Surf Drive and the areas around it will be inundated from sea level rise. The town has options, but there will be difficult decisions ahead.
Previously identified as one of the most vulnerable assets in town to climate change, coastal scientist Elise Leduc of the Woods Hole Group presented options the town could take to protect the roadway and beach at the Monday, November 23, select board meeting.
“Surf Drive, by its very nature of being located immediately on the coast, is faced with a series of coastal hazards,” Ms. Leduc said. “Those include daily high tide flooding, storm surge inundation and coastal erosion. In terms of the daily high tide flooding, as sea level rises, so, too, will the water level of each day’s mean high water, or each day’s high tide.”
By 2050, high tides will inundate portions of Mill Road and Surf Drive, the Mill Road parking lot and a portion of the neighborhood behind Surf Drive near Fresh River will flood on daily basis. By 2070, a larger portion of the Surf Drive neighborhood and Surf Drive beach will be impacted.
“In addition to that daily flooding, there may also be more significant flooding during storm events, during storm surge inundation,” Ms. Leduc said, noting as sea level rise occurs, so, too, will the area and probability of this inundation.
In considering how to protect the municipal assets, natural habitats and residential neighborhoods near Surf Drive, the study created a “dynamic adaptation pathway process” to reduce or eliminate the vulnerabilities.
Focuses of the study include promoting ecosystem health and resilience, protecting existing infrastructure, continued access to utility and transportation corridors and managed retreat from the rising waters. The study includes recommendations for each asset in the Surf Drive area across these four themes.
Using Surf Drive itself as an example, Ms. Leduc said options range from protecting the road with beach and dune nourishment, elevating the road and adding a revetment, constructing a flood barrier like a seawall, developing a policy to phase out town services to private homes and roads in vulnerable areas, or removing the pavement and abandoning the road.
She highlighted a number of other options for the area, including relocating a portion of the Shining Sea Bikeway to Oyster Pond Road, elevating and floodproofing the Ellen T. Mitchell Bathhouse, burying the existing sewer main farther underground, elevating Mill Road or transitioning the Surf Drive residential neighborhood into a waterfront park.
“This is a scenario where, rather than thinking of what you might be losing through a managed retreat process, it is also useful to think about what you can gain, how you could transform the landscape into something that is a benefit to the town,” Ms. Leduc said. “In this case, in the mid-term, in more of a 2050 timeframe, you could have a waterway and a tidal marsh that could be surrounded by a series of boardwalks and walking paths. A new parking lot could established at the upper end of this, that could allow walking access back down to the beach.”
The park could be further expanded by 2070, as the tidally influenced area also expands. A picnic area, observation pier, kayak launch and additional boardwalks could be installed. An earthen berm could be installed alongside the waterfront park to protect residential neighborhoods located farther east.
“You don’t have to take just one approach,” Ms. Leduc said. “You don’t have to just restore natural resources or just focus on managed retreat or just protection. A combination of managed retreat and restoration of natural resources can be coupled with targeted protection of key infrastructure to really meet the goals of the town in the best, most cost-effective way possible.”
While the report includes a timeline for improvements, it is based on current projections for sea level rise.
“Our recommendation is that the town monitor sea level rise into the future,” Ms. Leduc said. “If it starts to happen faster than what is currently projected under this scenario, these timelines should be pushed forward, and if it happens slower, these can be pushed further out.”
Although the report includes pathways, she said the town can switch paths if conditions change.
“There is no option where this is win-win,” chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said. “These are really hard decisions. When we look at things like people losing their homes, it is just such a hard choice and pathway for us to take. Obviously, we’re dealing with Mother Nature, so a lot of it isn’t in our control. It is helpful for folks to see the scope of the challenge and the options available to us.”
The coastal resiliency action committee will present its recommendations to the select board at a later date. Coastal resiliency action committee member Melissa C. Freitag said similar decisions will have to be made in other areas of town as well.
“Remember, the Surf Drive area is just one of 13 transects of town we have to approach,” Ms. Freitag said. “This is just the very beginning.”
A draft version of the study can be viewed at www.falmouthmass.us/1052/Coastal-Resilience-Planning-Surf-Drive-A.