Are Duxbury Seawall Repairs Worth It?

Seawall repairs after a nor’easter…

Cranberry County Magazine

Duxbury Beach suffered through a series of gales last March, and the strain was too much for her protective seawall. Sections of it collapsed, and emergency repairs had to be made in advance of a follow-up storm.

These repairs are of the temporary sort, and the seawall as it stands now won’t stand long. A new wall will eventually have to be put in.

The repairs will be expensive, and the replacement will be more expensive. If they don’t occur, houses will fall into the sea and the coastline will erode away to a memory.

Who pays for the wall, how much they pay and who is responsible for repairs… that remains to be seen. It will most likely involve some court-type activity.

Hanging over the whole issue are the questions of whether people should live so close to the sea, whether 15,000 people should have to build a wall…

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Are Duxbury Seawall Repairs Worth It?

Duxbury Beach suffered through a series of gales last March, and the strain was too much for her protective seawall. Sections of it collapsed, and emergency repairs had to be made in advance of a follow-up storm.

These repairs are of the temporary sort, and the seawall as it stands now won’t stand long. A new wall will eventually have to be put in.

The repairs will be expensive, and the replacement will be more expensive. If they don’t occur, houses will fall into the sea and the coastline will erode away to a memory.

Who pays for the wall, how much they pay and who is responsible for repairs… that remains to be seen. It will most likely involve some court-type activity.

Hanging over the whole issue are the questions of whether people should live so close to the sea, whether 15,000 people should have to build a wall to protect 190 houses, whether rising sea levels make a wall useless and whether delaying seawall repairs until the wall collapses frees the town from their mandated repair work.

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Duxbury Beach, partially pictured above, is a residential area of 191 houses. I grew up there, just so you know.

Many people from Duxbury Proper mistakenly think it is a part of Marshfield. Nope. From where the seawall in question begins, Duxbury runs about a half-mile to the Marshfield line.

It is lagely populated by seasonal folk, although many of the former cottages are gentrifying away from their Irish Riviera roots. It is by far Duxbury’s emptiest neighborhood from Labor Day until July (and most likely all year), and to my knowledge is Duxbury’s only seasonal neighborhood.

While the houses are not King Caesar-style mansions, the Atlantic frontage drives up the property values. The neighborhood kicks almost 2 million smackers back to Duxbury in property taxes.

Residents consume town services mostly for 2 months a year, and there is barely a need to send a school bus there. For the most part, they are invisible cash cows… but when they get attention, it tends to be Destruction Porn coverage from the local news of a bad nor’easter.

 

 

Habitation there would not be possible without the seawall. Memories of people and property being swept into the sea by the 1938 Great New England Hurricane were fresh on the mind as the sea walls of Massachusetts were being built in the 1940s and 1950s.

Duxbury finished their wall in 1954, and it runs from the south end of Ocean Road South to a small gap (the gap is from people who declined the $500 buy-in back in 1954) before the sea wall in Green Harbor. Before the US Army Corps of Engineers concrete seawall went in (busy work for WWII vets, an old schooler tells me), there was a wooden seawall made of telephone poles. Aside from that, Duxbury Beach relies on dunes.

The seawall held up well enough for 64 years, doing her repel-the-waves/stop-the-erosion thing… but the same thing that took down the walls of Constantinople took down the wall at Duxbury.

Attrition.

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The Turks didn’t use one big shot from a cannon to take down the walls of Constantinople, they instead used repeated, focused shots.

Likewise, the walls in Duxbury didn’t collapse under the pressure of a single Hawaii Five-O type wave, they were knocked down over 64 years of inexorable 3 to 8 foot surf.

Much like when you pile straw upon a camel or when you nag at a soon-to-be ex-spouse long enough, the end usually comes via what would otherwise seem to be an innocuous incident.

That piece of straw shouldn’t have broken the camel’s back, but it did. Similarly, the seawall in Duxbury has stood up to far worse surf than it saw in the storms of 2018, but when last March turned stormy… sha-doobie, Shattered.

Neither the Turks nor Duxbury thought to put rebar in their walls, but that’s something we can circle back to in a little while.

