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Cape Residents Ponder Future Of Sand-Starved Beaches

By Todd Gutner, WBZ Meteorologist
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DENNIS (CBS) — Cape Cod is looking forward to a busy summer with an improving economy and more people willing to travel.

But beaches there were smashed by storm after storm last winter with some people worried that the damage would hurt tourism. The good news is, vacationers can still expect all of the Cape’s charms.

Though the winter was tough, nature has a way of bringing itself into balance. The open question is, what to do about the future?

The Cape is in a precarious position, jutting out into the ocean, vulnerable to the ferocious winter we’ve just endured. The big problem of beach erosion got worse, with losses measured in far more than inches.

“As you can see from the edge, approximately where those fences are, that’s about a 10 foot drop,” says George Price, the superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore as he points at an eroded bluff.

The winter erosion was so bad, it uncovered remnants of a cedar swamp on Coast Guard Beach.

“The archeologists tell me that this swamp goes back almost 2000 years,” says Price.

At Nauset Light Beach, they’re repairing the stairs damaged during the storms and sections of the bluff were also lost.

“We can also see how sharp those cliffs are. Well last summer those were just gradual dunes,” he adds.

The picture is similar in many communities.

In Dennis, Corporation Beach and Mayflower Beach lost enormous amounts of sand. And at Town Neck Beach in Sandwich, the iconic boardwalk is closed and the barrier beach that protects the town is receding.

“These beaches over the decades have become sand starved,” says Irene Davis, the president of the non-profit Trustees of Sandwich Beaches. She also says the jetty that protects the Cape Cod canal blocks sand, and keeps Town Neck Beach from replenishing itself.

Davis wants the federal government to help.

“It’s really, really important that somebody pays attention to this and does something before the barrier beach is gone,” she says.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the beaches are more than a place to lay down,” says Bob Hamilton, a coastal engineer at the Woods Hole Group in Falmouth. “It actually is part of the infrastructure to protect the coast. In the future we’ll be seeing more erosion. I think this is a wake up call to communities to start looking and acting on more of a regional basis, thinking longer term about how to sustain the coast line.”

But that’s an expensive proposition.

Some solutions are to plant more beach grass to support dunes, or even to truck in or dredge additional sand. But most communities rely on natural forces to bring back in the summer, what was lost in the winter.

“The summer beach is starting to come back, it’s going to get wider,” says the National Seashore’s George Price. “It’s Cape Cod. It’s been through storms before and I’ll bet we’ll be through another storm again,” he adds. But with rising sea level, some people worry if nature can do enough to keep the beaches healthy.

In the short-term, Cape and South Shore beaches should be open for business this summer. Expect them to be a little smaller than usual, especially in the early summer, but for the most part, that won’t stop you from enjoying them.

The National Seashore has an additional problem this year, the sequester. They’re dealing with a budge cut of nearly $400,000, and have had to cut some of their programs, but the beaches won’t be effected.

Cape Cod National Seashore: http://www.nps.gov/caco/index.htm

Trustees of Sandwich Beaches: http://www.trusteesofsandwichbeaches.org/

Dennis Beaches: http://www.town.dennis.ma.us/Pages/DennisMA_beach/index

Woods Hole Group: http://www.whgrp.com/

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