We have updated Nantucket Erosion with comparative photos taken from Steps Beach to Hinckley.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http://www.nantucketerosion.com


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Nantucket’s north shore was hit hard by winter storm Juno. We have a set of comparative photos on Nantucket Erosion. The first photo of each pair was taken on January 11th and the second on the 29th after the storm.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http://www.nantucketerosion.com



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A great deal of Nantucket pit sand was delivered over the edge of Sankaty Bluff one week ago, and a great deal of that sand has already gone the way of the tides, courtesy of the first nor’easter of 2015. The geotubes below the bluff have been frequently exposed by runoff erosion in the 9 months since the last delivery, the installation looking very ragged for a significant portion of that time. The first major effort to thoroughly cover them was effective for a few days until winter storm Juno brought hurricane-force winds and several higher than normal tides. The result of the storm was not only the first full-length exposure of the 900′ of second and third tier tubes, but the exposure of both the north and south ends as well. We have seen some end scour on the north end over the last year, but this was the first heavy loss on both ends. Returns designed to prevent this end scour, part of the original plans and required by the conditions of the emergency certificate allowing the installation, were never installed. These exposures of the tubes can be considered “firsts” because this storm was the first real test of the structure. It was hit hard by waves that caused noticeable toe erosion to the north and south of it, and it must be acknowledged that the bank along its length was untouched. As a victory, it must be considered to be of the pyrrhic type, as the bluff is rapidly eroding  from above, not from infrequent wave action, but for 1 day out of the last 365, it offered some protection.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http://www.nantucketerosion.com


For the first time since their installation, the south ends of the second and third tiers of geotubes have been exposed.


The entire 900′ length of the structure is devoid of covering along the front.


Some tattered bits of scour apron and straps between the tubes and on the beach.


One of the many full-sized sheets of polyethylene between the tubes. The torn edges of the plastic raise the possibility that parts of the unapproved material have gone seaward. The project manager has cut away and removed the sheeting as it has become exposed.


Each succeeding tier rests a third of its width on the tier below, with the remainder supported by a “bench” of sand behind. If the bench is allowed to wash away, the tubes can roll backwards toward the bank. With gaps caused by the overlapping tubes and displaced scour aprons, one wonders about the integrity of the “seal” between layers.


Loose polyethylene from the installation on the beach. How much sand is gone from under the second tier of tubes?


While the front is washed clean, there is still a heavy layer of new pit sand on top of the envelope.


More of the shredded polyethylene.


The elevation of the beach dropped enough during the storm to expose even the first, below-grade tier of tubes. Wave energy deflected from the end of the armoring contributed to the major collapse of the bank next to the clay knob as seen above. Ordinarily the knob would offer protection to its lee side.


The exposed north end shows the results of typical end scouring. Without the requisite (if not actually effective) returns or tapers, the waves flank the armoring, wrapping around and removing material from the ends and eventually from behind as they began to do here. Note that the back of the top tube is now about 2′ lower than its front. If enough material is lost from behind, the tubes will roll backwards.

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A full blog post will  have to wait till tomorrow evening. We finally got our power back on but need some rest. We have a lot to say about what we saw today on the bluff and will report in full tomorrow. Here are a couple of shots from today.






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Dirck and I went to the bluff today. We have tons of photos but won’t be able to post them until they get our power back on!  It’s been an adventure here the last couple of days. We’ll have an update as soon as possible.

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The bluff continues to melt as there is less distance from its face to the wetlands. There has been no toe erosion but the disintegration of the bluff worsens.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http:www.nantucketerosion.com


We went to the bluff on Sunday to see how it had fared from last weeks high winds. We have a full set of photos on Nantucket Erosion.

As you can see from the photo below, Swept Away is now deeply undercut.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http:www.nantucketerosion.com


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There’s a small bumper sticker seen around Baxter Road that reads “Retreat Will Not Save Sconset”. It’s ironic then that the SBPF’s viewing pen could only be saved by a retreat from the ravaged edge of Sankaty Bluff. While the area of the pen is not under the “protection” of the geotube installation, it is subject to the same erosive forces  along the most rapidly decaying stretch of the island’s eastern shore. Equally ironic is the very existence of the pen to begin with, provided so the public can view the accelerated erosion, said pen being recently not 24 inches from the worst destruction on all of the bluff. This well documented destruction is due to runoff from the top of the bluff and through its face, with not a bit of it being from toe erosion. It would be difficult to pick a better place to show visitors the failure of the geotube installation short of walking the beach itself, which we recommend in any case, to understand the dynamics of Sankaty Bluff.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http:www.nantucketerosion.com


The patch where the grass is worn away shows the location of the viewing pen before its retreat.


