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Cape Cod Island Cottages Again Face Demolition

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A cottage on Chatham's North Beach.

A cottage on Chatham’s North Beach.

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CHATHAM (AP) — Five Cape Cod dune cottages slated for demolition amid fears they’ll collapse into the ocean have been denied federal historic protection, a major blow to the tenants fighting to save them.

The ruling by Patrick Andrus, Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places, said the buildings don’t qualify for the list because they “are not rare surviving examples of an important historic type of structure, nor are they of exceptional importance for history or architecture,” he said.

Tuesday’s decision frees the cottages’ owner, the Cape Cod National Seashore, to proceed with demolition.

Seashore superintendent George Price said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press that the Seashore hasn’t determined whether the demolition will proceed in the coming weeks, or be delayed until next spring or later.

An advisory committee to the Seashore has recommended delaying any action until October, citing reasons including a request by the town of Chatham to put off action during its celebration of its 300th anniversary next year. The committee also recommended taking down the cottages on a case by case basis, rather than taking all of them down at once — even those that aren’t currently in danger from the surf.

Price said he’ll decide whether to follow the committee’s recommendations in “the next week or two.”

He said he hasn’t ruled out proceeding with the demolition as soon as possible, but added rough weather heading into the winter could put the work off until after April, when demolition is impossible because the protected piping plover is nesting on the island.

Tenant Susan Carroll told the Cape Cod Times that the fight to save the cottages isn’t over until the family’s cottage “isn’t there anymore.”

“We’re not done yet, but this is a major setback,” she said.

The existing camps on eroding North Beach Island first popped up decades ago, but the buildings were wiped out and later rebuilt after the “Perfect Storm” in October 1991. The National Seashore owns five of the 11 existing camps on the island (the others are privately owned), and has leased them out, with many camps staying in the same family for decades.

In August, Price announced the Seashore-owned cottages would be torn down, citing the rapidly deteriorating island and fears about the debris mixing in local waterways. He said two or three of the five camps were in danger of falling into the sea this winter and the others would soon be claimed by the ocean during a natural cycle that dramatically changes, and periodically swallows, the barrier beaches they’re built on.

The families were shocked by the order, and enlisted the town in a fight to save them. They argued Price was overstating the dangers of collapse, and that removing the picturesque cottages was a blow to Chatham’s heritage. The Carrolls noted their camp was rebuilt on deep pilings, remained a good distance from the water and shouldn’t be torn down if it wasn’t in danger.

Price agreed to delay any action until the request for federal historic protection was considered.

Tuesday’s decision was “expected,” Price said.

“But as far as the entire project is concerned, obviously it continues to be a very emotional one,” he said. “We certainly understand that.”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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