Rebar was first used in the 1500s, so the Byzantines have an excuse for the walls of Constantinople (which was Turkish by 1453). Duxbury, almost exactly 500 years later, just threw up a shoddy wall.

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Duxbury will pay 5 million and change to repair 750 feet of damaged seawall, and eventually around $6000 a foot for about a half mile of replacement seawall.

It should be high-end stuff. If a crumbly seawall lasts 64 years, a good one-even with rising sea levels and more frequent storms figured in- should last longer.

While it is never fun to ante up for a costly piece of infrastructure, the wall they put in next should still be standing when Ivanka Trump’s great-great-grandchildren are thinking about entering politics, if it is built properly.

That the town may still be paying off the wall while these future Trumps are running around is the basis of the anti-wall arguments. If that argument is accepted, the question becomes “Are those payments going to be worth it?”

“Worth it” is a broad area that ranges from “Will the wall hold up?” to “How will the wall benefit the town?” to ” No one should be living there anyway?” to “Neighbors should help neighbors” to whether Duxbury could or should disincorporate the troublesome beach neighborhood.

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I will leave questions of the wall’s durability to people more skilled in engineering than myself. I spent most of my high school physics class looking at legs, and it was all downhill after that.

“No one should be living there” is cancelled out by “Too late. Someone is living there,” while the helpful neighbor idea can easily be viewed as “Here’s some help, neighbor… Move somewhere else.”

Disincorporation is the concept of Duxbury washing their hands of the beach neighborhood. They no longer accept taxes and no longer offer town services. It would be similar to what the Chinese did with the Walled City of Kowloon.

It would be a complicated legal matter, as not one inch of Massachusetts territory is unincorporated. Everything here is bound to some sort of Municipal Corporation.

One of my people tells me that a town or even a village could be disincorporated only in Vermont, but it would have to involve either:

A) some sort of Roanoke/Salem’s Lot-style disaster that suddenly depopulates the area, or

B) a Centralia/Silent Hill town-toxifying chemical situation, or

C) a Quabbin Reservoir situation where people will die of thirst if the towns are not taken by the state and flooded.

I should add that the man who told me this is in prison, but his logic is sound.

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Washing their hands of a soggy beach neighborhood would establish Duxbury’s northern beach border at the gates of Duxbury Beach Park. Everything between that and Marshfield would be no man’s land… unless Duxbury Beach could go free agent and perhaps sign with Marshfield.

Otherwise, Duxbury Beach would quickly devolve into a Road Warrior sort of lawless chaos until the houses fell into the sea.

“Houses falling into the sea” is why Duxbury can’t disincorporate. Imagine, as the barrier beach decays, telling millionaires on Powder Point and Washington Street that construction debris will be washing into their yards for the next 700 years… should go well, yeah.

Avoiding that means disincorporating the people instead of the land. That means buying out 191 prime oceanfront properties.

This isn’t 1950, when you could buy 50 of the shanties for $25,000. Those visions of a Summer of ’42 cottage neighborhood are no longer valid.

Buying out the residents would cripple the town for a generation, and that would only be after 191 costly legal battles and before 191 costly demolitions.

You’d also be saying au revoir to two million a year in taxes, but it gets worse.

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Duxbury Beach is a barrier beach. Her job is not just to support the houses of her residents, but to protect the houses of the residents of Duxbury Proper.

If the residents are forced out and their homes are demolished due to a desire to avoid building a seawall, you now have a flat beach- below sea level in some places- with 100 yards of eroding hill and no dunes.

Dunes are fine protection from storm waves, to a point. They work, with ever-ongoing maintenance and restoration, at the central and southern parts of Duxbury Beach. Even then, they get washed over and the beach is breached during bad enough storms.

Keep in mind, Duxbury Beach is divided by a line that only true storm geeks recognize. If you look across Cape Cod Bay from Duxbury on a clear day, you can see the tip of Provincetown. It almost looks like a mirage, but it’s real enough.

