Cape Cod beaches show dramatic erosion

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March 14, 2013, 10:41 pm
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(NECN: Ally Donnelly) - Billy Connell crunches his excavator through an oceanfront cottage on Pilgrim Road in Wellfleet. He's part of a wrecking crew hired by the owners to take down their beloved vacation home. They've tried to shore it up these past years, but last week's storm left it teetering over the edge.

From the cab of the machine, he grimaces, "It's just gonna get worse."

Nearby, co-worker Joe Demule sifts through timber, a life jacket, porch cushions -- even the kitchen sink shines in the sun.

"They lost their whole house," he said. "It's terrible."

The Outer Cape has been pounded by a series of storms this winter and erosion is taking its toll. A half a dozen houses down, the town has condemned this retreat on Cliff Road. The deck has slid down the now break-neck cliff and the house rests precariously above. Neighbor Josie Anderson came for a look Wednesday -- she's been summering nearby since the 90s.

"I just feel really sad," she said. "I can see it as it was before."

Jake Jacobson stops by for a walk down memory lane as well.

"We've been coming out here 30 years," said the West Barnstable man. "It's sad to see it pass, you know?"

Jacobson said the New York owner had the house moved back a few years ago.

"This was probably 30 or 40 feet further out," he says gesturing to the now collapsed land. "Only bought her a couple of years though, obviously."

Naturalist Peter Trull has seen it all before.

"The storms that we've had, have lasted several days, they've hit the Cape from all different angles," he said. "Nuts and bolts and treated lumber and asphalt are no match for a good Nor'Easter."

Communities all along the Cape have taken a hit -- the Atlantic chewing through dunes, bluff, parking lots from Eastham to Dennis to Sandwich, down to Truro. Last week, surging waves took out an already-breached barrier dune at Ballston Beach in Truro.

Before last week, there was a high dune at Ballston, but the breach from last week's storm obliterated the barrier dune, water coursing from the ocean all the way down to Truro Center -- about a mile away.

Said local Wendy King who used to spend a week in Truro each summer, "There were so many snow fences that were put up for protection over the years and all that is just gone. It's incredible. It's just flattened."

Town officials say they're trucking in sand from another beach that got dumped on during the storm and bringing it back to Ballston, hoping to have the dune and beach path at least somewhat rebuilt in time for summer tourists. Breon Dunigan is the chair of the Board of Selectman.

"It's a lot of water," said Dunigan "Striking, yes. Mother Nature's going to do what she's going to do."

Trull says with ocean levels rising all over the world, Cape communities will either have to move or redesign homes, businesses, even, many attractions.

"You either look at it from the town and economic and the tourist angle and you say, 'we must restore the beaches, we must make it ready for the people when they come,'" he said. "And then there are people who say, 'we're on a sandbar and sandbars never last. Sandbars wash away.' And that's what the Cape's doing right now -- washing away."

Walking the beach with her husband, Wendy King agrees, "It's a lesson to all of us to enjoy what we have here, every day, because Cape Cod is forever changing."

Tags: Cape Cod, storms, Ally Donnelly, noreaster, winter storms, Cape Cod erosion, March noreaster
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