Why Chatham should fill in the new breakthrough

Milden & Miller Maliciously Maligned Over Breach Brouhaha
No good deed goes unpunished

By Gerald Milden

After reading Walter Brooks' editorialized tirade I felt compelled to respond. His column was full of inaccuracies, distortions, cheap shots, venomous personal character assassinations, and senseless malicious vilifications directed at the organization S.O.S., Richard Miller, and me, Gerry Milden.

S.O.S. not an association of wealthy homeowners as implied in the Brooks missive.S.O.S. which is an acronym for Save Our Shorelines, is an informal community-based consortium, consisting of individuals from all sectors of Chatham and not an association of wealthy homeowners as implied in the Brooks missive. One of the organization's principal objectives was to assist Chatham officials in obtaining the necessary federal, state, and municipal funding and permits to rebuild the recently breached section of North Beach.

It was never the intentions of S.O.S. to have the town of Chatham pay the bulk of the cost of filing the breach. The original plan was to obtain most of the funds from federal programs which exist for this very purpose. In keeping with that goal it was S.O.S. which originated and helped organize the June 11 first-of-its-kind meeting at the state house where town, state, and federal officials from all the applicable departments met to discuss procedures to fund and fill the breach. S.O.S. was making good progress until the issue became so derisive, primarily due to the flow of misinformation, that the officials who could have aided that effort, understandably lost interest.

Hence my being maliciously attacked by Brooks is a classic example of the old proverb No good deed goes unpunishedContrary to what was written, Richard Miller is a hard working near-octogenarian. Dick helped found the Alliance for Pleasant Bay and has been a tireless and selfless worker on numerous other community and civic endeavors including the Cape's Center for Coastal Studies. He has lived in his North Chatham house since 1969 when it, and the land it's built on, cost very little. Back then North Beach, the barrier island protecting the mainland was ¾ of a mile wide and growing. Dick hopes to one day sell his house, as do many others in his age group, in order to support himself and his wife in their retirement years. Like so many others in this neighborhood his house, which is his major asset, is in danger of being inundated through the fault of others. I'll further explain that accusation later.

I own a house on Ministers Point which is about a mile from the breach. My efforts on behalf of S.O.S. and my views about the breach aren't related to a fear of losing my house to the Atlantic Ocean. That's because Ministers Point sits atop a unique formation that has stood the test of time. Maps and charts prove that over the past several hundred years although the sandy beach surrounding the Point has widened and narrowed, the upland area has remained unchanged. I was really out front on this issue to help neighbors who aren't as well situated. Hence my being maliciously attacked by Brooks is a classic example of the old proverb No good deed goes unpunished.

This part of the North Chatham waterfront is not lined with McMansions, as Brooks implied. The homes are for the most part, older and very modest. My house was built in 1926 and still retains most of its original features. The cottage next to me is 106 years old as is almost unchanged from the day it was built. Our homes are assessed for big numbers because in the past twenty years, waterfront properties have appreciated far faster than non waterfront properties ... as Brooks himself knows all to well since he too owns a home across from Pleasant Bay.

And while I'm on the subject of affluence let's cut the class warfare crap. There are many waterfront home owners who obtained them the old fashioned way ... they earned them. These second home owners, and the Cape's other summer residents, contribute around a third of the taxes and income to local businesses. That money creates jobs, subsidizes municipal services like schools, keeps the tax rate and rents for year round residents from doubling, and underwrites a very good living for a lot of year-rounders. And finally, because the real estate taxes on waterfront properties are way out of proportion to those collected on inland real estate, the non waterfront property taxes are far lower than they normally would be.

The reasons to close or not close the breach come down to three basic arguments: financial, personal philosophy and what's in the public interest. There is no reason for anyone to introduce class warfare or personal character assassinations into the fray and doing so merely misdirects the dialogue away from the real issues.

The Financial Ramifications

The Chatham Fishing Industry infuses 68 million dollars per year* into the local economy. 65% of that will be lost if the fish pier becomes landlocked as expectedIf the new breach does to the North Chatham shoreline what the '87 breach did to the Holway/Andrew Hardings shoreline the economic and environmental consequences will be substantial. The Chatham Fishing Industry infuses 68 million dollars per year* into the local economy. 65% of that will be lost if the fish pier becomes landlocked as is expected, or is destroyed entirely.

The town's potential loss of public and private property is also considerable. The consequences of not filling the breach will undoubtedly include the total eradication of the southern section of North Beach and the homes built on it, as well as the possible destruction of several mainland residences and an inestimable amount of mainland shoreline, which includes numerous public facilities and wildlife habitat.

