An emerging plan to reconfigure the town beachfront at Squibnocket by moving the parking lot, rebuilding the roadway and taking out a stone revetment could be a model for future coastal restoration projects, a Woods Hole scientist said in a report released this week.
But Greg Berman, a coastal processes specialist with the Woods Hole Sea Grant Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, also advised a go-slow approach and said more careful study is needed because the project has the potential to significantly alter the natural environment both on the beachfront and at Squibnocket Pond.
“If this project were to cause unintended negative consequences similar proposals for other areas might be harder to permit,” he wrote in a summary. “However, if this project is successfully implemented and maintained, it has the chance to serve as an example of the effectiveness of un-armoring (removing revetments) for other sites along southeast Massachusetts.”
Mr. Berman, who was hired recently by the town of Chilmark to examine the project, will present his findings at a public meeting March 11 at 7 p.m. at the Chilmark town hall.
The Squibnocket project was announced last fall following months of negotiations that involved the town, the Squibnocket Farms Homeowners Association (a group of private landowners) and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, the group that did a limited development at Squibnocket many years ago. The talks began after the beachfront suffered serious damage in Hurricane Sandy.
In addition to building an elevated roadway into the private development, moving the town parking lot further south and removing the stone revetment, the plan calls for a long-term lease arrangement that would add more beachfront to the town holdings.
At the annual town meeting in April voters will be asked to back the project as a concept plan. An earlier plan to present a series of articles was recently scrapped by the selectmen who decided to first seek a general expression of approval from the voters since the project has so many moving parts.
In his 13-page report accompanied by charts, illustrations and site photographs, Mr. Berman examined wave action and wind speeds at Squibnocket and responded to a series of questions posed by the town. The report discusses the natural processes at work on the shorefront, including erosion, storm flooding and vegetation, their impact on the planned improvements and vice versa.
“Erosion is not linear,” Mr. Berman wrote. “Storm impacts and other short-term, high intensity events make it difficult, if not impossible to predict erosion on a short time frame.”
The report details the complex natural environment of the area, which includes beach, dune, ocean, pond, coastal fen and a cobbled tidal headland known as the mussel bed.
Mr. Berman found that moving the parking area as planned would put it further away from the oceanfront but at a lower elevation, making it more prone to flooding during storms.
He said the stone revetment has provided benefits, one of them protecting the upland area including the parking lot. But he said it has also artificially kept that part of the shoreline more seaward. “If the site had contained a coastal bank or dunes, instead of a revetment, the current position of the shoreline would likely be much more in line with the rest of the coast,” Mr. Berman wrote.
Still, he advised extreme caution and more study before removing the revetment.
“Careful consideration should be made before removing this revetment, as it will likely be impossible to replace a revetment at this location,” he wrote.
Reached by telephone this week, he expanded slightly on the complicated issues involving revetments.
“With a lot of coastal armoring we have in Massachusetts, people are more aware that it can cause more harm than good,” he said. “You have to be careful in this, if you were to do it the wrong way you don’t want to dissuade others from following this path. And if it does work . . . it’s a great chance to serve as an effective model and potentially others in Massachusetts may look to unarmoring as a feasible alternative.”
The report also found that removal of the revetment would likely cause rapid changes to the ecosystem at Squibnocket Pond, which currently has minimal exchange with the sea. Water levels, salinity levels and freshwater plant communities around the pond would all be affected, he said.
One alternative would be a partial removal of the revetment, he suggested.
The report said the project would need to clear a number of regulatory hurdles, and emphasized the need for more study.
“Complete answers to some of the questions will require a more robust analysis,” Mr. Berman wrote in the summary.