Duxbury group seeks grants for coastline protection work

Jim O’Connell at an eroded berm at Duxbury Beach.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Jim O’Connell at an eroded berm at Duxbury Beach.

Duxbury Beach is being threatened by rising sea levels, and those caring for it are looking for grants and donations to help save it and, in turn, the town’s waterfront.

“Those houses weren’t built to withstand waves,” said Jim O’Connell, a coastal geologist, as he rode along Duxbury Beach, pointing across the bay to businesses and homes on the waterfront.

O’Connell, a trustee and a member of the board of directors of Duxbury Beach Reservation Inc., the nonprofit that owns and cares for the 440 acres of barrier beach in Duxbury and Plymouth, said Duxbury Beach is enjoyed recreationally, but is also essential to protecting the community.


The group recently received a “green infrastructure” grant of nearly $87,000 from the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The money will go toward restoring an eroded cobble berm between the water and the beach’s access road, eradicating invasive Japanese knotweed, and constructing two beach grass nurseries to provide a local source of native vegetation, which trustees said has been difficult to import following Hurricane Sandy.

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Other grants awarded last month by the state for coastline protection projects include $75,000 for Plymouth to redesign Long Beach, using an offshore berm and the possible realignment of the mouth of the Eel River to protect the town’s emergency evacuation route; and $118,000 for Scituate to conduct sediment sampling and beach nourishment along Glade and Surfside roads.

In Duxbury, the beach preservation group also applied for a $5 million grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but found out Monday the application was denied, and is soliciting donations, including through an ad in the local newspaper, to pay for another protective measure — raising the 4-mile stretch of dunes by nearly 3 feet.

“Duxbury Beach is one of the primary reasons why many of us moved to this beautiful town and is no small factor in the value of our properties today,” read the full-page ad in a recent edition of the Duxbury Clipper. “The new and very serious threat to Duxbury Beach is rising sea level. Add storm surge from winter northeasters and the risk of the barrier breaching escalates significantly, with severe flooding to homes and businesses along Duxbury’s coastline.”

Margaret Kearney, president of Duxbury Beach Reservation Inc., said the group is trying to plan for the future. The cost of the dune-raising is approximately $5 million, the same amount that would likely be needed to react to a big storm. She said the beach was flattened in the 1990 “No Name” storm and needed more than $2 million in equipment, sand, and fencing to fix; she estimated it would cost closer to $5 million now. Even if the group had been approved for the national grant, she said, it would have needed to pay more than $1 million in matching money. She said the group has about $3 million in reserve now.


“We’re trying to look to the future to strengthen the barrier, so we can withstand the rising sea levels and the more frequent storms,” she said.

A 2013 study reported that beaches along the Duxbury, Marshfield, and Scituate coastlines, including Duxbury Beach, will be affected by rising sea levels. “If beaches are not otherwise nourished and raised, there could be partial or complete loss of some oceanfront beaches at high tides,” states the report, done by Kleinfelder Northeast Inc. for the three communities with a grant from the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment and the Northeast Regional Ocean Council.

Kearney said monthly moon tides have already washed out the Duxbury Beach dirt road at times, making it and the nearly 300, mostly seasonal, homes in the Gurnet/Saquish area inaccessible for two to three hours at a time. She said it has been estimated that 207,000 cubic yards of quarry sand would be needed to raise the “sacrificial dune” — a protective, man-made dune — by 2.8 feet along the entire beach.

O’Connell said Duxbury Beach, like other beaches, gets filled with cobble and gravel as the storms from the northeast kick up in the fall and change the shape of the waves, which move the sands offshore. In the springtime, the northeasters abate and the circulation patterns change, as does the shape of the waves, which then return the sand.

“It’s an incredible symphony; it’s beautiful to watch,” he said.


O’Connell said the trustees try to use that knowledge and work with nature to keep the beach intact. He said each year, 4 to 5 miles of snow fence that is destroyed in the winter is replaced to trap some of the wind-blown sand and keep pedestrians from trampling the vegetation that helps keep the sand in place. Each year, tens of thousands of culms, or stalks, of beach grass are brought in and planted in the dunes. Because that grass, generally imported from New Jersey, has become scarce, he said the preservation group is making more of an effort to have it grown locally.

Likewise through research, he said, it was discovered that cobble — 4- to 6-inch rocks — tends to move in the opposite direction as sand and can be used to dissipate the energy of the waves hitting the shore, so they are looking to restore cobble edges to the roadway to protect it.

“We’re trying as much as possible to work with the barrier and take the natural processes that are working here and enhance them,’’ O’Connell said.

Jean Lang can be reached at