The Chilmark selectmen this week added their voices to the growing body of opinion and research related to the town’s efforts to restore a portion of Squibnocket Beach.
Erosion of the popular beach threatens a dirt parking lot and the only access road to the homes at Squibnocket Farm.
At the town meeting in April, voters narrowly rejected a joint proposal by the town and the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association to expand the parking lot and build an elevated roadway. The plan also involved removing the stone revetment that supports the current road and expanding the town beach an additional 1,000 feet.
A town committee on Squibnocket Beach has been collecting public comments and information from stakeholders since June in its effort to develop a new proposal. Its Tuesday morning meetings have been well attended, often with standing room only.
On Tuesday, the selectmen did not present the joint plan in its entirety, choosing instead to offer a set of seven goals and principles based on the town master plan.
“We’ve given [the presentation] five separate times,” said selectman William Rossi, adding that the full proposal is available on the town website. “Everyone here is pretty much intimately familiar with the plan that we came up with.”
He said the plan indicates the need for additional beachfront at Squibnocket and better public access to Squibnocket Pond. It also recommends having a plan in place for removing the parking lot and revetment and restoring the area to its natural state.
Mr. Rossi believed the joint plan that was rejected at town meeting addressed all of those concerns. He pointed out that it also had been vetted by several experts and would have been paid for by the town and the homeowners association.
“We’re open to other options,” he said. “We look forward to seeing something that’s going to be agreeable to all the people in town.”
In addition to following the master plan objectives, he said, the project should meet the conditions and the time frame of the $280,000 Coastal Zone Management grant the town received on May 30.
Town committees had been under the impression that the grant must be spent by May 30, 2016. But at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday evening, conservation agent Chuck Hodgkinson reported that the office of Coastal Zone Management said the grant must be spent during fiscal year 2015, which ends June 30.
The person he spoke to at CZM suggested that the town submit receipts for the work it could accomplish this year, and then reapply for the balance. Mr. Hodgkinson said the application period for the next round of funding will begin this fall. “They are very interested in the project,” he said, pointing out that the May 30 grant was the largest in that funding round.
He said the lease of land in the joint plan would have met CZM’s requirement that the town contribute at least 25 per cent of the total project cost. “If that doesn’t happen, we are going to have to pay 25 per cent of the 280,” he said.
“That’s quite a glitch,” said selectman Warren Doty, who along with Mr. Rossi had presented to the committee that morning.
The committee has not been working under a firm deadline, but hopes to develop a proposal in time for a special town meeting in October.
“The new time frame makes it an imperative that we move with all deliberate speed,” said chairman Jim Malkin on Thursday. “Two hundred thousand dollars to the town is a lot of money and we don’t want to give it away.”
Charlie Parker, a member of the Friends of Squibnocket, a group representing nearby homeowners, including several in Blacksmith Valley, said Tuesday morning that the absence of a firm deadline was a major benefit to the committee’s work.
“We have to have time to work it through,” he said. “This notion of, it has to be done, it has to be done — that was really addressed and fixed at town meeting.”
The Friends of Squibnocket are working to develop a plan that focuses on so-called soft solutions, including the use of sand dunes for protection and a less intrusive roadway. In July, Mr. Parker presented to the committee an overview the group’s proposed engineering analysis, and on August 26 the group will report on the existing site conditions. Mr. Parker hopes to return in September with a final proposal.
In a letter sent to the committee this week, the Friends of Squibnocket argue that although erosion is a problem, it does not present a crisis. They point out that the stone revetment has not failed in 22 years, and that access to Squibnocket Farm has not been interrupted during that time.
“Should there be an issue with access before a solution is implemented, Squibnocket Farm and/or the town can readily address the problem,” the group wrote, citing the state’s emergency response regulations.
During a presentation to the committee in July, Larry Lasser, the president of the homeowners association, outlined the association’s past efforts to mitigate erosion. He said that various soft solutions, including beach plantings, had failed, and that similar solutions should be off the table.
He believed the plan that the association developed prior to collaborating with the town was sensitive to the ocean views of neighbors, and was “conventionally constructable” and affordable. He said engineers had examined several alternatives and favored the elevated roadway.
As part of its agreement with the town, he said, the association committed to purchasing the additional beach area from the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, for which the town would pay a nominal rental fee. He said that led to major changes in the plan, including a wider causeway and new parking considerations.
Mr. Lasser said the association will honor its commitment to buy the additional beach, as long as a solution that satisfies the community is reached quickly.
Mr. Doty inquired on Tuesday morning about how the Squibnocket committee will handle the possibility of “dueling consultants,” an issue Mr. Malkin raised earlier this year. The committee, the Friends of Squibnocket and the Homeowners Association all have their own consultants.
“The concern I have is, when you have opposing views people can hire a consultant to support their views,” Mr. Malkin said.“I intend that the committee is going to look at factual matter and may need some help in wading through differing opinions and differing interpretations.”
The committee’s reorganized web page (a work in progress) may distinguish between contradictory opinions, Mr. Malkin said. But a strategy has not yet been developed.
Tony Orphanos, a Chilmark resident, suggested that the committee could save time by having the consultants speak with each other to identify areas of agreement and disagreement.
Committee member Dan Greenbaum has outlined project components and other information the committee will need in order to develop a proposal. He said the outline will be made available to the public.
All the reports and documents related to the committee’s work will eventually be posted to the town website.