Engineer finds bank near 'Snack Shack' unstable
An engineer hired by the Oak Bluffs conservation commission has labeled part of the coastal bank near the "snack shack" unstable, and submitted a preliminary plan for temporary support of the coastal bank along the town's popular shorefront.
"I wouldn't put my kids in front of it," said Carlos Peña of CLE Engineering in Marion. "Is that going to last five years, two months, three seconds? I don't know. The probability is eventually, it will fall."
The plans preserve, at least temporarily, the small building that houses a snack bar, bathrooms, and changing rooms. A "very, very, rough" estimate of the cost of the repairs is approximately $80,000, according to the engineer.
But the temporary repairs, and how they might affect long term plans to revitalize the waterfront along Sea View Avenue, continue to be a point of contentious dispute among some of the town's elected officials.
Meeting on the beach near the spot where part of the seawall collapsed on February 20, Mr. Peña outlined the plan for a group including representatives of the board of selectmen, the conservation commission, the parks department, and others town officials. The part of the wall that collapsed has already been repaired with a sloping sand bank, reinforced internally with wire baskets filled with rocks.
After tests on the rest of the coastal bank, and the four-foot concrete wall reinforcing it at the base, Mr. Peña recommended the repair plan.
The probability that the coastal bank will eventually collapse is one of the few points where Mr. Peña agreed with Kent Healy, a West Tisbury civil engineer asked by newly elected parks commissioner Nancy Phillips to examine the coastal bank.
"Our calculations are probably quite similar," said Mr. Healy, who estimated the wall would not move substantially over the next 20 years. "He [Mr. Peña] wants to make it super safe, I don't think it needs to be super safe. I'm quite sure that some day the wall is going to fall. It would move very slowly. If that wall were to fall, you could stroll away from it."
Photo by Steve Myrick
In support of his opinion, Mr. Peña pointed out that another part of the wall has already collapsed, the remaining structure is leaning outward from the force of the coastal bank behind it, and there is a crack from top to bottom at one point in the remaining wall, with one side protruding outward about an inch further than the other.
Mr. Peña's proposal calls for additional sand to be added to the coastal bank, to form a 2-to-1 slope down to the beach. The plan does not call for wire baskets to reinforce the coastal wall. Inside the snack shack building, which backs directly against the coastal bank, Mr. Peña recommends steel braces be installed against the back wall.
At the June 12 beach gathering to unveil the repair plan, sawhorses and yellow tape surrounded the snack shack, but there was no barrier or warning in front of the part of the coastal bank deemed unstable. Picnic tables, benches, and shade umbrellas were located on a concrete platform less than six feet from the bank, an inviting prospect for beach goers looking for a place to lay out a picnic lunch or escape the hot sun. There was no warning to anyone who might climb on the bank that it was in danger of collapse. "We're trying," said Joan Hughes, chairman of the conservation commission. "We'll have full signage very shortly."
Though Ms. Hughes said she viewed the plan as an "interim" repair, Mr. Peña resisted that label, calling the repairs temporary.
"All we're really doing is making it safe for the summer," he said.
Approximately $200,000, mostly in state funding, has been approved for the repair projects. Some of those funds have already been used to repair the collapsed wall, and some are earmarked for engineering studies to find a permanent solution.
"Realistically, we're looking at a budget of $110,000," said Ms. Hughes.
Snack shack attack
Mr. Peña's plan does not call for demolition of the snack shack, which was a concern of many town residents and a flash point in the conflicting views of town officials.
"As a park commissioner, I'm concerned about safety," said Ms. Phillips. "We're looking at maximum recreation space and safety. People have told us they want a concession stand, bathrooms, and changing rooms."
At a selectmen's meeting on May 13, selectman Kerry Scott took the opposite stance.
"We have a dilapidated building that we've put some money into, and Nancy Phillips has done an enormous amount of work on," said Ms. Scott. "The snack shack is not the beach. That building is neither historic, nor attractive, nor worthy, nor even valuable. We keep hearing about saving the snack shack. I'd rather save the beach."
Selectmen chairman Ron DiOrio recently appointed Ms. Scott chairman of a new committee charged with stewardship of the town shorefront while temporary repairs and later permanent renovations are made.
Ms. Phillips, also named to the committee as a member of the parks commission, co-chaired the Boardwalk to Beach Task Force, which issued a report this past fall outlining a $2.7 million plan to renovate the road, sidewalks, railings, beach structures, and access ways along Sea View Avenue. At a special town meeting in December, Oak Bluffs voters approved a measure to fund the first step of that plan, $46,200 for engineering studies and drawings that will define specifications for the project. At that meeting, voters also approved a $65,000 request from the conservation commission for an engineering study to evaluate the entire coastal bank from the Oak Bluffs harbor to Farm Pond. Parts of the coastal bank collapsed before that engineering study was completed.
The repair plan also calls for access to the beach by a wooden stairway, which would not meet federal regulations for disabled access. According to Oak Bluffs building inspector, that would require a variance from the federal government. Several elected representatives raised objection to that aspect of the plan.
"Eventually, it's going to have to be accessible," said selectman Roger Wey. "If we're going to build something, make it accessible, and build it once."
Mr. Peña indicated it would not be difficult to make a ramp that would satisfy the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but it would be more expensive.
Another factor weighing on the process is the availability of contractors and material. Previous repairs to the coastal bank were completed using sand from several dredging projects, but there is very little of that sand left over, so material used for new repairs would likely have to come from another Island town. There are others concerns about the availability of local contractors who may already be fully booked for the busy summer season.