A group of Blacksmith Valley property owners, whose summer homes overlook Squibnocket Beach, presented an alternative plan to restore the popular beach, build a bridge, and relocate the storm damaged parking lot, at a special selectmen’s meeting Friday morning, April 4.
The group, who call themselves Friends of Squibnocket Pond, object for environmental and aesthetic reasons to the plan endorsed by selectmen. A vote on the concept is scheduled for Chilmark’s annual town meeting on April 28.
“We’re solving the same exact problems,” said Charlie Parker, a seasonal resident of the Blacksmith Valley neighborhood, who spoke for opponents of the current plan. “We’re just saying there’s a different way to do it.”
The Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation have worked with selectmen over the past year to fashion a plan intended to address the damaging effects of coastal erosion on the town beach parking area and the single causeway that provides the only access for residents of the Squibnocket subdivision.
The plan to be presented to voters would remove the boulder revetment, and allow the shorefront to return to a natural barrier beach. A new town parking lot to access the beach and Squibnocket Pond would be created to the west of its current location.
The Blacksmith Valley residents object to the height, width, and the location of the proposed elevated roadway, which would be a two lane roadway approximately 300 feet long. They also contend that coastal erosion will quickly become a problem for the new bridge.
“It’s a 20-foot-high massive structure of steel and concrete,” Mr. Parker said. “You’re going to have a bridge sitting in the middle of your beach, in a very short time,” Mr. Parker said.
Instead, the group proposed a one lane elevated roadway 15 feet high, which starts further up Squibnocket Road, cuts behind the current parking lot over the edge of Squibnocket Pond, to a point near the gate leading to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision.
The Blacksmith Valley group also objects to the proposed relocation of the parking lot. The agreement between selectmen and the Squibnocket Farm residents calls for a lot to the west of the current beach, with a pathway back to the beach.
Opponents of that plan proposed a 40 vehicle parking lot just off Squibnocket Road, behind the current lot, which they contend, would be more protected from erosion.
“I hate to waste money,” said Tony Orphanos, a Blacksmith Valley homeowner who helped present the alternative plan. “I can’t stand wasting $5 million to $10 million over 20 years, then doing it all over again.
Peter Alpert, an attorney for the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray who represents the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association, took sharp exception to several elements of the alternative plan. He pointed out that the parking lot and the bridge in the alternative proposal are located on private property, and the group has no agreement from the landowners to buy or lease the land. “The concept isn’t even worth talking about unless the owners agree,” Mr. Alpert said.
He also questioned whether the longer bridge could muster regulatory approval. He said the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rarely approves structures over water in protected coastal zones.
“It’s much longer, it clips the pond,” Mr. Alpert said. “It exposes the whole project to failure from the DEP. We shouldn’t think of an alignment that goes over water.”
Selectman Bill Rossi, who led negotiations with the Squibnocket Farm homeowners on behalf of the town was also critical of the Blacksmith Valley plan. He said the town engaged in a long process, and negotiated all land owner agreements before presenting the current proposal.
“This is a last-minute proposal,” Mr. Rossi said. “There’s a process. I think we are open to an alternative, but we’re not going to endorse a plan with five minutes of process. The stakeholders have to be in agreement before you even have a proposal.”
Selectman Jonathan Mayhew expressed support for the alternative proposal. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all, if you don’t have a lot of problems with wetlands,” Mr. Mayhew said.
Despite the best efforts of chairman Warren Doty to keep the discussion focused on the alternative plan, debate occasionally strayed to opposition of the original plan.
Chilmark resident Thomas Bena questioned whether the town was legally obligated to provide access to the Squibnocket Farm homes, and whether a bridge is necessary.
“I don’t understand the air of entitlement that you and your clients have about this bridge,” he asked Mr. Alpert, the attorney representing Squibnocket Farm homeowners. Mr. Alpert’s reply was brief and to the point.
“We own the land,” he said.
Selectmen scheduled a fourth and final town-sponsored forum prior to town meeting vote for 6 pm at the Chilmark Community Center on Wednesday, April 9, to discuss all aspects of the project.
The only proposal on the town meeting warrant is the plan endorsed by selectmen. Mr. Doty noted that a substitute plan could be offered by amendment, or the article could be indefinitely postponed.
If voters approve the concept of a new elevated roadway and restructuring of the beach, it would not represent final approval. Selectmen intend to schedule a special town meeting in the fall, to present an article that would authorize them to move forward with planning for the project.