The spectacle of an eight-thousand-square-foot home being moved back from an eroding cliff can give a skewed impression of the hardship to the Vineyard caused by Hurricane Sandy and the nameless February storm that succeeded her.
So it was good to see the spotlight shift to Oak Bluffs this week as Lieut. Gov. Timothy Murray and Cong. William Keating toured the battered coastline on separate days. With some of the worst damage on the Northeast side of the Island done to town property, there is no well-heeled individual with the means or incentive to pick up the enormous tab, and the town’s tax base can only support so much.
Oak Bluffs has been proactive and aggressive in seeking state and federal funding to fortify its shorefront even before last winter’s assault, and officials are hoping visits by high-ranking politicians will help shake some money loose. As conservation agent Elizabeth Durkee put it: “Our shoreline is basically our economy. It’s what attracts people to the town.”
Perhaps the most urgent need is for money to repair the seawall along the North Bluff, the section of land along Seaview avenue between the Steamship Authority pier and the entrance to the harbor where other ferries dock. The seawall has become the lynchpin in an ambitious economic development plan in the works for years to connect the two ferry landings with a boardwalk. Already funded by the state and set to begin construction this spring along that corridor is a long-awaited fishing pier. The plan also includes restoration of a small swimming beach.
The town is now awaiting word on two two-million-dollar grant requests, one before the Seaport Advisory Council, which is chaired by the lieutenant governor, and one from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. To hedge its bets, the town is also seeking funds under the Federal Emergency Management Act (FEMA) for additional seawall damage and beach erosion caused by Hurricane Sandy.
In its Victorian heyday, the Oak Bluffs shoreline was dotted with people parading along more than a mile of wooden boardwalks running from East Chop to Inkwell beach. The town deserves credit for the work it has already done to bring back much of the old charm of its historic shoreline. And with a little help from the state and federal governments, what appears to be a well-planned redevelopment project can be completed.
To be sure, the sea will continue to challenge the best efforts to keep our shorelines intact, but this iconic gateway to the Vineyard needs and deserves to be defended.