From the Duxbury vantage point, storm waves coming in from the Atlantic either come from the right or the left of Provincetown. From the right, any wave began after Cape Cod, which is Duxbury Beach’s barrier beach. From the left, they are coming in from the open ocean, unobstructed, and they hit the beach with the force, like Obi. We’re talking monster truck force, perhaps double what is hitting at the other end of the beach.

Guess where the cutoff point is? Right around where the seawall starts on Duxbury Beach. Northern Duxbury Beach gets far worse surf than southern Duxbury Beach, which is odd because they are the same beach. A good nor’easter would make quick work of any dune laid down on the northern end of Duxbury Beach.

The part of Duxbury Beach that has an armored seawall is the part of Duxbury Beach that needs an armored seawall.

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The anti-wall people quickly find themselves in a Catch 22 situation.

They seek to avoid paying for a wall, so they bankrupt the town to buy out and demolish the houses on the beach.

Dunes don’t protect the town well enough. Dune depletion kicks in, as sand that would normally be washed down southward into the dunes after hitting the seawall is instead pushed ashore onto Ocean Road North, Ocean Road South and Gurnet Road.

The annual dune reparations would have to be preceded by annual repairs on the road leading out to the dune. Meanwhile, the barrier beach erodes.

Houses of more influential town residents in Duxbury Proper begin to get direct ocean effects as the barrier beach erodes away. The multi-million dollar high school complex is imperiled.

Duxbury is then left with one choice, the one they passed on before they got into this mess… build a wall. Only this time, they are doing it without $2 million a year in tax money.

If the disincorporation people are listened to and the town Pontius Pilates their hands of the beach village, they may not even have a viable beach to build the wall on once the disincorporated beach starts eroding… meaning that they spend a decade securing easements and operating heavy equipment in the wealthy people’s yards on Powder Point Road/King Casear Road and off Washington Street.

I don’t see that going well.

 

 

Simply put, Duxbury needs to build this wall. It sucks, but every other option they have sucks harder.

Disincorporating the beach neighborhood would be a penny-wise, pound-foolish act of financial masochism. It would be the equivalent of punching the gift horse in the mouth.

There is no way that Duxbury avoids building a new seawall. The only other options leave them bankrupt… or bailing out Washington Street every full moon high tide.

They should not only build a wall, they should build a really nice one. They should even look into an artificial reef offshore, but one thing at a time.

The whole seawall cost quandary is very much like that old joke about why divorce costs so much…

Because it’s worth it.

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Surf Check, 4/16/18

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We went to Duxbury and Marshfield to check out the waves from a mini nor’easter.
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Technically, it was some spelling of sou’easter, as winds came from the Southeast.
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You could call it “Southeast winds from a nor’easter way offshore,” because I have been writing this column long enough to know that some people get touchy about these designations.
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It wasn’t a bad storm, maybe a C or a C-.

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We got to Fieldston, Ocean Bluff, Brant Rock, Green Harbor and Duxbury Beach.  That’s our author in the picture above, and Fieldston  (featuring Hardcore Logo) in the video below.

 

 

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Two paths to Burke’s Beach above, and Ocean Bluff below.

 

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This storm was a minor test for the seawall repairs.
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The strong SE wind put the waves into SE-facing Green Harbor, and made life a bit easier for NE-facing Duxbury Beach.
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Duxbury residents had no choice but to fill in their yards after the major erosion of the March storms, violating the “don’t do yard repairs until late April” guideline.
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They seemed to hold up OK.
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You can see the value of a good seawall down in Green Harbor, in the background, or Brant Rock, below…

 

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As you can see, big boulders will be the order of the day until they replace the seawall.
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End of an era… the infamous Public Stairs have been destroyed.
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Homeboy had better get his Flag Game together.
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My assistants running away… Burke’s Beach/Green Harbor below

 

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Green Harbior has a sort of curve to it that makes it an optimal photo platform no matter where the storm winds are blowing in from…
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The storm was impressive enough to overwash the jetty at Green Harbor.
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The Brant Rock side of the channel took some shots, too.
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I go to the Green Harbor well more than once, but never too often. We also have more Brant Rock, below…

 

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Sometimes, you get a soaking on this job.
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Seagulls were doing some air-surfing over the waves.
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Brant Rock, I believe… and we finish at Duxbury Beach, below…

 

 

 

Houghs Neck

We love anything with water near it, so you know it was only a matter of time before we explored Houghs Neck.

