The houses on Plum Island, Massachusetts, on the north shore of Boston, were cruelly battered by the latest of the unrelenting winter storms that have hit this region from February 9 through the middle of March. But most of those houses were already in bad shape, with some condemned to be removed even before the ocean did the job.
Forget Plum Island; check out Martha’s Vineyard, where erosion from storms, currents, wind, breaches and rip tides has so battered large, new, well built mansions that one in particular is teetering on the edge of a cliff and if nothing is done to save it, will soon lose its life.
Rick Schifter’s home is no small potatoes. Built about 10 years ago by the Washington lawyer who wanted a vacation palace on the ocean where he could fish and where his four daughters and their families could eventually each have their own wing, he bought the huge, unspoiled property at the end of the road, and money was no object but the view was paramount.
He got the view. More view than he expected.
Wasque Point, on Chappaquiddick Island, a short ferry ride from the Vineyard, means “end of the earth” in American Indian-speak. End of the earth now is the most literal term that Rick Schifter has ever heard. When he bought the spectacular piece of land on Wasque (for $5 million), you could see practically 360 degrees of ocean from it. Looking East, if you had very good eyes, you would see Portugal. Looking West, Edgartown Harbor, where most of the tourist activity on Martha’s Vineyard takes place. Mostly, the ocean view was amazing.
So Schifter proceeded to tear down the little fishing shack that had been on the land for 100 years quietly existing with the nature all around it, and started to dig a foundation for a 10,000-square-foot structure that…o.k., it was going to be a McMansion.
A beautiful one, well built, of the finest wood and stone — lots of stone — looking like a private English school, with angles and peaked rooftops and sited to make use of every view of the sea from every window. To comply with strict Vineyard height restrictions, he dug deep into the hill that had been there for 100 years and lowered his house so that he could have the three floors he wanted and plenty of second-story views up top. Granted, he went a little crazy below ground, adding a bowling alley and a movie theater in the basement.
Then he added a swimming pool on an island where most longtime residents are happy to jump into the ocean for a swim. Then he added a guest house, and a basketball court, and brought in servants to clean, housesit, receive the regular wine deliveries, prepare the house for his daughter’s massive wedding, and generally look after things when he was back in Washington.
He could not, however, order the Lord to leave his cliff alone.
The Lord said do not build your house on sand, and in effect, that’s what Schifter did. The rains came, and the winds, and the storms, one of which broke through a protective sand barrier beach, with the result that the current from the ocean came through Edgartown Harbor and swept around Schifter’s point of land with a nasty vengeance, washing it away, at first slowly and then faster and faster. Last summer it was eating at the cliff and taking it away at a rate of a foot a day. The wooden steps of the nearby Fisherman’s Parking Lot fell into the sea never to be seen again. And the water kept eating at the cliff, leaving tree roots and brush sticking out. The public swimming beach near the Schifter house was declared unfit for swimming anymore, because the current was so wild that riptides would kill a strong swimmer…and did.
Before the erosion began in earnest last year, it would take 10 minutes to walk from where his home is down to the water’s edge. Perhaps three to four football fields of land stretched from his front door to the beach, and on the beach, yards and yards of sand before you reached the shore.
No more. Schifter has brought in a system of “coirs”(huge burlap rolls filled with sand) to barricade his cliff and stop it from falling away, but it hasn’t worked; the cliff is still eroding and getting closer and closer to his house. The beach has gone, and the waves lap angrily at the cliff, wanting more and more of it. Each storm this winter has cut more cliff away, and the wind from the last few has been angry and greedy, blowing that great cliff away until the house now sits a few feet from the edge.
In a panic, Schifter has bought the vacation house of his nearest neighbor, whose lot was further inland from the ocean’s edge. His latest plan is to move the whole house — yes, the 10,000-square-foot, $10 million monstrosity — away from the ocean’s wrath and closer to the neighbor’s yard, which is now his, in hopes of saving the structure. This he plans to do in the spring, if the town of Edgartown allows it.
If he doesn’t do something quickly, one of the largest houses ever to surrender to nature’s fury will throw in the towel…along with the swimming pool, the basketball court, the bowling alley, the home theater, and everything else. And God wins.
We will keep you posted.