Squibnocket project worries


To The Editor:

The Squibnocket beach and parking lot proposal worries me deeply.  A massively impactful project like this should have more careful review and a broader based assessment of Chilmark property owner support. We deserve to be convinced that we will get an elegant and nature conscious solution, one that ensures that the beach in years to come will remain as simple and frugal as it is today.

For starters, recent news about accelerations of sea level change needs more assessment relative to this project. I am currently working on a research grant through Harvard for the Rockefeller Foundation and the Army Corps of Engineers on the subject of rising sea levels and their impact on the shore landscape. I have learned this past year that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has not made public its likely projections of the anticipated rate of sea level rise. A Rhode Island expert told me recently that we may need to plan for as much as three feet of sea level rise by 2060. This faster and more dramatic increase in sea level, of course, will be accompanied by more coastal erosion than we are currently anticipating.

For some, this alarming news might suggest that we ought to rush ahead with the Squibnocket bridge approval. I feel the opposite: that this is a moment to proceed with  caution, and to take the time – at least through the summer – to look at scenarios of land loss for the next 50 years in various computer models, and then to consider this Squibnocket proposal in the context of those scenarios.

From a financial perspective, the Squibnocket proposal is not as attractive as it might at first seem.  The potential negative impact of its construction both visually and environmentally will be with us a lot longer than any quick economic benefits. Everyone who lives in Squibnocket Farms knew what they were buying, and anyone could see then and now that access would eventually be compromised. The town should not feel pressured to hastily endorse a solution. It needs addressing, just not in a rushed way.

Thus far, from what I have seen, there is no reason to think that our future enjoyment of the beach’s simplicity will be fully ensured by the current proposal. I am unconvinced by the renderings of the bridge. The negative visual impact on the beach and the edges of the pond cannot be fully understood in these drawings. The story they tell is vastly incomplete, and I worry that they paint a sunny picture of a fairly shocking change.

Before anything is decided, we deserve an open forum this summer, when more of us who pay taxes and use this beach (and are impacted) are on-Island to weigh in. Unfortunately this problem sits geographically at the intersection of a private development and a heavily used and beloved town beach.  It is fair to ask for real testimony and engineering assessment from outside experts. This proposal is a very serious issue – it will transmogrify a favorite part of town for us all. Taxpayers and registered voters both deserve a chance to weigh in.

I urge voters at tonight’s town meeting to vote against the proposal, or at least to postpone a decision until all the property owners who are affected can be heard.

Michael Van Valkenburgh