Last summer, Rick Schifter, a retired lawyer and private equity partner based in Washington, D.C., commissioned a team of engineers, house movers, and Island builders to move not one, but three buildings he owns 275 feet back from their original locations above the eroding bluffs at Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick.
Today, the 8,500-square-foot summer house sits at what engineers hope will be its final resting place.
With much of the heavy lifting behind them, what’s left are the finishing touches on everything from landscaping and septic installation to removal of a 300-foot long coir log system installed to slow erosion of the bluff and the 650 tons of equipment used to do the moving job.
Project engineer George Sourati of Sourati Engineering Group in Vineyard Haven discussed this week what’s next for the Shifter project. “Now, the house is moved, all the structures are in place, and the backfill has been done,” he told The Times in a phone conversation. “Yes, we still have some more work to do, but everything is going on schedule. There have been no surprises.”
Currently, Mr. Sourati explained, underground utilities, electricity and water, are being installed, a process that can take up to two weeks. The septic system will also be installed this month.
By November 8, a 300-foot biodegradable coir log system that was placed below the bluffs, will be removed. The logs, installed as a preventative measure to slow erosion, are of densely packed coconut fiber, covered with an exterior mesh net that helps to keep the fibers in place. Removal of the coirs, which are filled with sand, will be a two-day process.
“It’s going to be done from the shore using heavy machinery,” Mr. Sourati said. “From there, the sand will be left on the beach for future beach nourishment.”
Barges and blips
Edgartown conservation agent Jane Varkonda said she visited the site at least once and sometimes twice a week during the move. Now, she receives a weekly correspondence from Mr. Sourati’s office, in addition to making periodic site visits.
“So far so good,” Ms. Varkonda told The Times, in response to a question about the progress of the project. “There have been some blips here and there, but a project that big is bound to have some.”
One recent blip, a stretch of bad weather over the Atlantic Ocean, has delayed moving equipment off of Chappaquiddick, via barge, to be towed to Maryland, where International Chimney Company (ICC) and Expert House Movers (EHM), two of the companies commissioned to move the structures, are located.
Collectively, the equipment was used to move the main house, weighing in at approximately 1,600 tons, the guesthouse, 150 tons, and the Leland house on an abutting property, bought and moved to make way for the Schifter house, roughly 90 tons.
In the months leading up to the move, roughly 650 tons of steel beams, jacks, dollies, cribbing, multiple power units, and shipping containers filled with various tools were marshaled and delivered to Chappy, all of which will exit tomorrow, Friday, November 8, if all goes well.
Looking ahead to spring, landscaping on and around the property will be completed, along with the construction of a new swimming pool.
“They are on schedule for a summer move,” Mr. Sourati said, adding that
the Schifters had recently visited their vacation retreat.
The move of the three buildings was an engineering feat of significant scale.
“The project was on a very tight deadline, so there were a lot of moving parts,” Mr. Sourati said. “But everything worked out. As issues came up, they were all addressed. The conservation commission and the planning board have done periodic site visits and seem satisfied with the work we’ve done.”
Mr. Schifter, who said he was on the Island earlier this month, was happy with the progress that’s been made.
“The move was completed right on schedule without a hitch,” Mr. Schifter wrote in an email to The Times. “The only surprise was how smoothly it went.”
He added that the focus moving forward will be restoring the landscape to its natural appearance.
“We expect to be back on Chappy by Thanksgiving, although we won’t be ‘moving in’ as we never took anything out of the house.”
In March, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) told Edgartown officials that the plan to move a 8,300-square-foot luxury house and adjacent buildings away from the quickly eroding coastal bank at Wasque Point would be subject to commission review.
In a memo dated Wednesday, March 13, to the Edgartown conservation commission, the planning board, and the building inspector, MVC executive director Mark London said two changes in the original 1990 Leland subdivision plan trigger MVC review.
“The change in lot lines,” wrote Mr. London, “alters an external lot line of the DRI (development of regional impact) and results in a portion of a fifth lot within the area covered by the Leland DRI.”
In his letter, Mr. London also referenced a condition of the DRI that stated “no further division or subdivision shall be allowed than what is shown on the application.”
Despite all that, there was no MVC review.
Edgartown zoning officer Lenny Jason, with the support of Edgartown officials, took the view that MVC review was not warranted, and the MVC let the matter drop.