A long-standing project to replace the Oak Bluffs harbor jetty was a topic of contention last week between residents and a town committee tasked with considering capital projects. 

During a meeting on Dec. 6 the Oak Bluffs capital program committee presented its capital improvement plan for fiscal year 2025 — an annual report detailing the town’s most pressing projects to be funded over the next five years. It lists replacement of the harbor’s deteriorating jetty as a top priority.

But members of the committee and town administrator Deborah Potter agreed that despite the project’s high ranking, the town lacks adequate funding to complete it in the coming year. 

Several residents urged the committee and Ms. Potter to reassess the budget and find a way to fund the replacement.

Oak Bluffs harbor committee chair Mike Santoro said that the group has been concerned for more than five years about the structural integrity of the jetty, which he said is just a strong storm away from destruction. 

“The harbor committee thought this was going to happen last year and it keeps getting kicked down the road,” said Mr. Santoro. “We’re concerned because the boulders have already fallen in… and that if we get a big storm, the jetty will totally fail and we won’t have any ferries coming into the harbor.”

Ms. Potter recognized the project’s urgency, but said that other capital improvements currently take precedence, and encouraged the capital program committee to place the jetty’s replacement lower on its priority list, beneath other, more attainable tasks. 

“It’s not that we are kicking this down the road or that we don’t understand the importance of it,” said Ms. Potter at the meeting. “It’s just that there are funding issues with it because we have a $26 million wastewater funding that we just did and we have a $16.9 million East Chop bluff that we’re trying to get done. There’s a lot of demands on limited resources.”

Ms. Potter added that the town has been historically unsuccessful in securing grants and other state and federal assistance to replace the jetty because it is not recognized as “essential.” In January, she will meet with the harbor committee, the state department of transportation and an engineering firm to discuss alternative funding sources. 

Still, meeting attendees continued to push the importance of the jetty. 

Jetties serve as barriers between shorelines and open bodies of water, absorbing waves and currents to keep harbor waters calm. 

Resident Lisa Leonard argued that the jetty protects the harbor from other, more expensive damage that could happen in the future. 

“We’ve already had thousands of dollars of damage to [my] own boat in the past three years,” she said. “The harbor takes in over a $1 million a year,” she said. “How can you not find the money to pay for this? You can go back to the books, and try and get a ‘yes’ on this.”

The capital program committee approved its FY25 capital improvement plan — with jetty replacement at the top of its list — during a meeting on Monday afternoon. The plan serves as only a suggestion to the town for how to allocate funds. It needs to be reviewed by the finance committee, select board and residents at town meeting before any actions are taken.