Last summer I began to attend meetings about a proposed project in Chilmark. The proposal is multifaceted and includes extending the Squibnocket town beach, building a parking lot on a barrier dune area and the construction of a bridge to the former Hornblower property now known as Squibnocket Farms. At first, my interest was personal, since I live in Blacksmith Valley part-time. Blacksmith Valley looks over the area and will be impacted by every aspect of the proposal. Each day I experience the dynamic nature of the area firsthand and have been astounded by the magnitude of the change I have seen in the past 10 years.
I would like to offer a bit of background about myself at this point. In 2000 I took a course in environmental management at the Harvard Extension School’s program of the same name. In my first course, Ocean Environments, I found a passion to learn more about the science of the natural world. Over the next 10 years I took courses that focused on many aspects of the environment. Much of my work focused on the rapidly changing global environment. The focus of every class gravitated to the subject as students’ concerns for their own futures moved front and center. Vineyard folks have a very close relationship to the environment. For some it is working outdoors every day, for others hunting, and for a vast majority it is about living a life often determined by rapidly changing weather out of our own control. I included my personal insight and experience into my classes wherever possible. In 2010 I received an associate’s degree in the field.
It is in light of that background that I began to question the Squibnocket project beyond my personal concerns. There are two aspects of the project where there exists undeniable merit. The first is in extending and ensuring public access to the area. Secondly, there is a clear need for dependable access for the Squibnocket Farms homeowners to their properties. It is evident that this area is being rapidly consumed by storms of increasing intensity and by the rise of tides driven by the warming atmosphere. It was that knowledge that prompted the formulation of this project.
I stated in one of the many hearings that, “Towns exist for generations and for that reason the solutions that address town problems should be long term in nature.” Building a parking lot on a barrier dune system in a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) designated flood zone is not a long-term solution. The proposed parking area is many feet lower in elevation than the existing parking lot. There are now a number of folks working on alternate solutions. It is my hope that answers will be found.
Thinking about this one issue has prompted me to consider our entire Island and the challenges we will need to tackle as an Island community. We must begin to examine the threats we all face from the rapidly changing environment. I believe the most impactful will be sea level rise. Most people who live here know tides are higher and storms are more intense, but the question is, how will that affect us? Humans have engineered solutions throughout history, but against the awesome force of a changing global climate we will surely find the extent of our limitations. There is a philosophy in the environmental community which is retreat and adapt, which might provide a framework within which we of the Vineyard can work toward building a sustainable Island existence. The Vineyard community will have to tackle many crucial projects in this effort. An example is adapting and protecting the Steamship Authority’s facility in Vineyard Haven. For this it should be comparatively easy to muster the political will and funding; however, there will be many more that are not as clear or easily accomplished. The cost of retreat and adaptation over time will be enormous. Our Island community must embrace the uncertainties of our future. One of the most important aspects of that undertaking is an honest assessment of our long-term priorities. Out of that process we will find what is important and what is less so.
When viewed through this new lens, the Squibnocket proposal must be seen in a new light. It is hard for people to accept any future transformation to the settled world they have lived with for generations that is beyond their control, but it is something that we must acknowledge, embrace, and begin to adapt to if our Island community is to survive.