As our town counsel Ron Rappaport pointed out at a recent Oak Bluffs selectmen's meeting, access and use of a town park is not a privilege but a citizen's right. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, town parks were symbolic of a wider commitment to the public good, citizenship, and public well-being. Cottage City, which later became Oak Bluffs in 1907, is one of the first planned communities in the United States. The town planners recognized the importance of parks as open spaces for active and passive recreation. One of these parks is in imminent jeopardy today, partly because of delay and partly out of hastiness.
It may not be well known, but the strip of beach and bank all along Sea View Avenue is one of the 20-plus official town parks in Oak Bluffs. This is a longitudinal park, and for the purposes of this discussion will be called Sea View Park and Beach. There are sections of this park that are known by some people as "pizza hill", Pay Beach, and The Inkwell, or just "town beach." It has been obvious that this piece of town property has suffered from neglect for a variety of reasons over the past 50 years.
At the request of the Oak Bluffs selectmen, the O.B. Community Development Council (CDC) organized a group of O.B. citizens, members of town committees, and town employees to formulate a plan to help revitalize this park. This committee became known as the Oak Bluffs Boardwalk to Beach Task Force (OBBBTF) and met over the past year to work on this project. The draft of the Sea View Concept plan was presented to the public at two public hearings this past summer and revised as necessary.
In the spirit of town cooperation, the formal report, which was completed mid-August 2007, includes interfacing information of other projects planned for this in-town area. It was intended that this Sea View Revitalization Concept plan would be used to obtain funding through outright appropriations or grants from state, federal, or private sources. Toward this end, the town voted in December 2007, to appropriate funding for: the Conservation Commission's (ConCom) request for engineering funds to evaluate the whole Sea View Avenue sea wall and jetties; and the Community Development Council's (CDC) request for detailed architectural drawings necessary for the construction bidding process for the proposed railing and walkway, and further engineering evaluation of the Farm Pond end of the pedestrian/bike/car traveled ways. The money voted by the people of Oak Bluffs should not be completely taken to pay for an emergency crisis.
On Feb. 20, at the intersection of Samoset and Sea View avenues, an old part of the seawall collapsed at the stairway access point to the section also known as Pay Beach. Of note is that the remnants of the green seawall appear to be of a different inferior concrete and rock material as compared to the majority of the seawall along there. This has become an emergency since the walkway and state road are considered at structural risk without this retaining wall.
The only ConCom emergency option for repairing the collapsed seawall that was seriously presented at a sudden meeting on March 5 was placing gabion baskets, dumping tons of dirt/sand in place of the retaining wall, and destroying a public building, the Comfort Station. The Comfort Station can never be replaced because of Coastal Zoning Management regulations. There is no real plan for substituting these services or access to the beach. Once this dirt is in place there will be an insurmountable hurdle to get through ConCom and Costal Zoning Regulations to reinstitute any such public services. Does the proposed 2:1 slope, which will cover the existing concrete platform, all of the sudden become a 4:1 slope and take a good portion of the existing beach too? Why is the new North Bluff seawall any different? The delay by ConCom in obtaining the engineering contract for evaluation of the whole Sea View seawall is putting public safety and revival of this whole area in jeopardy. It is directly blocking the effort to progress in finding state and federal funds and writing grant applications.
At this point I would urge you to think about the value of a park to yourself or the community at large. The sections of Sea View Park Beach are not just beaches but cultural and social meeting places. The sites have had social and generational importance to Oak Bluffs citizens throughout the history of the town. People should know that this is truly a development of regional impact.
Oak Bluffs has 30 days or until March 20 to start acting under an emergency permit to make repairs to this collapsed seawall. If you care about what happens to this area, please call, or better yet, hand write a letter (it will become part of public record) to Oak Bluffs town officials and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. Rob O'Leary and Rep. Eric Turkington (for contact information, call town hall or Google). We need emergency funding and we need it now.
Nancy F. Phillips of Oak Bluffs is a member of the Oak Bluffs Community Development Council and former co-chairman of the Oak Bluffs Boardwalk to Beach Task Force.