I was pleased to read your editorial Shifting Sands in the Nov. 16 issue of the Gazette. Sediment management is a critical issue facing most of the world’s coastal communities. In a 1988 report to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission I wrote: “The Martha’s Vineyard shoreline is undergoing a process of coastal evolution caused primarily by rising sea level. The dominant theme is shoreline retreat due to submergence and wave erosion of the shore land. As bluffs and beaches erode, the materials are removed and deposited as sand bars and mud banks either offshore or in harbor or lagoon entrances.”
Most of the Martha’s Vineyard coast including Edgartown harbor is in a natural state. Menemsha and Oak Bluffs harbors are not, and were modified with jetties to keep entrance channels open to provide safe access for boats. You make a good point about sand management, but the issue is not as simple as “structures are bad and sand nourishment is good.” Without the jetties, dredging might be necessary every time we have a serious storm. In a few locations, East Chop and Oak Bluffs waterfront for example, roads and public facilities were built so close to the shore that stone revetments and groins were built to protect them. Unfortunately, sand was not considered a resource but a nuisance when the channels were dredged and sand supply was thought to be limitless when the groins were built. In the case of a shrinking Inkwell Beach, the Pay Beach groin may be too long and high for the site; the system needs tuning but only within the context of a regional sand management plan. In my 1988 report I wrote:
“Over the past 40 years, the principal authors have observed World War II bunkers succumb to the waves of South Beach, coastal salt ponds filling with sediment and high bluffs at Gay Head, East Chop and elsewhere retreating at varying rates. The following observations are meant to assist planners in developing rational comprehensive site specific plans for the increasing valuable shore of Martha’s Vineyard.
“Data for this report was provided by two independent surveys of the Martha’s Vineyard shoreline conducted in 1976 and 1987. During the summer of 1976, an air photo survey of the shoreline, and tidal current studies of Sengekontacket, Menemsha, Nashaquitsa and Squibnocket coastal ponds were carried out by students of Northeastern Illinois University. Results, including circulation charts for flood and ebb tides conducted during the summer of 1987, are a continuation of the work begun in 1976 but expanded to include additional stretches of the Vineyard coast. Although the conditions along the Vineyard shoreline are highly variable, similar coastal conditions and problems were shared by many of the sites observed. Based on the diversity of environmental conditions, three areas on the Vineyard were studied in detail: South Beach, Sengekontacket Pond and East Chop.
“These sites are typical of problems faced by planners for the entire East Coast of North America. They are examples of, respectively, the storm-ravaged sandy shore, the well-protected but rapidly evolving coastal lagoon and the armored headland. Each of these coastal locales requires a clearly defined strategy for dealing with shore protection and environmental management. Recommendations for these areas represent different approaches to basic coastal management techniques. The first, ‘move away and let nature take its course,’ applies to South Beach [and perhaps 90 per cent or more of the Vineyard coastline]. Armoring or local beach protection are unsuitable solutions and will cause more problems than they solve. [Sand back-passing from Wasque shoals to the shallows off Wequobsque bluffs or nourishment from sands excavated from inland glacial outwash plain deposits are solutions that can substantially slow coastal erosion]. Conversely, the value and usefulness of Sengekontacket Pond (a shellfish nursery) and adjacent barrier beaches can be prolonged and preserved by a carefully designed program of [jetty maintenance] dredging and beach nourishment. East Chop, in contrast, is an armored headland (the point is protected by a stone riprap) where maintenance of the armor is relatively low cost and represents a long-term shore management solution with minimal negative effects on adjacent stretches of shoreline. [Impacts should be mitigated by periodic beach nourishment of adjacent beaches.]”
An issue that is being addressed by many coastal states is funding for beach maintenance projects. Martha’s Vineyard has set a high standard for land management through the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank. It might be a good model for a sand management program. A Martha’s Vineyard Sand Bank, funded through special taxing districts, where users contribute to the cost of maintaining the beach, would help protect one of our most valuable and dwindling resources on the Vineyard, the beach.
Dr. Charles Shabica is professor emeritus at Northeastern Illinois University, president of Shabica & Associates coastal consultants and director of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. He lives in Winnetka, Ill., and Oak Bluffs.