The pen’s new location, while offering greater safety, prevents those inside from seeing the collapse of the bank virtually at their feet.


To see the unabated erosion, these men have stepped in front of the pen.


Approaching the edge is to be discouraged, as the increasingly vertical bank could lose large chunks suddenly. 90° is not Sankaty’s natural angle of repose!


The cottage “Swept Away” looks to be running out of land and out of time. The split rail fence will not stand much longer.


SBPF’s outdated photo accompanying the announcement of their successful appeal of the ConCom’s decision looks considerably different than this, a more common view.


The concrete footings at right were exposed only to the first crack one year ago. That represents about an 8′ loss in that time. Neither building remnant was visible from this vantage point then.


The face of the bluff below “Swept Away” in January of 2014. A fairly straight edge.


January 5, 2015 sees a radically altered face. The runoff from the top and face has cut deeply into the bluff, the cut becoming wider as it does so.


The cuts on either side of the cottage threaten to isolate it.


Different colors indicate different materials as Sankaty itself rapidly retreats.


The geotubes? They’re still there and still exposed while the bluff disintegrates from above.

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We wish all our readers and collectors a peaceful and prosperous 2015.

(Go Cowboys and Patriots!)


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Mass DEP has issued a ruling favoring the SBPF on the Sankaty Bluff geotube issue. Although evidence and opinions were submitted in time for the September deadline, this ruling was held until today, making it difficult for appeals to be made over the holidays when everyone is on vacation. This kind of tactic should not be allowed by an institution that exists to serve the people.

Money can destroy a beach but it cannot create one naturally. Our beaches are being covered by geotubes, jute bags, snow-drift fences and sea walls in a futile attempt to stop the ocean. This will be the anti-environmental legacy that will be left by the SBPF.


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The bluff sustained considerable damage once again after the recent nor’easter. Plantings and netting were destroyed at one section, large amounts of the bluff dropped to the geotubes and the runoff once again was prominent.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http:www.nantucketerosion.com .










The Nantucket High School Whalers football team enjoyed a great comeback year under new head coach Brian Ryder, ending as Mayflower League Small School Champions with a record of 8 wins and 3 losses. High school football may be much the same in most parts of the country, but how many teams must board a boat for a 2½ hour ride for away games? It’s all part of being a player or a fan on Nantucket.

Although they started with a 7 game winning streak, the Whalers were hampered by injuries to several key players late in their season, winning 1 out of the last 4 against their toughest opponents.

The links below will take you to a presentation of our photographs of the 2014 season. They are best viewed on a big screen! The videos loop, but stop playing when you scroll past them. You can scroll through the smaller images or you can click on them to enlarge. A second click will reduce them to their original size. You can also click to enlarge and then use your arrow keys to advance through all  at that size. On mobile devices, tapping on the small images will do the same, and swiping the screen will take you through the collection.

Nantucket Whalers – Part One.

Nantucket Whalers – Part Two.


The Whaler defense waits for the play near their end zone.

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The Sankaty Bluff and the SBPF’s adjacent geotube installation endured some 24 hours of rain immediately before Thanksgiving, with bluff and installation showing greatly different results. The tubes, recently redressed after suffering huge losses of sand from the envelope covering them, survived the weather with only a short section again exposed on the north end. The bluff itself did not fare nearly as well, with sediment and vegetation washing away or dropping in chunks down to the top of the tubes. As more of the bank washes away, it becomes increasingly evident that the damage comes from rainwater pouring over the edge and out of the face below the surface. Much of the fine sediment finding its way to the bottom is of a strongly contrasting color and texture, making it easy to see the source and follow its path.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.


 The edge of the bank retreats around the SBPF’s viewing pen at the former site of “Bluff House”.


