EAST ORLEANS — Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton turned his head Tuesday and admired the view of waves rolling in and sliding up Nauset Beach from the rounded top of a protective wall of sand.
He then acknowledged the loss of Liam’s restaurant, a fixture at the popular beach, that until a few months ago stood on that spot but was lost almost overnight to an implacable series of storms and nearly 60 feet of erosion.
“It’s such a sad memory of what happened this past winter,” Beaton said. “The Cape and Islands have the most beautiful, but also the most vulnerable, of natural resources in the world.”
Beaton joined Cape legislators and town officials Tuesday afternoon to unveil the region’s share — $284,000 out of $2.16 million to 82 towns statewide — of grants to assist with planning to address climate change vulnerability. The planning effort is the first step to securing larger grants to help implement solutions.
Ten Cape towns, three towns on Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket went through the application process to enter the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Program. Two other Cape towns, Sandwich and Falmouth, had completed their application last year, the first year of the program. Grants of between $15,000 and $100,000, with amounts awarded according to a state formula of vulnerability and population, will be used to help towns assess their problems areas, develop adaptations and create a list of priority actions.
On Friday, the state will announce approximately $3 million in “Action Grants” of between $10,000 and $400,000 to help municipalities who received their Municipal Vulnerability Program designation last year to implement portions of the prioritized wish list.
The Cape was especially hard hit by a series of nor’easters, a prolonged deep freeze and other storms this winter that brought flooding, erosion and wind damage to the area.
“Climate change is real,” said Beaton, adding that this winter’s storms helped prompt Gov. Charlie Baker to put more money into the program to help towns struggling from the onslaught of punishing weather.
The $5 million for the 2018 municipal program is a major increase over the $500,000 allotted in its first year. Baker’s $1.4 billion environmental bond bill, currently before the state Legislature, contains $300 million in money for climate change projects, with $50 million of that dedicated to the Municipal Vulnerability Program.
When towns like Orleans were willing to dig into their pockets to find the money to fund climate change adaptions, the state should be there to help, said state Rep. Sarah Peake D-Provincetown, who attended Tuesday’s announcement along with Reps. Timothy Whelan, R-Brewster, and William Crocker, R-Centerville.
Faced with the reality that the erosion rate has increased from three feet to 12 feet a year and last year ate up nearly 60 feet of shoreline, Orleans has been planning for years for a retreat inland for Nauset Beach parking and administration facilities. Town officials are hoping to gain some time until that move is approved by excavating a portion of the parking lot to rebuild a larger protective dune than the one quickly assembled after this year’s storms.
“Cape Cod has the most beautiful beaches, that’s what drives the economy here,” said Whelan. “The moment we lose our beaches, we’re in for a lot of trouble.”
“If we do not have the infrastructure for our visitors, they are not going to come,” Crocker said.
Steve McKenna, the Cape and Islands regional coordinator for the state’s Office of Coastal Zone Management, said the Municipal Vulnerability Program would likely become the first step in qualifying for future coastal resilience and adaptation grants from other agencies.
In his two dozen years at at Coastal Zone Management he’s seen the shift in municipal requests from help with water quality issues to climate issues, McKenna said.
Orleans would use its $25,000 grant to develop an overall hazard mitigation plan that identifies areas at risk, said George Meservey, the town’s director of planning and community development. During this winter’s storms there were portions of the town where access was cut off because the roads were underwater, he said.
“We have a very vulnerable older population that is spread around to some of the most vulnerable areas,” Meservey said.