At the Bend in the Road beach in Edgartown this week, summer seemed a lifetime away.
The gently sloping beach dimpled with footprints is gone, replaced by large pipes and construction equipment stacked amid mountainous piles of sand.
Vineyard beaches often change in the winter, washed by powerful ocean storms. But the Bend in the Road beach this off-season is especially unrecognizable, and none of the changes are natural.
The beach has been at the receiving end of a massive dredging project that pumped thousands of cubic yards of sand and slurry from Sengekontacket Pond. The dredging project was completed this week. In the coming weeks machinery and piping will be removed, and the beach will return to a more natural state. And when beachgoers arrive this year, there will be a lot more beach to go to.
The dredging project is not the only construction going on along Beach Road this winter; a state project to rebuild the Big and Little Bridges is also underway.
Back at Bend in the Road, some 29,000 cubic yards of sand have been moved from the pond to both the town beach and Cow Bay beach in front of Trapps’s Pond. The project will not only double the size of the public beach — it will also protect a vital coastal dune system, improve habitats for rare birds and protect Beach Road, a valuable link between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs.
“There is a lot going on in that little corner of the Island,” said Lynne Fraker, Edgartown dredge administrator, this week. “This sand will be used to address so many important needs, not just beach renourishment. This is an important project for the whole Island.”
She said the original vision for the project was very different. The town initially sought to dig a channel in Sengekontacket Pond between the Big Bridge and the entrance to Trapp’s Pond, but a professional analysis of the sand found it contained too much organic material. So the plan was scrapped.
Meanwhile, the Cow Bay homeowners’ association was working on a beach renourishment plan for the coastal dune system in front of Trapp’s Pond. Years of erosion had wiped out the dunes between Nantucket Sound and Trapp’s Pond, and it was only a matter of time before waves would wash out the fragile barrier beach.
Beach renourishment projects are not cheap; the Cow Bay Association estimated it would have to pay about $90 for every cubic yard of sand moved, Ms. Fraker said. The association knew it could save money by joining with the town and using the town-owned dredge.
So the two parties struck a deal.
The Cow Bay Association offered to lease 140 feet of beach at Cow Bay to the town for 500 years at a cost of $1 per year, in exchange for some of the spoils taken from Sengekontacket Pond. And the association agreed to pay any costs incurred by the town over $100,000, for both the renourishment at Bend in the Road and Cow Bay.
Work began in early September and the permit from the state allowed dredging to continue through Jan. 15. But more time was needed to get enough sand to Cow Bay, and the town secured two extensions that allowed dredging until this past Sunday. In total around 27,000 cubic yards of sand was moved, 10,000 of which will go to Bend in the Road and 17,000 to repair the dunes in front of Trapp’s Pond.
Right now it just looks like many mountains of sand.
But it was quite an engineering job. Dredged spoils were pumped 1,500 feet by pipe to a booster pump on the opposite side of Big Bridge, and then pumped another 4,500 feet down to Bend in the Road and into a dewatering pit.
Sand was spread out inside the pit so it would dry more quickly, and was then piled up along the barrier beach at Trapp’s Pond by trucks hired by the Cow Bay association. The association also paid to have more sand brought in by barge from the RM Packer Company. In the coming weeks workers will use bulldozers to spread out the sand and build a new dune system in both locations.
The town and the Cow Bay Association will also plant new vegetation to help secure the beach against erosion.
Ms. Fraker said the dredge project came just in time.
“This beach was in bad shape, it was just a mess,” she said. “There really wasn’t much beach left, just a small patch of sand. The way things were going, the beach wasn’t going to be around much longer.”
Edgartown harbor master Charlie Blair, who is overseeing the project, said this is not the largest dredging project in town history. In 1997 the Edgartown dredge was used in a joint operation with Oak Bluffs to pump about 70,000 cubic yards over wooden groins in a project to rebuild State Beach after it was threatened by erosion.
He said the current operation is equally important.
“The dunes at Cow Bay were destroyed . . . it wasn’t long before the ocean got into Trapp’s Pond. The [homeowners’ association] needed help making this happen, and we welcomed the help from them. This was the best plan for everyone,” he said.
Mr. Blair said dredging near Big Bridge will improve circulation in the pond. High levels of bacteria have forced the closure of Sengekontacket to shellfishing for the last two summers, and many believe dredging out certain areas near the Big and Little Bridges will improve tidal circulation and reduce bacteria levels.
“This will fix the beach and will do a world of good for the pond . . . no question about it,” Mr. Blair said.
Norman Rankow, chairman of the Edgartown dredge advisory committee, called it a good deal for everyone.
“What’s not to like? It expands the beach, it improves the dunes [at Cow Bay], it protects the road. I think when people go to that beach when the weather gets warmer they will be amazed . . . this will make a lot of people happy,” he said.