No apostrophe needed. Hough’s Neck is somewhere else. Also, it’s pronounced like “Hows.” Pronouncing it like “coughs” will get you a beating from the locals, who otherwise are quite friendly. Don’t pronounce it like you are referencing multiple prostitutes, either.

It is named for Atherton Hough, who was the Mayor of Boston… Boston, England. He gave out the land grant, intending that the area be used as an orchard. The local elementary school is named for him, as well.

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John Adams once used Houghs Neck as a departure point to get out of Massachusetts for a diplomatic mission without the British catching him.
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I was born in Dorchester and spent part of my life in Quincy, but I live in the sticks now, and have been there long enough that this right here is about as close as I like to come to a city… or at least a city larger than New Bedford. It cuts both ways, too. I used to teach in the city, and I would bring the kids down to deserted Duxbury Beach to fish or do science projects now and then. They’d enjoy themselves, but never became too comfortable. “This is the kind of s*** that girl from The Ring hangs out in,” one student told me. “Black people generally have more sense than to come to places like this.”
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Houghs Neck was once known as The Flounder Capital Of The World, as winter flounder do the cold weather months in Boston Harbor. They used to have 6 different boats taking people out to get the yummy little suckers. 
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Houghs Neck was a summer resort area once, but it is far more residential today.
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Houghs Neck is sort of wedged between Quincy Bay, Hingham Bay and the Fore River. They get barrier beach protection from Hull and from Peddocks Island.
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Peddocks Island is visible to the right, it is the home to the now-defunct Fort Andrews.
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It does make sense to advertise your ferry service right under the “You will die if you try to swim across” sign.
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There is some debate as to where the Irish Riviera ends in the south… some say Marshfield, some say Plymouth, some say it’s the Cape… but there is very little debate as to where the Riviera begins in the north. There’s Boston, home of South Boston. Squantum, in the left foreground, sort of trades the title with Rexhame or Fieldston in Marshfield for “highest % of Irish.” Both are in the 60s. 
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Residents are called “Neckers” or “Neck Birds,” and the area is known around Quincy as “God’s Country.” We’ll be back sometime to shoot the rest of the neighborhood. 

Checking Out Some April Snow…

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You never know when the snow you are seeing may be the last snow of the season, so we got out into it.
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It was nice snow- photography weather… lots of snow falling, but the roads were wet, not icy.
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This is actually a pretty nice sledding hill, other than the part where you end up on Route 3.

 

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We detoured through Duxbury for some yard shots.
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Norwell, and no, the driver is not on the camera…
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I think this was Plymouth…we were just bombing around, to be honest.
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We did first take the camera out in Holbrook, but we ended up on the Cape… although the Snoop video below is in Kingston.

 

April Snow Monday

April is when our thoughts turn away from Winter, and turn to face the warmer weather of the upcoming  spring and summer.

However, winter isn’t quite done with us yet. After this rugged winter, and especially after the insane March that we just went through… well, don’t try selling me that Out Like A Lamb stuff.

Panic you not… this won’t be a vicious blizzard, a brutal nor’easter or a series of flood tides. This looks like one to three inches.

Call it 1 to 3 or Southern Bristol County, Southern Plymouth County and the upper Cape. The Outer Cape and the northern part of Southeastern Massachusetts will get a coating to an inch. There could be a “jackpot” area of 3-4 inches between Bourne and New Beffuh.

Is this the last storm of the season? The way this winter has gone, I would not bet on it.

There is no official science to it, but it’s usually after the Marathon when I am surprised to see snow. Most coastal residents put off any lawn repairs until mid April, lest a late season nor’easter arrive and lay waste to to their efforts.

