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Brewster: Relocation of Vulnerable Infrastructure

Find a description of this featured project funded through the Coastal Resilience Grant Program administered by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

The Coastal Resilience Grant Program provides funding and technical assistance to municipalities and nonprofits to advance innovative local efforts to address coastal flooding, erosion, and sea level rise impacts through communication and public outreach initiatives, vulnerability assessments, planning activities, engineering projects, and natural storm damage protection.

The summary below describes a featured Coastal Resilience Grant project to highlight the range of projects eligible for funding and to demonstrate some of the lessons learned through project implementationCoastal Resilience Grant Program - Featured Projects provides links to additional examples.

Project Summary

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2014, the Town of Brewster received two grants to plan, design, permit, and construct a project Breakwater Beach Landing:

  • Project Categories: Vulnerability and Risk Assessment, Public Education and Communication, Redesign and Retrofit, and Nature-Based Storm Damage Protection
  • Summary: The town studied sand volumes and movement along the shoreline, identified beaches and other natural systems at risk of erosion and sea level rise impacts, and developed engineering plans and permit documents for relocating vulnerable parking infrastructure at Breakwater Beach Landing.  The town relocated the seaward-most portion of the Breakwater Beach parking lot to a more inland and elevated area, constructed vegetated dunes in its place to provide storm damage protection, and provided a seasonal boardwalk for beach access.
Summary of Project Funding

$200,000 (Planning, Design, Permitting)

$155,000 (Construction)

Total Match: $167,750 (47% of total project cost)

Community Overview

Brewster is a rural coastal town on Cape Cod. The town’s six miles of shoreline, bordering Cape Cod Bay, attract a seasonal population of 25,000 people and support a largely tourism-based economy. Brewster owns and maintains 10 public landings that are heavily used by residents and visitors to access public beaches and approximately 12,000 acres of tidal flats that become exposed as the sea recedes two miles offshore at low tide.

Climate Impact

Storm impacts—including dune washover, flooding, and erosion—have impacted Brewster’s beach parking areas, beaches, roads, and access points. The town has been expending significant effort and funds trying to repair these landings and restore the natural systems surrounding them after storm events. In some areas, including Breakwater Beach Landing, which includes one of the town’s largest beach parking lots and is the only landing providing access for emergency response, up to 20 feet of dune and coastal bank have been lost in a single storm event.

As demand for access increases, and more severe storms and rising sea level exacerbate flooding and erosion risks, Brewster is considering long-term strategies to reduce repetitive damages and enhance the environment while maintaining public access. Breakwater Beach Landing is one of two landings where land is available to allow retreat and restoration of natural systems to protect critical public infrastructure.

Project Goals

The town received two Coastal Resilience Grants in Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) to design, permit, and construct a project to relocate vulnerable infrastructure away from the shoreline and restore protective natural resources. The goals of Brewster’s project were to remove approximately 10,300 square feet of a paved parking lot at Breakwater Beach Landing, relocate the parking area approximately 375 feet from the beach, and restore the coastal beach and dune system to provide a natural buffer to storm and sea level rise impacts. The town also installed a vegetated swale that would help to improve water quality by capturing and removing pollutants from stormwater runoff.

Approach and Results

Planning and design of the relocation project began in September 2014. The project team established a science-based approach to assess coastal landform vulnerability and develop a restoration plan, which included:

  • Identifying the direction, volume, and rate of sediment moving along the town’s coastline.
  • Identifying and monitoring natural systems (e.g., coastal dunes, beaches, coastal banks, salt marshes, tidal estuaries, etc.) at the 10 public landings.
  • Developing a site plan for relocating the landings landward and restoring habitat at Breakwater Beach Landing.

Brewster’s Coastal Committee, made up of citizens appointed by the Board of Selectmen, worked closely with the project team, reviewing draft products and assisting in public outreach and communication activities. To help build citizen support for the proposed coastal resilience measures and obtain community input, the town hosted public information meetings, developed press releases and public service announcements, created a web page for project updates and products, and provided direct outreach to specific landowner and community groups to explain project goals and benefits.

As design plans progressed, the project team initiated the permitting under the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act (M.G.L. Ch. 131 Section 40) and the Brewster Wetlands Protection Bylaw. The project resulted in:

  • Removal of 10,300 square feet of paved parking lot located within 140 feet of the beach.
  • Construction of vegetated coastal dunes that could serve as a resilient natural buffer to storm damage and sea level rise.  
  • Relocation of a parking area more than 375 feet away from the beach and approximately five feet higher than existing elevation to improve protection of infrastructure assuming three feet of sea level rise over the next 50 years.
  • Installation of a pathway constructed of articulated concrete blocks to allow vehicle access to the beach and a seasonal boardwalk for improved pedestrian access.

Site plans for the Breakwater Beach improvements are available on the Brewster Natural Resources & Shellfish web page in a presentation that discusses the town’s long-term planning efforts to address public landings.

Lessons Learned

This project demonstrated the importance of increasing public awareness and understanding of the risks of coastal storms and climate change, while also building community support for implementing innovative adaptation measures. This support is needed for most shoreline management measures, but particularly for projects involving changes to existing land use and development patterns, such as relocating infrastructure and facilities away from vulnerable areas and restoring landforms to function more naturally. A commitment to providing public information and input opportunities can help build a common understanding about the purpose, goals, and expected outcomes of the project.

In Brewster, the initial public outreach efforts did not provide enough time for residents to fully review and provide feedback on the project. Citizens’ concerns about the relocation of the parking lot therefore remained, and the project was appealed under the Wetlands Protection Act. The project team then worked to address the public’s questions and concerns through additional public meetings and direct outreach with property owners, resulting in project approval during a special town meeting. The project was successfully constructed, but the additional outreach efforts required more time than anticipated in the project schedule. This project underscores the importance of building community engagement into a project timeline. Through the project, the town recognized the need for a comprehensive plan to address coastal change. To address these needs, Brewster obtained a subsequent Coastal Resilience Grant specifically to build consensus among stakeholders on critical town-wide issues and future adaptation strategies.

Project Success

The historic winter storms in 2018 were a major test for this project.  Inspection of the site in March, following that winter’s third major northeaster, revealed that the project functioned as designed, and the natural function of the reconstructed coastal dune protected the town parking lot. The coastal dune experienced some minor erosion on the west side of the site, and all of the access fencing and signage were intact. There was no damage to the parking lot, and the site required no additional sand nourishment or maintenance of any kind.

Partners and Other Support

This project was managed by Brewster’s Natural Resource Department, with additional staff support from the Conservation Commission, Planning, Public Works, and Fire and Rescue Departments.  The town partnered with coastal engineers, geologists, and wetland scientists to complete the scientific and engineering assessments.  CZM provided planning guidance and technical assistance throughout the project.