We have neglected the blog for a few months of rejuvenation and enterprise! We hope you have all been well and prosperous.



Nantucket people may come to expect snowstorms near the end of January now that we’ve had another. The relatively heavy snow and high winds brought us out to the Sankaty Bluff once more to see the effects of the weather on the geotextile container installation and the bank itself. The storm and the recent heavy rains have ravaged both. The SBPF has upped its efforts considerably, bringing in prodigious amounts of pit sand, and nature appears to have responded by easily taking away much of the increase.

As it has always been, the threats to the bluff are from the sea below and surface and subsurface runoff from above. When one looks above the sand envelope over the geotextile containers, one sees the effect of rain runoff over the edge and runout through the bluff face from the adjacent wetlands. It’s considerable and dramatic. The work to put a new cover of sand, netting and grass has been rewarded with shredded netting, disappearing grass and washouts huge and small. When one looks below on the beach, one sees tiers of geotextile containers exposed by the relentless pounding of the storm surf. In places these two forces work in concert, the runoff channeling great amounts of sacrificial sand from above directly to the waves.
More and larger photos on NANTUCKET EROSION

Ironically, the two locations for the erosion viewing pen have been at the points of greatest destruction. At both locations, they needed to be moved as the ground washed away. At the left of the photo, the netting, grass and underlying sand have slid downhill. None of this was prevented by the geotextile containers below.


Although a fourth tube has been added in front of the cottage “Swept Away”, the facelift is falling anyway. The bluff had been evenly covered, but soon began losing sand beneath the netting and sagging noticeably. Now the recent work has partially collapsed.


The loss of sand and grass from top to bottom in front of “Swept Away”.


The bank to the north of the pre-’78 structures is not faring much better, with more loss of sand and grass and heavily damaged netting.


Crevice or canyon? This impressive washout originates at the viewing pen and continues deeply through the sand envelope to the beach. As deep as it is, it has not reached the depth of the tubes. None of this washout is due to wave action. It’s entirely the result of runoff from the top.


A shot from inside the crevice to lend human scale to the washout.


The entire length of the geotextile container installation wiped clean by the ocean.


Purely from runoff.


The north end of the geotextile containers with the recently installed return bags angled toward the bank. Given that these all were completely covered by the applied sand envelope, it’s easy to imagine the enormous amount of material carried off by the ocean.

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The work to install a fourth geotextile container and returns on the original installation is well underway below Sankaty Bluff. A trench has been dug on the south end to provide a pool for the high-pressure pump that forces seawater into the hopper some 900′ to the north. The hopper mixes the water with sand to produce the slurry that fills the tubes.

The returns were actually required for each tier in the original project, but only one bag was put in on this north end.


More and larger photos on NANTUCKET EROSION


The first two return bags are filled and a crewman signals the men manning the pump to shut it down.


Not just standing around, the crew walks and bounces on the geotextile containers to distribute the slurry evenly.


Project Manager Jamie Feeley replaces a missing high tide marker.


The pool that feeds the water pump.


The first two returns. These are angled toward the Northeast, the source of the most damaging storm waves. When storms uncover the geotextile containers, it’s the second geotextile container on this end that shows first. Given that these return bags are considerably seaward of that geotextile container, it’s reasonable to anticipate that a nor’easter will uncover most of the first bag. It’s notable that these bags lack the scour aprons that were deemed necessary between each of the tiers of geotextile containers.

[Addendum] Project manager Jamie Feeley contacted us to inform us that there is one scour apron under the first below grade return bag, and provided a photo. He added that additional scour aprons are not on the current permit plans.

Work on the fourth geotextile container installation is in the preparation stage with sand being delivered to the beach, a large water pit dug and pipes laid out the length of the tubes to bring water from the pit to the hopper where it is mixed with sand that makes the slurry that is injected into the geotextile containers.

As usual – more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion






Work has begun adding a fourth geotextile container to the pile already there and adding returns to the ends of the geotextile containers. These photos were taken on a quick trip in the rain. More to come as work progresses.

As usual – more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion


A trench dug to the south of the existing structrue.


