Frequently Asked Questions
- How serious is the issue of erosion at Sconset Beach and Bluff?
At its closest point, the top of the Bluff is only 29 feet from the public Baxter Road. Many of the homes are this close (or even closer) to the top of the bluff. 8 homes have been moved or demolished leaving vacant lots. 12 more have been moved back to the roadway on their lots to gain some time. The Town of Nantucket decided in the spring of 2013 that the situation had gotten dangerous enough that a plan for the possible closure of Baxter Road needed to be put in place. With losses of up to 30-40 feet in some locations during the 2012/2013 storm season, these distances show a catastrophic loss that could occur in a single storm season.
Fortunately, the emergency measures put in place in the early winter 2014 have stopped erosion at the base of the bluff along a 900 foot stretch where the road is closest to the edge, despite a number of serious storms. However, if we do not expand these erosion control efforts, the impacts to the other threatened homes on the unprotected parts of the eroding Bluff and public access could be significant.
- Why is it so important to protect Sconset Beach and Bluff?We all value the beauty and unique environment of Nantucket, respecting the important role nature has played in shaping the elements we love today. In an era of climate change and sea level rise we know that if we do nothing this community will continue to be lost, one house at a time until all of Sconset is destroyed. At the same time, there are a number of important issues at play in our desire to protect Sconset Beach and Bluff from further erosion:
- As the top of the Bluff erodes, Baxter Road could be seriously undermined, along with town infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, causing a dozen or more homes to be stranded and needing a different access route.
- The northern half of the Bluff Walk has already been closed. The public access along the bluff that once ran from the village to the lighthouse has been lost.
- Many more houses, which are not just private homes but are historic structures and part of a historic setting, are threatened. Erosion has been moving from north to south at the rate of about 70-80 feet per year on average for the last 30+ years.
- The town’s tax base has been reduced by tens of millions in previously taxable assessed value as the Bluff erodes away. The process continues costing taxpayers as taxes are shifted from properties along Baxter Road to the rest of the island.
- Erosion has already eliminated multiple streets in Codfish Park and 8 homes on Baxter. Road and forced an additional 12 to be moved farther away from the bluff edge on their lots. Some of these are less than 15 feet away from edge. That’s 21 out of the original 50 homes on the oceanside of Baxter Road. Another 10- homes have seen their land values reduced as erosion proceeds farther south. In addition property values on the landward side of Baxter Road are now severely impacted.
Erosion in ‘Sconset is not about a public way or private homes; it’s about our ‘Sconset and Nantucket communities, now and for future generations.
- What is the impact of bluff erosion on the Baxter Road real estate property taxable base?This is a story of lost dollars to the town. Every year the amount of taxes lost to erosion grows. Real estate professionals conservatively estimate this amount at more than $250,00 for 2013 based on value lost to the northern 30 homes on the ocean side of Baxter Road. If all of the properties along the eastern side of Baxter Road were lost to erosion, the town would lose $134 million in assessed value, or $473,000 in lost tax revenue, based on 2013 assessment values and residential mil rate. Combined with the $63 million already lost, nearly $250 million, or $750,000 in annual revenue, would be lost to the town’s tax base from the east side of Baxter Road and elsewhere in ‘Sconset.
- Isn’t erosion natural; shouldn’t we just let nature take its course?Though we respect nature and the concept that not all areas should be subject to erosion control efforts, we believe that ‘Sconset is a special, historic place, with incredible natural resources, and we have a moral responsibility to preserve ‘Sconset for future generations for as long as possible. And it is our belief that stabilization and erosion control measures that are effective can be done in a way that will not accelerate erosion elsewhere on Nantucket.
To do otherwise threatens a community, a way of life, and individual homes. It will ultimately cost Nantucket taxpayers over time millions of dollars in lost tax revenue, as well as new costs for road and infrastructure replacements, money that could be better spent on sustaining the quality of our schools, public safety, care for seniors and general quality of life here.
- But the beaches – which are actually owned by the town of Nantucket – would survive further erosion just fine. It is the road and private homes that are actually being threatened. Shouldn’t the homes be moved?There are several issues to consider here:
- For some property owners, there is no appropriate place for home relocation. Many homeowners have already moved their homes as far landward on their lots as possible. Some homeowners have even moved their homes from the seaward to the landward side of Baxter road, only to see their homes again threatened by the possible loss of Baxter Road. Relocation simply isn’t a practical approach when there is an entire, historic neighborhood that is threatened.
- The lost tax revenues (see above) are significant even with relocation.
- Access to Sankaty Light might still be in peril, even if both homes and the road were moved at great expense.
- While it is true that the beach would likely survive further erosion of the Bluff, this beach could become private property as erosion washes away the Town-owned beach and private property boundaries move closer and closer to the ocean, eventually encompassing the beach. This is already starting to occur within the project area, where some property boundaries include part of the back beach. So, further erosion will ultimately result in the loss of the public beach and the loss and subsequent relocation of a public way at considerable public expense.
- Why shouldn’t Baxter Road simply be relocated?The costs associated with relocating Baxter Road – both in terms of financial implications for the town, the lost homes and property of individual landowners, and the impact on the Sconset Beach community – are simply too high. Especially when it is feasible for the bluff to be protected and the moving of the road unnecessary.
- Won’t addressing erosion at Sconset Beach and Bluff dictate that the same be done in other communities across the island?While we are hopeful that we will learn much that can be useful elsewhere from the public-private partnership employed by the SBPF and the town of Nantucket, one size does not fit all. Decisions about whether and how to protect other areas need to be made on a case by case basis.
