Barrier Beach Restoration

The Joseph Sylvia State Beach is the barrier beach to Sengekontacket Pond. Without the beach, Beach Road would be inundated and Sengekontacket Pond would be part of Nantucket Sound. State Beach is owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and by an Act of the Legislature in 1946, managed by the County of Dukes County. In 1989 beach erosion was so severe that during heavy storms Beach Road was closed due to flooding. To prevent the road from washing away concrete Jersey barriers were placed along the road in Oak Bluffs. Storm surges from Hurricane Bob and the so-called “Halloween Storm” left the newly paved Road covered with sand and chunks of asphalt. State officials approved placement of 45,000 plastic sand bags to form a 1500 ft. long wall along the most vulnerable stretch at a cost of $370,000.

The process of obtaining permits to renourish the beach with 40,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from the Pond at an estimated cost of a half million dollars had encountered delays when State and Federal officials could not agree on the construction of two additional stone jetties on State Beach. Meantime in December 1992 another coastal storm with extreme high tides battered the sand bag fortifications leaving Beach Road impassable. Unfortunately once dredging began, dredge spoils were put over the deteriorating sand bags, which continued to migrate into Sengekontacket Pond, Nantucket Sound, and along the beach.  It was evident once most of these bags were removed from the beach and fished out of the Pond that even with renourishment the problem of an eroding beach remained. 

Recognizing this, Friends of Sengekontacket established the Barrier Beach Task Force. The Friends of Sengekontacket mission statement was rewritten to include preservation of the Beach.  The Barrier Beach Task Force is Co-Chaired by the Dukes County Manager. In initial meetings members of the Task Force agreed that the work of this group was to formulate a practical, affordable, environmentally sound management plan that balanced the need to maintain Beach Road with the need to preserve as healthy ecosystems the Joseph Sylvia State Beach and Sengekontacket Pond. The Task Force includes some Friends of Sengekontacket Directors, four state environmental agencies(Coastal Zone Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Recreation, National Heritage and Endangered Species), the Massachusetts Highway Department, two federal agencies (the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, under the US Department of Agriculture), the Conservation Commissions, highway departments, and shellfish constables of the Towns of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, the County Commissioners, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and others.

The plan that all the stakeholders formulated of constructing three timber groins in place of the originally proposed stone jetties, as well as periodic renourishment and re-vegetation of the beach is working.   A healthy dune system now functions as an effective storm barrier, absorbing and dissipating wave energy thereby protecting the road, coastal pond and inlands behind it. In recent years with state grant monies, the Barrier Beach Task Force hired the Woods Hole Group to develop a long-term beach management plan.  The initial phase of the Plan was completed in April 2008 and is now being implemented.