I write as president of the Squibnocket Farms Homeowners Association.
The lead sentence in the April 14 story in the Gazette said it best: public discussion over the Squibnocket Beach and access project has grown “increasingly complicated.” And that’s only the half of it!
What began straightforwardly has become confused and angry. For the 12 homeowners and six lot owners in Squibnocket Farms, it began simply enough. Our access through the Squibnocket Beach parking lot is eroding. We confront a relentless enemy — rising seas, strengthening storms, and the passage of time — that could at any time eliminate the portion of Squibnocket Road that passes over and beyond the existing town beach parking lot. The road is one storm away from being lost, severing access to our homes and cutting us off from utilities and emergency services. Through all of the heated debate, these basic facts have not been disputed.
Every engineer and coastal expert who has looked at the problem — ours, the town’s, even our opponents’ — has acknowledged the problem and endorsed the concept of an elevated causeway, a roadway designed so the power of the sea passes under rather than against our access. We want to build it quickly, before it is too late. We want to pay for it ourselves.
In late 2012, as the association was considering solutions to its access problem, a special town committee was considering how to salvage Squibnocket Beach and its parking lot. At high tide, there is already no beach. Into this situation came the Chilmark selectmen, with what seemed like an even better idea: our homeowners should privately purchase a contiguous strip of beach and back land large enough for a replacement beach parking lot, then lease it to the town for a lengthy term at nominal rent. The plan extends the town’s lease to the existing Squibnocket Beach from its current expiration date of 2050 until 2113, and enlarges the existing beach by nearly a quarter mile to the south.
Representatives of the parties met in mid-2013 to determine if this public-private project was feasible. Once the plan was determined to be feasible, it was presented and debated at four public hearings convened by the selectmen between December and April. All parties were confident it would be greeted with wide approval. After all, the selectmen shrewdly had secured a private commitment to contribute an invaluable asset to the town, very cheaply, for a century.
It was hard to imagine the objections. But they came, stridently, from a small group of largely non-voting individuals. Some of these individuals are seasonal residents of Blacksmith Valley, which overlooks the proposed project. Though they have been careful not to admit it, and instead have cast their concerns in environmental terms, they are interested primarily in the preservation of their seasonal views. Views are the seasonal currency of Martha’s Vineyard. While we understood from the outset that an elevated roadway and a new beach parking lot could not be created without affecting some people’s views, we thought, naively, that these individuals would be willing to accept some alteration to their views so that the public could retain its beach and so that the Squibnocket homeowners could retain their access.
The view-preservation imperative gave rise to a strategy of confusion and delay. The chief prong of the strategy has been to claim that the selectmen failed to consider alternatives. This argument lives on, even though the selectmen have quite consistently explained the alternatives analysis that led to the proposed plan, and even though the opposition has been unable to identify any viable options. No alternative has been brought forward that is more feasible, more environmentally benign, or easier to permit than the proposed plan. Alternatives presented by Blacksmith Valley opponents, by their own admission, lack the necessary consent of affected landowners. These alternatives also face daunting regulatory hurdles because they involve bridges over water and extensive wetland fills. These are not alternatives in any legitimate sense, but rather just digressions, put forward solely to confuse voters and cause us delay. And delay tempts nature to strand us.
The selectmen’s public-private plan has been studied for over a year. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on legal and engineering research. If a comparably ready-to-implement plan can be made feasible in terms of site control, budget neutrality, permitting and engineering integrity, the homeowners would be amenable. The homeowners will not, however, stand by while the matter is endlessly studied and debated. This would leave us stranded. If town meeting rejects the public part of the public-private plan, then the association will revert to its original plan. This might mitigate view impacts and placate our neighbors, but would strand the public beach, which would live on only in memory.