Winthrop Beach will soon be getting a fresh infusion of sand, while contractors prepare to put the final touches on the reconstruction of the Nahant Causeway.
The developments are the latest signs of improving conditions at Boston-area public beaches since the Metropolitan Beaches Commission warned in 2007 that they were being neglected, according to preliminary findings of a new report the panel is issuing this spring.
While hailing the investments that have made beaches from Nahant to Nantasket cleaner, more accessible, and more vibrant, the commission cautioned that the gains are at risk of being reversed because of a steady drop in state funding since 2008.
“The goal is to use these beaches as recreational resources, but also as economic engines for the communities, and to do that we need to make additional investments in the beaches,” said Bruce Berman, director of strategy and communications for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, which manages the commission’s work.
In Winthrop, the state on Jan. 21 contracted with a firm to transport 350,000 cubic yards of sand from an abandoned embankment in Saugus to the northern end of Winthrop Beach.
The sand transport marks the $22.5 million third phase of the project focused on renourishing the highly eroded beach to protect the sea wall and reduce nearby flooding. In addition to adding or moving about 500,000 cubic yards of sand, the work includes rebuilding groins, protective stone structures resembling jetties; sea wall repairs; reconstructing Winthrop Shore Drive; and adding new drainage, lighting, and a beachside sidewalk.
The $18 million Nahant Causeway project involves reconstructing the roadway; new fencing and guard rails; restoration of the parking lot; beautification; and construction of a new boat ramp.
The roadway work was mostly completed by last fall, but the project stopped when the contractor filed for bankruptcy. Another firm has since taken over and the project is now back on track for completion this spring, according to the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Metropolitan Beaches Commission was established by the Legislature in 2006 to evaluate the conditions of 14 beaches — including King’s Beach in Lynn, Nahant Beach, Revere Beach, and Winthrop Beach — that are managed by the DCR.
In its 2007 report, the commission said the state was failing to be a good steward of the 15 miles of public waterfront, saying the beaches suffered from poor maintenance — including inadequate trash removal — and a need for capital upgrades.
Last year, the commission reconvened to assess the progress made since the 2007 report. The pending report is the result of that work, which included 10 public hearings.
The improvements called for in the 2007 report were “very basic,” Berman said. “They were about cleaning the beaches and about sand and about raking and picking up the trash, fixing broken bathrooms. The consensus is that most of the challenges we identified in 2007 have been well addressed by DCR.”
As a result of a boost in its budget in 2007 and 2008, the DCR was able to provide the added staffing needed to address the maintenance issues, Berman said. It also began investing in many of the recommended capital projects.
Since the state fiscal crunch began in 2008, the DCR annual funding has declined. Berman said the previous infusion of new funds helped ease the impact, but beach staffing is now below pre-2007 levels “and that’s put some of the gains we had at risk.”
One of the commission’s key recommendations is that the state reverse that decline in funding, a proposal that Berman said is bolstered by the progress made on the beaches to date.
“When we talk about making government investments in things that really enhance our quality of life and grow our economy, this is a perfect example of that,” said state Senator Thomas M. McGee, a Lynn Democrat who cochairs the commission. “With these investments, we were able to move forward in a really positive way and I think we’ve been able to see the results.”
Other improvements to the four North Shore beaches noted by the commission include the regular removal of algae from Lynn and Nahant beaches; renovations to Ward Bath House at Nahant Beach; the ongoing development of a port terminal in Lynn to host a planned commuter ferry; and significant improvements in trash removal.
The commission also pointed to sidewalk plowing and the creation of parallel parking at Revere Beach, and the growing number of concerts and other community events at the beaches organized by groups such as the Revere Beach Partnership and the Friends of Lynn and Nahant Beach.
The commission also detailed challenges ahead. At Lynn and Nahant beaches, it cited issues a lack of vendors at Ward Bath House, and at Revere Beach, the need for improved parking and access, and for strategies “to minimize conflicts between people and federally protected plovers during nesting season,” Berman said.John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org