At Squibnocket Beach in Chilmark her calling card was a town parking lot under water, an access road washed away, a beachfront all but erased.
Hurricane Sandy struck a year and a half ago, but images from the aftermath of that storm remain fresh in the mind — from Atlantic City, N.J., and New York city where the storm wrought unprecedented property damage and devastation and rebuilding remains ongoing today, to the Vineyard where residents woke up the morning after Sandy to find Atlantic-facing shorelines battered, smashed and permanently altered.
In the end Sandy proved to be a catalyst for wide-ranging discussion up and down the East Coast about coastal erosion and how to manage and plan for these severe storms in the future. In a Harris Poll commissioned by the Gazette last year, seasonal and year-round residents alike listed coastal erosion as one of their top concerns for the Vineyard.
Meanwhile, in Chilmark last year, town leaders, a group of homeowners at Squibnocket Farms and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation began to talk about how to repair the damage at Squibnocket. The result of those talks is the plan now under consideration to reconfigure the beachfront by moving the parking lot, rebuilding the roadway and removing a stone revetment. A long-term lease arrangement between the town and the open land foundation would provide significant additional public beachfront for the town.
Ambitious, expensive, complicated, possibly pioneering and still a long way from reality, the emerging plan has been the subject of numerous public meetings and has been examined by one senior scientist and coastal erosion expert from Woods Hole.
In a report to the town early this month Greg Berman, a coastal processes specialist with the Woods Hole Sea Grant Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, said the plan could be a model for future coastal erosion projects. But he also said more study is needed, especially on the tricky question of removing the revetment. “If this project were to cause unintended negative consequences similar proposals for other areas might be harder to permit,” Mr. Berman wrote. “However, it has the chance to serve as an example of the effectiveness of unarmoring (removing revetments) for other sites . . . .”
At the annual town meeting next month Chilmark voters will be asked for a general vote of confidence on the Squibnocket plan. The question only asks voters to back the concept; any final plan would still need to come before another town meeting with its many working parts, including the long-term lease for the beachfront. The project would also face many other state and local regulatory hurdles. Chilmark’s thoughtful, deliberate approach to solving a complex problem with many stakeholders involved is itself a model for other towns to follow. Voters would be wise to give the selectmen a green light to keep pursuing this forward-thinking effort which down the road could serve as a blueprint for other coastal communities grappling with the complex and constantly shifting problems posed by erosion.