State of the Beach/State Reports/MA/Shoreline Structures

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Massachusetts Ratings
Indicator Type Information Status
Beach Access83
Water Quality75
Beach Erosion9-
Erosion Response-8
Beach Fill6-
Shoreline Structures 9 3
Beach Ecology6-
Surfing Areas25
Website9-


Policies

Shoreline structures are controlled on coastal beaches, coastal dunes, barrier beaches, and coastal banks mainly by the Wetlands Protection Act and Executive Order 181 regarding barrier beaches.

Coastal Beaches

When a Coastal Beach is determined to be significant to storm damage prevention, flood control, or protection of wildlife habitat, 310 CMR 10.27(3) through (7) shall apply:

  • Any project on a coastal beach, except any project permitted under 310 CMR 10.30(3)(a), shall not have an adverse effect by increasing erosion, decreasing the volume or changing the form of any such coastal beach or an adjacent or down-drift coastal beach.
  • Any groin, jetty, solid pier, or other such solid fill structure which will interfere with littoral drift, in addition to complying with 310 CMR 10.27(3), shall be constructed as follows:
  • It shall be the minimum length and height demonstrated to be necessary to maintain beach form and volume. In evaluating necessity, coastal engineering, physical oceanographic and/or coastal geologic information shall be considered.
  • Immediately after construction any groin shall be filled to entrapment capacity in height and length with sediment of grain size compatible with that of the adjacent beach.
  • Jetties trapping littoral drift material shall contain a sand by-pass system to transfer sediments to the down-drift side of the inlet or shall be periodically re-dredged to provide beach fill to ensure that down-drift or adjacent beaches are not starved of sediments.


Coastal Dunes

When a coastal dune is determined to be significant to storm damage prevention, flood control or the protection of wildlife habitat, 310 10.28(3) through (6) shall apply:

(3) Any alteration of, or structure on, a coastal dune or within 100 feet of a coastal dune shall not have an adverse effect on the coastal dune by:
(a) affecting the ability of waves to remove sand from the dune;
(b) disturbing the vegetative cover;
(c) causing any modification of the dune form that would increase the potential for storm or flood damage;
(d) interfering with the landward or lateral movement of the dune.


Barrier Beaches

When a Barrier Beach is determined to be Significant to Storm Damage Prevention, Flood Control, Marine Fisheries or Protection of Wildlife Habitat it should be protected following the same guideline listed for coastal beaches and coastal dunes listed above.

In 1980, former Governor King enabled Executive Order No. 181 regarding the preservation of Barrier Beaches, defined as a narrow low-lying strip of land generally consisting of coastal beaches and coastal dunes extending roughly parallel to the trend of the coast separated from the mainland by a narrow body of water. The use of coastal engineering structures are limited on barrier beaches for only maintaining navigation channels at inlets and then only if the downdrift beaches are adequately supplied with sediment. The Order also denies permits for any development in the velocity zones or primary dune areas of the barrier beaches.

Guidelines for Barrier Beach Management in Massachusetts was published by CZM in 1994. This report of the Massachusetts Barrier Beach Task Force was designed as a reference tool for those charged with the responsibility of preparing, reviewing, and implementing barrier beach management plans.

Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)

Under MEPA, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs administers a review on any projects that alter coastal dunes, barrier beaches or coastal banks. MEPA is designed to allow persons and agencies a chance to be involved.

Massachusetts Areas of Critical Environmental Concern

Several coastal and tidal areas in Massachusetts have been designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. It does not supersede local regulations, but the designation recognizes that the area has special concern or meaning and should be preserved long-term.

The State Wetlands Protection Act regulates protective structures. The state's policy depends on the particular resource area where the structure is proposed. The act restricts any hardened structures on dunes, beaches, and barrier beaches. A few exceptions for hardened structures exist for developments along bluffs. If a house existed before 1978, the homeowner may be able to obtain a permit for a hardened structure if that is the only means of protecting the house from storm damage. The local government permits the structures, and appeals are heard at the state level.

According to the Revised Massachusetts Waterways Regulations (310 CMR 9.37(3)(c)) "...in evaluating coastal or shoreline engineering structures, the Department shall require nonstructural alternatives where feasible."