On the north end of the structure, pipe is brought in by an excavator.

We’ll be covering the installation of the fourth geotextile container soon. Until then, we are enjoying more gorgeous weather here on-island. As you can see from the photos below – the winter crowd is here. These are from Cisco and Great Point.



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After several days of wind and rain we went to Sankaty Bluff to see how it was faring, considering that there was the possibility of a hurricane on the way. The hurricane is now predicted to have no impact on our east-facing beaches, but this nor’easter is still taking its shots. Even after a mild summer with little rain, the effects of runoff from the top of the bluff continue. Crevices in the sand envelope covering the geotextile containers are again forming below both sides of the cottage “Swept Away” in the same places that they have appeared since the original installation. It appears that a large depression is forming in the bank in front of the cottage as the recently distributed sand washes away from underneath the netting and planting. It could not have been reasonably expected that the rainwater pouring over the bluff edge or the runout from the wetlands across Baxter Road would simply stop because of a sand cover with netting and grass placed on the face. What always was a reasonable expectation is that the erosion would continue under the cover, caused by rainwater pouring over the edge and finding its way under the netting and by the wetland runout that comes out of the bluff face, not off of the top.

This 900′ long area will soon have a fourth geotextile container installed. We believe that there is no particular expectation that these current installations will succeed – rather it is simply an effort to set a precedent, both in legal terms and in public relations, to facilitate an approval of the 4000′ rock revetment sought by the SBPF. Since the ocean never reaches the top of the current installation, adding a fourth tube is likely to serve no purposes other than to get people used to the greater scale that would certainly be a feature of a rock revetment, and have an approval on record. And, simply, to get their way.

People here who make money from such projects – lawyers, contractors, etc., may well be licking their lips at the prospect of profit, but those of us who love the natural beauty of Nantucket’s beaches are left to wonder why they are being turned into perpetual construction zones.

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


A crevice caused by runoff erosion has reached into a corner of the viewing pen, disproving the notion that the decay of the bluff has been stopped in this area of the SBPF’s maximum effort.


Runoff and runout continue to make their way around both sides of “Swept Away”, carrying material from the bluff face under the netting, across the geotextile containers and into the sea, all while cutting crevices into the installation’s sand envelope.


This area is not visible from the viewing pen, hence it has little public relations value: an explanation for the half-hearted effort betrayed by the much sparser planting and poor maintenance. The added sand that covers the face of the bluff near the viewing pen is nowhere to be seen once one looks north past the last shed. This is contrary to what should be expected by island residents, town government and the MASS DEP, considering that the reason for allowing the installation was to protect Baxter Road and its infrastructure. This neglected stretch on the tubes’ northern end is where the edge of the bluff has eroded closest to the road, posing the greatest threat.


Last night’s moon in three stages.


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The Conservation Commission held a public hearing tonight on the latest geotextile container proposal. They listened to comments from several people, closed the meeting and then discussed the issue amongst themselves. The issue is a settlement proposed to allow the geotextile containers for three years with monitoring. They will approve or disapprove the settlement within the next 21 days.

D’Anne Atherton of Nantucket Coastal Conservancy addresses the Conservation Commission


For reasons we can’t fathom, the ironically named Sconset Beach Preservation Fund wants to install a fourth geotextile container on top of their current construction. We are baffled by this desire, as no waves have reached the top of the existing structure, much less traversed it to reach the bluff. To add a fourth geotextile container would require heavy machinery to again be used on the vulnerable top of the bluff. With no reasonably foreseeable wave threat to the bank above the current installation, the greatest and most imminent threats would appear to be from the excavation of the bank to form a “bench” to support the rear portion of the fourth tube, the removal of the sand covering of the existing top tube, and the concentration of a large area of rainfall into a single 6″ pipe ostensibly to be distributed behind the installation through a 50′ length of 4″ perforated pipe. Having witnessed the destructive power of the rain run-off when left to choose its own multiple paths, we are left to wonder about the result of channeling it into one pipe, even if it does eventually exit the perforations into the sand.

