Edgartown’s Cow Bay Beach is an example of a winning partnership

Bend-in-the-Road Beach was a popular spot on Tuesday. Private Cow Bay Beach is in the background. — Photo by Kristófer Rabasca

This summer, Martha’s Vineyard beach-goers will flock to the three-mile stretch of beach shared by Oak Bluffs and Edgartown that separates Sengekontacket Pond from Nantucket Sound unmindful of the project that helped replenish beach sand and restore dunes lost to a succession of battering storms.

The restoration of the popular Vineyard beach was the result of a successful collaboration between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs and the residents of Cow Bay, an exclusive Edgartown waterfront subdivision at the southern end of the beach.

In May, The American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) named what it termed The Edgartown Beach and Dune Restoration Project to its 2013 list of seven of the nation’s best-restored beaches. The restoration project included parts of the Joseph Silvia State Beach in both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, Edgartown’s Bend in the Road Beach, and Cow Bay Beach, owned by the Cow Bay Corporation, an association of private landowners and individual landowners adjacent to Cow Bay.

The ASBPA described it in a press release as “a huge success for public and private stakeholders alike. Although the project was plagued with regulatory hurdles, insufficient sand volumes, very narrow dredging windows and strict marine fisheries restrictions, the obstacles were overcome — and the frequently overwashed, badly eroding barrier beaches within the project limits have been successfully restored and functioning beyond expectation.”

Long haul

The project began in 2008 with a project to use Edgartown’s dredge to improve water quality in Sengekontacket Pond, connected to the sound by two inlets known as little bridge and big bridge. A joint Oak Bluffs-Edgartown Sengekontacket Restoration Committee recommended that sand be removed from a channel that connected the two inlets in order to improve water circulation.

While the town of Edgartown was formulating plans to dredge, Edward Cerullo, a seasonal Edgartown resident and president of the Cow Bay Association, offered to buy some of the sand to replenish the Cow Bay beach.

Once the details were agreed to, the dredge, operating on the Edgartown side of the pond, pumped sand from the pond to a section of beach on the ocean side where it was allowed to de-water. It was then trucked down the beach and deposited at Bend in the Road and Cow Bay beaches.

Between 2008 and 2012 the Cow Bay Association paid Edgartown almost $700,000 for sand, according to town officials.

“The partnership with Cow Bay was extremely successful,” said Jane Varkonda, Edgartown conservation agent. “The town could have paid for the entire project, but without Cow Bay’s purchase it would have cost the town a lot more.”

“It was wonderful that the selectmen from the two towns got together and got the job done,” added Charlie Blair, Edgartown harbor master and former member of the Edgartown dredge committee.

Mr. Blair said it would have been much more difficult to get town voter approval for the initial $200,000 project had the town not been able to sell some of the sand. The dredging moved almost 10,000 cubic yards of sand.

Wampanoag historical concerns and narrow dredging windows slowed the Oak Bluffs part of the project.

In 2010, Oak Bluffs contracted with the town of Edgartown to have their side of the pond dredged. The project was larger in scope and the cost was $1.2 million to move almost 60,000 cubic yards of sand, more than twice the $500,000 Oak Bluffs voters initially authorized for the job. The Cow Bay group offered to buy most of the Oak Bluffs sand for $579,300. Their offer made up most of the difference in the cost.

“The Cow Bay participation basically saved the entire project,” said Duncan Ross, an Oak Bluffs selectman at the time who was chairman of the restoration committee. “Cow Bay bought the sand giving us the additional money we needed to finish the project. I think it was a win-win for everybody.”

“While many parties were involved, I think genuinely the interests of all were aligned and I think that is why it was so successful” Mr. Cerullo said in a conversation with the Times.

The project also kept the town dredge operating and town employees employed.

Mr. Cerullo said co-operation was key. “As the engineers explained it, there was no point in the town replenishing their part of the beach if Cow Bay didn’t do its portion,” he said. “While it was described by the engineers as an ideal beach for replenishment, it was only ideal if everyone along the continuum participated.”

Beach restoration has been the preferred method of shore protection in coastal communities for 40 years, according to the ASBPA website. Founded in 1926, the ASBPA advocates for healthy coastlines by promoting the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, visit www.asbpa.org.