A $500,000 Sand Dune Built to Protect Coastal Homes Washes Away in Days

By: Alex Trent | Published: Mar 16, 2024

The residents of Salisbury Massachusetts are now out an expensive investment that was meant to protect them from ocean tides.

The sand dune, which reportedly cost $500,000, was washed away in only a matter of days after high tides rolling in completely swept it away. Homes in the area are now exposed if a future storm decides to come after them.

A Community Sand Dune

Homeowners in the area of Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts reportedly invested over $500,000 in an effort to bring in over 14,000 tons of sand.

A rock lays in the sand on a beach.

Source: Donna G/Usnplash

They hoped to use this sand to create a barrier between their homes and the rising tides of the oceans. However, in only 72 hours, all that hard work was ruined when the ocean waves destroyed the barrier.


Bad Timing

Just a week after the sand dune was finished, a huge storm rolled in with large waves and high tides. Rick Rigoli, an overseer of the dune project spoke to WCVB about the intensity of what residents have been up against.

Storm clouds gather over an ocean.

Source: Daniel Lerman/Unsplash

“We got hit with three storms—two in January, one now—at the highest astronomical tides possible,” Rigoli said.

Storm after Storm

This is not the first time that this sand dune strategy has been thwarted by the ocean. The current crisis reportedly began in December 2022, when winter storms had been constantly taking away sand that was part of sand dune barriers.

Waves crash as storm clouds hover overhead in the ocean.

Source: Matt Hardy/Unsplash

“All of our friends and neighbors, we are all scrambling for sand right now. Another storm coming on Tuesday,” said Larry Kady a Salisbury Beach resident.

Terrible Storms

Chuck Takesian, a member of the Salisbury Board of Selectmen, described a particularly bad storm that happened in mid-January 2022. “It is devastating, one of the worst storms I have ever seen,” Takesian said.

Violent waves crash as seagulls fly over them.

Source: Fer Nando/Unsplash

These storms would continue to roll in with severe conditions as residents would continually scramble to get their hands on as much sand as possible.

A Way of Life

While residents living near the beach haven’t gotten used to living through these storms, it has become a way of life for some. Tom Saab has lived on the beach since 1971 and emphasized the importance of preparation.

A photo of people hanging around Salibury Beach in Massachusetts.

Source: Whoisjohngalt/Wikimedia

“If you want to live here on Salisbury Beach, that is how we live. We analyze it, we look at storms coming, look at the tide level, the ocean level. You have to prepare the best you can,” Saab said.


Support for the Community

The Massachusetts Department of Conversation and Recreation (DCR) has been working with the local residents to bring in much-needed sand, but it seems like all efforts thus far are continually eroding away.

Waves roll in at the Salisbury Beach in Salisbury, Massachusetts.

Source: John Phelan/Wikimedia

“The dune is completely gone, and the homes are now going to absorb that energy, which is not what you want,” said Kady in January.


DCR’s Commitment

A spokesperson for DCR avowed the commitment the department has to see the needs of these residents through.

An interstate sign in Massachusetts seen while entering Salisbury, Massachusetts.

Source: Famartin/Wikimedia

“As we continue to see more and more severe weather, DCR is committed to working to support the Salisbury community. We continue to meet regularly with the legislative delegation and the Town and are partnering with them and with community members to address the impacts of climate-change erosion at the beach.”


Why Are the Storms so Intense?

According to Weather Underground, changing conditions in the Gulf Stream have led to a recent intensity of storms battering the New England Coast. Every year it seems like storms are breaking records for high water levels and wind speed.

A storm causing flooding and waves to crash against a shoreline.

Source: Thomas Dewey/Unsplash

As the global temperature rises every year, storms pull warmer water from the ocean. This fuels the storm because of the extra water vapor and heat that are drawn in.


Melting Sea Ice

Another factor contributing to high tide conditions in Salisbury is the increasing melting of sea ice into the Earth’s oceans. As sea ice melts due to warmer temperatures, it raises the sea level. This causes floods to become more devastating when they start creeping upon land.

Ice floes in Iceland floating on the water.

Source: Emma Francis/Unsplash

While global temperature may seem like a minor thing, even a small increase can have a multitude of different effects people wouldn’t ordinarily think of.


Coastal Erosion

The rising global temperature not only increases storm intensity and leads to increased flooding, but it also can cause intense coastal erosion. This factor may be key in explaining why the Salisbury community’s efforts to build sand dunes are constantly failing.

A coastline undergoing the effects of erosion, putting homes closer to the ocean.

Source: Arjan Billan/Unsplash

High sea levels lead to constant erosion, destroying these dune barriers and inching the shoreline closer and closer to the ocean.


Worries Ahead

With the latest attempt at building a sand dune gone, the members of the community are dreading looking at the weather forecast every morning.

Lightning crackles in the sky as dark clouds loom overhead.

Source: NOAA/Unsplash

Ron Rigoli had previously lost his tennis court in a storm. Many residents are stuck where they are, as it’s difficult to sell their houses because of the dangers in the area.