Crews moving the house will dig a giant trench around the foundation — 450 feet long, 20 feet deep, and within 30 feet of the cliff’s edge — so that the entire basement (bowling alley and movie theater included) can be lifted on steel beams and rolled on dollies with the house to its new location.
The New York company handling the move has previously relocated numerous lighthouses (including, in 2007, a Nantucket lighthouse threatened by erosion), a Minneapolis theater, and a Newark airport terminal that weighed more than 7,000 tons, according to its website.
The scale of the four-month Chappaquiddick project has attracted the attention of the Vineyard’s Wampanoag tribe, which wants to protect any tribal artifacts potentially in the house’s path, as well as the Trustees of Reservations, the nonprofit conservation group that owns the pristine beachfront preserve next to the Schifters. Recent erosion has swallowed much of the 200-acre property, including a parking lot, stairs and boardwalks; the wide expanse of white sand beach, open to the public, has narrowed to a strip beneath the cliffs.
Despite the local concerns, Schifter said his family has felt buoyed by waves of support.
“I recognize there are some people who may feel we deserve it, for building on property that turned out to be more fragile than we envisioned,” he said. “But we have gotten a lot of offers of help and expressions of sympathy, and my sense is that the overwhelming majority of people are supportive of our effort to save the house.”
On a windy day late last month, the rumble of heavy equipment on his land drowned out the waves crashing just below. A yellow excavator perched on the edge of the bluff dumped clawfuls of soft yellow sand over the edge, to a ridge lower down where three workmen shoveled it into massive sandbags. The log-shaped bags, made of coconut fiber, were piled like beached whales at the water’s edge, a time-buying bulwark that has slowed the Atlantic’s advance.
Becker and others who live nearby walk the point daily to monitor the changes, mesmerized by the spectacle of transformation — and the suspense of an uncertain ending.
He says he could not have fully grasped the raw power of the forces reshaping the island, their jaw-dropping efficiency, without witnessing the recent changes.
“To see the water scouring the cliff like a machine, and 50-year-old trees dropping into the ocean, is an astonishing thing,” Becker said. “I wouldn’t have guessed it, but now that I’ve seen what it does, I see there could be nothing that would stop it.”
Beth Daley of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Jenna Russell can be reached at email@example.com.