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Historic Cape Cod house on stilts still teetering on the edge

Homeowners Kathleen and Thomas Dennis have been fighting to save the home from the sea because of deep erosion.

An aerial view of a home on pilings at the edge in Truro on Monday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The house on stilts that has been wobbling ever so close to disaster is still standing after this weekend’s blizzard.

The former US Coast Guard building at 133 South Pamet Road on Truro’s Ballston Beach has been there since 1850, back when the Coast Guard was still called the US Lifesaving Service. It once sat on turf overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Now it stands on pilings above the ocean surf, which is agonizingly clawing away at the sand beneath it.

The historic Cape Cod house is owned by Kathleen and Thomas Dennis. They are represented by attorney Benjamin Zehnder, who said he could not comment because of pending legal matters.

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According to Zillow, the property is valued at $1.5 million. The 1,512-square foot house is within the Cape Cod National Seashore, and features two bedrooms, original wood rafters, fireplaces, and “dramatic water views.”

The town of Truro announced the closure of the Ballston Beach parking lot because of forecasts predicting coastal flooding and erosion from storm surges coupled with high winds and snow. The town said it would monitor the at-risk homes at 127 and 133 South Pamet throughout the storm.

The same home on the edge of the eroding dune on Ballston Beach in Truro in 2019.John Tlumacki

Zehnder specializes in the area of the federal Cape Cod National Seashore regulations, their relationship to local zoning regulations, and their applicability to ownership and development of private property within the National Seashore boundaries. He told the Globe that bout 70 percent of the homes in Truro are within the National Seashore.

“That area has not been developed since 1959,” Zehnder said. “It’s a large tract of land in which there has been no further development of commercial structures since 1959. The current structures have been there at least that long. There are also buildings out there that are historic.”

The US Lifesaving Service had stations set up every four miles along the eastern Cape Cod shoreline, and its members would monitor for boats stuck on the sand dunes. The service eventually evolved into the US Coast Guard in 1915.

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Zehnder said he took a boat ride offshore from Ballston beach last summer and what he saw was shocking.

“The erosion on the backside, especially on Truro and Ballston, is significant,” he said. “It’s not a couple of feet. It’s 20, 30, 60 feet in one storm, laterally. It’s huge. Where those houses are relative to the escarpment, the landowners can tell you on a daily basis.”

“It’s like looking at a cross-section of someone’s brain,” he added.

In October, the Boston Lyric Opera filmed part of the streaming film “Svadba,” which was just released Friday, on Ballston Beach. The house and its surroundings make a brief cameo as the cast walks up the beach. The house can be seen sitting on firm ground.

Boston Lyric Opera was filmed on Ballston Beach in October for its film "Svadba" which was released Friday. The house at 133 South Pamet Road that is now teetering on pilings near the Atlantic Ocean because of significant beach erosion. (BLO/operabox.tv)BLO/operabox.tv

The Cape Cod National Seashore runs from nearly the tip of Cape Cod at Provincetown south to Chatham.

In a statement posted Jan. 27, just before the blizzard hit, the town of Truro said that the Dennises were communicated with the town to prepare for the storm surge and would contact town officials if an emergency arose. The police department said it did not receive any emergency calls over the weekend from the owners.

The Town’s Health Agent and Building Department was also talking to Dennises regarding any utility and environmental situations in order to mitigate electrical, liquid propane, or septic concerns.

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Ballston Beach as it appeared from the air in 2019, looks a bit like a battle scar, the beach blown open and sand pouring deeper inland than anywhere else along the outer Cape. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

“The property owner is working to stabilize and brace three pilings which were exposed by the last storm [on Jan. 17] which removed approximately 20 feet of dune from the ocean side of the property,” the town said in the press release. “In consultation with structural engineers, the property owner is installing wood bracing, straps, and other methods to connect the outer pilings in order to stabilize and better connect the outer pilings to the remaining structure and is planning to get as much reinforcement and protection installed before the storm arrives Friday evening. There are plans to move the property following the outcome of the storm.”

Zehnder said multiple homeowners have waged battles to save their homes from the sea by moving their homes back.

“There are so many people I worked with who lost homes or moved them back,” he said. “If you live on the backside you are always looking to move back.”

Did you see erosion or severe flooding during the bomb cyclone storm this weekend? Tell us in this survey.







Carlos Muñoz can be reached at carlos.munoz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.