Poseidon was tryin’, but the South Shore wasn’t buyin’.
Poseidon was tryin’, but the South Shore wasn’t buyin’.
A little foul weather doesn’t keep me from my morning stroll.
Poseidon was trying to give us an ocean storm, but his heart wasn’t in it.
At the foot of the Powder Point Bridge, aiming at Duxbury Proper.
Looking for the distance limit on my camera phone… yup, it’s right about there.
If I zoom in enough, I do OK…
The Powder Point Bridge, as much as I love it, looks like a fishing pier that they got the measurement wrong on to the extent that it reached the other end of the bay.
I am more punk than gangsta, which is the reason why I did not steal this unattended police vehicle for my own personal use. I know my limits.
See what I mean about it being a really big fishing pier?
Lobsters do not walk upright, but the horizontal lobster wouldn’t be as effective as an advertising tool.
I should have led off with this…
Alicia Fox, in the house… OK, under 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.
Duxbury Beach, partially pictured above, is a residential area of 191 houses. I grew up there, still have family 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. It’s why the ability of a single entity to buy and sell entire towns is limited to the bank in Monopoly.
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.
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.
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.
A bad situation got much, much worse in Duxbury as a series of nor’easter storm tides took down large portions of the seawall.
Now, a race against time is on, as the town scrambles to patch up the seawall before a new coastal storm goes all Johnstown Flood on the good people of Duxbury Beach.
Don’t expect federal help… President Trump, who has yet to declare Massachusetts as a disaster area, is only interested in one wall. Don’t expect Mexico to pay for the Duxbury wall, either…
The seawall has been in place since 1954, when it replaced a wooden seawall put up (your author presumes) after the 1938 hurricane. You can see “TONY 9/4/54” carved into the wall near the Ocean Road North boat ramp opening. I have to ask Chrissy Carroll’s dad to find out exactly, as Duxbury’s historians care not a whit for the beach north of the bridge.
Most seawalls in Massachusetts were done before the 1950s, many in the 1930s as Great Depression busy work.
The wall was also a work of necessity, as Hurricanes Carol and Edna came in 1954.
The seawall is of vital importance to both the neighborhood and the town. They are the only protection Duxbury Beach gets from coastal storms.
If the wall goes, the village goes, and when the village goes, Duxbury’s tony Powder Point/King Caesar neighborhoods become the new barrier beach.
I don’t think that the people there will tolerate much of that.
The ground by the seawall used to be level with the path… now, notice how deep in the hole we find that cameraman.
The town just came out on the short end of a Who Is Responsible For Seawall Repairs dispute with the neighborhood residents. They then did next to nothing, other than piling some boulders in front of the former Gurnet Inn.
Now, they pay for that laziness with some costly emergency repairs.
When the wall collapsed yesterday, local residents got their hands on a Bobcat and tried to fix the wall themselves.
The town stepped in, ordered the work stopped, and then….
did nothing decided to formulate a plan. They piled material at the end of a street, and plan to start Tuesday at 3 AM with the front end loaders.
Keep in mind, high tide is about 2:30 PM, and the waves are still fierce. Duxbury has already dumped a piece of heavy machinery into the bay by the bridge a few years ago, but that was child’s play compared to direct ocean.
These collapses were a shock to the experts, who recently declared the walls to be in very good shape. See here…
A storm is coming Wednesday. It won’t be like last weekend’s storm, but it will still be a nor’easter of Tropical Storm force.
That normally isn’t a problem, but “normally” involves having a seawall. Waves have great power, enough to smash four feet of concrete. Without the wall, that great power will be unleashed upon yards and- eventually- houses.
I shudder to think of what will happen.
We have more pics, so prepare yourself now for an article tomorrow.
Duxbury Beach is a peninsula that runs about 6 miles. It’s 200 yards thick, give or take a few bumps in the coastline. It sits pretty much right at sea level. It is located between Cape Cod Bay and an interior bay/salt marsh estuary that is about the size of Cambridge.
It has two distinct flooding problems. One comes from storms, which generate surf that sometimes breaks on the houses. The other threat comes from flood tides. Flood tides can hit you from the beach and from the marsh. Once the marsh fills with floodwater, it spills out onto Gurnet Road, which runs from the Marshfield line to the Saquish/Gurnet area.
There are also two groups of property owners on Duxbury Beach. One group is made up of homeowners, who live in the area (some are full time, some are summer people). The other group are the members of the Duxbury Beach Reservation.
The DBR was born out of the efforts of 19 people who owned lots on Duxbury Beach. They planned to put a cottage neighborhood in, but a ferocious winter storm scared them off, and the land was never developed. There is more than one way to make a buck, however, and they get those Benjamins these days by renting out the parking lot/bath house and selling beach and oversand access stickers.
The residents also have initials, but they weren’t really feeling creative on Anagram Day, and chose pretty much the same thing (DBRA, the Duxbury Beach Residents Association) for their neighborhood nomme de guerre.
The DBR spends a lot of money maintaining a lengthy and fragile beach road. Erosion attacks it from both sides. Many dunes have been washed away, but the bay side doesn’t have waves. Why not raise that side up?
They did that just that, finishing up in April of 2017… right after the last of the huge spring tides. They raised up 4 miles on the bay side of Duxbury Beach’s DBR section by 2 feet. Problem solved!
