With a major Squibnocket Beach project set to come before voters at the annual town meeting next month, residents and planners continued to debate the sustainability and merits of the project this week.
Hosted by the Chilmark board of selectmen Tuesday night, the standing-room-only meeting was part of a series of forums to air plans to move the town beach parking lot, build an elevated roadway and remove a stone revetment.
Voters will be asked at the annual town meeting in April to back the project as a concept plan. The selectmen originally proposed a series of articles detailing the proposal, but then decided to test voter opinion on the general project before moving forward.
The project at Squibnocket has been in the works since last fall, following months of negotiations between the town, the private Squibnocket Farms Homeowners Association and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, which designed the limited development project at Squibnocket years ago. The groups came together after Hurricane Sandy and subsequent winter storms left the beachfront seriously damaged and road access limited.
The plan calls for removing the stone revetment and moving the town parking lot further west and inland. The plan also calls for building an elevated roadway that would provide access to the new parking lot and Squibnocket Farms. The town would enter into a long-term lease arrangement with the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association that would add 1,400 feet of beachfront to the town holdings. The town currently has 250 feet.
Mr. Doty said the parking lot is now sticking out into the ocean and action is needed, and that he supported the removal of the revetment.
“We need an action plan,” he said. “We permitted the Squibnocket Farm and we need to provide them with access. I always thought it was a little odd that we put their access in the middle of the parking lot but we need to do something. This is one viable plan.”
The selectmen commissioned two comprehensive coastal geology reports, which were aired at Tuesday’s meeting. The studies were done by Greg Berman, a coastal processes specialist with the Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and Jim O’Connell, a coastal geologist with Coastal Advisory Services.
Both studies found that the rate of erosion along the coastline varies, but lessens moving west and recommended moving the new parking in that direction.
Mr. Berman found that if successful, the project could be a model for future coastal restoration projects. At the meeting on Tuesday, he said the town was moving in the right direction.
“I applaud the thought that’s going into this. Managed retreat is one of the only long-term alternatives, depending on your time frame,” Mr. Berman said at the meeting. “But don’t stop thinking about erosion.”
Mr. O’Connell said based on historic erosion rates, it would be 160 years before the high water line hit the proposed parking area.
Land surveyor Reid Silva said this was the best available option.
“You don’t have every option in the world . . . and this is a good alternative to what exists,” he said. “The general consensus is you have a parking lot in a vulnerable place and it will continue to be vulnerable irregardless of sea level rise. The option currently on the table provides a lot of beneficial elements to it, more so than detrimental elements.”
Larry Lasser, president of the homeowners association, said timing is crucial.
“For us, if we don’t deal with this and don’t deal with it quickly, all of this becomes academic ... this is a serious problem and it’s a problem that has a time element.”
Tom Wallace, a partner of the Squibnocket Beach Association, said while “Mother Nature” may prevail, he thought the raised roadway was worth consideration.
“The sense is the raised access at least allows the storm surge to go under rather than delivering an existing road into the pond or out into the ocean,” he said. “The storm surge pass-through strikes me as being more logical.”
Blacksmith Valley resident David Damroth agreed that the Squibnocket Farm homeowners have the right to access their homes, but questioned the placement of the new parking lot.
“I question the wisdom of putting the parking lot on the dune, especially when you look at the data,” he said. “It seems we’re placing something in an area that is going to be in may ways far more vulnerable than it is now.”
Chris Murphy, a member of the town conservation commission and zoning board of appeals, suggested that alternatives should be explored. He said he was in favor of removing the revetment, but he took issue with the wording of the warrant article.
“If you asked me if I support this project, I’d say yes, I do. I just don’t support the bridge. I don’t see how you can nuance the question,” Mr. Murphy said. “This is like motherhood and apple pie, who could argue against 1,500 feet of beach. It’s the details where the problem is.”
Selectman Bill Rossi, who led the negotiation process on behalf of the town, said the town needed to maintain its beach access.
“We won’t have access to it in the very near future,” he said. “By removing the revetment, which is a good idea, Chris, we’re losing the parking and access to the beach. I think having access to a beach for Chilmark residents is rather important ... I think it’s a crucial issue and I think we’re solving it.”
“Without the bridge, it doesn’t happen,” Mr. Rossi added.
Jane Slater agreed.
“The selectmen are working on behalf of the taxpayers in town. The beach is a resource not because I go there to surf or to take my grandchildren,” she said. “People rent property and it’s a reason they get good prices because they offer good beaches. Taxpayers can be very proud that the selectmen are addressing a real concern.”