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Sandwich’s coastline is crumbling into the sea. Will dredging save its beaches, homes?

Posted on March 27, 2024

When a winter storm blew through Cape Cod in February, rising tides sliced and diced Sandwich’s Town Neck Beach – destroying much of the protective sand dunes that were dredged from the Cape Cod Canal.

Without “big beach and perpetual nourishment,” erosion will continue to carve out north-facing beaches, affecting residential and infrastructure properties, said Sandwich Assistant Town Manager Heather Harper.

“As more water infiltration moves into Great Marsh and Town Neck Beach, there will be really dangerous infrastructure consequences for the town long term,” said Harper.

To combat crumbling coastlines, the United States Army Corps of Engineers will begin the Scusset Borrow Site Sand Project — a large-scale dredging initiative slated to begin in October, Harper said.

“Folks got a good flavor of that this year when we did the dredging off the Canal,” said Harper about the Cape Cod Canal Maintenance Dredge Project. The initiative intermittently moved 80,000 to 100,000 cubic yards of sand to Town Neck Beach in 2023.

The Scusset Borrow Site Sand Project calls for dredging another 300,000 cubic yards of sand from the Scusset Beach Borrow Area to Town Neck Beach, said Harper.

How will the dredging project proceed?

The Army Corps of Engineers will soon issue an invitation to bid the Scusset Beach project, said Harper. Once a contractor is secured, material including sand and gravel will be harvested from Borrow Area and will be pumped from the jetty on the west side of Town Neck Beach.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers website, the borrow site is a 17,000-foot long by 600-foot wide rectangle with depths ranging from 7 to 17 feet. The excavation depth will be from 1 to 11 feet, and the material will be hydraulically dredged, pumped out onto the beach, dewatered, and used for dune and beach reconstruction.

A large sand dune will be constructed along the entire coastal barrier beach throughout the dredging project, said Harper. A sand source will also run farther out into the shore.

A hopper dredge was used for dredging deposits in 2023, according to Director of Natural Resources David DeConto. But the Scusset Beach dredging will be “a very different operation, with a much higher volume of sand,” he said. A hydraulic dredge will stay onsite and pump sand through a pipe, said DeConto.

Ongoing dredging federally approved

Harper said any time the Cape Cod Canal is dredged for maintenance, “spoils from that dredging will now be deposited on Town Neck Beach.”

“The Army Corps. of Engineers approved that process and it’s really the key to long-term sustainability,” said Harper.

Will homeowners provide easements to the federal government?

About seven to nine properties are located towards the front of Town Neck Beach, said Harper.

“There has been property loss so all of those homes are at risk of coastal damage,” she said.

Homeowners, said Harper, have participated in a series of meetings with the Army Corps of Engineers and have provided the federal government with temporary easements to allow for construction, ongoing sand nourishment and perpetual care of the easement.

Project has been a priority for 20 years, said Harper

All of the prior Boards of Selectmen, town managers, conservation departments, and the public have been working on getting this project done for two decades, said Harper.

“We were lucky enough to get the approval for funding last January,” said Harper. Approval came through the Water Resources Development Act or WRDA, she said.

WRDA is a comprehensive legislative package that provides for the conservation and development of water and related resources, according to its website. It also authorizes the Secretary of the Army, through the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, to conduct studies, construct projects and research activities that can lead to the improvement of rivers and harbors.

“The process was a very detailed environmental review and the outcome was that the federal government needed to take responsibility for the project,” said Harper.

While dredging could temporarily block access to parts of Town Neck Beach, Harper said people will have “a much more pleasing beachgoing experience — on public and private properties,” she said.


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