This spot is particularly vulnerable because of the relatively uncompacted fill used in the old foundation hole. The cut gets wider week by week.


The fine sediment coming from the face of the bluff spreads north and south as it reaches the top of the geotubes. A large clump of brush and dirt finally let go and slid to the bottom.


The viewing pen and the nearby cut as seen from the beach. The observer lends scale to the extent of the erosion.


The gray swath below the edge of the bank becomes more obvious as time goes by. The swath is sediment that oozes from the face, presumably from the wetlands across Baxter Road. There are other places like the one pictured above where the flow is strong enough to form a stream as it goes down the bank.


One can see the material flowing away from the bank.


This clump of brush held on for months before finally being undercut by the runoff.


The above photo was posted on February 8th, 2014. It shows plumes of unpermitted sand dumped over the side next to and in front of the cottage “Swept Away”. The stain on the sand envelope covering the tubes proves that the runoff will run under anything applied to the face, continuing to erode it.


This is the same location on Thanksgiving day, less than 9 months later. None of the sand gone from this area was taken by wave action or toe erosion.


Yard after cubic yard of pit sand has washed down to the top of the tubes. The flat face of the eroded sand shows where a machine cut into it while filling the numerous voids and crevices that carved through the installation.


The gray layer of fine sediment is easily seen approximately 10′ from the top of the bank. Also easily seen is the path that the oozing material is taking to reach the top of the envelope.


There were three concrete footings hanging over the edge here until recently. Some time in the last several weeks one of them dropped half way down the face. It can be seen  as the diagonal line under the foot of the photographer.


The north end of the structure is the first part to feel the effects of wind and waves. The recently redressed envelope is already shedding sand, exposing the second layer of tubes. The jagged edge near the top reveals a 6″ drop in its cover.


Another photo from February 8, 2014. This is the slope on the face of the sand envelope as shaped by the original contractors. It’s obviously shallower than the angle of repose of the sand plumes and bare bluff behind.


This is the angle created by those who recently dressed the structure. It’s very steep, beyond the natural angle of the sand on the bank, and more of an abrupt obstacle to any waves that make it that far up the beach.


It’s interesting and instructive to observe the differences in the photo above and the one below, both taken Thanksgiving day, 2014. The photo above shows the natural condition of the bluff with no engineered structure at its base. The one below is typical of the bank along the entire length of the geotube installation.


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The prodigious amounts of sand, soil and sediment were not the only things washed away from the Sankaty Bluff after last night’s high winds and heavy rains. The notion that the geotubes below provide any protection from the chief cause of the bank’s erosion is forever stripped of its logic. The dramatic changes to Sankaty Bluff could never be missed by anyone observing the place for the shortest of time. The most casual of observers would recognize that considerable amounts of Baxter Road real estate are running down toward the sea. Nevertheless the proponents of the geotube installation,  ostensibly undertaken to halt the decay of the bluff, sing its praises as an unqualified success even as the narrow strip of land in front of the remaining structures disappears. Touting  ivory tower engineering, making vague references to science and citing Massachusetts environmental law while declining to address the obvious causes of the bluff’s erosion is absurd on the face of it. While the greatest cause of damage to the bluff was plain to see long before last night’s rain, it is screamingly obvious today: it is runoff from the top. That is Sankaty Bluff’s plain truth. What is to be inferred from this apparently willful avoidance of fact? It may be that the nearly 900′ length of geotubes is no more than a straw man attempting to get his foot in the door in pursuit of an approval for the much longer rock revetment. Otherwise one would expect dismay over the failure of the geotubes to have any effect on the erosion. If the goals are to merely gain legal sanction and set precedent, it makes sense that so little attention is paid to the real dynamics of the bluff.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.


The morning after the storm shows a heavy accumulation of rainwater on the east side of Baxter Road.


The former site of “Bluff House”, with standing water near one of the largest and deepest cuts into the bank.


Dark sediment from the bank colors the top of the geotube envelope and the many fissures carved into it by the runoff.


ConCom Commissioner LaFarge inspects the damage done by the water pouring from the top of the bank. Note his boots stuck deep in the mire.


Standing water remains on the face as fine sediment oozes from the bank below the surface adjacent to Baxter Road.


