The succession of storms that have pounded the Island this winter have taken their toll in Oak Bluffs, where the town says massive repairs are needed to stabilize the damaged East Chop area.
Officials said the already-weakened East Chop Drive, bluff and beach have sustained significant damage in the past few months, beginning with Hurricane Sandy in October and continuing through a nearly-three-day storm last week.
Parts of the lower East Chop Drive roadway have washed out and the bluff itself is compromised, said town administrator Robert Whritenour. Initial engineering has shown that a 2,900 foot segment of the bluff has been impacted, and that the bluff is getting closer and closer to the road, he said.
While an exact course of action to repair the road has not yet been determined and is pending engineering studies and federal disaster funding, estimates suggest it will cost $8.7 million to repair the part of the bluff that’s been compromised, plus more to repair the road, said Mr. Whritenour.
Mr. Whritenour said storm damage totaling more than $15 million exists elsewhere in Oak Bluffs, with sand loss at Inkwell Beach and Pay Beach, and dredging required at Sengekontacket Pond’s north channel. But the majority of the damage seems to come at East Chop, he said.
The East Chop Drive roadway was already in trouble; a 2009 report said the scenic road was unstable, fragile and in danger of failing. But in October the highway department was forced to close the ocean side of East Chop Drive between Brewster avenue to Munroe avenue after Hurricane Sandy. Those barriers remain in place.
“The bluff has taken significant erosion as a result of the hurricane,” said Mr. Whritenour, noting “slumping,” which comes from the bluff being undermined from the bottom, so material at the top slumps down.
“The danger is the entire bank could slump down, and you could lose the road.”
Near the East Chop Beach Club, a timber bulkhead and revetment was also damaged in the hurricane and a Feb. 8 blizzard. Mr. Whritenour said the storms were so powerful that boulders smashed through the timber wall.
A preliminary damage assessment has been performed, he said, and an application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been accepted. Specialists have been assigned to the case and have been working with town engineers.
Long-term plans call for armoring at the toe of the bluff, he said, which can absorb energy from the ocean, and reducing the slope of the bluff. Engineers are now determining how much of the 2,900 feet has been impacted to the level that meets federal disaster standards and would qualify for repairs.
Oak Bluffs is eligible for reimbursement for up to 75 per cent of the cost of repairs stemming from those storms, but in order to qualify for the federal funding, engineering and design work is required. It will be up to voters to approve those projects at April’s special town meeting, with the town asking for approval of $75,000 for design studies of repair for coastal structures, including the road and bluff at East Chop.
“It’s expensive,” said Mr. Whritenour. East Chop engineering costs are estimated at $40,480, though that could be reimbursed, he said. He expected the town will apply for grant funding to pay for the town’s 25 per cent share.
The East Chop Association, which owns part of the bluff, is having the town take the lead on the project, association president Craig Dripps said, noting that it’s hard for the private organization to work with FEMA and other organizations.
“We are very interested. We’ll help out in any way we can,” Mr. Dripps said. He recalled 1991’s Hurricane Bob, which similarly damaged the bluff and the road. Repairs at the time “didn’t get done properly,” he said, with waves washing over stone revetments placed at the foot of the cliff and eating away at the cliff’s bottom. Recent core samples, he said, have shown pure sand in that area.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a quick fix,” he said, adding that the summer will bring additional concerns with an increase in traffic.
“It’s clear that we need to stabilize some of the coastal structures,” Mr. Whritenour said. “Erosion’s a tough thing.”â¨Mr. Whritenour said emergency repairs are planned for the lower end of East Chop to try to give the town more time until more permanent solutions emerge.
Highway superintendent Richard Combra said the town will be placing 300 tons of large 10-inch stones to stabilize the edge of the road. This plan, Mr. Whritenour said, would give the town time to go through the detailed permitting process.
The conservation commission approved a design for emergency repairs on the road, including adding a harder structure to the side of the road and moving the road. But the project also has to be permitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection, Mr. Whritenour said, and because East Chop is a barrier beach, the permitting process is more detailed. He said the Department of Environmental Protection appealed the conservation commission’s application and is looking further at the plans. He also said the town plans to move the road over about one road width away from the ocean in the area where the road has been closed. There isn’t much room to move it, he said, because the ocean is on one side and wetland is on the other.
The road move could come during repaving this spring, he said.
It really has been a problem for a number of years,” Mr. Combra said, noting particularly erosion over the last five years.
This year, he said, the three storms have done a lot of damage and undermined the road. And with a three-day storm last week, the area took a further beating, prompting concern for the future.
“I don’t think we could withstand a couple more storms. The whole road [could] wash out,” he said.
Mr. Whritenour said the town is actively pursuing federal relief, noting that the area is environmentally sensitive and the town needs to work with a variety of organizations.
“We may not have the area completely fixed for this season,” he said, asking for residents to be patient about traffic adjustments.
“We are very lucky we haven’t lost homes.