The coastal bank along Sea View avenue in Oak Bluffs has undergone a major overhaul in recent weeks and town officials are confident the area will be ready in time for the busy summer season. Town leaders have had to scramble over the past few months to repair the popular town beach after a 30-ton retaining wall suddenly collapsed in late February.
Over the past month, the site has attracted throngs of curious onlookers who watched as bulldozers spread sand over the beach and workers installed gabion baskets filled with stone and sand. The baskets allow water to filter through without washing away material that supports the bank. On Tuesday, the first round of beach grass was planted at the beach which helps hold the sand in place and reinforce the infrastructure of the bank. Workers next week will plant bayberry, beach rose, goldenrod and rosa rugosa.
The contractor in charge of the beach repairs is the Lexington-based NETCON Construction, which has allowed town work crews to do much of the work, which in turn has saved the town money.
The sand being used to rebuild the bank comes from dredging projects at the Oak Bluffs harbor and the opening to Sengekontacket Pond. Town officials said the material has been tested for contaminants and declared safe. A new temporary handicap access ramp will also be built at the beach that will allow disabled and the elderly people to easily access the beach all the way down to the water.
Last year, many Oak Bluffs residents and visitors were shocked by the dismal state of the Inkwell beach, which had lost a large amount of sand and was substantially reduced in size. At high tide, the beach measured only about 10 to 20 feet from the edge of the water to the seawall. But in the wake of the collapsed retaining wall, town officials stepped up efforts to renourish the beach and expand its breadth.
“In a way, the collapse of that wall may have been a blessing in disguise,” selectman Kerry Scott said this week. “It expedited the whole process and resulted in immediate improvements to the beach.”
Conservation commission administrator Elizabeth Durkee explained that sand is in high demand in Oak Bluffs.
She said the coastline from East Chop to State Beach is cluttered with seawalls and revetments — like the jetty separating the Inkwell from the old pay beach — which 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,” she said.
Joan Hughes, chairman of the conservation commission, said the town beach will be in better shape this summer than last year. But she also said the current repairs will provide only a temporary fix. After this summer, an engineer will evaluate the entire beach from the town harbor to Farm Pond and determine the scope of work needed for permanent reinforcements, she said.
Meanwhile, town officials will seek state and federal funds to pay for the repairs to the beach. Last month, Mark Forest, chief aid to U.S. Rep. William D. Delahunt, visited the town and met with town administrator Michael Dutton, selectman Roger Wey and Ms. Scott.
Mr. Wey said Mr. Forest was optimistic that the town would be eligible for federal highway funds to repair the beach. “[Mr. Forest] said we had a good shot at getting as much as $10 million to repair the whole area. He told us the funds would be more readily available [for Oak Bluffs] because the bank held up a state highway,” Mr. Wey said.
If the town receives federal highway funds, a portion might be used to pay for other improvements to the town waterfront that go beyond simply shoring up the infrastructure.
Last year, a special committee called the boardwalk to beach task force drafted a 35-page report entitled the Sea View Revitalization Concept Master Plan, which recommends a wide range of improvements including the installation of new railing along the beach, new walkways down to the shoreline, a new viewing pagoda opposite Samoset avenue, new light fixtures and recycling bins.
The total cost of the plan was estimated at $2.7 million.
An integral part of the task force plan is to improve the old snack shack at the foot of the town beach, adjacent to where the retaining wall collapsed. In recent months, questions have surfaced as to whether the creation of a gently sloping dune system might require the snack shack to be removed. At the annual town meeting last month, several residents pleaded with town leaders not to endorse a plan that would require the removal of the snack shack.
It is unclear if the shack will be open this summer. The town is waiting on the results of several stability tests of the coastal bank to determine if the area is stable enough for the shack to be opened.
A sign placed along the Inkwell Beach provides a brief description of the work being done.
“This project is a beach renourishment project—sand is being placed on the beach to replace sand that has eroded over time,” the sign explains. “The sand being placed here is from the Little Bridge inlet, the Farm Pond culvert, and sand that had drifted into the harbor and clogged mooring slips. It has been tested for cleanliness and compatibility with the sand already on the beach.”