2014-06-05 / Front Page

Volunteers needed for Mackerel Cove restoration

By Ken Shane

About 19 months ago, Hurricane Sandy blew through Jamestown, decimating Mackerel Cove and destroying the dune system that was built to protect the barrier beach.

On Saturday, members of the Conservation Commission will work to restore the sand banks. The conservationists are looking for volunteers to help plant the more-than 4,200 grass plugs. By anchoring dunes with its roots and trapping sand, the grass will help strengthen them.

According to Chris Powell, who served as chairman of the conservation panel for 27 years, the dune system at Mackerel Cove began 20 years ago as an Eagle Scout project for Chris Calabretta. There were no dunes in place then, and each time a storm hit, sand would be washed across the road and parking lot. In search of a scout project, Calabretta consulted with Powell, and the two decided that Calabretta would build a single dune to see if it proved to be an effective barrier. After getting approval from the Town Council, Calabretta got the required permit from the state Coastal Resources Management Council.

Once the dune was complete, money was raised to purchase grass. The first dune, about 100 feet long and 20 feet wide, was planted by the Boy Scouts. A few years later, Hurricane Bob rolled through and the only thing left on the beach was the single sand dune. It was obvious that it had done its job, and the decision was made to place dunes along the entire beach. It was a big and costly job, but a mistake by the state Department of Transportation proved to be fortuitous. After the agency mistakenly destroyed some dunes at Sheffield Cove, it was penalized by CRMC. As a result, when the transportation agency redid Southwest Avenue, Mackerel Cove got its dunes as part of the project.

“(DOT) actually did the whole beach as restitution,” said Powell.

Dune grass was planted, snow fences were placed around the dunes to protect them, and walkways were created so that the public could access the beach. Although the dunes proved to be an effective deterrent, each time a storm came through, the front and side edges were damaged. To resolve the problem, the town added more sand to the front, and two supplemental plantings were undertaken, the last one being three years ago.

The system was working well, until 2012.

“They got blown out with Hurricane Sandy,” Powell said. “Sandy did the most damage of any of the storms.”

Another round of dune grass planting was scheduled for March, which is the optimal time for planting, but Sandy’s fury destroyed a number of dune systems along the Northeast coast and there was no grass available. There was also the question of where the money would come from. In April the commission learned that the Federal

Emergency Management Agency wouldn’t pony up the expected $7,500 because dune grass was not a covered item. The project was delayed until last month when Abby and Jeff Boal, the new owners of Fox Hill Farm, donated $3,000 to help restore the dunes. The Conservation Commission is also putting $1,000 into the effort.

“The donation was an exciting surprise, and Jamestowners of all ages have been enthusiastic about jumping in to help with the planting,” said Conservation Chairwoman Maureen Coleman.

Coleman said that she is lucky to have Commissioners Anne-Kuhn Hines and Bruce DiGennaro working on the project. Both have a wealth of expertise in the field, she said.

“And the town has been incredibly responsive with staff, heavy equipment and new snow fencing,” she said.

Coleman said that having the dunes in place make for a better beach experience when compared to having a flat beach level with the road. The vegetation helps to retain the barrier beach, she says, and protects the road by absorbing much of the storm impact.

Volunteers of all ages are invited to help place thousands of grass plugs into dune holes before covering them up. Work will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday, rain or shine, and all tools will be provided. The project is expected to last three hours, and then the commissioners will treat the volunteers to pizza.

“We’re looking forward to a fun morning on the beach,” Coleman said.

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