Five days of no school, icy roads, blind intersections from large snow banks, and canceled selectmen’s and other town meetings are not the only outcomes of the recent winter storms. Popponesset Spit, which has long been a spot of preservation efforts, took a blow.
The girth and height of dunes were reduced along the thin strip of beach that stretches between Nantucket Sound and Popponesset Bay. Some of the recently planted dune grass has washed away, the beach is reduced and much of the work to preserve the beach has been erased, said Michael Oleksak, president of the board of directors of Save Popponesset Bay.
The cause of the damage was high waves, high tides, and high winds.
“The bad news is that the high waves and high tides undid much of the work we have done,” Mr. Oleksak said. “The good news is that the work prevented a breach.”
However, he added, “We are in crisis mode now.”
The spit fared better than other regions of the Cape such as Town Neck Beach in Sandwich where sands blocked a channel, boardwalks were damaged and houses could be seen partly hanging over banks.
Mr. Oleksak said that the group will now work until April 1 to truck in sand to build the dunes and beach back to what they were before the storm. April 1 is the end of the allotted time for beach restoration before wildlife return.
John J. Malloy Jr., a member of the Save Popponesset Bay board of advisors, said that the lashing from Juno is the worst the spit has seen since Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane caused a number of breaches along the thin strip of dunes. A breach is when water flows like a channel through the stretch of land and can cause significant damage to existing channels.
“It took a licking,” he said of Juno’s hit.
During high tide following Juno, there is little room to walk as the ocean has risen close to the base of the dunes. “At high tide, it is so narrow,” Mr. Oleksak said of sections of the beach. He visited the area on Saturday to observe the damage. He said that in some areas, specifically on the eastern part of the spit, the storm “carved out a good section” of the sand. He said there was evidence of water from Nantucket Sound that jumped the dunes and into the bay in this section as well.
During last week’s snowstorm, winds in the Mashpee region reached speeds around 70 miles per hour, Mr. Malloy said. He said that he saw evidence that ocean water did rush over the dunes, but not enough to form a permanent breach.
“Clearly we need to continue to move forward to rebuild the area so that it can withstand these storms and storms like Sandy,” Mr. Malloy said. He said that the group—with help from the community, town, county, and state—has a two-pronged approach to prepare and preserve the spit. In the interim, the group will prepare and help the beach recover from storms. A longer approach to preserve the spit is in the works now.
The group was recently awarded a state grant to work on analysis, planning and permitting for this long-term fix. Mr. Malloy said that the designs will be finished over the spring or summer. He said that the permitting process can take time, which reinforced the group’s efforts for the short-term fix.
He said that the long-term design will find a way to buttress the dunes and widen both the bay side and Nantucket Sound side of the beach so that it can withstand a 10-year storm. “We’ll rebuild [dunes] to the proper height so that they’ll have the girth to withstand those storms.”
A wider beach will absorb storm surges better, he said.
A long black pipe that stretches along much of the beach serves as another line of defense. It is a pipe used for dredging by the county that will add more sand to the beach, Mr. Malloy said.
Mr. Malloy said that the spit serves multiple, important purposes which include preserving the current environment, recreation opportunities, and wildlife habitats as well as protecting real estate. It is a barrier beach that protects not only Popponesset Bay but the homes in New Seabury, as well as the many channels that filter into the bay including the Mashpee River.
Maintaining the spit will also sustain shellfish habitats in the bay. The eastern section of the spit, owned by Massachusetts Audubon Society, is an important location for birds including terns and piping plovers. The work to maintain the spit is critical for all these opportunities, Mr. Malloy said.
“It is a challenge but one with community support,” Mr. Malloy said. “If we did nothing at all, bad things will happen.”