Almost all of the mainland and North Beach property owners whose properties could be adversely affected by the breach should it become an inlet, are non-residents. The town now assesses those properties for $359,947,300.00 and that annually generates $1,328,460.00 in real estate taxes, not including personal property taxes. The town could lose several hundreds of thousands of dollars per year in tax revenue and do so for a period of up to seven years because that's how long it took property values to return to their pre '87 values in the Holway/Andrew Hardings area. The town would also be subject to reoccurring appraisal and legal costs and there's the lost taxes the state, town and land bank fund get on the sale of property and the fees on real estate sales commissions. It's hard to find to estimate the total amount of lost dollars but several tens of millions of dollars would not be an unreasonable guess-ti-mate. Nearly all of the waterfront homes are owned by summer residents, they hardly use any town services such as the schools, so their cost to the town is virtually nil hence their tax contributions, not to mention their spending for services and goods, represents almost pure unadulterated profit to the community. Also negatively affected but not included in the previous numbers, are the commercial properties in the area, and lost tourism dollars due to the loss of North Chatham beaches and attractions.

Property owners will have to spend up to $4.5 million dollars to protect their propertiesNow let's briefly look at the consequential costs to property owners that they will sustain armoring their properties. We don't as yet have an accurate count as to how many properties will need to be armored or re-armored ... re-armoring means either replacing their wooden bulkheads with stone revetments or raising the height of existing rock revetments ... but it's probably around a quarter of them. The affected endangered properties represent approximately 22,500 lineal feet of shoreline, so roughly 5600 feet will have to be protected from erosion. It costs at least $800 per foot to design, permit, and build a stone revetment. So property owners will have to spend up to 4.5 million dollars to protect their properties.

The aforementioned financial facts are a superficial glossary of only part of the economic impact the new inlet will have. They did not include the loss of tourism dollars, the annual cost to the town of Chatham to dredge Pleasant Bay in order to keep recreational and commercial boating channels open, or lost quality of life issues. But my point is ... had we gotten the bulk of the 2 or 3 million dollars to fill the breach from the federal government and lesser amounts from the state and town it would have saved in the neighborhood of 60 million direct and indirect dollars. So from a dollars and cents point of view filling the breach would have generated a favorable cost to benefit ratio of at least 20 to 1. That means for every one dollar spent filling the breach, the community would have received twenty dollars in financial benefits plus an incalculable amount of non-financial betterments. Time will prove our group was right, hence my prediction ... that in years to come not filling the breach will prove to be a case of penny wise and dollar foolish.

The Personal Philosophy Arguments

As far as I can tell the main philosophical argument against filling the breach was the "don't mess with mother nature" theory. Well if we "didn't mess" with mother nature there wouldn't be a Cape Cod Canal. Because of the canal, untold numbers of ships and countless lives have been saved from sinkings and drownings on the treacherous shoals off the Cape. On a grander scale we are also "messing with mother nature" by saving the Amazon and which is being done for a very good reason ... because it filters the planet's air. So why not also preserve barrier islands which function as a first line of defense and protection for the mainland?

The fact is federal, state and local governments are renourishing barrier islands and beaches all along the east coastThe fact is federal, state and local governments are renourishing barrier islands and beaches all along the east coast. These projects create wildlife habitat and bolster the islands so they protect the mainland, which is exactly what nature intended for barrier islands to do. Of particular note is the fact that some National Seashore Parks nourish beaches so the practice of those on the Cape is not consistent with an organization-wide policy. As a matter of fact if the Cape Cod Seashore Park bureaucrats hadn't interfered with the noninvasive renourishment of North Beach these past several years the break might never have occurred.

The argument "you can't fight mother nature" is also questionable. If we can go to the moon, build skyscrapers, build massive dams and divert rivers, I'm quite certain we can engineer natural structures on barrier islands so that they hold up to most wave energy.

As for the "interfering with the natural order of things" ... if we're going to let nature take its course than let's let the pandas, peregrines and plovers fend for themselves. If nature had intended for them to survive they would. If they're going extinct, because of mankind or for whatever reason, so be it, that's nature's natural course, survival of the fittest, the law of natural selection. I'm not advocating the extinction of species but I am saying the "don't mess with mother nature" argument is baloney, when it suits us we alter mother nature all the time.

In The Pubic Interest Argument

Hundreds of North Chatham non-waterfront inland residents as well as thousands of other individuals will be affected by the new inlet. These include fisherman, recreational boaters, shore walkers, wildlife enthusiasts, users of the Cow Yard, Scatteree, and Cotchpinicut Beaches, and those with moorings along the North Chatham waterfront to name only a few.

Closing the breach would have among numerous other benefits resulted in preserving the recreational and commercial boating uses of the bay by keeping navigation channels open without the need for costly dredging.

I see far more public benefit to a project that benefits an entire part of town than a sewer line that benefits a handful of housesAnd when it comes to public interest, towns such as Chatham are always agreeing to extend sewer lines to benefit a dozen or less residents on a street. I see far more public benefit to a project that benefits an entire part of town than a sewer line that benefits a handful of houses but the latter is still done because it is in the public interest, as is the construction of schools, roads, affordable housing, and the myriad of other projects which are undertaken by the community because they are in the public interest ... despite the fact they only benefit a small number of individuals.

I hope this has clarified some of the misconceptions surrounding the Chatham breach issue. No one should be permitted to unfairly demonize others for their participation in the civic process. If the accusers are allowed condemn other members of the community without being challenged, then no one will want to participate in the process and our system will be corrupted.

* Based on calculations from the 2002 Barnstable County Fishery Data study.

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