The Wetlands Protection Act Regulations: 310 CMR 10.27 (Coastal Beaches), state: "When a Coastal Beach is determined to be significant to storm damage prevention, flood control, or protection of wildlife habitat, 310 CMR 10.27(3) through (7) shall apply:

3. Any project on a coastal beach, except any project permitted under 310 CMR 10.30(3)(a), shall not have an adverse effect by increasing erosion, decreasing the volume or changing the form of any such coastal beach or an adjacent or down-drift coastal beach.
4. Any groin, jetty, solid pier, or other such solid fill structure which will interfere with littoral drift, in addition to complying with 310 CMR 10.27(3), shall be constructed as follows:
1. It shall be the minimum length and height demonstrated to be necessary to maintain beach form and volume. In evaluating necessity, coastal engineering, physical oceanographic and/or coastal geologic information shall be considered.
2. Immediately after construction any groin shall be filled to entrapment capacity in height and length with sediment of grain size compatible with that of the adjacent beach.
3. Jetties trapping littoral drift material shall contain a sand by-pass system to transfer sediments to the down-drift side of the inlet or shall be periodically re-dredged to provide beach fill to ensure that down-drift or adjacent beaches are not starved of sediments."


The Masssachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has determined Geotubes to be coastal engineering structures for the purposes of review under the Wetlands Protection Act regulations. Geotubes and sandbag revetments have been allowed in certain situations for emergency protection, provided that they are filled with sand from an off-site source and any negative impacts from the bags are mitigated.

DEP has required removal of coastal engineering structures. Three revetments were permitted on a barrier beach, with the condition that they be monitored for ten years to determine if they had any adverse effects. The proponents submitted monitoring data to DEP, and made their case that there were no adverse impacts. DEP rejected this argument and issued an enforcement order requiring the structures to be removed. One of the structures was removed. The proponents made the case that excessive erosion would occur if the other two were removed. DEP consented to allow those two to remain.

In the opinion of CZM staff, state regulations do not adequately balance the need for armoring to protect private property against the need to preserve the public beach.[1]

Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Program

Massachusetts faces a growing need for the repair of dams, coastal flood control and protection structures, and inland flood control structures. In some cases, public safety and key economic centers are at risk due to deteriorating infrastructure. In other instances, the structures no longer serve their purpose and removal provides the opportunity to restore ecological systems. Under the authority created by M.G.L. c. 29, §2IIII and regulations issued under 301 CMR 15.00, EEA enters into contracts with qualified organizations to implement projects for the repair and removal of dams, levees, seawalls, and other forms of flood control.

The Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Program offers financial resources to qualified applicants for projects that share our mission to enhance, preserve, and protect the natural resources and the scenic, historic and aesthetic qualities of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Fund was established in 2013 by the Massachusetts Legislature to promote public health, public safety, and ecological restoration. Additional funds have also been supplemented the program with monies authorized in the EEA Environmental Bond. With over $37 million now under management, twenty five projects are currently underway with eight additional projects completed. An example of the seawall repair projects funded under this program is Marshfield’s seawall replacement project on Foster Avenue from Ninth Road to Third Road. 1,100 feet of seawall is being replaced for the first time since it was built nearly 80 years ago.

Program Summary Document available here.

Inventory

In 2007, CZM completed a georeferenced inventory of coastal structures along the Massachusetts open ocean coastline. The project created a centralized location for photographs and information about coastal structures such as docks, piers, jetties, groins, seawalls, stairways and buildings. The Inventories of Seawalls and Other Coastal Structures website within StormSmart Coasts provides inventories of both Publically Owned Coastal Structures and Privately Owned Coastal Structures. The Massachusetts Coastal Infrastructure Inventory and Assessment Project reports include condition ratings and estimated repair or reconstruction costs for publically owned coastal structures. There is a summary report for the project and community reports categorized by region. In 2013 Applied Science Associates, Inc. (now RPS ASA) was contracted by CZM to use orthophotographs, LIDAR data, and other information to map and characterize the privately owned coastal engineering structures located along the five CZM regions. When combined with the publicly owned coastal structures, nearly 27% of the ocean-facing shoreline (approximately 1,100 miles) is armored with some form of public or private coastal structure. Coastal structures data are provided through the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS). Broken down by regions, the percentage of coastline protected by coastal engineered structures is Boston Harbor - 58%, North Shore - 46%, South Shore - 44%, South Coastal - 36%, and Cape Cod and Islands -13%.

This information is also available online through CZM's Website where it is one of the data layers on the South Shore Coastal Hazards Characterization Atlas.

