Mid-Atlantic
Eroding Sagamore Beach Cliff / Falmouth Enterprise

Sagamore Highlands homeowners drop revetmement plan, push ahead with alternatives to slow erosion

SAGAMORE BEACH — Owners of four houses in the Sagamore Highlands are trying for a second time to slow the cliff erosion that threatens their homes.

“Let people save it,” said Nina Kovalev, who moved to one of the houses that overlook Cape Cod Bay about a year ago.

In an effort that began in 2014 and ended last August, five homeowners on Indian Trail failed to gain approval for a stone revetment at the base of the cliff, on what is town-owned coastal land. Four homeowners are returning with two alternatives.

The first is sand-filled coir envelopes where a biodegradable product made of coconut fiber is rolled up with sand, like a giant burrito, said Seth Wilkinson, a restoration ecologist with Wilkinson Ecological, who is part of the proposed project.

When waves hit the fabric, sand is liquefied and slowly leeches out over time, Wilkinson said. The fabric is biodegradable and will break down, migrating the sand out onto the beach, and needs to be replaced within five to seven years. The method slows down erosion but does not stop it and is not a permanent alternative.

The second proposal would be to place a cobble berm at the base of the cliff, Wilkinson said.

Generally, a cobble berm is an artificial gravel and cobblestone beach where the stones can be moved by waves — unlike the large stones of a revetment. Also, the stones in a cobble berm do not wash away like sand.

Plants can be placed on top of the cobble berm or the sand-filled coir envelopes, adding even more stabilization, Wilkinson said.

At the end of May, the Board of Selectmen granted the homeowners the right to move forward with their proposal.

“We are in the preliminary stages,” said coastal ecologist Jack Vaccaro of Epsilon Associates Inc.

The project will require construction on the town-owned parcel that is managed by the Bourne Conservation Commission. On Thursday, the commission is expected to review the project for potential wetland impacts and consistency with management plans. Separately, authorization will be needed from the selectmen for easements, licenses or other regulatory requirements.

With each nor’easter, the threat of losing what is left of the backyards of all nine houses along Indian Trail increases. The homeowners have paid thousands of dollars to plant American beach grass on the steep slope, Kovalev said. But erosion at the base of the coastal bank has, over time, made it increasingly difficult to grow vegetation on the incline, Wilkinson said.

As Kovalev looks north of the Bourne town line, to Plymouth, where homeowners have installed a cobble berm to help delay a similar erosion problem, she said she wonders why the same techniques can’t be used in her situation.

In early 2014, the attempt to build the revetment began with a notice of intent filed by Pinnacle Site Contractors for six property owners on Indian Trail. The project proposed constructing a 540-foot-long stone revetment with a 150-foot cobble berm at the southern end and a 15-foot-long cobble berm at the northern end.

The Conservation Commission in the 2015 final decision noted the coastal bank acts as both a sediment source as well as a vertical buffer to elevated storm waters.

“It is thus important to storm damage prevention and flood control,” the document said.

The commission believed that the proposed revetment would have an “adverse effect” and would not comply with state wetland protection regulations. The commission voted 5-1 to deny the project on Dec. 3, 2015.

That promoted two actions by the property owners.

They filed an appeal on Feb. 1, 2016, in Barnstable Superior Court to reverse the Conservation Commission’s decision. But the case was dismissed about 2½ years later with prejudice, not allowing the commission nor the residents to appeal again.

The property owners also sought a superseding order of conditions from the state Department of Environmental Protection to overturn the Conservation Commission, which it did on July 28, 2016. The town then appealed the DEP’s decision, but that was dismissed Aug. 9, 2018, when the applicants withdrew their notice of intent to build the revetment.

The homes date from 1909 to 1988.

“It’s a beautiful place to live,” said Nicole Lord, who lives across the street from the cliff side on Indian Trail. “I feel horrible for what my neighbors are going through.”

A resident of 11 years, Lord said many of the homes along the street have been passed down for generations.

It’s awful that the town won’t allow access to the land to allow the people to protect their homes, especially because the homeowners are willing to pay for the revetment, Lord said.

All it takes is “one bad storm and it tears a lot of bluff away,” she said. “It’s a constant fight.”

Follow Beth Treffeisen on Twitter: @BTreffeisenCCT.

See Cape Cod Times article . . .