A public-private improvement project now on the drawing board for Squibnocket Beach was the subject of more discussion this week, with some questioning whether the cost is worth it as natural forces continue to assault the shoreline.
The complicated plan calls for replacing part of the roadway to the Squibnocket Farm development with an elevated causeway, removing the stone revetment, building a new parking lot and restoring the barrier beach. The $3 million causeway would be paid for by the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association and would secure road access for the residences there. In the other part of the plan, the homeowners would also buy 10.5 acres from the Vineyard Open Land Foundation and lease it to the town for 100 years. The land would be used for a new parking lot and an additional 1,100 feet of beachfront. The town would pay the association $400,000 for a new long-term lease from Community Preservation Act funds.
The plan will need a number of approvals, including from Chilmark voters, the town conservation commission, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the state department of environmental protection.
“This is starting to smell an awful lot like a bribe,” said conservation commission member Chris Murphy at the second of four public forums Tuesday night. “I think the proposed solution is not a very good solution . . . the bridge is not very far from the edge of the water,” he said.
But selectman Bill Rossi had another term for it.
“It’s a business deal, there’s no question about it,” he said.
Selectman and board chairman Warren Doty spoke about the difficult position the town finds itself in, to maintain access for private homeowners in the Squibnocket Farm subdivision and prevent further erosion at the town beach.
“Somehow we didn’t foresee that subdivision with that level of development and building and financial investment, which is extraordinary, was going to depend on this little ribbon of road,” Mr. Doty said. “I think about that all the time. I don’t think it was thought out well 20 years ago.”
He continued: “It’s not like the little camps that used to be out there or a single farm. Here we are, and here I am, a selectman in town that did permit this road and what are we going to do?”
David Damroth said the plan fails to take the long view.
“The town is negotiating for a short-term solution,” he said. “This town should be getting ready for sea level rise and preparing and asking, should we be looking for a lot more beach? I’m not sure the parking lot is a wise thing to do.”
Chuck Hodgkinson, who is the Chilmark conservation agent, said the town will apply for grant money from the U.S. Department of the Interior to help pay for the revetment removal and beach restoration. Mr. Hodgkinson said Reid Silva, a Vineyard engineer, Jim O’Connell, a coastal geologist based in Brant Rock, and Greg Merman a coastal process specialist with the Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institution, and staff from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission will all be involved in the project.
The next forum will be held in late February. The plan will come before voters at the annual town meeting in April.
In other business, the selectmen heard an update on dredging plans for the Menemsha channel by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps has federal money available from a $50 billion relief bill for areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The town has been working with the Wampanog Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the town of Aquinnah to determine the best plan for dredging that would protect shellfish beds in Menemsha Pond.
Bret Stearns, natural resource director for the tribe, told the selectmen that the project is moving faster than anticipated. “It’s clear that this community . . . has to make a decision relatively quickly about how we’re going to proceed, they intend to be stationed in the pond in less than 12 months,” Mr. Stearns said. “There are still options on the table but it seems the reality is the decision needs to be made within 30 days.”
A meeting of the involved parties will be held next week.
Selectmen also recognized town treasurer Melanie Becker for her role in helping the town secure a triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poors.
“We worked hard at preparing this review,” Mr. Doty said. “We’re not actually borrowing money at the moment . . . but if we did we’d have a very good rating.”