Emergency Consulting for Coastal Communities requires working collaboratively, in compressed time windows within existing permitting matrices, to develop critical assessments of alternatives and facilitate immediate response protocols.
February, 2013, Truro Cape Cod. Nor'easters are cold core storms, driven by thermal differential. An anomalous convergence of -70 degree Greenland air and + 90 degree Gulf of Mexico air, created an "Atmospheric Bomb" over Cape Cod with lower than hurricane central pressure. This mega nor'easter spread out for nearly a thousand miles with hurricane force winds at the coast. The accompanying surge, linked with duration of wind driven waves, weakened and over washed a hundred foot wide section of barrier coastal dune in Truro, sending flood waters over a mile inland. The overwhelming magnitude of this event on sensitive resource areas, contributed to an initial sense of accepting the default scenario: The opening will close over time.
Two additional mega nor'easters came in quick succession. The 100 foot wide breach widened to 200 feet. Chronic flooding began impacting 84 homes. Terrestrial and fresh water ecosystems, wells, septic systems, building foundations and livestock were now so imminently threatened that further risks became unacceptable. Safe Harbor Environmental provided Emergency Consulting Services to the Truro's Emergency Management Team.
Community response goals were conflicted by differential priorities of a major, Federal abutter with intertwined property whose Management Plan did not address emergency response protocol or private property at risk. Any Federal Permitting could take 90 days. The abutter also had a policy of "no response" to coastal breaches. While the dialogue over coastal erosion cause and effect links to anthropogenic or natural events is a worthy one, it was no longer germane. The abutter's were unable to allow the town to cross their property with sand or to place sand in the ongoing breach, which they felt was on their property. Poor land records and coastal erosion had blurred ownership boundaries. Meanwhile, continued flooding of 84 properties was amplifying the emergency exponentially. Safe Harbor worked to facilitate Emergency Permitting between the Truro Conservation Agent and MA Dept of Environmental Protection (DEP). In Massachusetts, the Wetlands Protection Act has jurisdiction over coastal resources that protect Public Interests, regardless of ownership. DEP granted Emergency Certification in 30 minutes. This facilitated immediate response without lengthy delays for prior permitting.
Following Emergency Certification, Truro legally needed a land survey around the breach to determine Town and Federal property boundaries. The Department of Public Works began stockpiling sand that had blown into various beach parking lots from the storms. Once the land survey was complete it turned out that the Town owners the breach area and plans got underway to fill in the opening, in between storms. This story should end here but it doesn't. In emergencies, other emergencies seem to appear. In this case it was the MA Endangered Species Act: "The breach may have created nesting habitat for endangered shorebirds and the Town may not be able to fill it in with new sand".
"Wouldn't it be a shame" I suggested, "if these potential nests were swept away by the continuing over wash?". Safe Harbor ended up engineering a replacement dune of unusual configuration, designed to protect both homes and nesting shorebirds. Within 24 hours of resolving this final hurdle, we passed out field sketches to Town DPW workers and a massive effort kicked into high gear.
The engineered barrier dune was uniquely configured to accomodate shorebirds while still protecting homes.
The 160 foot wide, sloped configuration has beach grass and biomimicry on the crest.