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December 15, 2013

'Sand Wars'

Replenishing sand to protect against coastal erosion has become big business


Yet the rising demand for sand has the state re-examining offshore mining. The state is updating its ocean plan “to identify areas that have the least conflicts,” said Bruce Carlisle, director of the state Office of Coastal Zone Management.

Some coastal experts are calling for a regional approach: Find pockets of sand offshore that everyone could mine. While Winthrop’s offshore proposal became an environmental flashpoint, not every area needs to be.

But large-scale navigation projects by the Army Corps of Engineers are declining in New England. In Massachusetts, for example, there were about six projects per year in the early and mid 2000s, according to the Corps. Excluding Hurricane Sandy work, there have been none in the last three years, according to Ed O’Donnell, Chief of Navigation for the Corps New England District. The region, with few deep ports and relatively small amounts of cargo traffic, does not compete well against other regions in the country for navigational projects, he said. So when a navigation project is planned — as one is now in the Maine town of Eliot to dredge the Piscataqua River -— communities can line up to get sand.

Some communities, such as in Barnstable County, banded together with the state’s help to buy a dredge that allows them to mine sand-clogged channels and inlets that can be as much as 70 percent below the market rate. But many other coastal communities do not have such options and must get sand elsewhere. Duxbury Beach Reservation Inc., a nonprofit, spent more than $1 million this year rebuilding dunes with imported quarry sand.

“We are always looking for sand,’’ said Margaret Kearney, President of the Reservation.

Fighting the sea

The fresh layered dunes and snow fencing in front of beach homes on Plum Island’s southern end belie the ragged erosion from this year’s February Blizzard and March Northeaster. The storms toppled or forced the demolition of seven homes on the Newbury portion of the island. The destruction intensified homeowners’ long fight with state officials for the right to save their property.

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