This article in the Boston Globe stated:

"There are about 140 miles of publicly owned sea walls or other structures along the Massachusetts coast that are designed to protect billions of dollars worth of property. Most were designed to last a half-century, but the vast majority are older. The state’s study rated each structure on its condition and priority to be fixed, depending on how much damage it would cause if it failed. While the majority were given good grades, some sea walls that failed in recent years, such as in Scituate and Gloucester, were given adequate ratings, meaning that in just four years they became structurally unstable, surveyors missed weaknesses, or the storm’s fury was especially focused."


A 2009 report, the Massachusetts Coastal Infrastructure Inventory and Assessment Project, documenting 149 miles of Massachusetts’ seawalls built before 1978, estimates the cost to repair these structures at over $1 billion.

During 2014 and 2015, CZM assisted EEA with the implementation of the Dam and Seawall Repair and Removal Fund, which was established in 2013 by the Massachusetts Legislature to promote public health, public safety, and ecological restoration. A second round of applications was solicited through a Request for Responses in 2014. CZM assisted EEA in selecting three seawall and four dam projects for funding. In September, grants for over $9.3 million were awarded to Marshfield, Nantucket, and Scituate for work on seawalls and other coastal engineering structures. For more on the announcement, see the EEA press release. For more information about the fund, see the EEA website, which now includes awards for projects in 2015.

An article published in the Newburyport Daily News in June 2012 discussed plans to move ahead with repair the south jetty at the mouth of the Merrimack River. The cost estimate for the south jetty project is $5 million. Twice as long and in worse condition, the north jetty juts out from the southern portion of Salisbury Beach. Repairing the north jetty could cost $10 million.

An article Rockport, state eye seawall options appeared in the Gloucester Times on February 7, 2013. Town officials are weighing their options on how to protect about 150 cottages that sit behind the aging Long Beach seawall from storm and wave damage.

Additional information on "shoreline protection" projects in Massachusetts is available on the website of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District. They provide information on Shore and Bank Protection Projects. Previously included in their Update Report was the following information on a seawall repair project at Nantasket Beach in Hull:

This investigation examines potential solutions to coastal erosion and backshore flooding at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MADCR)’s Nantasket Beach Reservation in Hull. Work in response to the deteriorated condition of MA DCR’s seawall prompted emergency construction activity at Nantasket Beach, changing the without project condition. Beach characterization fieldwork was performed in the fall of 2005. A study of surf clam populations was performed in the fall of 2006. The Corps has reformulated its plans for shore protection and will complete a revised draft report.


In 2014 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to build a 2,100-foot stone revetment for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation reservation at Nantasket Beach. The revetment would be on the shore side of the sea wall and would extend from the intersection of Nantasket Avenue and Wharf Avenue to Hull Shore Drive at Water Street. Officials in Hull have submitted comments to the Corps of Engineers opposing the project. An article in wickedlocal.com stated:

"Town Manager Philip Lemnios said Hull officials worry that the revetment would simply take up recreational space without solving the underlying problem of loss of sand on the beach. “The town in general looks at it as not a particularly good solution,” he said. “It has a negative impact on the recreational nature of the beach, and basically it doesn’t resolve any underlying issues.” In 2008, the Army Corps of Engineers built a revetment on a northern stretch of the 6,800-foot-long reservation. But in the proposed area, nothing but parking lots would be protected, Lemnios said. “It’s not a design per se. It’s more like, ‘Let’s dump rocks here,’” he said. “We want a level of protection, but there have been enough studies done to say this is not the best way to do this. There are ways that have a better impact long-term. Beach nourishment is what we need.” The letter also states that the revetment would use up nearly 130,000 square feet of the beach, which already is minimal at high tide."


An article published at necn.com in November 2015 stated that a new seawall will be built in Hull, partly funded by a state grant. Here's more on this from the EEA website:

"The existing concrete seawall and grouted stone revetment along Crescent Beach has been damaged and has had a series of repairs since they were originally constructed. The existing seawall shows areas of cracking, spalling and breakage. Scour on the backside of seawall from overtopping waves nearly exposes the footing at some locations along the seawall, particularly along the west end. During periods of coastal flooding, splash-over and wave overtopping, amplified by the smooth face of the revetment, transports sediment, debris, and contaminants to Atlantic Avenue and Straits Pond. The seawall runs along the north side of Atlantic Avenue at Crescent Beach. Atlantic Avenue is one of three evacuation routes for the Town of Hull. Closures of Atlantic Avenue during storms result in delays for emergency respondents and for local traffic. Clearing Atlantic Avenue is a frequent cost to the Town due to sediment, debris, and water which overwash the road during even minor storm events. Further, the improved management including minimization of the overwash resulting from this project will help improve the ecological health of the nearby Straits Pond, which falls within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. Award: $1,500,000 grant and $1,500,000 low interest loan for final design, permitting, and reconstruction."