The vastness of this erosive cut and the number of fissures in the installation below show the effects of this and other rains.


The cut to the north of cottage “Swept Away” has dropped a huge amount of material to the top of the tubes.


While the installation may interrupt the flow of sediment, it eventually makes its way over and through the sand envelope on its way to the remaining beach.


Two things are clear from today’s photographs. One is that there is a remarkable variety to the types of sediment coming from the bluff, the other is that great volumes of material are coming out of the bank that were not merely laying on the exposed face. What is happening within the bank when this material flows outward? Cubic yards of materials no longer under the surface of house lots or the road itself? Ever-widening wetlands? While it’s certain that a lot of the bluff face is dropping, it does not account for all that accumulates below.


The pedestrian access to the top of the geotubes.


The geotubes’ sand envelope ravaged by rainwater.


The 4″ PVC pipe intended to handle the runoff that caused this chasm was deformed by a landslide during the storm.

We are expecting high winds this afternoon and night coming from the southeast. I made a trip in the rain this morning and will go again after the high winds to assess the situation.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.


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There is a saying among those who love the outdoor life – “Take only photographs, leave only footprints”.  What will your legacy be on Nantucket? Will you leave its shores in their natural, wild state or will you forever change our beaches to try to save what can’t be saved?


How we would love to see our beaches left – with only contrails and footprints as a reminder that someone was here.


How the SBPF and some of our board of selectmen think our beaches should look. This beach would make any redneck proud – it has an elevated dirt road and a dirt on-ramp.


Which beach will we leave for those who come after us?

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Fog on the moors, a huge moon and clouds, – the view from Bean Hill.

Click on the thumbnails to see the larger photos.



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A new Stop & Shop will be in by May. The foundation encompasses the entire old parking lot. Here’s a few iphone 6 plus shots of the construction –






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A beautiful day after the storm (not a proper nor’easter) brought us out to see how the Sankaty Bluff fared through two days of high winds and rain. As one would expect, there were considerable losses from the wind that howled straight down the beach, the waves that angled in from the northeast and the rainwater that came directly down the face. The weekend’s wind direction was shown by the patterns in the sand as clearly as by any compass. The rain runoff made itself known by the continued carving of the bank’s face, while the work of the waves was revealed by the wholesale removal of sand from the envelope covering the geotubes. The two exposed tiers of tubes may make for dramatic imagery, but they are still not the story of the bluff erosion. The tubes are beach-swallowing distractions that divert the attentions of proponents and opponents alike, with one side proclaiming victory because the tubes remain intact, the other crying failure because they are once again exposed. Throughout all of this declaiming, the bluff runs into the sea over, around and through this engineered installation. Today the tubes look like a battle-scarred fortress, but it was a battle that played out short of the bluff’s toe. One can see from the beach to the south of the installation that the waves barely touched the bank in a few places, only pounding the man-made structures because they are so much further seaward.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.


South of the geotubes, another property has been filled and netted in an attempt to maintain the bluff edge.


The scale of the installation is evident in this photo of Project Manager Jamie Feeley and Peter Kaizer shooting elevations to determine the amount of sand remaining.


This jagged edge is the result of waves meeting the flow of runoff sediment at the south end of the tubes.


The south side of “Swept Away”, losing more by the week in spite of being under the “protection” of the geotubes.


The north side of the cottage does no better.


The runoff is carving straight back through this hedge on the line between two properties.


A curious line of bricks. Once a sidewalk to a house long gone?


A sizable chunk has split off over this old foundation footing.


Part of the first tier, a scour apron, and a substantial length of the second tier of tubes are uncovered after two days of weather.


What we once called “The Elephant”, the clay knob on the north end of the installation, looks more like a rhinoceros these days. Before long, what was once a prominent landmark will be indistinguishable from the rest of the bank.

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The bluff at Sankaty is showing the effects of two days of rain, wind-driven tides and 70 mph gusts. The geotubes were recently dressed, but this storm has wiped away vast amounts of sand from the front of the installation, just in time for the scheduled November maintenance. The bank itself has been providing its own “sacrificial” material since last winter’s installation, giving up sand, soil and clay at an unprecedented rate, most notably right where the geotubes are located. Now it will be necessary for the SBPF to bring in more sand from the island’s pits. The last 10 months have proven that the Sankaty Bluff continues to do what it has always done: give itself up to the the ocean, feats of engineering notwithstanding.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.


