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Ballston Beach house moved landward: safe from brink of collapse 

Contractors prepare to move the Ballston Beach house at 133 South Pamet Road landward.
Eve Zuckoff
Contractors prepare to move the Ballston Beach house at 133 South Pamet Road landward.

Sam Houghton: Good morning. A Ballston Beach home atop an eroding dune was brought to the brink of collapse by the weekend blizzard, but just yesterday the house was moved back from the edge. CAI's Eve Zuckoff was there to watch the process and she joins us live now. Hi Eve.

Eve Zuckoff: Hey there, Sam.

Sam Houghton: So you stayed out there till after dark to watch contractors move this house back from the edge of the dune. How did they actually move such a thing?

Eve Zuckoff: Well, yeah, it took this team from New Hampshire all day, and what they were working with was this house on maybe a dozen 40-foot-tall stilts, these pilings, as they're called. They're driven 10 feet below sea level. So they're really sturdy and they are actually what managed to keep the house up during the storm, even as 40 feet of the dune eroded beneath the house. And the goal was to relieve the pressure, get the home off the stilts and slide it landward. So yesterday afternoon, these contractors set up cribbing, which is like a temporary wooden structure used to support everything during construction. They did that underneath the house, on the beach below. Then they set up jacks to elevate the house, and finally they slid in these beams that the house could rest on and then be slid out with.

Sam Houghton: Wow, that sounds like quite a process. And did everything go according to plan?

Eve Zuckoff: Well, I'll be honest, there was a moment around 5 p.m. where the daylight came to an end and it wasn't looking very good. The beams were all slid underneath the house, but the pilings still needed to be disconnected and the projected 4 o'clock move time was long gone. There were some stragglers left on the beach like, "Ooh, how are they going to do this tonight?" But then around 6 p.m. -- well, I'm going to let Truro conservation agent Emily Beebe describe what happened.

Emily Beebe: "This was something that was so simple and practical and elegant.... In literally about five minutes using a Bobcat that was chained to the house, they pulled the house back from where it was hanging over the beach so that it was now on land. Probably, I think, a 25 or 30 foot move."

Just before 6:00 p.m., contractors began to move the home. It took just a few minutes to move it 25-30 feet.
Eve Zuckoff
Just before 6:00 p.m., contractors began to move the home. It took just a few minutes to move it 25-30 feet.

Sam Houghton: Wow, that's pretty amazing stuff. And to be clear, how dire was the situation for this house? You know, if it wasn't moved this week, was it really in danger of toppling over?

Eve Zuckoff: I mean, just looking at it, it was a pretty scary sight. Like one piling had started to break in recent days after neighbors on the beach actually told me something from the house above fell down onto it. Over the last few days, you know the outdoor shower fell -- people showed me pictures of that. In fact, the person overseeing the work, Greg Morris, told me the reason the home was moved in the dark is that there were concerns about what yet another high tide could do. Because even if the home is held up on the pilings through another storm or high tide, if the dune had eroded further, the contractors may not have had anywhere to put not only their equipment, but the home. They needed to slide the home back onto something. And if there was no dune left to really do that, the only option could be pretty much to tear down the house.

Sam Houghton: Yeah. And how did the situation get so serious before the home was moved back? I mean, this dune is known as a hotspot for erosion, right?

Eve Zuckoff: Well, you know, I think that's one of the more interesting things here. It depends on who you ask. A lot of people feel really bad for the homeowners. They say: they have been trying to get permission to move this home. Over the summer, the Conservation Commission granted them permission to move the home back onto their own abutting property. But then just last week, their attorney went in front of the zoning board and the members said, "Look, we can't agree to the terms that you want to move the home back on. We don't want to set precedent on Cape Cod National Seashore in the way you've asked us. We agree you need to move the house, but we're not the body to grant you the permission to find a permanent location right now. There's more steps to go through." So some people feel really bad for them.

On the flip side, there are those that say, "You know what? These homeowners bought this place just a few years ago as a rental property, knowing that it had been moved back in 2010 and would likely need to be moved again. Then they went to ask the zoning board for emergency permission to move them home back in the way that maybe let them skip a few steps." This is the opinion of some people. So I think this home actually taps into a complicated conversation about wealth and power and how you manage property on a rapidly changing coastline.

Sam Houghton: Yeah, that's interesting. Now, what's next for a home like this?

Eve Zuckoff: Well, today that crew from New Hampshire will pick up where they left off, turn the house and glide it down onto its next temporary resting place on cribbing on the adjacent property. Then the property owner will go back to the town's Zoning Board of Appeals and make a proposal to them about kind of what comes next so that the house can be moved to a more permanent location.

Sam Houghton: OK, that is CAI's environmental reporter Eve Zuckoff. Eve, thanks for staying up late, getting that story and thanks for joining us live this morning.

Eve Zuckoff: Thank you, Sam.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.
Sam Houghton left CAI in February, 2023, to become News Editor at the Martha's Vineyard Times.
He worked at CAI since the summer of 2017. Before that, he worked at the Falmouth Enterprise, where he covered local politics.