Beach Town Residents Paid $600,000 for Sand. It Lasted a Few Days.

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The owners of beachfront homes in the seaside community of Salisbury Beach in northern Massachusetts spent nearly $600,000 to have around 15,000 tons of sand dropped near their properties to protect themselves from future storms.

But the Atlantic Ocean had something else coming. The high tide and winds that pounded the area on Sunday washed nearly half of the sand away, mere days after it was placed.

The storm left the beach area stripped and defenseless before the ocean waters that draw vacationers to that beach town every year.

“People are depressed, discouraged, angry,” said Tom Saab, the president of Salisbury Beach Citizens for Change, a group representing property owners that spearheaded the sand project. “The dunes did their job. They sacrificed themselves to protect the properties — no properties were really damaged.”

The citizens group decided in January to purchase the sand that was placed in mid-February along a 1.5 mile stretch of Salisbury Beach near the properties, Mr. Saab said. Around 150 buildings line the stretch of beach, including single houses and condos. The beach stretches for about four miles, and the adjoining properties are estimated to be collectively worth $2 billion, he said.

The sand dune project came to be after Salisbury Beach had been hit hard by storms over the past couple of months. It was inundated by a high tide and a nor’easter in December 2022, which “devastated” the beach, said Mr. Saab, who has lived on Salisbury Beach for decades.

In January, two more nor’easters hit the area, he said.

“Those two storms basically wiped the whole beach out,” Mr. Saab said of the January storms. “Properties were damaged — decks were destroyed,” he said, adding that stairways and patios had been damaged too. “One home was condemned, not allowed to be lived in,” he said.

In an effort to take matters into their own hands, the citizens group initiated the sand project in mid-February, raising the required funds from property owners. It had wrapped up the project last week, on Wednesday, March 7. It was cause for celebration, just a few days before the next washout.

“Everybody had beautiful dunes, all paid for out of their own pockets — not a penny from the State of Massachusetts at all,” Mr. Saab said. “We built this one and a half miles of beach ready to protect us.”

Then the nor’easter landed and took 50 percent of the sand and an estimated $300,000 worth of work, according to the group.

Two access points to the Salisbury Beach State Reservation were closed on Sunday and remained closed on Thursday because of storm damage, according to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Some area residents are calling for help from state leaders. They contend that state officials should chip in, partly because the protection afforded by the dunes extends beyond their properties to the infrastructure of the town and the state. The beach has received state and federal assistance before.

The state “remains in regular communication with representatives from the town, the legislative delegation and the community and will continue to work with them to address the impacts of erosion at the beach,” said a spokeswoman for the state’s Conservation and Recreation Department.

It is not uncommon for the East Coast to be struck by nor’easters and other storms, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

About half of Salisbury Beach properties have been owned by the same families since the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, and those owners are loath to renounce their ocean views, Mr. Saab said.

“Nobody wants to give up,” he said. “I will never give up on protecting Salisbury Beach.”



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