replenishment at Sandy Neck in the past five years, according to French.
A detailed report, funded by a nearly $150,000 grant from the state, recommending 11 long-term coastal resiliency alternatives to bolster and preserve Sandy Neck, has been completed and ready to implement since September 2016.
“We think the time is right and crisis can be opportunity in disguise,” French said about moving forward with the plan. “We have a beach that’s been hammered.”
“The experts have told us what to do to protect Sandy Neck for the next 50 years, and it (the plan) can’t be sitting on the shelf,” French said. “It would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The preferred alternative endorsed by the board involves relocating the current paved parking lots and off-road vehicle access site, and restoring the area with dunes.
The new parking lots would be shifted southeast away from the beach.
The planned retreat from the ocean’s edge comes with a hefty price tag: an initial $2.5 million, followed by up to an additional $4 million to $5 million over the next 50 years for maintenance.
The Sandy Neck Board approved a letter last week that will be sent to the Barnstable Town Council, requesting a meeting this spring to present the report and discuss plans for obtaining funds for the project.
“I hope the council will see the value of what this board recommends,” French said, adding he will ask the town to allocate some funds for the project in its capital improvement budget and potentially apply for Community Preservation Act funds.
Sandy Neck is also a revenue-generator. Beach parking stickers and fees, concessions and permit fees contribute approximately $250,000 annually to an enterprise fund for operation of the park.
“We watch our pennies and operate it like a business,” French said. “We want to protect our investment and make sure the next generation that comes along can enjoy the benefits we’ve got here. It’s a pretty neat place.”
French would like to see the parking lot relocation project begin as early as fall 2019. Until then, stopgap measures to prevent further erosion, such as raising the gatehouse to minimize flood risk and placing sacrificial sand along the dunes, will continue.
“A simple solution would be to throw more sacrificial sand out there, but that’s putting off the problem,” French said. “Why not fix it permanently and do it like it should be done?”
Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodtimes.com