Calling In the Coast Guard

Homeowners with a big-money plan to beat Mother Nature are stirring up a storm.

That old adage about the enduring value of waterfront property (you know, that they aren’t making any more of it) may be put to the test if a collection of Nantucket neighbors gets its way. On the east side of the island, along a strip of beach called Siasconset, waves and wind are doing what they have for millennia—and left unchecked, the erosion there threatens to put roughly 50 homes in the drink. This month television billionaire Amos Hostetter Jr. and commodities baron F. Helmut Weymar, among others, are renewing permitting efforts on a plan to spend $23 million of their own cash to rebuild the beach, forestalling nature’s encroachment. Their nonprofit Siasconset Beach Preservation Fund (SBPF) calls it “beach nourishment.” Some locals, though, call it ridiculous, pointing out that the “fix” might only last about five years. What we want to know is…how do you “nourish” a beach, anyway?

1. Bottom’s Up

The SBPF would position a dredge, on either a boat or a barge, nearly 3 miles offshore to suck up a slurry of undersea sediment, then pipe it all back to land. The setup could send up to 20,000 cubic yards of sand to the shore per day, giving bulldozer crews the material to rebuild the beach in five or six months.

2. Land Amass

To build the longest-lasting beach they can, engineers will study computer models that detail weather patterns and erosion trends. Then they’ll work—at times under portable lights—to sculpt 2.6 million cubic yards of sand into a shoreline as much as 3 miles long.

3. Rock Fans

Fishermen fear that a prime habitat for striped bass just offshore will be ruined as the new sand washes back to sea, covering the rocky, cobble-bottomed floor that now attracts the fish in a layer of silt. The SBPF has proposed a fix: sinking 30,000 MBTA concrete railroad ties nearby to create an artificial reef for the bass.

4. Seasonal Work

Critics worried that the dredging would upset early-spring spawning grounds of winter flounder. The SBPF has agreed to do the work during summer months, when weather is more favorable—a concession good for the fish, if less so for vacationers.