Seawall collapse leads to debate on repairs
Oak Bluffs plans to make costly emergency repairs to shore up a collapsed portion of a seawall on Oak Bluffs town beach within the next few days. The wall fell in on February 20 and has continued to deteriorate, threatening the Sea View Avenue.
"We're going to have to do some kind of temporary shoring up of the bank that is now exposed," town administrator Michael Dutton told The Times. "To do the actual work in the emergency shoring up, we're probably looking at $50,000 to $70,000."
The planned repairs generated disagreements at the selectmen's meeting Tuesday evening. Concerned citizens questioned the nature of the emergency repairs, how they might affect long-term repairs and a planned revitalization of the town shorefront.
Repairs in dispute
Oak Bluffs officials and state agencies are concerned about the safety of beach visitors, and the possibility that further erosion could cause damage to Sea View Ave. Since the wall tumbled down to the beach more than three weeks ago, parts of the embankment have shifted further, and new cracks have developed.
About 360 feet of the bank and seawall, near the snack bar, are in need of emergency repairs, according to Mr. Dutton. He emphasized that no long-term plan has yet been adopted. "All we're doing now is looking for emergency funds to make sure we can control the bank," he said, adding that funding may be available from a variety of federal and state resources.
At the Tuesday meeting, Nancy Phillips was one of several people who voiced concern about the nature of planned repairs, and whether the conservation commission is favoring a plan to create a reinforced slope, while excluding other viable plans. Ms. Phillips co-chaired a task force that authored a $2.7-million plan to revitalize the entire Sea View Ave. shorefront.
"Will you please ask the conservation commission to share the information from all the engineers," Ms. Phillips asked the board. "I don't think they're being forthright."
The conservation commission has distributed a hand-drawn plan - termed a "possible long-term solution" by commission administrator Elizabeth Durkee - that diagrams a slope extending from the top of the bank, past the concrete platform that now exists on the beach face. The drawing shows a bank anchored by "gabion baskets," backfilled with concrete rubble, and covered with vegetation. Gabion baskets are somewhat flexible wire baskets filled with rocks or other material that can be anchored or stacked to prevent erosion.
NETCO, a Lexington firm specializing in coastal erosion management, submitted the plan, dated February 25, 2008.
Ms. Durkee said emergency repairs, using gabion baskets, should be under way within the next few days.
Attempts to reach Joan Hughes, chairman of the conservation commission, for clarification or comment were unsuccessful.
Ms. Phillips and others are concerned that emergency repairs, or permanent repairs will require the snack bar building to be demolished. Speaking before the meeting, Mr. Dutton said that is likely.
"I'm not sure if that's going to be included as part of the emergency repairs yet," said Mr. Dutton, "But certainly as part of the long-term repair and rebuild, that will likely have to happen, because the seawall behind that structure is compromised."
Oak Bluffs highway superintendent and parks commissioner Richard Combra Jr., whose department will lead the repair effort, said he is concerned about the safety of anyone inside the shack, should more of the embankment collapse.
If the building is demolished, it is very unlikely that the town could get permits to rebuild it. The office of coastal zone management, the state agency charged with protecting coastal areas, has made it clear it will not issue permits to rebuild the structure, according to Mr. Dutton.
Ms. Phillips asked the board to consider referring the project to the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Board vice-chairman Ron DiOrio, acting as chair in the absence of chairman Kerry Scott, promised to convene a meeting involving all interested boards and committees to discuss long-term repairs.