In Oak Bluffs this week, great mounds of earth were being shifted, walls to turn back the sea were being built and beaches were being fortified and expanded.
And although there seemed to be something Biblical to it all, in reality all the moving of sand and building of walls was more routine then epic.
The construction crews at the tip of the North Bluff were working on a new seawall that is the first step in a larger plan to replace the bulkhead running from the parking lot to the Steamship Authority terminal.
Town highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. said the seawall should be finished in about a month, and will include a new walkway that will eventually connect the Steamship terminal to the town harbor.
Up the road, dump trucks were dropping loads of sand onto the Inkwell Beach that was excavated from the channel under the Little Bridge at Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach. The town recently received a permit from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management allowing the area near the bridge to be dredged and the spoils placed at the town beaches.
The moving of the sand is expected to improve tidal flow in Sengekontacket Pond and improve water quality. A recent round of state testing revealed high bacteria levels and forced the closure of the pond to shellfishing during the summer months. In addition, the new sand will help fortify the shore against erosion and create a larger expanse of beach for sunbathers and swimmers to enjoy.
Shellfish constable David Grunden said most of the sand will be placed at the Inkwell, which has seen a radical loss of sand in recent years, largely because of a jetty that separates it from the area formerly known as pay beach.
Mr. Grunden said the shifting of the sand did not cause any major disruptions to residents or beachgoers this week, and work crews should be finished in the coming days. In total, approximately 1,100 cubic feet of sand will be transported from the little bridge to the town beaches.
Town officials tested the sand from the Little Bridge to make sure it was compatible with the granule at the town beaches.
Mr. Grunden said the sand grain analysis revealed that some of the sand at the town beaches was smaller than what was excavated at little bridge, but overall the two sands seemed to be a good match.
“Some of the sand was smaller [at town beach] but there was also considerable overlap . . . meaning much of the sand matched. The sands were definitely compatible,” he said.
Mr. Grunden said the sand was also tested for nitrogen and bacteria, and the results were well under action levels established by the state. A sample was also sent to the Jackson Marine Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire where tests will be conducted to determine if bacteria found in the sand came from humans or birds.
The tests will help officials determine if the flock cormorants that has taken over Sengekontacket Pond or the septic systems are more to blame for the high bacteria levels in the pond.
Mr. Grunden said he was optimistic the excavation of the sand will improve tidal flow in the pond, but added that he was still doubtful that the state Division of Marine Fisheries would reopen the pond in time for shellfishing next summer.
Town officials were guardedly optimistic that efforts to re-nourish the town beaches would turn back erosion — albeit only for the time being.
Conservation commission administrator Elizabeth Durkee said the shifting of the sands was a temporary fix to a long-term problem. Beaches are dynamic systems that are continually shifting, and coastal erosion by wave energy is a natural geological process, she said.
Mrs. Durkee said the town is seeking to acquire permits to establish the beach as a nourishment disposal site and develop a long-term sediment management plan. But in the meantime, it’s hard to say how long the sand deposited this week at the beaches will last, she said.
“Beach re-nourishment is one of these things where you have to expect to fail,” she said. “You can’t really stop the natural flow of things, but it’s something that has to be done.”