With the southwestern Wasque shoreline eroding at a rapid rate that is being termed “unprecedented, significant and unanticipated,” the Edgartown conservation commission this week granted emergency certification allowing the owners of a Chappaquiddick home to take immediate steps to protect their home from the encroaching sea.
The commission Wednesday approved a plan for emergency stabilization for the Wasque home of Richard and Jennifer Schifter near Poucha Pond. The 8,803-square-foot house, listed by the assessor’s database at a value of nearly $7.7 million, faces the southwest side of Wasque on a rapidly eroding bluff.
Information provided in the application for emergency action is framed in urgent language. A survey by a coastal geologist estimates that the majority of the coastal bank loss, spurred by the breach at Norton Point, has occurred in the last 90 days, and a survey showed that over two days, from Sept. 18 to Sept. 20, five feet of coastal bank were lost because of a storm from the south.
At the current rate of erosion, about .87 feet a day, the 100-foot buffer between the bluff and a stone pool enclosure at the home would disappear, according to George Sourati, the owner of Sourati Engineering Group, which is overseeing the project. If nothing is done, he said, “it will be less than four months before the bluff gets there.”
The emergency plan calls for the installation of a Coir Log Coastal Bank Protection System which will “hopefully temporarily slow down” the rate of erosion, Mr. Sourati said. “It’s not a permanent solution, but it’s going to give us some time to think about other solutions.”
The emergency certification will allow for the installation of up to 320 linear feet of coir logs on the face of the eroding bank, according to a letter to the conservation commission by Sourati Engineering Group. Mr. Sourati said the log system will be installed on Monday, and is expected to slow down the rate of erosion.
According to information filed with the conservation commission, the coir log system, which is made of coconut fiber, would be constructed with 20-inch diameter, 10-foot long coir (coconut fiber) logs placed end to end and tied together. They will be held in place by 12-foot long anchors drilled vertically into the beach face at the toe of the coastal bank, and anchors drilled into the coastal bank face. Once connected, this will create “an integrated and interconnected system of emergency protection.”
The Trustees of Reservations have agreed to allow temporary access over their property for the log system to be installed, and the applicant has provided a monitoring, management and maintenance system for the stablization. This includes bi-weekly inspections and inspections after storms, and a $20,000 escrow fund to pay for removal.
The protection system aims to temporarily stabilize the coastal bank, limit the erosion, and thus protect “the safety interests of the citizens of the commonwealth,” the letter said.
In a technical report of conditions filed with the conservation commission, Chilmark coastal geologist W. Sterling Wall said the current rate of erosion “is unprecendented when compared to previous shoreline change information for this area,” and that he found justification to consider the erosion as an emergency condition that threatens the Schifter home and surrounding structures.
“This rate of erosion will threaten the existing dwellings and structures on site before the inlet closes unless emergency coastal bank stabilization is undertaken and plans can be implemented for relocation,” he wrote,.
Mr. Wall said the original cause of the severe erosion was the April 2007 northeaster that created a 1,300-foot breach in the Katama barrier beach at Norton Point.
“The erosion is significantly affecting the site shoreline and threatening the existing home and structures on the subject site,” Mr. Wall wrote. “Once the inlet closes, the longshore supply of sand will be restored to the beach and the rate of retreat will diminish.”
“The extraordinary rapid erosion has created an unforeseen emergency,” he continued. “Since the spring of 2012, over 80 to 90 feet of coastal bank erosion has occurred on this southerly portion of the subject property.”
“This rapid erosion has placed the dwelling and structures in danger of being undermined.”
He said that based on mapping and aerial photos, there has been approximately 700 feet of shoreline retreat since 1994, and he estimates that 500 feet of that retreat has occurred since 2007. “The average rate of loss calculates to an alarming 46 feet [a year],” he said.
However, “even this average rate is misleading as the majority of the loss has occurred in the last four years,” he said.
There could be a natural, though unpredictable, remedy ahead.“Eventually the beach will start to build again and erosion will stop,” Mr. Sourati said. “But it could take several years.”
Mr. Sourati declined to identify future solutions to the problem, but documents filed with the conservation commission indicate the relocating the home is an option.
Mr. Wall’s report said that emergency action “is urgent and immediate while the applicant engages a consultant to evaluate the feasibility of relocating the home and while that plan is being developed.”
Conservation commission chairman Edward W. (Peter) Vincent Jr., said the commission easily agreed to the emergency request. “It’s a pretty dire situation with the amount of erosion going on with the opening there,” he said. Ordinarily, a request like this could take up to 60 days for approval, between filing requests, advertising a public meeting, and holding hearings and site visits. In this case, he said, the board unanimously approved the emergency condition.
“We’re not going to deny somebody the right to try to save their house,” Mr. Vincent said.
He said the commission has granted a couple of emergency orders in the past, but this case “was obviously a pretty severe situation,” with the ocean acting as a rip saw.
In the past, he said, The Trustees of Reservations, which owns most of the property surrounding the Schifter home, have been to the commission to relocate trails that were threatened by erosion and collapsing into the sea.
“This whole point down there has serious problems,” he said.“If they are not careful, [their home] could end up in Nantucket.”