Some late season snow info, below…

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Surf Check: Brant Rock And Duxbury Beach

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A large ocean storm just missed us this week, but it was strong enough to send surf back our way for a few days. I got there a day late, as someone else took that shot of the wave breaking on the house at the top.
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Had it shifted towards new England a bit more, it would have been the 5th in 24 days. As it was, it still sent heavy surf at the South Shore and Cape Cod.
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They also had an 11 foot tide, which you can see where the Cut River meets Green Harbor. Our photographer gets soaked at the end of the video below, filmed in Brant Rock.

 

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I bet, in 1960 or so, there were two guys who are very old now, and they argued about wherever they thought the weak point of the seawall was. Whoever had that area above, and he may be dead now, was correct.
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Brant Rock was named after Brant Geese, which nested on these rocks and probably some others. Ocean Bluff used to be called Hewitt’s Point, named after Jennifer Love Hewitt some guy named Hewitt. Hewitt got the land from a guy named Winter, who had taken to calling it Winter’s Island. However, Winter got tried for fathering his own grandchild, and that was all she wrote for Winter’s Island on the ol’ map. I think Hewitt may have even been that grandchild. “Ocean Bluff” sounds better, anyhow.
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One can follow the Cut River into Duxbury’s Great Salt Marsh. The tide, as you might guess, was also high over here.
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This is all old storm damage or old repairs, it wasn’t that bad when I was there, I should have gone to Eastham.
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The poor public stairs lose by TKO to Mother Ocean.
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Duxbury’s seawall was absolutely torn apart in March. The replacement wall is estimated to cost $4.5 million. 
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Or, you can just buy some iron plates and roll a few boulders around…
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There is work to be done beyond the wall, as well.
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Crikey! As you can imagine, with seawall damage like that, sump pumps are working overtime… see video below:
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Watch that first step…
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That was a lawn, once…
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The surf came over the wall a bit, but nothing like earlier in the month.
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Buoys always get in the mix if we see them.
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Looks worse than it was, and that is Duxbury in the video below…

 

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Duxbury’s marsh in Saturation mode.
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Powder Point (Bridge and Road) in the background.
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The beach is level with the seawall in some parts of Duxbury.
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Onward through the fog, to Clark’s Island.
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Duxbury Beach, residential area, pre-storm, from above.

North Atlantic Right Whales Now More Endangered Than Usual

We’re coming up on the time where North Atlantic Right Whales visit Cape Cod Bay. They were here last year in early April, or at least that’s when one of us ran out and wrote about it.

They come up here to get some plankton. Our waters in April are the right temperature for plankton, which means it is the right temperature for a NARW buffet. You can post up anywhere on the South Shore and see one, although “see one” means “800 yards away, a piece of blubber sticks up out of the water for a second.” If you’re really lucky, you can see him spout or whatever the verb is for that.

However, as meh as that may be, it is still a remarkable thing. There are only 450 NARWs left in the world. Elephants may seem like a rare thing, but there are 2500 of them for every NARW left in the sea.

Those numbers may decrease, because specialists are reporting that NARWs produced no new calves during the last breeding season. CNN reports that there is an even greater extinction trend than before.

We had 71 of the 450 total in our waters last year. The two pictures we have show all of the NARWs born this year.

Therefore, when the NARWs turn up here soon, boaters have to be even more careful about not running them over or even going nowhere close to one.

NARWs are very rare. Boats are required by law to keep a few hundred yards between them and any righty. A collision between a whale and a boat could take an endangered species off of the charts.

It’s also good sense for the mariner. Look at how things ended for Captain Ahab, Quint, Jonah, Samuel L. Jackson… you don’t want to mess with anything that can fit you in their mouth.

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Just Say No…

Bah gawd… Nancy Reagan was right!

Bourne votes tonight on banning recreational marijuana sales in town. A vote of YES is a vote in favor of a ban, while a vote of NO rejects the ban.

We urge you to Just Vote No.

Look around you. You are looking at the present peak of marijuana’s societal ills. It’s already out there.

Look at this 0 (zero) number that I just typed. That’s how much money Bourne gets from her lively marijuana trade. It’s actually Less Than Zero (ironically, a good drug movie), because they have to squander resources chasing around the black market marijuana sales.

