Oak Bluffs town officials have entered negotiations with the East Chop Association to take ownership of the coastal bluff on scenic East Chop Drive, following a report which concluded the slope is in danger of imminent failure.
The takeover plan is still in the very early stages, but those on both sides of the negotiations believe transferring ownership of the East Chop bluff to the town is the only way to secure state and federal funding for repairs of the fragile coastal bank.
Last month a draft report from the engineering firm Stearns and Wheler was released showing that the soil directly underneath East Chop Drive was mostly sandy outwash material with little stability.
An extreme weather event like a severe northeaster or a hurricane could damage the slope at the base of the bluff and threaten East Chop Drive above, the report said.
East Chop Association president Craig Dripps said he has spent the past two months talking with the association’s approximately 300 members about the fragile state of the bluff. At the association’s second annual meeting on Saturday, members discussed the possibility of the town taking ownership of the East Chop bluff, he said.
Most of the coastal bluff is owned by the association, which was formed in 1941 and gained nonprofit status several years ago. With deeds to all the parks on East Chop, the association has bylaws stating its holdings will forever remain as open space.
The association owns 12 parks, Crystal Lake, and the bluff itself — some 25-plus acres in all. Governed by a 16-member board of directors, the association owns the East Chop bluff, but the town of Oak Bluffs owns East Chop Drive, which is a public road.
Mr. Dripps said the association’s board of directors is currently working to form consensus among members as to whether the town should take over the East Chop bluff.
“Right now we are still going through the education phase; we want everyone to get comfortable with this. The message is simple: without the help of the town, there is no chance of getting state or federal funds. There isn’t a government agency or foundation out there that is going to give money to a homeowners’ association,” he said.
He said getting as much information as possible to the association is key.
“We would never do something of this magnitude without being as transparent as possible and involving all the members,” he said.
Mr. Dripps said the town also is in a better position to get the permits needed from the various state and federal agencies to make the repairs to the bluff. “There are so many things you need to do before you take on this type of project. It’s beyond out capabilities,” he said.
An attorney for the association will meet with Oak Bluffs town counsel Ronald Rappaport in the coming weeks to begin the process of drafting an agreement for the transfer of the East Chop bluff to the town, Mr. Dripps said, adding that any agreement will include strict conservation restrictions to ensure the bluff would remain open space in perpetuity.
“Any agreement would state quite clearly that East Chop looks the same 30 years from now, or 100 years from now,” he said.
Mr. Dripps said the final decision will need to be approved by two-thirds of the association’s board of directors.
The report from Stearns and Wheler lays out four options for stabilizing the bluff, each of which would cost a substantial amount of money, in the neighborhood of $10 million. The first option is to install armor and heavy riprap to reshape the slope to a more stable angle.
The second is to add a rock fill on top of the bluff to a height that would change the pitch of the slope to a more stable angle. Another option is to install a mechanically stabilized earth wall made of precast concrete blocks. The final option is to install a 20-foot-high anchored sheet pile wall at the top of the bluff that would allow the existing slope to be excavated to a flatter angle.
The report also paints a bleak picture for the future of the bluff.
“The subsurface materials are outwash sands with inter-bedded gravelly layers. The current slope is showing signs of distress and localized failures. The current slope does not meet minimum stability factors of safety. The slope may erode quickly if exposed to wave action.”
Joan Hughes, chairman of the Oak Bluffs conservation commission, said transferring the East Chop bluff to the town would expedite the repairs to the bluff.
“It’s the only option, really, if we want to get our hands on some [state or federal] money. And we need to act quickly . . . as it stands now, one large storm and part of that cliff can fall right into the ocean,” she said.