A Massachusetts town spent $600k on shore protection. A winter storm washed it away days later

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BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts beach community is scrambling after a weekend storm washed away mountains of sand trucked in for a nearly $600,000 dune that was meant to protect homes, roads and other infrastructure.

The project, which brought in 14,000 tons (12,701 metric tonnes) of sand over several weeks in Salisbury, was completed just three days before Sunday’s storm clobbered southern New England with strong winds, heavy rainfall and coastal flooding.

The Salisbury Beach Citizens for Change group, which facilitated the project and helped raise funds, posted on social media about the project’s completion last week and then again after the storm. They argued the project still was worthwhile, noting that “the sacrificial dunes did their job” and protected some properties from being “eaten up” by the storm.

It’s the latest round of severe storms in the community and across Massachusetts, which already suffered flooding, erosion and infrastructure damage in January.

Sand replenishment has been the government’s go-to method of shore protection for decades. Congress has long appropriated money for such work, arguing it effectively protects lives and property and sustains the tourism industry.

But critics say it’s inherently wasteful to keep pumping sand ashore that will inevitably wash away.

Climate change is forecast to bring more bad weather, such as hurricanes, to the Northeast as waters warm, some scientists say. Worldwide, sea levels have risen faster since 1900, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk, the United Nations has said. And erosion from the changing conditions jeopardizes beaches the world over, according to European Union researchers.

Salisbury is also not the first town to see its efforts literally wash away.

Earlier this year, after a storm destroyed its dunes, one New Jersey town sought emergency permission to build a steel barrier — something it had done in two other spots — along the most heavily eroded section of its beachfront after spending millions of dollars trucking sand to the site for over a decade. The state denied the request and instead fined North Wildwood for unauthorized beach repairs. The Department of Environmental Protection has often opposed bulkheads, noting that the structures often encourage sand scouring that can accelerate and worsen erosion.

State Sen. Bruce Tarr, who is working to secure $1.5 million in state funding to shore up the Salisbury dunes, says the efforts will protect a major roadway, water and sewer infrastructure as well as hundreds of homes — which make up 40% of Salisbury’s tax base.

“We’re managing a natural resource that protects a lot of interests,” Tarr said, adding that replenishing the dunes was one of the few options since hard structures like sea walls aren’t allowed on Massachusetts beaches.

Still, others questioned the logic of continuing to replenish the sand.

Resident Peter Lodi responded to the Salisbury beach group’s Facebook post, saying he wasn’t sure why anyone was shocked,

“Throw all the sand down you want. Mother nature decides how long it will protect your homes,” he wrote. “It’s only going to get worse. Not sure what the solution is but sand is merely a bandaid on a wound that needs multiple stitches.”

The group responded to Lodi, arguing that the state had a responsibility to protect their beach and the residents were doing the community a favor by funding the project.

“Our feeling is if you regulate something, you have to be accountable and maintain it,” the group said. “The residents that repaired the dune in front of their property actually helped both the city and the state. Now it’s their turn to step up to the plate.”