The Oak Bluffs shoreline is a busy place these days.
At the old pay beach a collapsed seawall is being restored to fully fledged, fully vegetated coastal bank that will not only enhance the beach but — more importantly — protect the stability of the road above it, Sea View avenue. Gabion baskets full of stones are in place now to trap sand and hold the plantings that will grow above them. Coastal scientists encourage this kind of soft restoration of natural landforms because they are better at protecting beaches, banks, and roads than hard structures like seawalls and stone revetments.
Sand is valuable commodity in Oak Bluffs. In the past most sand on the beaches came from eroding coastal banks. Now many of those banks, from East Chop to state beach, are pockmarked with seawalls and revetments that block the sand on the banks from reaching the shore. Meanwhile jetties block sand from spreading along the shoreline. Add beach erosion and sea level rise to the mix and Oak Bluffs — like all coastal towns — is facing a serious shortage of sand for our beautiful beaches. Now the challenge is to recycle the sand we have.
Drifting sand that built up inside the Oak Bluffs harbor, for example, has been added to the Inkwell portion of the Sea View avenue beach, a section with perhaps the most serious erosion problem. The sand tested positive for cleanliness and is compatible with the sand already on the beach. Sand dredged from the Little Bridge inlet at state beach will also be used to replenish the Inkwell site.
Back at the harbor a new bulkhead stretches along the way where the Island Queen docks, the harbor seawall was rebuilt (no natural solution would work at this site), and a sidewalk now rests between the parking lot and beach.
Towering cranes rise up at the Steamship Authority dock competing for skyline space with the Methodist church cross and tabernacle cupola. A new lane is being added to the pier, among other improvements.
The shoreline along Sea View avenue is a focal point of activity. A boardwalk to beach to boardwalk task force has come up with a master plan to revitalize the waterfront while several town departments are coordinating the bank restoration and sand replenishment projects.
Soon the cranes and jersey barriers will be history and the infrastructure along the shoreline sturdier. The messy sand, detours and loud construction work will give way to sandy summer breezes.
Not many towns are fortunate enough to have an in-town beach. The Sea View avenue beach is a gem, with calm waters and views of Cape Cod and Edgartown. It is free and open to the public. It is the beaches and ponds and parks that attract people to the Island and the town. Protecting them is as much an economic necessity as it is an environmental one.
But as my husband says during spring cleaning, it’s going to get messier before it gets better.
Elizabeth Durkee is conservation commission administrator for the town of Oak Bluffs.