Edgartown officials met with representatives from federal and state government last week to walk the flattened moonscape of Norton Point and South Beach and take stock of needed repairs for the summer hotspot.

Three blustery winter storms have racked up nearly $2 million in damages, according to the town, but that may not be enough for the town to receive state or federal emergency funding for restoration, conservation agent Jane Varkonda said Wednesday. Ms. Varkonda joined parks commissioner Andrew Kelly and fire chief Alex Schaeffer at the meeting last week following the town’s recent emergency declaration

Whether or not emergency funding comes in, restoration work is already underway. 

New dunes are amassed along the beach. — Jonathan Fleischmann

The state as a whole would need to meet a $12.9 million threshold of damages in order to qualify for federal funding, and officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not seem confident that that threshold would get met, Ms. Varkonda said. In the meantime, the conservation and parks departments will continue to itemize their restoration work in case winds begin to change.

“That’s the most important thing you can do, is just document everything,” she said.

Workers have already begun forming new dunes on South Beach’s Left Fork, using dredged sand from Katama Bay and Herring Creek. Both water bodies had filled with sand after December and January’s storms. The town finished placing the sand at Left Fork earlier this week, although it will need to restore vegetation as soon as possible to ensure another windstorm does not blow the efforts away. 

The work has already depleted the bulk of the town’s dredging budget, Ms. Varkonda said, and more funds are needed to transport whatever sand is available on-Island. 

While the goal is to restore South Beach in time for the summer tourist season, Norton Point must ready itself for earlier visitors. Come spring, piping plovers will descend on the barrier beach and nest in the coastal dunes, assuming there are dunes to nest in. Although shorebird season officially starts April 1, Ms. Varkonda said the season is expected to come a few weeks earlier this year.

This week, the parks department will meet with its shorebird managers from Mass Audubon to get a lay of the land and see if the town will need to request special accommodations to get the beach habitable in time. If so, the town may need to coordinate replanting and snow fencing installation around nesting shorebird sites.

“Norton Point has changed dramatically,” Ms. Varkonda said. “The loss of vegetation will certainly make it harder for our shorebirds to settle in.”

As extreme storms are expected to hit the Island more frequently, the town is also looking into long-term plans for retreat. In 2022, the town applied for a grant to explore managed retreat at South Beach but neither the state Department of Conservation and Recreation nor the coastal zone management department supported the project, Ms. Varkonda said. 

Federal emergency funding is uncertain. — Jonathan Fleischmann

The application asked for roughly $1 million to explore moving back the lifeguard shack and creating 1,350 feet of new dune to offset ongoing erosion in the area, which loses an average of six to seven feet annually. Now, the town must perform much of the same work outlined in the grant retroactively.

  Funding is made more complicated by the fact that the beaches are owned by DCR but managed by the town, she said.

“We all knew we would be retreating eventually,” Ms. Varkonda said. “Sometimes the funding just isn’t there.”