More study needed for Squibnocket

To the Editor:

I do not support Chilmark’s warrant Article 20 (town Meeting on April 28). Without providing a serious analysis of the alternatives, the selectmen are asking voters to support a complex project with irreversible consequences and a questionable future — building a 420-foot, two-lane bridge along a valuable section of beach, adding new revetments along the shoreline, removing other revetments, widening the Squibnocket Beach Road, and building various facilities on a protected barrier beach. Given the risks associated with a project of this magnitude, we owe it to ourselves to turn over every rock in our review of the alternatives.  The town needs the additional time to complete its planning process, as we have but one chance to get it right.

First, the plan calls for a 420-foot steel and concrete bridge that will be located in close proximity to the shoreline. On one end, the bridge is 20 feet from the top of the coastal bank and at the other end 75 feet from the bank. Given its proximity to the shoreline and its 19-foot height above sea level, this bridge will be the dominant feature for a large segment of Chilmark’s shoreline and beach (from the far end of the parking lot to the other end of Money Hill). To make matters worse, the bridge will be nearly 20 feet wide (width of State Road) and will shade the parts of the beach in the early afternoon. If one of the objectives of the plan is to improve Squibnocket Beach, the plan fails its first test by degrading a large section.

Second, the bridge is a hard structure and cannot move as the beach migrates. Some consider it a benefit that the water will pass under the bridge rather than striking a revetment; however, water passing through a bridge is not helpful when the end points are also under water.  While Squibnocket Farms feels confident in the security of its bridge, the town’s geologists recommended new revetments at both ends.  Conservationists, including the Vineyard Conservation Society, recommend against these hard structures on shorelines.  Recently, VCS made the following comments in a letter to the the Town of Chilmark:

“In general, VCS supports soft stabilization where managed retreat is not possible. We therefore support the removal of the current parking lot and stone revetment [at Squibnocket Beach] to allow the beach to migrate naturally and re-establish itself as a valuable town resource. The proposed [Squibnocket Farms] construction, however, will eventually result in new hard stabilization once the shoreline recedes….  The other concern is that placing such a substantial and expensive piece of infrastructure directly in the path of sea level rise will lead to the future expectation that the town must do ‘whatever it takes’ to save the causeway….  Emergency measures taken to stabilize this project will likely have greater negative ecological impacts than the current proposal.” (April 9, 2014)

We have heard the arguments from the Squibnocket Farms people that accessibility has an impact on property values. However, it’s not clear that a higher property value justifies a level of access that harms the environment, if less damaging alternatives are available. No one is interested in denying access to the Squibnocket Farms, but it would make sense to examine these expectations for access and the related performance standard for a challenging area like this one. This exercise could open other possibilities for solutions.

Last, this plan calls for changes to a barrier beach that has been maintained as forever wild, to serve as a flood damage prevention system during storms, under the stewardship of the Vineyard Open Land Foundation. Proposed changes to the barrier beach include widening of the Squibnocket Beach Road from one to two lanes and the development of a parking lot and paths or boardwalks to the beach. Not only is the removal of this vegetation inconsistent with Massachusetts statutes, the location of the parking lot could be inconvenient for many.

Let’s take the time and do this right.

Charles Parker