Proposed Squibnocket Beach changes spark a lively discussion

Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association engineer Mark Haley, attorney Peter Alpert, Chilmark selectmen Jonathan Mayhew, Warren Doty, standing and William Rossi (left to right) at Tuesday's meeting. — Photo by Tony Omer

Thirty people filled the Chilmark library meeting room for an hour and a half Wednesday evening, December 3, to hear selectmen present a broad plan to relocate the often sea struck Squibnocket Beach parking lot and build an elevated road similar to the steel and concrete causeway built to access the new Menemsha docks, 18.5 feet wide, two to four feet above the existing lot, to allow more reliable access via the sole route to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision. The plan includes removal of the stone revetment allowing the restoration of the barrier beach where the parking lot is now.

Most of those present agreed that two parts of the plan, eliminating the existing stone revetment in front of the parking lot and developing a way for the homeowners to reach their houses, were necessary, but there were questions about the proposed parking lot and the elevated road. The plan prompted questions about whether other options had been considered, suggestions for changes, and several varying interpretations of the site’s geological future.

Chairman Warren Doty said the negotiations between Chilmark selectmen and representatives of the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation, owner of open acreage at Squibnocket, were spurred by the damage done by hurricane Sandy last year. “We feel it is our responsibility to suggest some improvements and some changes to the Squibnocket area,” he said.

William Rossi was the lead negotiator for the selectmen in the talks that led to the preliminary agreement on the agenda Tuesday. The meetings have been held in executive session, he said, but going forward the process would be and open to the public and the agreement subject to change.

“As this proposal moves forward and we ask for permits there will be public hearings for all of the abutters and a formal process,” Mr. Doty said.

He said that the proposal would not require any additional public money and would be funded by Community Preservation Act funds already in place and by the Squibnocket homeowners association. Mr. Rossi said that responsibility for maintenance costs over the life of the project has not been determined.

Selectmen would not take any action on the proposal until after the April, 2014 town meeting at the earliest, according to Mr. Doty, and then only if the town instructed them to do so. He encouraged questions and discussion from the floor after the presentation. A round of applause followed his introduction.

Mr. Rossi narrated the 20-minute PowerPoint presentation detailing the plan that includes a new 99-year, $400,000 lease for a larger piece of land that would increase the public beach area, allow a new parking lot to the west of the present lot, provide greater access to Squibnocket Pond, and remove the stone revetment protecting the present lot. It also includes an elevated road with power and communication lines running underneath, to be paid for by the homeowners group. The existing lease expires in 2050. There was another round of applause from the appreciative crowd.

Former Martha’s Vineyard Commission member and present Chilmark conservation commission member Chris Murphy opened the hour-long discussion that followed. “I think this is wonderful,” he said. “I think you guys have done a great pro-active job of moving forward.” He went on to say that there are other ways to do the job that should be considered.

Mr. Murphy’s feelings were echoed by several others who requested assurances that other options be considered.

Questions were raised about the long-term viability of the proposed parking lot and the new road. Former selectman David Damroth said he does not believe the plan is a 100-year plan but one that will no doubt have to be reconsidered in as little as 20 to 30 years.

Chilmark fisherman and longtime Squibnocket surfer Lev Wlodyka, echoing Mr. Damroth, said in an impassioned tone that the existing dune next to the parking lot and the entire beach is subject to being washed away with the next storm. “These things are fickle,” he said in a succinct understatement.

There appeared to be collective agreement that the removal of the revetment would result in a decrease in total erosion in the area but there were conflicting opinions expressed about whether the beach, which has become smaller over the years, would recover or whether it would recede further creating an opening for the pond.

A suggestion to purchase nearby land for off-site parking with a bus for beachgoers to eliminate the need for a large parking lot, was addressed by several people.

Mr. Murphy suggested removing the revetment immediately. “It seems to me that the logical thing to do is to take away the revetment now. If you want to see what the proper answer is take the revetment away today, rebuild the dune.” He suggested that the Squibnocket beach will revert to its natural state as a barrier beach.

Blacksmith Valley landowner Barbara Lee, whose property overlooks Squibnocket Pond, asked whether the removal of vegetation to build a new parking lot would make the area even more fragile and hasten the need to build a longer bridge to reach the association homes in the future. “These guys are shaking their heads,” she said referring to the men at the table.

“Not at all,” was the reply.

She got a big laugh from the crowd when she said, “No, I thought you were shaking your heads in agreement.” She continued “I think people need to be informed that what they are looking at for a bridge will need to go three or four times the distance than what is planned now and a parking lot will get lost in that process.”

“I think maybe we have come to the end of a fruitful discussion. It’s time to wrap this up,” said Mr. Doty. “We have heard the ideas that maybe we need to go to more consultants. We will keep this up. Thank you for coming.”

The Squibnocket PowerPoint presentation is available on the Chilmark town website,