Nantucket board backs untested erosion plan
By JOSHUA BAILING The Inquirer and Mirror October 13, 2009
NANTUCKET – The Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission has reaffirmed its support for a so-far untested plan to curb erosion of the island’s beaches by sinking man-made structures beyond the surf.
The commission voted unanimously last week to support the development of a pilot project by island visitor and international marine-salvage operator Joe Farrell, and instructed its staff to assist in the planning process and site selection.
Farrell, the head of Resolve Marine Group, one of the world’s largest ship-salvage, marine fire protection and hazardous-materials response companies; planning director Andrew Vorce; and marine superintendent Dave Fronzuto have identified four potential sites for the test project: a stretch of the north shore adjacent to Dionis, off the end of Madaket Road, the area off the former Navy Base in Tom Nevers and off Fishermen’s Beach in Surfside.
Under Farrell’s plan, removable concrete barges weighing 800 to 1,400 tons would be positioned offshore in such a way to deflect the energy of ocean waves before they reached the beach, thereby minimizing the impact of erosion.
Farrell estimated it would cost roughly $5 million to $8 million a mile to install the concrete structures, and he would work with the town to seek private funding from impacted property owners to pay the bill.
While he admits it’s unproven technology, he’s sunk more than $375,000 of his own money into monitoring the currents and ocean floor off Madaket, and the results have led to endorsements from scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.
“I love the island, and I can reverse what is happening out here, and it’s only from getting my butt kicked by the ocean for 30 years. My problem has always been getting rid of sand,” Farrell said.
“I’d like to do some test projects on town property. Let me try to figure out how we get funding. There are enough people with property at risk on this island, they might be willing to come forward with funding to move this project forward.”
Farrell said the barges would be constructed in such a way to also become fish habitat, so they would be a boon to island anglers as well. As for the proposed locations, Fronzuto said there were several criteria.
“They had to be town-owned properties, with no or minimal impact on endangered species, and two of those areas have abandoned septic systems. At the Navy base, there is some stuff out there that there is no way to get out of the water. As part of the permitting process, those areas could be cleaned up.”
Farrell acknowledged that most people probably don’t consider erosion an issue on the north shore, but the Dionis project would be the simplest one to undertake, with a strong likelihood of private contributions.
“It’s simpler on the north shore. There are little waves and big money on that side of the island,” he said.
After spending about 15 minutes debating how much effort the planning staff should invest in moving the project forward, the commission gave it its blessing.