A shoreline armoring controversy exists in Plymouth where the 18th hole of the White Cliffs Country Club is threatened by erosion. The board of governors for White Cliffs, a gated golf and condominium community built in 1986, want to spend $1 million ($2,000 assessment per condo owner) to build a rock groin near the base of the bluff that will extend out into the ocean. Some condo owners support this, while others support shortening the hole and pulling back from the cliff and others say only planting vegetation is necessary to stabilize the bluff. A law suit has been filed and as of February 2008, both sides were preparing for trial. The town of Plymouth encourages relocating houses and other threatened structures, including golf holes, farther back on a property where possible.

In August 2011 the West Tisbury (Martha's Vineyard) conservation commission rejected plans for a large stone revetment on a private property on Tisbury Great Pond. The proposed 135-foot stone revetment would be on the property of Wall Street financier Wesley Edens. His house sits some 90 feet from the edge of the shoreline. In March 2010 the conservation commission rejected Mr. Edens’ plans for a 170-foot stone revetment, scaled back from an original 255-foot plan. In October 2010, after an appeal, the state Department of Environmental Protection approved a smaller plan for a 135-foot revetment under the state wetlands protection act. But in August 2011 the conservation commission, citing its stricter town wetlands bylaw and after consultation with third-party environmental engineers, unanimously rejected plans for the revetment. The commission recommended that the property owner explore “softer” solutions such as coir logs and sand envelopes to manage erosion.

In October 2014 it was announced via a US Army Corps of Engineers public notice that Save Our Shores Association Trust was seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District to conduct work in waters of the U.S. in conjunction with constructing a shoreline buffer project in Plymouth. Save Our Shores Association Trust, of 41 Oak Bluff Circle in Plymouth, is proposing to perform work and place 37,494 square feet of fill below the high tide line of waters of the U.S. in order to install a series of low profile concrete-filled geotextile tubes perpendicular to the shoreline (essentially, groins) designed to encourage sand deposition along the beach. The work is proposed in Cape Cod Bay at Monisa Kay Drive at Oak Bluff Circle in Plymouth. The tubes are intended to create vortices necessary to abate wave energy and induce sediment desposition. An additional discharge includes the placement of 1,400 cubic yards of excavated material at the southern end of the system as nourishment to provide a sediment source to downdrift abutters while the system naturally fills to capacity. The project is intended to provide shoreline protection to the properties located above the coastal bank which is eroding in this area.

In January 2015 a storm severely damaged a seawall in Marshfield. An 80-foot-long section of the wall suffered extensive damage, letting waves in which damaged a total of 11 homes and knocked two other homes off their foundations. As many as 100 more homes may be at risk. Read more.

In April 2015 the state Department of Environmental Protection rejected a proposal to build a 108-foot-long stone wall designed to protect a home on Shore Road in Chatham. Dee Dee Holt, former chair of the Chatham Conservation Commission stated:

“The regulations that DEP and conservation commissions are responsible for applying to a project are intended to protect the public interest in the resource areas, such as beaches. They consider the whole 'system,' not one property at a time,” she said in an e-mail. “Beaches, for example, exist because the coastal system is running its natural course. If the system is interrupted significantly by sequestering the sand [in revetments] that creates beaches, then the public interest is harmed. Imagine Cape Cod without beaches.”

Chatham's conservation commission initially approved the revetment in 2014 at the behest of the owners, who believed their home was in danger from erosion of the coastal bank and that they had a right to protect their property. The decision was made in defiance of advice from town staff and the commission's own consultant, and flew in the face of the state Wetlands Protect Act. The Department of Environmental Protect, and a group of 10 local residents, appealed the approval, and the agency overturned the concom's decision. After a long delay, the owners' appeal of that denial was turned down in April 2017 following an adjudicatory hearing; in the decision, the presiding officer rejected the owners' position that the coastal bank was not a meaningful source of sediment for surrounding beaches. Even a small amount of sand from an eroding bank helps protect beaches from storm damage and flooding, and a revetment would prevent that from happening, the ruling stated.