- What is the nature of SBPF’s relationship with the town?In June 2013 the Board for Selectmen voted 4-1 to enter into a partnership with SBPF to carry out a plan to protect the road and bluff. A formal Memorandum of Understanding was executed in last summer and updated in October 2013. While SBPF and the Town’s Board of Selectmen don’t always agree, whenever possible we want to work with the Town to find ways to collaborate on protecting the Beach, Bluff and Baxter Road.
- What initial steps did SBPF take in coordination with the town?The first proposal presented in July 2013 called for a 4200 foot rock revetment; this length was later reduced to 3400 feet. As time grew short before the winter storm season, the revetment proposal was put on hold (and remains on hold) and the Town of Nantucket and SBPF jointly pursued a proposal for an approximately 1500 foot geotube installation that was focused on the most vulnerable portions of the bluff where Baxter Road and certain homes are imminently threatened. After it became clear that the geotube project would not be approved before the winter storm season during the regular hearing process, SBPF and the Town each filed separate requests for an Emergency Certification with slightly differing project designs. Shortly thereafter, SBPF and the Town filed a combined Emergency Certification request for 3 tiers of geotubes for the most critical 900 foot stretch of the bluff. This request was approved and the geotubes were constructed in December 2013 and January 2014. . It is important to note that though the proposal was in partnership with the town of Nantucket, the actual project was funded and constructed by SBPF with private contributions.
Ultimately, we would like to work with the town to protect the entire bluff from Sankaty Lighthouse to the point at which erosion has begun (approximately 63 Baxter Road).
- How does the geotube project work?
- Aren’t goetubes and revetments harmful, causing more erosion problems than they solve?There are many geotubes and revetments along the eastern coast of the US. It has been proven that both of these models can be effective in limiting the impact of erosion on coastal communities. While the beach in front of these structures tends to wash away when sand is not added, none of the ones we are aware of consistently provide the amount of annual sand replacement that is built into our project. The sand mitigation that we are committed to providing on an annual basis, combined with our rigorous shoreline monitoring program, sets us apart from other projects and serves an important role in limiting erosion at the site and in nearby locations.
We also expect to closely monitor the performance of our project and will make adjustments as needed over time. The alternative is far more costly in environmental consequences, burden on taxpayers, and loss to the community.
- Don’t hard armoring projects like geotubes destroy beaches?When properly designed, constructed, maintained and monitored, such projects can mimic the natural sand supply and transport system and support continued public access to beaches. In most cases, hard armoring projects have historically not required any sand mitigation component, which can eventually cause loss of the beach in front of the structure itself and can remove a sediment source for neighboring beaches. We fully recognize this potential impact, which is why we have committed to provide (on an annual basis) a volume of sand equivalent to 1.5 times the volume of sand that erodes naturally from the bluff in a normal year. We’ve coupled this mitigation commitment with a robust shoreline monitoring program that will allow us to recognize any potential impacts, modify the project as needed, and even remove it if a clear indication of harm is demonstrated.
- Won’t the geotube project create harmful (and possibly dangerous) debris when battered by weather?When properly maintained and monitored, geotube projects should withstand even the most significant storms with limited potential for debris or impact of the overall beachscape. The geotubes are made of an extremely durable geotextile material. Each tube is massive (100-200 feet long) and there are no anchor stakes or other small components that would be subject to mobilization during storms. The monitoring protocols established require inspection and reporting to the Town following every major storm event.
- The “sacrificial sand” to be used in the process is expected to wash away every year. How much needs to be added each year and how was that amount estimated?Environmental scientists calculated the average amount of sand lost from the bluff to erosion each year over the past 10-20 years. The amount of sand currently committed is 150% of that amount, or 22 cubic yards per linear foot. In all, we expect to deliver nearly 19,000 cubic yards of sand to the project site on an annual basis. For more information on the sand required to mitigate potential impacts to adjacent beaches, please see this report (pdf).
Environmental scientists do not believe that our system will cause harm to nearby beaches. A detailed monitoring system is in place to assess changes on a regular basis and after severe storms. This will be a condition of the permit we expect to receive from the Conservation Commission. In addition the specifics of the how sacrificial sand is to be delivered and maintained will be a condition of the Con Com permit.
- What happens if the system is not properly maintained, the sand delivery is not carried out, or if harm tied to the project is discovered?We have proposed specific “Failure Criteria” that will require the project to be modified or removed if we do not fulfill our monitoring, mitigation, or maintenance requirements – or if the monitoring results demonstrate that the project is causing harm. SBPF has provided the Town with a cash escrow sufficient to remove the geotubes if need be.
- Over the winter, doesn’t the process of hauling sand and depositing it at the site cause major disruption? Is it worth the effort?It is certainly a significant endeavor to move the many tons of sand required for this project. We believe that the impacts going forward can be limited to fewer than 10-15 days of trucking at a time, which will be limited to the off-season. This off-season impact is small when compared to the positive benefits of erosion control. However, as we move forward and conduct sand replenishment activities, we will make every effort to minimize impacts. We are also researching possible alternatives to trucking for future sand replenishments.
- How will the funding for any erosion control efforts be handled in the long term?The creation of a sustainable long term financing system is a pre-condition of project expansion as defined in our MOU with the Town. We will be working with impacted property owners through the summer to design and gain support for a formal Erosion Management District to accomplish this. Ultimately the financing plan we envision will need to be approved by the Town.