Border Studies, Cape Cod style

ORLEANS —Just a week after Aimee Eckman was elected selectwoman a few years ago she was approached by a concerned resident. “You know Orleans is driving on Eastham’s beach,” he told her. She didn’t know. “I didn’t have any idea at all what they were talking about,” she said.

Since that comment, she has received many more in the same vein and began looking into it. Initially it seemed that Eastham had no recourse for its residents who have watched Nauset Spit grow longer and longer, marching out over their town line from Orleans.

But as other selectmen fielded the same complaints, the board decided to investigate, asking public works Superintendent Neil Andres to research where the town border was. His report that the sandy spit now, thanks to Mother Nature, extends a mile over the Eastham border, delineated in 1797, prompted the board to discuss some possibilities at a working meeting last week.

Although no official decisions have been made, on the table are a few possibilities. Eckman would be inclined to close the Eastham portion of the beach to ORV traffic to protect natural resources; others would like to reach out to Orleans and ask if Eastham residents can purchase off-road vehicle stickers at the same rate – $60. Currently, the northern portion of Nauset Beach is open only to Orleans residents, which has many in Eastham bridling. The southern portion, which extends into Chatham, is open to the public and Eastham residents pay $180 to enjoy it.
(Chatham and Orleans have an agreement whereby Chatham residents pay the same as Orleans folks, but that section of beach, which is shrinking, predates the formation of the two towns. All that revenue currently goes to Orleans because Chatham has so little beach remaining.)

When Paul Fulcher, superintendent of parks and beaches, checked into the ownership of the accreting spit, Town Counsel Michael Ford said that since the land was growing from Orleans, it belongs to Orleans. That opinion has been backed up a number of times in case law. If someone’s property erodes and then decades later sand extends across your old land from your neighbor’s, you don’t get it back.

But Eckman said the research shows that the inlet has moved and the sand over the line belongs to Eastham. “It certainly looks like Eastham has specific parcels out there,” said Eckman. “I think it’s something that can be looked at more.

“The parcels are in Eastham. You just can’t get there from here.”
Selectwoman Margie Fulcher said this was the first she had heard of Eastham’s claim and wished they had approached Orleans first.
“I had no idea at all,” she said.
The Orleans board hasn’t met since Eastham selectmen discussed the matter, but her board will likely to have something in writing before they talk about it.
“They’ll have to get a lawyer or a surveyor before we have any kind of discussions,” she said.


About livelongday

Associate Professor of German Studies, Director of Graduate Studies Co-Editor of Critical Multilingualism Studies | Co-Investigator, Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, the Body, Law, and the State (2014–2017)
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