A recent engineering study of the East Chop bluff has revealed further deterioration of the region, which was severely damaged by erosion and major storm events in recent years.
But help may be on its way.
The town announced Tuesday that the bluff is eligible for federal disaster relief funding in connection with Hurricane Sandy, 18 months after the storm hit the Island. The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent a written determination to the town this month.
“This was no small feat,” town administrator Robert L. Whritenour told the town selectmen Tuesday, crediting town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport, the East Chop Association and selectman Walter Vail for their work on the issue.
“I am absolutely delighted that we are now going to get some money to fix the bluff and preserve East Chop Drive,” Mr. Vail said.
The stability of the bluff and scenic East Chop Drive, which sits atop the bluff, have been undermined by long-term erosion and severe storm events like Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Nemo.
The town has long petitioned the agency for repairs to the bluff, but had been preliminarily rejected due in part to ownership patterns.
Until a few weeks ago, the East Chop Association held ownership of the bluff, while the town owned the road.
However, a vote at the April annual town meeting allowed the town to accept a confirmatory deed for 4.4 acres along East Chop Drive from the East Chop Association, strengthening the town’s eligibility for funding.
“The major stumbling block has been the question of the legal authority,” Mr. Whritenour said. “It is public assistance so it has to be a public purpose.”
In an effort to reduce pressure on the bluff, the seaward side of East Chop Drive has been closed all winter, allowing only north-south passage. The move was suggested by CLE engineering, a firm that conducted an emergency inspection after Hurricane Sandy.
The firm found continuing deterioration of the coastal bank during an inspection this spring.
In their report, CLE urged the town to “close the seaward lane along East Chop Drive, and monitor the remaining coastal bank for weakened areas.” Engineer Carlos Peña also noted further sloughing of sediment and the appearance of horizontal cracks on the roadway.
The selectmen could vote to continue the partial road closure throughout the summer, when the population of the East Chop neighborhood increases about four or five-fold, according to East Chop Association president Craig Dripps.
The issue will be discussed at the May 28 meeting of the town roads and byways committee.
During his visit, CLE engineer Carlos Peña compared the movement of the bluff with the landslide in March in Oso, Wash.
“We stood at the top of the bluff and he said, look, it’s sloughing at the top, bulging at the middle and gouged out at the bottom,” Mr. Dripps recalled by telephone on Wednesday. “He said this is a classic set-up for a slide.” “It is just going to slide off into the ocean and we don’t want anyone up there when it happens,” Joan Hughes, chairman of the conservation commission, told selectmen on Tuesday. A FEMA grant would likely require a 25 per cent local funding match, which can be achieved with a state grant, Mr. Whritenour said.
“There is the potential for great benefit to the town,” he said.
Over the years, the town has received federal assistance multiple times, despite private ownership of the bluff.
Three years ago, the association offered the cliffs to the town, but town counsel advised against assuming the liability, Mr. Dripps said.
At that time, the town did not know ownership patterns would affect its eligibility for funding.
This past December, Mr. Dripps asked the town to reconsider. The agreement between the town and the East Chop Association puts conservation restrictions on the property, but allows revetments to be built to protect the cliffs.
“To save the drive, you have to save the bluff, to save the bluff you have to raise a tremendous amount of money,” Mr. Dripps said. “It’s just getting eaten away and unless we step in and restore it, the bluff is going to go and the road is going to go.”