In an effort to stall the deterioration of an eroding bluff in Oak Bluffs, the town may keep the seaward side of East Chop drive closed for the summer. Members of the roads and byways committee, who met Wednesday in an informal gathering at town hall, came to a consensus to continue to limit traffic to north-south passage. The meeting was not posted, so an official vote could not be taken.
If approved by selectmen, it would be the first time the scenic road has been limited to one-way traffic during the summer season. “I don’t think opening the road two ways again is an option at this point,” said committee chairman Michael Santoro, who is also a selectman.
The road and underlying cliffs have seen significant long-term erosion, which has been compounded by major storm events such as Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Nemo. Further slumping of the bluff was documented by engineer Carlos Peña this spring. He recommended that the town keep the seaward lane closed. “Even for a lay person, you can see, it is visible, the additional sloughing,” town administrator Robert L. Whritenour said on Wednedsay this week.
The town is eligible for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the scope and timeline of assistance has not yet been determined. Mr. Whritenour estimated that improvements to the revetment built to withstand erosion are at least two years away. He said FEMA moves slowly and methodically.
Mr. Santoro said the town should take action to respond to the current condition of the bluff, instead of waiting for the disaster relief money. “We need to make decisions that are at least in it for the next two years,” he said.
Many residents of the East Chop neighborhood want to see a full closure of the road, as was done for 15 months after Hurricane Bob.
The East Chop Association, a neighborhood group, has also supported full closure, Fred Hancock said, speaking on behalf of the board of directors. “A lot of us really feel that once they are used to the one-way pattern, blocking it entirely is probably a good step,” he said. “I think the thing is people are much more likely to take this seriously when they see something serious being done by the town. Obviously this is a major problem and making a major step like closing the road, I think is in a better direction.”
The primary concern with closing the road in full has been the potential impact on traffic throughout the neighborhood. Some residents have expressed fears that vehicles that would otherwise travel on the road will instead barrel through the neighborhoods, threatening kids on bikes and pedestrians.
Some have suggested speed bumps to mitigate the increased traffic volume.
Roads and byways committee member Walter Vail, a selectman who lives in the East Chop neighborhood, said he was also concerned about an increase in neighborhood traffic. “I for one would like to keep the road one way, the way it is, but I am open to whatever anybody else wants to do,” he said.
The committee will take up a vote on an extension of that closure next Wednesday. The selectmen have the final say.