The scenic rural roadway hugs the long stretch of bluff jutting into Nantucket Sound beyond the Oak Bluffs harbor before falling sharply to sea level as it curves around Crystal Lake, eventually reconnecting with Eastville avenue. And one year after the remnants of Hurricane Sandy battered the Vineyard coastline, East Chop Drive remains the Island’s most threatened and vulnerable road. At its higher elevations the road sits on a dangerously slumping bluff, while at its lower elevations it is at risk of being swallowed by the sea, possibly in the next severe storm. Estimates for repairing the road hover around eleven million dollars. Oak Bluffs, the Vineyard’s most cash-strapped town, has applied for but not received FEMA funds for the project. Without money no immediate steps can be taken to repair the road.
Against that backdrop, in late August the Oak Bluffs selectmen went against the recommendation of engineers and the urging of a majority of East Chop residents to close the road, deciding instead to restrict the upper part of East Chop Drive to one-way traffic for the winter months.
The partial closure went into effect following Columbus Day weekend and already residents of the chop say it is routinely violated by motorists.
The selectmen should reconsider their decision and close the upper part of the road to vehicles for the winter, allowing access of course for police, fire and EMS. East Chop residents, who are significant taxpayers and the only ones who will be truly inconvenienced, want the road closed. Engineers who have examined the condition of the roadway have said clearly that there are two main threats: storms and vehicle traffic.
No one can control the weather and we’ve been lucky to have a quiet hurricane season this year on the Atlantic. But with winter storms on the way, the selectmen can cut the odds in half against East Chop Drive and protect it until there is money to repair it. Closing the road is not only prudent and responsible but makes a strong statement to FEMA that the town means business.