Oak Bluffs selectmen edge toward a decision on East Chop Drive

A low lying section of East Chop Drive, along Vineyard Haven outer harbor, was reduced to one traffic lane after a February blizzard. — File photo by Steve Myrick

The Oak Bluffs selectmen roads and byways committee held a well attended meeting last Thursday to discuss the future of East Chop drive. The meeting ended with three options for the selectmen to vote on when they meet on September 24: close the road completely, close the seaward lane and make it a one-way street, or move the road inland into Lincoln Park.

Prior to the meeting, the East Chop Association (ECA) voted unanimously to close East Chop Drive between Munroe Avenue and Brewster Avenue by the end of September and to keep it closed until the bluff is stabilized or repaired. Given that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not allocated any money to pay for the estimated $4,119,508 of required repairs, the road could be closed for a long time. But that didn’t dissuade the ECA membership.

“Nobody voiced any dissent to closing the road at our last meeting,” said Craig Dripps, president of the East Chop association in a telephone interview with The Times. “We’re trying to get $8 million from FEMA to fix the bluff, and if we leave the road open it looks pretty silly. We’re going after Sandy release money, so we’re in competition with people up and down the east coast. If we don’t get that funding, the bluff is going to collapse.”

The crumbling corniche that wraps around East Chop bluffs and overlooks Nantucket Sound has been severely compromised in the past year. The seaward lane was closed in November, 2012, as a result of erosion from Superstorm Sandy. Winter storm Nemo also caused significant damage and closed the road for two weeks. One lane remained closed until late June of this year, when it was reopened to reduce traffic on the alternate routes that cut through residential areas of East Chop.

While the favored course of action among the ECA board is to close the road completely and to work with the town of Oak Bluffs and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on a long-term solution, the question of funding remains, and there are myriad complications.

“The bluff is owned by the East Chop Association, not the town” said Mr. Dripps. “When Hurricane Bob closed it [East Chop Drive] in 1991, we were able to get FEMA money, even though it was privately owned. But this time, I think the fact that it’s privately owned is really working against us.”

“Congressman Keating is well aware of what’s going on at East Chop,” said East Chop resident and chairman of the selectmen Walter Vail, with regard to the FEMA funding famine. “And we’re reaching out to other people in high places. But for now, we’re going to have to put our heads together. One big storm could take it right out.”