However, floodwater that is repelled doesn’t just go back out to the middle of the ocean, like when you send back a steak. It just follows gravity’s lead, going to wherever it meets no resistance. Once the bayside DBR beach and road was elevated, it upset a balance that had been in effect since the area became inhabited.
Duxbury Beach always floods, but the major depths are found right on the water. Once you went inland 100 yards, you weren’t in danger of being hit by a wave. The road would wash over in spots, but the true Shelby Scott stuff was on the seawall.
That wasn’t the case last January. January saw the peak of a three supermoon tide cycle, which put full moon tides of nearly 12 feet onto an area where 10 feet is worrisome. January also gave us a nor’easter, which hit during a supermoon.
That sounds ominous, and it is, but the noreaster was B- stuff. It brought a 15 inch storm surge to an area already 2 feet above normal high tides, which also sounds ominous. However, a good historic storm brings a 5-10 foot surge. This storm was something that the residents weren’t sweating much.
Big mistake. Flooding came, and not only from the ocean side. The bay side spilled over into the back end of the neighborhood, an event that happens only in Blizzard of ’78 sort of storms. The bayside flooding met the ocean flooding, and the whole neighborhood was inundated. There was nowhere to run. It was a genuinely perilous situation.
It didn’t make sense. The storm wasn’t that bad. I was on the seawall an hour before high tide, filming waves. I didn’t even get wet. If I tried standing on the wall an hour before high tide during the Blizzard of ’78, I’d be posting this from Hell (assuming that suicide, which is what going out onto the seawall during that Blizzard was, is a mortal sin worthy of the soul’s eternal banishment). The storm did almost no structural damage at all, at least on the coastline. How did this weak storm do so much damage to the interior of the neighborhood?
Oh yeah… those DBR beach renovations. The supermoon tide cycle storm was the first major test of those renovations (summer tides were low, no hurricanes got to Duxbury and we had no full-moon noreasters in the fall), and the results were disastrous.
“I have owned this house for 65 years, and it never had water in it before this January,” said one resident. She will most likely be the next angry phone call that the Duxbury Conservation Commission gets, if you want to wager a little wampum on the affairs of the town.
“65 years,” to a storm geek, means that she got no flooding in the house from Hurricane Carol, Hurricane Donna, Hurricane Belle, the Blizzard of ’78, Hurricane Gloria, Hurricane Bob, the Halloween Gale/Perfect Storm, the April Fools blizzard and the blizzards/nor’easters of 2007, 2013 and 2015.
I was in the neighborhood for each storm after Belle, and houses were being torn in half by the surf in 1978 and 1991. Those storms didn’t soak the inside of this lady’s house. Instead, the honor went to a weak nor’easter riding a supermoon tide last month.
No global warming denial will happen in this column. It isn’t hard to find pictures of Duxbury Beach taken from planes over the years, for the purpose of seeing the sea work against the shore. However, that is a slow, gradual process… not the Great Leap Forward that we saw with the supermoon.
The one new exponent in the equation is the DBR work. OJ didn’t look as guilty as they do right now.
There are 3 supermoons a year, meaning that they are 25% of all full moons. This could get old, fast. The balance was razor thin before the DBR work sent a bunch of floodwater looking for a new home.
The DBRA will most likely organize a legal response, and it’s time to think of what they might ask for from a judge. Every option looks expensive.
They could wall off the whole DBRA neighborhood’s marsh side, making the neighborhood look like what happened to East Berlin or what Trump has in mind for Mexico. That will just flood a different neighborhood, hopefully (for the DBR, anyhow) one without a neighborhood association.
They could dump a town’s worth of dirt under the houses and raise the whole land mass up by 3 feet… oh wait, no they can’t.
Duxbury could unincorporate the DBRA neighborhood and let the sea eat it. This will eventually erode the barrier beach, meaning that the big money folks on Powder Point inherit the flood problems that Gurnet Road now has.
My financial advisor, who admittedly was in prison at the time, told me that any of these options will cost “a zillion” dollars. “The wall will cost the least amount of zillions.”
The DBR looks to go to great lengths to avoid paying that kind of money, so let’s get ready for a legal battle!
The DBRA may look overly needy in this battle, as they are just a few years removed from a battle with the town over funding for costly seawall repairs (the DBRA won). Now, they’ll be after an even larger body of work.
However, the DBR looks a lot like the rich people you see when you read about the Johnstown Flood. That flood was the event with the largest loss of life in the northeastern US between the Battle of Gettysburg and the September 11th attacks.
In both Johnstown and Duxbury, rich people altered the natural landscape for recreational purposes. Those alterations led to flooding downstream. Johnstown lost 2200 people, and Duxbury Beach couldn’t generate that death toll unless each howeowner was having a party when the flood hit.
In both cases, wanton alterations were made to the natural landscape without at least one critical environmental impact study being conducted.
Any lawsuits coming will be over flooded houses, not deaths. Deaths aren’t out of the possible range of results, though. People who thought they were safe further back from the ocean may not have the right escape plan, and there would be nowhere to run.
Thanks to Daniel Rollins, Danielle Cheverie Mann, Sara Flynn and Libby Carr for the photos.