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State has new plan to stem erosion

By Katheleen Conti
Globe Staff / October 23, 2011

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It was always the least desirable alternative, but for the eroding Winthrop Beach shoreline, it is now the only option.

More than a year after state conservation officials were prohibited from using ocean bottom sand to restore 37 acres of shoreline in Winthrop, a new proposal calls for having 650,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel trucked into town from an abandoned highway embankment in Saugus and Revere.

Trucking sand in was an option that Department of Conservation and Recreation officials were hoping to avoid, because of high costs, significant traffic impact to the two roads leading in and out of Winthrop, and because the sand material would not be as good a match for the beach as sand from the ocean floor.

But last year the US Army Corps of Engineers affirmed its decision on appeal to deny the Department of Conservation and Recreation permission to dredge 500,000 cubic yards of ocean sand 8 miles offshore because of potential impacts to cod and other species.

That decision came nearly 12 years after state conservation officials started pursuing the dredging option, which they felt was the fastest and most inexpensive solution and would have had the least impact on communities.

Shortly after the Army Corps’ decision, the conservation agency looked into using a barge to transport offshore sand from Cat Island off Salem, but those plans were scrapped because there is a major underwater gas transmission line at the site. The agency moved on to the trucking alternative, which is less than ideal, but necessary, said Cheryl Tobey, a Winthrop Beach area resident and one of the lead organizers of the Winthrop Beach Citizens Action Committee.

That group has been pushing for restoration of the shoreline for more than a decade.

“They figured they can use that, which I’m not thrilled about, and they will truck it in to Winthrop,’’ Tobey said.

“Winthrop is a peninsula with one entrance and one exit, but something is better than nothing. I’m less keen on not having anything.’’

If all goes as planned, the 12-year wait could end next spring, when the project is estimated to begin.

Completion is estimated for December 2013. The conservation department estimates the trucking option will cost $37 million, compared with the estimated $25.8 million for offshore dredging and $47.5 million for the barge operation.

“Certainly this is a long-awaited project for us,’’ said Winthrop Town Manager James McKenna.

“Nobody wanted to see trucking happen, that’s for darn sure, but the higher-ups in the food chain didn’t want to see [the dredging] happen. Right now we’re sort of sitting ducks, if you will. If [a storm] of any size comes at us, it’s a real challenge. The fact that this will become a real public safety measure that will protect the people of that area, will be a positive.’’

Approximately 4,500 people, or 25 percent of the town, live in the vicinity of Winthrop Beach, according to the Department of Conservation and Recreation. For years the beach has been exposed to storms that cause significant flooding and continued erosion.

According to the state, in the period between the 1950s and 1999, a portion of the beach slope dropped four to eight feet. Since 1999, the beach has eroded an additional three feet, with no signs of stopping.

The abandoned highway embankment in Saugus and Revere was selected as a source site because of its proximity to Winthrop, according to project records filed with the state. It is controlled by the Department of Conservation and Recreation and is located within Rumney Marsh, west of Route 107 in Saugus, and extends to Copeland Circle in Revere.

The sand material was stored there as part of a proposed extension of I-95 to Lynn and Peabody, which was scrapped in the 1970s. Some of the material was used to replenish Revere Beach approximately 20 years ago.

Because the sand grains from the embankment are smaller than the ones at Winthrop Beach, the amount necessary to cover the 37 acres was increased from 500,000 to 650,000 cubic yards.

Dump trucks with a maximum capacity of 20 cubic yards will carry approximately 17 cubic yards of sand on state roadways into Winthrop on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., an estimated 130-170 trips per day, for approximately two years.

Revere and Winthrop officials were consulted about the proposed haul route, which would go from Route 107 in Saugus or Copeland Circle in Revere, through Revere and to Winthrop Shore Drive, according to project details.

State conservation officials also propose transferring about 40,000 cubic yards of sand from Yirrell Beach in Winthrop to Winthrop Beach, because sand there has accumulated to the point that it’s being washed over the seawall. However, the state Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Department of Environmental Protection disagree with that assessment.

Although this plan has already been approved by the Winthrop Conservation Commission, it should be reviewed by Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act officials, wrote Richard K. Sullivan Jr., state secretary of environmental affairs, in a project certificate issued Sept. 30. Sullivan determined that the project change did not require an additional environmental impact report.

“The Department of Conservation and Recreation can proceed to permitting of this important and long-anticipated project that will restore storm protection, recreation and habitat to Winthrop Beach,’’ Sullivan wrote.

The project requires permits from the Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and orders of conditions from the Saugus and Revere conservation commissions.

McKenna said he plans on forming a taskforce that will arrange meetings with residents and pass on any concerns and comments to the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“Communication on this issue is going to be very important,’’ McKenna said. “Setting proper expectations with the public will be important.’’

Tobey said this is going to be disruptive and expensive, but necessary.

“It’s going to be annoying to have trucks coming in for months, but at the end of the tunnel there will be a beach, so that you don’t have to be terrified of every single storm,’’ she said. “I’ll put up with whatever I have to put up with to get that protection.’’

Katheleen Conti can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.