The cottage called “Swept Away” sits between two very deep erosive cuts. The cottage, or what may be left of it, will soon be on its own promontory as the land washes away around it.


The town’s answer to runoff erosion? This curb diverts most of the water flowing from its northern half to one of the deepest eroded cuts, one that is devouring the bank in front of “Swept Away”.


The lower end of the curb with the water collecting and spreading toward the bluff edge.


The main section of town-installed curbing. The rainwater flows fairly quickly from each end to the middle. By observing small bits of debris in the water, it’s easy to see the speed and direction of the flow. It’s also easy to see that the puddle should be much larger than this after so many hours of rain. It’s no bigger because the water is disappearing down the crack in the pavement. No need to guess where it’s going from there…

This embarrassing attempt to address the erosion of Sankaty Bluff begs an explanation. What did the planners think was going to happen to the water diverted a few dozen feet by the asphalt curbing? Who is planning these attempts and what are they using as criteria? Would it not be more efficient to simply throw money over the bank?


The wind-driven waves have washed the sand away from the front of the geotubes. The dark color of the covering shows that the soil from the bank has washed over much of the installation.


A close-up shows the path of the runoff over the tubes. The jagged line to the right is the edge of the eroded beach immediately past the tubes.


One of the large cuts into the bank caused completely by runoff. There is absolutely no toe erosion involved.

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The first hour of a storm that will be creating high winds here. Dirck and I had a difficult time taking these photos as the gusts were very high.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.







The nor’easter missed us but we are facing a more pressing event as the Massachusetts DEP will soon make their decision on whether they will uphold the Nantucket Conservation Commission’s decision. Please join us in signing this letter from the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy to Governor Patrick.

Click here to sign letter.


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It has been nine months since the substantial completion of the geotube installation below Sankaty Bluff. There have been few changes in circumstance at the site from February until now. There has been no threat from the ocean, while the run-off from the top has steadily and rapidly eaten away at the bank. We did an extensive photographic survey today in anticipation of four days of rain to provide a baseline for comparison at the end of the week. Comparing today’s photos to those taken on September 21 shows that the major blowout on the north side of Swept Away is not much different, but the erosion on its south side and at the former site of Bluff House near the viewing pen has increased. The contour of the bluff face near the northern end of the installation looks much changed as well.

We began writing about the problem of erosion from the top of the bluff before the geotube installation started. The blog entry dated December 15, 2013 says “Runoff from the top, rather than a battering ocean, has opened a large cut that has dumped a considerable amount of top and subsoil down onto the beach.” Ten months later, the only action taken to address this problem has been a short line of sand bags, subsequently replaced with an interrupted run of asphalt curbs corresponding to two badly eroding areas. The curbs don’t look at all promising, as they are separated by Swept Away’s driveway, and end exactly at the lowest and wettest part of Bluff House’s empty lot. Given that the curbs will not make rain run-off disappear, it’s logical to predict that they will instead gather it and concentrate it in the very places where the worst of the erosion is occurring.

More and larger photos are on Nantucket Erosion.


The answer to rain run-off over Sankaty Bluff? It’s not clear what is expected of these strips of asphalt given that the amount of rainwater will remain the same, only to be redirected a very short way.


The curb ends at the lowest point of this empty lot. As we have shown in previous photos, the water travels diagonally from this area to the left of the bush at the edge, carving one of the deepest cuts in the face of the bluff.


The cut by the viewing pen continues to work its way toward the road.


South of the geotubes: Some of the recently installed netting is under stress near the top of the bank. The netting is stretched and beginning to tear.


The netting bellies out at the bottom due to the sand underneath working its way down the face.


The top of the envelope covering the tubes is narrowing as sand washes away from the face.


Not much has changed in a month just north of Swept Away, but the high vertical component of the bank does not bode well for its stability.

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The Whalers are 4-0 for the season. They won their homecoming game against South Shore 25-0.












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We had a photograph on the front page of the Boston Globe today in an article about the geotubes.


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