Given the amount of heartfelt concern and discussion about the Boardwalk recently, and after discussing the options with many of you by telephone, I felt compelled to identify and explain some of the issues related to the boardwalk in order to clarify the current status of the project and also correct the misinformation.
For over three years, the town has engaged the public and groups supporting the Boardwalk both publicly and privately. Outreach meetings were advertised and televised, every select board meeting is posted and televised (with the opportunity for public comment) and the voters of Sandwich approved the replacement of the Boardwalk in 2018 at a public Town Meeting. The information is publicly available and your town officials are willing to speak to anyone who wishes to engage—in fact, we encourage it. It is therefore disheartening to see the comments that the town officials have not been responsive or willing to discuss this issue. It is simply not the case.
As many are aware, the Boardwalk was damaged a few years ago in a winter northeaster storm. Like many of you, I felt it was important to invest in and protect this iconic structure that is so deeply woven into the identity of our town, so I discussed a potential volunteer repair effort with other local builders. You would be proud to know that they were all enthusiastic about donating their time and skills. I also reached out to the beloved “geezer brigade” for assistance and guidance.
However, when I contacted the town with a plan to have this volunteer group of community builders fix the Boardwalk, it quickly became apparent that the challenges facing a volunteer workforce have escalated significantly since the early 1990s. A few of the many obstacles are set forth below.
Prevailing wage. As a municipality, we are forced to put projects out to bid under prevailing wage laws. Violation of these legal requirements would bring swift and severe penalties for the town, including jeopardizing other projects and state grant funding.
Insurance and indemnification issues. The insurer would not insure or indemnify the volunteer work group for repairs on a public structure. Also, a licensed builder would have to pull the permits and assume all liability for the repairs, as well as the craftsmanship of the other volunteers. Simply, a local builder would have to put his license and livelihood on the line for a volunteer project.
State and federal permitting. Numerous agencies, state and federal, are involved in the permitting due to the sensitive ecosystem where the work will take place. This is also one of the most heavily surveyed and analyzed parcels of land in the country due to the ongoing Army Corps of Engineers Section 111 study (related to the sand for the beach). Thankfully, the town continuously (through the efforts of multiple departments) renews the licenses to maintain the boardwalk.
Age of the structure. The current structure is close to 30 years old and is constructed out of the same materials used for many of our decks and porches. How many of you have a 30-year-old deck in the original condition, much less one that is submerged in salt water, hit by waves, installed in a marsh and flooded by the tides twice a day? The current structure is nearing the end of its life regardless of the number of repairs and/or maintenance.
Rising sea levels. More than ever, the boardwalk is exposed to higher than normal levels of water. Just last week, water from a king tide submerged all but the bridge section of the boardwalk. The existing height of the structure is no longer sufficient along its entire length.
With these challenges and more, we are faced with the following decisions:
Should we have a Boardwalk? Of course, the resounding answer is yes. It is an integral part of the fabric of Sandwich. Walking across, jumping off, wedding pictures, sunrise pictures, the history and the countless names and tributes on the planks—I also enjoy partaking in these traditions and town treasures.
Now, the difficult question: Should we repair or replace the Boardwalk? The significant considerations in making this determination are the likelihood of catastrophic damage that will trigger a total replacement, and of course funding. If we repair the Boardwalk now, all of the money spent on the repairs (hundreds of thousands of dollars) would be for nothing in the all but certain eventuality that a storm destroys 50 percent of the replacement value of the structure. If that happened next winter, we would all be disappointed (and angry) that so much money was swept out with the tide. In addition, when that occurs (not if, especially considering the state of the barrier beach and the creek, which is another issue), we will be forced to bring the boardwalk up to code with more or less the plan we currently have before us. If we replace the Boardwalk with a structure designed to withstand the elements, using modern marine construction methods, we will have the benefit of a stronger structure with lower maintenance requirements. Equally, if not more important, this new structure will be able to accommodate everyone safely. The hard and sad truth is, we should not gamble with so much money on temporary repairs. We need prudent planning for a more long-term solution.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not all of us will love the final design as much as we love our current Boardwalk, but having been a part of this process now for three years, there is no doubt that everyone involved with this project, from town management to the various boards and town departments, have acted with the best interest of all the residents in town at heart. After all, most of us are also residents, taxpayers and Boardwalk walkers and jumpers just like you, and we are equally disappointed and frustrated to be faced with the possibility that the Boardwalk will look different. We’ve all had enough change this year, but the world is in fact changing, the waters are rising, the sands are shifting, so we must adapt and move forward.
Shane T. Hoctor
Sandwich Board of Selectmen