There is agreement that when material is removed from the toe of the bluff, the face of it breaks loose and drops down. Why, then, would the same thing not happen to the newly planted face of the bluff if material is removed to shape the “bench” that would support the fourth geotextile container? Much of the netted and planted face of the bluff in other nearby areas has failed in exactly that manner, being renetted and replanted in some cases, with downward movement already in evidence.

In a Fact Sheet titled “StormSmart Properties Fact Sheet 2: Controlling Overland Runoff to Reduce Coastal Erosion” the Massachusetts DEP lays out a plan to help control runoff to reduce erosion on coastal banks. You can read this fact sheet here – Fact Sheet. Several points are made in this document that could help the residents of Baxter Road protect the bluff. One thing that is mentioned is to reduce the use of heavy machinery to prevent ruts and other damage to coastal banks. Heavy machinery was used extensively on lot 97 while installing the geotextile containers and for maintenance of the tubes. This lot is deteriorating. Bluff House, at 97 Baxter Road, was moved in recent years and then demolished, both events requiring the filling of foundation holes. This has created an unstable lot that gets heavy runoff across it. Common sense would dictate that you stay off it, build it up and use the machinery elsewhere.



Heavy equipment on lot 99 – another site needing less machinery and more grading away from the edge.


Another point made in the fact sheet is to remove lawns and use native plants in the areas next to the bank. This will reduce the need for irrigation which makes runoff worse.


The lawns along the bluff side of Baxter Road are beautiful, but it would be much wiser to do what the MASS DEP recommends and use natural plantings. Otherwise, they could all end up like Swept Away.


It’s easy to see how moving homes a few feet further destabilizes the top of the bank. This is the new foundation for Slip Slidin’ Away seen in the background. It seems that since there is so little room left from the road to the edge of the bank that homes should be moved across the road or elsewhere rather than dig more foundations close to the edge. Again, common sense doesn’t seem to play in these decisions.


When asked at the ConCom meeting what would happen when Nantucket ran out of sand, the SBPF’s consultant stated that it would just be barged in. This completely ignores the fact that the mainland is running short of available sand too. What will sand cost Nantucket to barge it in? And yes, when we run out of sand, the SBPF could opt to remove the geotextile containers. But that would still leave those of us who live and work here little sand for construction, roads, etc. The SBPF has acknowledged the possibility that local sand may no longer be available, but we have seen nothing to indicate a concern for what it would mean to the rest of the community. If the thought is that we would dredge sand from the ocean, this is a controversial issue here and elsewhere in Massachusetts and could cause significant injury to ocean habitats. Here’s an article in the NY Times about sand shortages but all you have to do is search “running out of sand” and you will find many sources. Where Sand is Gold – NY Times. Here is another article about sand shortages in Massachusetts – The costly sand wars in Massachusetts.


For those of us who go to the beach below the bluff, it will make for a very steep climb to walk on top of the geotextile containers, which is what SBPF has said we all can do in high tide situations. I hope they install an escalator. This is what it is like to climb it with 3 geotextile containers installed.


This is what the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund has done to preserve Sconset Beach. They have ruined it for any aesthetic enjoyment. Real estate value trumps nature and beauty on Nantucket.


Attorney Cohen, representing the SBPF, said this wasn’t a personal or a moral issue, it was a legal issue. How sad that the SBPF would dismiss the moral issues to stand on the letter of the law. Especially sad when the ultimate outcome will be that a number of Baxter Road house owners will still have to move their houses after having emptied the island of sand while destroying one of Nantucket’s most beautiful resources.

The geotextile container issue is back in front of the ConCom as they are asked to agree to a settlement that the SBPF and the town worked out that would allow the geotextile containers to stay as a test case and would involve adding a fourth geotextile container and the returns. We are perplexed at the request for the fourth tube as the top of the third tube has never been reached by any storm waves and installing it could further destabilize the top of the bluff.

The settlement allows for three years more of geotextile containers which means three more years of having a construction site rather than a beach below Sankaty bluff. The issue is still open before the ConCom as they plan on reviewing all the material.

Here is a shot of the ConCom meeting as Emily McKinnon of the Nantucket Land Council makes her presentation.


