By Jessica Bosari
We own a home along the coastal bluffs of Plymouth, Massachusetts. Like many in this area, we fell in love with the sweeping views across Cape Cod Bay. We first laid eyes on this neighborhood in October 1999, and I’ll never forget the full pink moon and lavender grey sky near sunset. It’s like the moment I first set eyes on my husband. It just felt right. It was home.
When we purchased a home here, we knew we would need to install a seawall along the bottom of the nearly 200-foot high coastal embankment in front of the house. What we never anticipated was the resistance we would meet from “conservationists” in trying to do so. After all, we’re pretty sure a home collapsing and falling into the ocean is more environmentally damaging than a properly installed barrier.
The Erosion Problem
Estimates put the erosion rate on these coastal bluffs at 0.56 ft. loss per year. We’ve been here over ten years, and when you watch this happening over the seasons, you can’t understand how you could be losing so much so fast. When we looked more closely at the numbers, we found that the rate includes the horrific erosion occurring on nearby Nantucket Island, where one section loses 10-12 feet per year. So it’s not as bad as it seemed at first. Still, we were losing land and needed to do something about it.
Mother Nature’s Way
Coastal erosion is a natural process. The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh away. The right thing is to let the ocean deposit sand on the beaches and then take it away in the next storm. We agree wholeheartedly with that notion. No one can argue the environmentalist view that hard structure seawalls damage the coastline. They prevent proper sand migration and eventually cause additional erosion because the ocean can only take sand from underneath and in front of the seawall.
Our Need for Protection
However, without a structure at the base of the bluff in front of our home, the ocean would eventually take our home away. We struggled for years just to get the permits in place after countless meetings with a Conservation Commission staffed by laypersons that impose unreasonable conditions on the project. Instead of interpreting and enforcing the code that relates to our area, they question why we bother at all. They think we should abandon our homes. They think the sea will take it eventually anyway.
Undue Restrictions Made It Impossible
Even when we did finally gain approval for a temporary solution, a gabion basket revetment, they imposed unreasonable monitoring restrictions that never applied to anyone else. They wanted us to continually survey the erosion at the bluff, at a price tag of about $25,000. We simply couldn’t do it with our limited incomes. And because we could not afford to install the wall with those restrictions, our home value remained low. We tried to sell the home only to have town officials answer the inquiries of potential buyers, saying that our home was going to fall in the ocean. Eventually, we lost the home because the exorbitant costs of all we went through put us into bankruptcy.
A Second Chance
We got lucky, though. A friend bought another house along the bluff at auction and we will be buying it from him. Here, we’ve gone through the hoops again, but armed with the knowledge of how the system works, we did much better. Not only did we get our permits more quickly, we secured permission to install a new technology that offers a permanent solution to our problem.
Finding the Balance
The environmental powers that be have been so soured by hard solutions such as seawalls that at first, they would not open their eyes to the possibility of a hard structure that does not stop sand migration. Our only other option would have been the gabion basket revetment that costs tens of thousands in materials and weeks to install. Gabions are temporary solutions, expected to last 15 years or so. It’s a monumental undertaking, and we could not imagine rebuilding a revetment that requires so much manual labor every 15 years.
We kept up the fight, however, and eventually gained permission for a new seawall technology that allows sand to migrate naturally. But we still have a bad taste in our mouths for the harrowing experience.
The town of Plymouth completed an analysis that predicts several properties 100 feet or higher along the bluff are in jeopardy of coastal erosion. They say that one of these homes may be lost within one to five years. Another home may be lost within six to 10 years, and 26 homes within 60 years. What bothers us most about these numbers is that no home has ever collapsed down the slope. If the Town doesn’t loosen its unrelenting grip on coastal homeowners, however, those homes may indeed be lost.
My husband and I have iron wills, and that’s exactly what you need to combat the excessive rules and restrictions placed on coastal homeowners. Many wonder why we didn’t get out and find another affordable housing option after all we have been through. To us, that’s not the point. We’re not Rockefellers, so we can’t afford some of the extreme provisions the Conservation Commission imposes. Essentially, these folks are insuring that those with lower incomes will lose their homes and the wealthy will be the only ones who can afford to live along this beautiful coastline. We refused to be squeezed out. This is our house, our community and in our hearts, the only home we’ll ever know.
Jessica Bosari writes about green living and saving money at AffordableHousingForRent.com, a site dedicated to helping families find affordable housing. If you would like to see and learn more about her seawall adventure (not to mention some harrowing video footage!) check out her Blog from the Edge!