The Fiscal Year 2017 Civil Works Budget for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provides $4.62 billion in gross discretionary funding for the Civil Works program. This budget lists proposed projects and the associated budget justification by state.


Contact

Rebecca Haney
CZM Coastal Geologist
Phone: (617) 626-1200
Email: Rebecca.Haney@state.ma.us

Perception of Effectiveness

The report Evaluation of Coastal Erosion Hazards: Results from a National Study and a Massachusetts Perspective contains this text:

"Following the October 1991 northeast storm, for example, many residential structures along the Sandwich shoreline were destroyed or substantially damaged as a result of storm-induced erosion, and nine houses were later relocated landward on the sole remaining dune. Town officials recently received a FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance grant to generate a comprehensive Shoreline and Floodplain Management Plan with the goal of identifying alternatives that could reduce the potential long-term risk to people and property from coastal storms, flooding, and erosion. The Town of Plymouth recently completed this same process and, according to the town’s 1999 Coastal Flood Management Plan, several homes atop coastal bluffs 100 feet or higher are in jeopardy due to erosion. (One home is in danger of loss within one to five years, two homes within six to 10 years, and 26 homes will be in danger of loss due to erosion within 60 years.)

...

At the state level, responses vary. While 23 states and territories have some form of shoreline setback policy in place, the stringency of these policies and the degree of enforcement varies both within and across states. Proactive planning to anticipate the relocation of houses landward, thus preventing loss from erosion, is a mitigation approach that can be successful, providing sufficient land is available for the relocation."


A paper that provides an interesting two-state comparison of coastal armoring is Shoreline Armoring Impacts and Management Along the Shores of Massachusetts and Kauai, Hawaii by James F. O’Connell.

Public Education Program

StormSmart Properties—part of the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management’s (CZM) StormSmart Coasts program—provides coastal property owners with important information on a range of shoreline stabilization techniques that can effectively reduce erosion and storm damage while minimizing impacts to shoreline systems. This information is intended to help property owners work with consultants and other design professionals to select the best option for their circumstances. The StormSmart Coasts program has produced a fact sheet Repair and Reconstruction of Seawalls and Revetments.

Massachusetts has an ocean education program which includes an ocean education guide that assists K-12 educators in teaching about ocean resources. In addition, the program has a research aspect.

Massachusetts’ Sea Grant has held workshops on shoreline management discussing local and national issues on coastal erosion. Contact Jim O’Connell at joconnell@whoi.edu or call (508) 289-2993 for more information.

The shoreline in Chatham, Massachusetts is monitored by Jim O'Connell, a coastal geologist for Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and volunteers from the local town. The technique known as Emery Rod profiling is used here to take a series of measurements along a slice of beach. The beach profiles collected by residents like Harris and Olmsted can be useful tools to help communities manage their beaches for the future.

Woods Hole Sea Grant has several educational resources for the general public.

Landscaping with native plants can help coastal property owners prevent storm damage and erosion, provide wildlife habitat, and reduce coastal water pollution—all while improving a property’s visual appeal and natural character. CZM’s Coastal Landscaping website presents: detailed information on the benefits of these landscaping techniques; step-by-step instructions on landscaping a bank, beach, or dune; tips for planting, installation, and maintenance; plant lists and photos; sample landscape plans; information on permitting; suggestions on where to purchase native plants; and links to additional information.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s (WHOI) Sea Grant Program and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension released a DVD (now on YouTube), Coastal Landforms, Coastal Processes and Erosion Control on Cape Cod & Southern Plymouth, Massachusetts (about 30 minutes), which features visits to 11 sites including beaches, dunes, barrier beaches, coastal banks, and salt marshes. Experts discuss the interactive coastal processes that created and allow for the continued existence of these important resources and examine a variety of coastal erosion control alternatives. In addition, the DVD presents regulatory issues associated with living along the shore and in coastal floodplains of the Commonwealth.

The Woods Hole Sea Grant Program and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension have released the latest Marine Extension Bulletin, Biodegradable Erosion Control (PDF, 722 KB). This 4-page bulletin provides an overview of biodegradable erosion control methods, such as fiber rolls, sand envelopes, and erosion control mats made from coir, jute, and hemp.

Here is a link to a Massachusetts CZM's StormSmart Coasts website - Helping Communities and Homeowners with Coastal Erosion, Flooding, and Storm Damage.

Footnotes

  1. Rebecca Haney, MCZM. Surfrider State of the Beach survey response, January 2003.



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