We’ve updated Nantucket Erosion with a new post.

You can see more and larger photos on Nantucket Erosion at http://nantucketerosion.com/?page_id=2306


We have fixed all the links from the blog to Nantucket Erosion so if you are reading a post and click on the link to Nantucket Erosion, it should now take you to the appropriate page. If you have any issues, please leave a comment or email us. Thanks!


It’s been amazing here this summer – cool with beautiful light almost everyday. We found a new vantage point to enjoy the harbor.



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We made a trip to the UMASS field station in the harbor to begin documenting erosion. Dr. Sarah Oktay, the head of the field station told us they have lost 14 feet over the past two years.

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





Dirck and I made a few stops this afternoon on a cool day here on Nantucket. We took a walk down Mill Street, ate at a new restaurant here which we highly recommend and then went out to the bluff.


A garden at a house which was built in 1790.


Barcos y Tacos is now open in the old Sanford Boat Building. The food is fresh and delicious and not expensive.


Friendly staff at Barcos y Tacos


We then went to the bluff to check on its grass toupée which is doing well.


And then stopped at Sankaty to enjoy the view

We have now updated our website. The site has a new format to make it easier to navigate on mobile devices and our photos are now displayed larger.

There is lots of new work to see in our portfolio section including a new section titled “Sand and Tides” and we have several new series. We also have a section titled Nantucket People with several series in it.

If you have any issues, please let us know.

Here’s the link to our site – Van Lieu Photography


From our Seascapes section


From a new series titled “The Winter of Ought Fifteen”.

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We are taking down Van Lieu Photography today to install our new website. The blog will stay up. Please check back soon to see our new site with lots of new work. We’re very excited about it.


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We made a trip to the Sankaty Bluff tonight to see how it fared after the recent heavy rains and saw that fresh dirt continues to fall from the top, further eroding the edge. A great deal of sand was added to the bluff in the vicinity of Swept Away and the two building remnants to the north prior to the planting of its face, extending it several feet back out toward the ocean. The SBPF has maintained the new grass there which is now fuller and greener, but to the north of Swept Away, they added much less sand and the grass there is brown and languishing. It seems that the focus of their efforts is to protect Swept Away and the other building remnants, hoping to preserve the only legally justifiable reason  for the entire project while paying much less attention to the area of the bluff where the road is most threatened by erosion. The town partnered with the SBPF in an effort to gain time to provide alternate access to the northern end of Baxter Road but the area where the bluff is closest to the road is getting the least attention.

Three members of the Board of Selectmen chose to not reappoint Dr. Sarah Oktay to the Conservation Commission last week – an obvious political decision as Dr. Oktay is an oceanographer and expert in the many water issues the island faces, and has worked tirelessly and for no compensation on the commission. This decision was a result of pressure from a special interest group that is only interested in promoting their own agenda, no matter what harm it does Nantucket.

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






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I made a quick trip to the top of the bluff after a day of rain and put up an update on Nantucket Erosion.

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



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Both houses we have photographed on Nantucket’s North Shore that were close to the edge have now been moved and new houses are being built further inland on those lots – leaving room for the bank to erode. It’s gratifying to see folks who own beach-front homes here preserve the natural state of the beach and bank. Further north of these houses, the beach has been reduced to a construction zone similar to that on  Sconset Beach.

The first photo was taken in May of 2005 and the second was taken this past Sunday – June 8, 2015.



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We photographed the bluff and the North Shore today. I’ll try to get photos of the North Shore up in the next couple of days. You can see our bluff photos on Nantucket Erosion. The planting over the geotextile containers is now complete. Sconset beach is a permanent construction site with the beach covered in machine tracks, piles of dirt and messily arranged jute bags – it really is Nantucket’s ugliest beach.

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



I’m home again after 3 weeks in Texas enjoying family and friends and our new granddaughter! This seems like a good time to post a personal project we have about Nantucket. These were taken from our deck over the past several years and show the changing seasons here. They also express how we feel about this island where home isn’t just a house but is the island itself. Please click on the link to view the slideshow.



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