Column: Erosion - It's What's For Dinner

Chris Perry •

Hazlegrove 4165

If you ask the residents from the two island neighborhoods, they will tell you that they have absolutely nothing in common. One is white collar - one is blue collar. One is east - one is west. One has sunrises while the other has sunsets. Despite being on the same small island, the two areas could not be more different. Consequently, what could Sconset and Madaket possibly have in common?

Historically, Madaket has always been treated like an outcast. For generations, people would say: “It’s way out there past the dump.” Power outages were routine in the old days. Today, you regularly hear people grousing about their water and sewer problems. No lifeguards at the beach. Madaket Millie and Mr. Rogers are gone. Despite having Nantucket’s only other active marina to Nantucket Harbor and easy access to Tuckernuck and the South Shore, Hither Creek’s channel is “too shallow” and The Cut between Smith’s Point and Tuckernuck is “too rough” in a west wind.

On the other side of the tracks, you have Sconset - excuse me – Siasconset, with its own zip code. Sconset Casino, Nantucket Golf Club, Sankaty Golf Club, artist colony, Sankaty Lighthouse and a Sconset Market...I get it.

If there was a heavyweight bout, it would be ruled a TKO before it even starts. With all due respect to Madaket, it’s hard to argue the judge’s decision: The Chanticleer vs. The Westender, Sesachacha Pond vs. Long Pond, The Sconset Cafe’ vs. the old Penguin, Baxter Road vs Starbuck Road, Sconset’s Foot Bridge vs. Madaket’s Crab Bridge, Sankaty Head vs. Jackson’s Point, Old Man Shoal vs. the shipwreck. It’s Duke vs UMass in basketball, Argentina vs. the Revs in soccer and the Patriots vs. the Nantucket Whalers in football. You get the point.

Therefore, it is clear why Madaket and Sconset are rarely mentioned in the same sentence. So, what do they have in common?


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Each year, Mother Nature gorges herself at the buffet table known as Nantucket Island. Like a hungry shark taking chunks out of a floating carcass, Mother Nature eats away at our shoreline with no mercy. With each passing storm, it’s death by a thousand cuts. Often times, the damage is immediate and painful to the eye as beaches are washed away, house are undermined and valuable land is lost. Mother Nature is deliberate, ruthless, and cruel with Sconset and Madaket as her favorite spots to dine, wreaking havoc on these two outposts. That’s not to say the South Shore doesn’t get pounded or Great Point doesn’t get reshaped but Sconset and Madaket share a common enemy like no other. Even though they carry the common burden of a powerful adversary, the reaction by the majority of the public is far different.

My first experience with erosion was the crippling effects from Hurricane Esther which looped back around and sliced a chunk off the west end of Nantucket that became known as Esther’s Island. Esther was part of a hyperactive, Atlantic hurricane season in ’61 and it was the first tropical cyclone discovered by satellite imagery with winds topping out at 165 mph. After that, Nantucketers seemed to pay more attention to the devastating effects of hurricanes and nor’easters on their shoreline. From Hurricanes Gloria, Bob, the Perfect Storm, Edouard, Beryl, Dorian and all the winter nor’easters that park themselves off the south shore and eat away at Nantucket’s beaches, Nantucket has yet to fully comprehend the effects of Mother Nature.

Some of you might remember Eugene Ratner from Arizona and Sheep’s Pond Road in Madaket. In the mid 90’s, he attempted to build a “Hoover Dam” around his house using sand-filled, geotextile bags, some weighing more than a ton and rising to over 20 feet tall. Gene secured a cult-like status, but ultimately, the bags broke apart and washed away, doing more harm than good. Outside of Ratner and the recent relocation of parts of Sheep’s Pond Road, not much erosion fanfare has come from our neighbors to the west. Perhaps, the residents of Madaket are more pragmatic now and have succumbed to the inevitable fact that Mother Nature will win this fight. Yet, it seems the struggles of those on Massachusetts Ave., Rhode Island Ave., Chicago Ave., Smith’s Point and Sheep’s Pond Road are perceived as not quite as “sexy” as those battles on Baxter Road and in Cod Fish Park, even though they are just as traumatic.

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While one area of the island barely gets a wink and a nod, Sconset routinely gets front page coverage. While efforts did take place earlier, it was Hurricane Sandy in 2013 that truly started Baxter Road residents to put a full court press on the Sconset Bluff erosion problem. However, since then, it has been paralysis through analysis and a quagmire for everyone concerned. Neighbors banding together, and neighbors suing each other. From beach nourishment to dewatering to artificial reefs to geotubes and from mounting legal costs to environmental groups to the Town of Nantucket, ConCom, Select Board, Sconset Beach Preservation Fund, Arcadis and a handful of other state and local boards, the topic of Baxter Road erosion has remained front and center, developing more into a TV soap opera while the issue of Madaket erosion remains eerily silent. The disproportionate amount of time, money, manpower and resources spent on “Sconset Erosion” vs. “Madaket Erosion” would be enough to rebuild Massasoit Bridge and relocate Sankaty Lighthouse ten times over. To a Madaket resident, why does it appear that the size of one’s cottage in Madaket versus the size of one’s castle in Sconset is driving this issue?

I am skeptical when I hear a Sconset resident trying to persuade others into believing that the original developer of Baxter Road subdivided the land giving buyers ownership of lots on both sides of the road because he anticipated the inevitable effects of beach erosion. I also cringe when Madaket residents sarcastically mock what’s presently happening to the Sconset bluff as karma. Nevertheless, it is clear that the rivalry continues along with the erosion.

I am a firm believer in the rights of a homeowner, protecting your land and “Stand Your Ground” laws. So, I get one’s commitment to the cause. But I am more of a believer in the power of Mother Nature - both good and bad - and her unwavering strength to do what she pleases. Moreover, I am the first to admit that the efforts over the past 10 years to protect the Sconset Bluff have produced a geotube full of valuable information but it has not successfully stopped Mother Nature from taking her pound of flesh. While I sense those in Madaket knew what was coming from their past experiences, some in Sconset and on Baxter Road just can’t seem to grasp what’s inevitably going to happen. And with financial pockets as deep as the Marianna Trench, this Baxter Road battle isn’t over even as the ConCom and Select Board get set to meet to discuss the matter once again on January 12th.

It’s your classic debate: Heart vs. Head. Let’s be honest, we all would love to have that view but we all know what’s coming. Having said that, I think you will agree: Money can’t buy happiness...and it can’t stop Mother Nature either.

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