Finally we seem to be seeing some light at the end of the Covid tunnel. It has been a long year, but here we are at the beginning of hurricane season. Let’s hope it is a mild one. Unfortunately somewhere out there, just over the horizon, there is another kind of storm waiting to break over us: The development project for the old Hinckley Lumber Yard.

Every time I drive by Five Corners, I wonder what we are doing even considering any development there. Five Corners is roughly where Bass Creek used to be; it was the entrance to and exit from the Lagoon. (The current entrance where the drawbridge is was made by a storm.) Everything from Five Corners to the hospital is either barrier beach or salt marsh. Dredging the harbor and pumping the sand on top of the marsh hasn’t made it less vulnerable to storms, it just hides it a little. We all noticed the big bump at Five Corners for the past month — some of us understood that it was there to protect a discharge pipe from a pump where the gas station was digging a hole to place a new fuel tank — but we should all ask why does that require a pump? Even after all the fill that has been dumped there, the tide still rises under the barrier beach so the pump is needed to place the tank below the high tide level. Not such good planning on the part of the community, but most of the development there and around the harbor happened long before community planning was even a concept. Still, as a result of the lack of planning we have not one but two gas stations, with under-beach tanks right there on the barrier beach.

What’s done is done and I am sure every possible step was taken to protect the gas stations, and the environment, but if we had it to do over again would we really put such businesses on a barrier beach? Think of putting them between the bridges on State Beach. Tisbury never decided to put gas stations on the beach, but it is clear now that planning is important in the long run. We are still not doing it. We’re sitting back waiting for the new owners of Hinckley’s to present their mixed-use development on stilts.

While such mixed-use developments are important and much needed, and Sam Dunn has proved himself capable of doing a good job with difficult sites, further development on the barrier beach is just wrong. I assume the developers wouldn’t be considering such a project if the dollars didn’t add up for them, but in the end the town and the insurer of last resort (the federal government which is us) will be picking up the tab long after the developers have taken their profit and gone on their way.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is not going to save us from a lack of foresight. Tisbury must step up first and say no to non-marine related projects all around the harbor, especially on the low filled area around the edge of the harbor.

Sea level rise is real. Managed retreat makes sense. When you find yourself in a hole, first, stop digging. Allowing development on this spit of sand is just digging our hole deeper. Managed retreat means moving to higher ground, reducing the targets for the flooding and wind the hurricanes will surely bring.

Where should Tisbury allow expansion? Certainly not in the flood zone. There is plenty of high, stable land in Tisbury. Of course all of it is someone’s back yard. Tough decisions, but they can be made and the future can be planned for.

So call your town officials, call your MVC representatives and tell them you want good planning based on the needs of tomorrow, not the inadequate rules of the past.

Chris Murphy