Posted on January 5, 2021
CHATHAM – If you have a home along the western shore of Chatham Harbor, the last thing you want to see is big ocean surf through breaches in the barrier beach that shelters you from the fury of the mighty Atlantic.
The storm that brought heavy snowfall to a large portion of the state last week was mostly rain along the Lower Cape but it produced stormy seas that ate into the Cape’s sandy shoreline.
By Friday, you could see those Atlantic combers through at least three overwashes on North Beach Island.
“That’s been happening for a few years now,” said Robert Long, whose family owns a small cottage perched high up on stilts on the island. It’s one of two remaining dwellings of the dozens that once were there before erosion and the ocean took them away — or caused them to be dismantled.
The island itself was created in 2007 when a storm punched a hole in the beach to the north that grew into a new inlet into the harbor. Since then, the water coming out of Pleasant Bay on the outgoing tide has helped to scour it out to a depth where the fishing fleet sometimes uses it to gain access to their Atlantic Ocean fishing grounds.
A second break to the south, known as the April Fool’s Cut because it occurred on April 1, 2017, has widened significantly over the past three years and exposed Morris Island to open ocean waves and significant erosion in some spots.
Long went out to the island after the storm passed on Sunday and shot a video that showed a tabletop-flat expanse of sand between two 5-foot-high dunes. It was just a short walk between harbor and ocean.
“Very narrow,” Long said.
Chatham Coastal Resources Director Ted Keon said it’s still more an overwash than a break.
“Whether we’ll start to have water running through at all phases of the tides, it’s too early to tell,” he said.
The barrier beach is being pushed toward the inner shore of the harbor by storm waves and sand is also being dragged by currents south along the beach toward the 1987 break. Like taffy being pulled, the elongated barrier beach has to eventually give somewhere, and the spot opposite Chatham Bars Inn is just the latest in a history of breaches.
Keon thinks the island will eventually break up and become extensive shoals that will offer some protection for mainland properties but nothing like that provided by a barrier beach.
“Anything that lessens the volume or substance of North Beach Island has the potential to allow more (wave) energy to reach the harbor and the mainland,” he said. He doesn’t think the new washover is a major issue at this point but said the town is closely monitoring it.
“As the island deteriorates we are concerned about the resiliency of the mainland and the impact that larger waves and higher tides would have on it,” he said.
Follow Doug Fraser on Twitter:@dougfrasercct