CHATHAM - The Cape Cod National Seashore’s push to demolish five cottages it considers dangerously vulnerable has come to shove on a remote barrier beach, and many townspeople are outraged.
Despite loud opposition from Chatham residents and officials, workers have begun stripping insulation and removing sinks and windows from a cluster of spartan houses that generations of families have used as an isolated getaway on the Atlantic Ocean.
The work is scheduled to be completed by April 1, George Price, superintendent of the National Seashore, said Tuesday, so demolition will not interfere with the seasonal return of shorebirds such as the piping plover.
“It’s literally washing away,’’ Price said of North Beach Island, which was separated from the rest of Nauset Beach by an ocean breach in 2007.
But residents who have owned homes on the island for decades insist that the structures are not in imminent danger, that public input has been ignored, and that the five cottages should continue to receive year-to-year extensions from the National Park Service.
“I’m sick to my stomach over this,’’ said Donna Lumpkin of Chatham, who has been coming to a cottage on the beach since 1955. “This has been my life. We were little kids when we started going over there.’’
The National Seashore informed the residents in August that an emergency existed and that it would not renew permits for the cottages.
“I’m frustrated by this whole process,’’ said Bob Long, who lives in one of six cottages on private land on the island that are outside the National Seashore jurisdiction. Price, he added, “was able to ram this down everyone’s throat.’’
The five cottages facing demolition sit on National Seashore property. Their owners had been granted special-use permits on a year-to-year basis. The beach residents on National Seashore land, some of whom make visits to the cottages throughout the year, pay about $8,000 a year to the federal government.
In Price’s view, the time has come for those cottages to go.
“It’s unfortunate that these structures have to be removed because the experience out there is an extraordinary experience,’’ Price said. “But if we had had a normal winter, who knows what we would have been talking about today.’’
The barren stretch of dune and sand that make up North Beach Island, which had been part of the southern tip of Nauset Beach before the breach, has long been reshaped and buffeted by harsh and changing conditions. The No-Name Storm of 1991 ravaged many cottages in the area, and erosion spelled doom for others.
Despite the uncertainties of wind and water, the place enthralled residents who returned year after year for the solitude, the peace, and even the storms.
State Representative Sarah Peake said Tuesday she is “very disappointed in the decision and very discouraged at the lack of a process.’’
In her judgment, said the Provincetown Democrat, “I don’t believe there were any public safety or liability reasons to dismantle those five beach camps.’’
Part of President John F. Kennedy’s vision in establishing the park, she said, “was to preserve our traditional way of life.’’
And Tuesday night, at a Park and Recreation Commission meeting, chairman Michael Seidewand criticized the National Seashore for what he called inadequate notice and a lack of public involvement on the project.
Long, the homeowner, argued that Price and his advisers are being inflexible despite what nature is telling them.
“No one is contesting that there is erosion, but it’s frustrating that since the decision was made in August, we’ve had 100 feet of sand build up in front of the most vulnerable structures,’’ Long said. “I’ve spent the better part of my 46 years going out there year-round.’’
Bill Hammatt, a Chatham lawyer who lost a beach cottage to the elements in 2009, agreed that an emergency does not exist. The National Seashore, he said, should have given residents an extra season to enjoy their cottages.
Hammatt, who has served as Chatham’s representative to the Seashore Advisory Commission for 20 years, said the “process fell apart’’ and the National Seashore’s relationship with the town has been damaged.
Hammatt said the affected beach residents, who use boats to reach their cottages, are being deprived of “an historical usage that’s been going on for over 100 years out there.’’
The attraction of the place “is very difficult to define,’’ Hammatt said. “It’s a way of life that my wife and I chose. We prefer that to going out for cocktails here in town.’’
When asked what can be done to block the order, he replied, “Not much. They’re in the process of tearing them down now.’’