Are Geotubes the Answer to Nantucket’s Climate Change Threat?

The homeowners may have won the first round, but as the years dragged on, Mr. Posner said, he and his neighbors were becoming increasingly frustrated that they hadn’t received approval to expand the project. Opponents of the project said they had the photos to prove the geotubes were causing erosion on other Nantucket beaches, despite the sacrificial sand. The homeowners countered that there was no erosion on the beaches on either end of the tubes or in front of them, and wasn’t that proof the strategy was a success?

Each side accused the other of cherry-picking data.

“We’ve had a wonderful run here,” Mr. Posner said, as I walked with him out to the edge of his tidy yard with its heart-stopping view and looked back at his cottage. “If it really all washed away, it would be a tragedy, but we’ve got no hard feelings. What keeps me awake at night is not losing the house. It’s knuckling under to unthinking nonsense. We have clearly demonstrated an effective and balanced way to adapt to climate change without harming others that many coastal communities can learn from.”

In 2020, the homeowners group decided to stop adding sacrificial sand. It made no sense, Mr. Posner said, to continue to spend $2 million a year on a project that had no hope of expansion. “We told the town, ‘We’re done. We can’t afford to keep complying with the permit.’ And the town came to us and said, ‘Don’t give up. We’re going to hire an outside expert, and if your project passes muster, we will join with you and march hand in hand down this road as partners.’”

About a year ago, Arcadis, an environmental company hired by the town, issued its report, 50-plus pages weighing the costs and benefits of all sorts of options: keeping the tubes, removing the tubes, extending the tubes, beach nourishment, vegetation and more. It is a remarkable document that reads rather like a mediation agreement between a divorcing couple, as it attempts to hash out what has become a bitter fight over how to handle the very real effects of climate change.

Boiled down, it essentially says that keeping the tubes may be the least costly strategy — albeit a temporary one — but that if the community can’t agree to do that, it had better think long and hard about planning a “managed retreat” in the face of cataclysmic coastal erosion.

“It has come down to this bizarre battle between the people who are sitting on the edge of the world, who want to save their homes, and those who think they should not be allowed to do so,” said Mr. Cohan, the journalist, who wrote about his community’s travails for Vanity Fair in 2013. He and his wife, Deborah Futter, a book editor, bought their shingle-style house in 2009 — at $600,000, he said, it seemed both a steal and incredibly risky — and moved it in 2014 (for more than it cost to buy it). They are now resigned to losing it altogether.

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