With a major coastal restoration project at Squibnocket Beach set for a vote in Chilmark two weeks from now, public discussion over the project has grown increasingly complicated and fractured.
A group of Blacksmith Valley residents are now proposing an alternative plan to one that was hammered out by the town after months of negotiations among stakeholders. And at a meeting last week there were questions about the way town leaders have handled the project.
The Squibnocket project was announced last fall following the talks that involved the town, the Squibnocket Farms Homeowners Association (a group of private landowners) and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, the group that did a limited development at Squibnocket many years ago. The talks began after the beachfront suffered serious damage in Hurricane Sandy.
The plan calls for building an elevated roadway into the private development, moving the town parking lot further south and removing the stone revetment. A long-term lease arrangement would add significantly more beachfront to the town holdings. The plan would cost the homeowners association about $3 million, and the town would pay about $400,000 for the long-term lease.
At the annual town meeting on April 28 voters will be asked if the town should proceed with the project or not. An earlier plan to present a series of articles was scrapped when the selectmen decided to first seek a general expression from the voters on the project. As a resuult no money questions will come before voters.
“Whether the town votes yes or no, the selectmen are determined to do something at Squibnocket Beach,” said selectman Warren Doty. “We are going to work on this problem until we find a good solution, whatever way the vote goes we’re going to promise to keep working on it and we will find a solution that will work for the town. That is a promise from all of us. We know that there are plenty of ideas out there.”
The comment came during discussion last week of the alternative plan that the Blacksmith Valley residents have put on the table. That plan calls for moving the bridge and parking lot further up Squibnocket Road, which would require the town to buy a parcel of land. A second option offers a so-called soft solution of building up a dune and building a roadway behind the dune.
“We don’t want to have Chilmark’s folly be with a bridge underwater,” said Charlie Parker, speaking for the group calling itself the Friends of Squibnocket Pond. “I think we ought to figure out a way to let nature do its thing and that includes staying off a barrier beach.”
Jim O’Connell, a coastal geologist and consultant to the town, said moving the bridge was an alternative that could be considered but he criticized the second option of placing a road behind a dune.
“You’re putting a structure in harm’s way,” he said. “You’ve seen what storms do to a four to five-ton rip rap, if you’re going to put a road on top of that, don’t anticipate it’s going to last the first storm. You’d be filling in wetlands and it doesn’t give you any more beach.”
The town hired a Woods Hole group this winter to study the Squibnocket plan. In a report issued in early March, Greg Berman, a coastal processes specialist with the Woods Hole Sea Grant Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, said plan could be a model for future coastal restoration projects. But he also advised a go-slow approach and said more study is needed because the project has the potential to significantly alter the natural environment both on the beachfront and at Squibnocket Pond.
The Squibnocket homeowners have hired an attorney at the Boston law firm Ropes and Gray to represent them.
Meanwhile, at a meeting last Wednesday some residents expressed frustration at the lack of progress despite four public forums. “I’m a little depressed, this is the fourth meeting and the same dog and pony show,” Chris Murphy said. “You started out this process asking for input . . . you didn’t accomplish much except a rubber stamp proposal put forward to Squibnocket Farm. I think that’s really depressing.”
Thomas Bena agreed.
“The sea is rising, we have a real problem and I think we should work together rather than ram this solution, that many people feel isn’t the best one, down our throats,” he said.
Alison Berger said the town should be given more than one option.
“I think this meeting is a good example that we need to be presented with thorough plans of many aspects, maybe we could see three plans instead of just one,” she said. “Instead of you deciding we should eliminate a plan because it’s going to raise taxes, you should present it to us.”
Tom Wallace, a member of the Squibnocket Association, said there is risk in allowing perfect to become the enemy of good.
“I don’t think there are any proposals on the table today or we can dream up that beyond my lifetime or children’s lifetime isn’t going to be changed again,” he said. “I think the one advantage to the raised road is that the storm surge can clearly go underneath. I think the project is good and there may never be a perfect solution.”