The Chilmark selectmen decided this week to change the way they bring a planned Squibnocket Beach improvement project before voters at the annual town meeting this spring.
Instead of breaking the project into a series of articles, the selectmen said they will put a single article on the warrant seeking general voter support for the project.
“Is it a good plan or not? We need the voters to tell us,” said selectman Warren Doty.
A negotiated agreement between the town, Squibnocket Associates and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation calls for a public-private improvement project that would rebuild part of the roadway to Squibnocket Farms, remove a stone revetment at Squibnocket Beach and build a new parking lot. The deal also calls for a land swap aimed at creating more public beach for the town. Under that part of the deal, Squibnocket homeowners would buy 10.5 acres from the open land foundation and lease it to the town for 99 years for the parking lot and added beachfront. The town beach holdings would increase from 280 feet to 1,500 feet. Much of the cost of the project, including $3 million to build the new road, would be paid by the homeowners.
Voter approval is needed for the project in more than one phase, and a number of regulatory steps must also be cleared, including a zoning change.
The selectmen had planned to place three separate articles on the annual town meeting warrant in April, but this week they agreed to change directions and first ask voters to say yes or no on the general plan.
“If we move ahead, then we’ll develop a lease with the nuts and bolts and amount of money involved, and any bylaw changes that need to be made to permit the project to go forward,” Mr. Doty said.
Selectman Jonathan Mayhew agreed.
“It gives the selectmen a general idea whether or not you like this,” he said.
A series of public forums have been held on the project to date. Squibnocket suffered heavy damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and subsequent winter storms. The roadway was badly washed out and much of the beachfront is now gone.
In other business Tuesday, the board reaffirmed its vote to turn down a planned dredging project in Menemsha channel by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Aquinnah selectmen approved the project two weeks ago, but Chilmark balked at the plan after hearing concerns from shellfishermen and harbor management officials about the risks of opening up the pond to deepwater yachts.
“We really have to go slower on this whole proposal,” Mr. Mayhew said. “The Army Corps feels that the scallops are going to be fine, but I don’t think that’s going to be true. Long-term planning in Menemsha Pond is very critical and I’m more concerned about that.”
Harbor master Dennis Jason said the impact on the pond from deepening the channel would be too great.
“I think we’ll have a lot of traffic coming in and boats trying to come in at night; I’m sure boats are going to go aground,” he said.
Lobsterman Wayne Iaccono echoed the concerns.
“I think we should leave it alone,” he said. “Look at Lake Tashmoo in the summer, there’s at least a couple hundred boats in there.”
The Army Corps has said it may proceed with the project despite the town’s objections. Selectmen voted to write a letter to the Army Corps requesting a public hearing if the agency decided to move forward on dredging.