Instead, you can- for the same and most likely lower societal ills costs- take in a half million dollars a year or so. Maybe half that, call it X. Depending on what X is, we can hire new teachers, bring on another cop, fill in some potholes, make the new police station worthy of the Maginot Line…whatever you like.

Y is another number, and it equals whatever costs jump onto weed’s back once the Man gets to making a branch of government out of it.

0 + X – Y = what Bourne gets in free money.

Remember, weed is already in common use around town. Voting to ban sales of it won’t make it go away. All that a ban does is drive that business back into the hands of criminals.

Voting for a ban also won’t make it harder to get. Wareham is poised to legalize recreational sales of marijuana, meaning that- if Bourne does not follow suit- I will just have to follow about the same routine that I follow if I want Taco Bell… five minute drive into Wareham.

Retail marijuana sales crush the black market in town, too. It will always exist, especially once the Man starts with his Sin Tax game, but it will be crushed down to minor levels.

Bourne is situated astride the Cape Cod Canal, every tourist on the Cape has to go through Bourne, and many towns on the Cape may vote to ban recreational marijuana sales. With the right vote and a bit of clever advertising, we could get all of Cape Cod’s recreational marijuana sales, which could be astronomical once the tourists start arriving.

Orrrrrr we could let that money go up in smoke…

Like my friend Nancy said… when they ask you to ban the sale of recreational marijuana in town, just say (vote) No.

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Check Your Irish

A few notes on the reach of the Irish Riviera….

– Before doing any demographic research, I went to various Facebook pages on the Cape and South Coast, seeing if the people there felt that they should be included in the Irish Riviera.

The Cape people feel that they are a whole other entity. They are correct, IMHO. Cape Cod is actually the New England Riviera. They draw people from all over, where the visitors on the South Shore have a bit more Paddy to them.

No one from the South Coast even replied, to my knowledge.

– As you can see, the heart of the Riviera runs from Weymouth to Duxbury, with a sizable inland area running to the Bridgewaters. Brockton is a lighter green, but still Irish enough to represent hard.

– You could make an argument about running the Irish Riviera from Plymouth through Bourne down to Falmouth, and maybe hooking it through parts of Sandwich, Barnstable and Mashpee.

– Other than those lonely white dots, you can pretty much roll from the tip of Cape Cod to Worcester on a sea of green.

– Sharon,  a big lonely dot of white in a sea of green in the middle, only has 12% Irish. 14% of their population, and their biggest group by ancestry, is Russian.

– The North Shore has a bit of an inland Riviera going, but it’s a B- to the South Shore’s 4.0. Her anchorman is North Reading.

– It gets very Latino when you get north and east of Boston. East Boston is 54% Latino.

– The more Irish parts of Cape Cod are about as Irish as the less Irish parts of the South Shore.

– Fairhaven (27% Portuguese), Westport (30% Portagee, 14% French), Dartmouth (37% Portagee), Fall River (44% Portagee) and New Bedford (37% Portuguese, and they have more Sub-Saharan Africans at 8% than Irish at 7%) establish a firm roadblock in front of the Irish Riviera’s reach onto the South Coast.

– Onset and East Wareham have the most Micks on the South Coast. while the Popponessett section of the Cape bleeds the greenest. A run from Pop through Hyannis sometimes gets Irish Riviera votes, mostly because of the Kennedys.

– Wellfleet on the Cape and the whole South Coast west of Mattaspoisett need to import some Irish, pronto.

– Even a first grader can look at this map and tell you where everyone fled Southie and JP for when busing started.

– A girl I worked with at AOL is from eastern Massachusetts, and has 4 sisters. Each of them has dated someone named “Murph.” Not the same Murph, either.

– You kind of have to squint at it to see it on that map, but Southie is still pretty friggin’ Irish. You won’t have trouble finding some Irish Spring in Charlestown, either.

– Butter-soft Duxbury is more Irish than any bad-ass part of Boston where Whitey Bulger ever stalked, or at least since busing hit. I don’t see any mob movies coming our way, however… although we did have a rapper get shot in town, so there’s progress being made.

– Rhode Island is 19% Irish. They are America’s most Portuguese state, and also have a pile of Eye-tal-ians.

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