When Sandwich officials declared a state of emergency this month, the immediate cause was January’s nor-easter, which swept away protective dunes, pushed sand into an ecologically important tidal marsh, and damaged more than a dozen homes beyond repair.
That's not necessarily surprising in this season of record-setting winter storms. But what's noteworthy is the fact that the decisions that have left the coastline of the Cape's oldest town so vulnerable are, arguably, manmade. As a recent Globe report highlighted, jetties built at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal by the Army Corps of Engineers impede the natural flow of sand so the canal doesn't have to be dredged as often.
This has resulted in an abundance of sand on the Scusset Beach side of the Canal, and an alarming depletion of sand stretching from Town Neck to Sandy Neck. The Corps should expedite its study of this erosion and work with the town and the state on an interim solution to replenish the sand and build a barrier berm. If the Corps adheres to its current schedule — the first study is ongoing and the second study could take three years — irreparable harm could be done to the marsh, an important wildlife habitat that is crucial to flood control.
Irene Davis, president of the Trustees of Sandwich Beaches, told the Globe that erosion is threatening about $335 million in property, worth about $4.6 million in tax revenue. Of course, living on the ocean brings some risk, but unless the erosion is halted, future storms could continue to alter the topography of the town of Sandwich itself; downtown roads, businesses, and offices face flood risks as the sea sweeps in. In fact, last month's storm closed down part of Route 6A. The Corps cannot wait for nature to take its course but should take action now and provide a fair, impartial account of the jetties' effect on beach erosion in Sandwich. Town officials should make this their number one priority and insist on nothing less.