Town administrator Robert Whritenour presented Oak Bluffs selectmen with a good news/bad news update on the status of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for Hurricane Sandy repairs at their regular meeting on Tuesday night.
“We’ve received verbal determination that the Little Bridge dredging project meets the public benefit threshold,” Mr. Whritenour said. “One big change: we can’t use it for beach nourishment at Inkwell and Pay Beach.”
Little Bridge crosses one of two channels that connect Sengekontacket Pond to Nantucket Sound. The two popular public beaches are approximately one mile north of the dredging site.
Mr. Whritenour said that FEMA guidelines for dredging funds require the most cost-effective disposal of the dredge spoils, which in this case means depositing the material on State Beach. He added that when the formal written approval comes through as expected, the dredging contractor can do the work within 30 days.
Selectman Walter Vail noted that FEMA will only cover 75 percent of the project and asked how the town would cover the remaining 25 percent. Mr. Whritenour said the town dredge account would cover the balance. The work will be done in October or November, if all goes as planned.
While things are looking up for Sengie, the funding forecast for another project under FEMA review, the reconstruction of the North Bluff, is not as promising.
In an August 22 letter to Robert Grimley, FEMA region 1 disaster recovery manager, Mr. Whritenour wrote, “The second critically time-sensitive project is the reconstruction of the North Bluff seawall that has been degraded to very poor condition as a result of Hurricane Sandy. In its current condition this seawall is no longer capable of protecting the adjacent coastal bank or the public roadway and we shudder to contemplate the risk of failure we face in the next major coastal storm.”
Mr. Whritenour also provided FEMA with an August 21 memo from CLE engineering consultant Carlos Pena, who wrote that the seawall, which was built in 1940 with inferior cement, “has a strong risk of failure during a major coastal storm” and needs to be completely rebuilt. FEMA officials has so far maintained that the less expensive option of reinforcing the existing wall can adequately protect the town. The North Bluff seawall runs from Oak Bluffs harbor entrance to the Steamship Authority terminal.
Other projects for which the town has applied to FEMA for Hurricane Sandy funding include repairs to Sea View Avenue bulkhead, restoration of beaches and jetties at Pay Beach, Jetty Beach, and the Inkwell, and East Chop bluff restoration. Mr. Whritenour suggested that the town consider appropriating funds for additional engineering studies on East Chop bluff, since they can be used to apply for funding from other state and federal agencies in the event FEMA does not award hurricane Sandy funding, which seems more likely in his estimation.
Cheers and jeers
In other business, the selectmen gave patrons of The Ritz Cafe something to celebrate with a unanimous vote to officially transfer the year-round, all-alcohol liquor license from Janet King, former co-owner of the Ritz for 31 years, to Joseph L. Stallings, president of BB&L management. The bequeathment was presided over by attorney Howard West.
Eastville Beach seasonal residents were again out in force to fight the proposed oyster farm that received preliminary approval from the selectmen in March after the proposal garnered the unanimous support of the shellfish committee and shellfish constable David Grunden. Chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan told those assembled that the fate of the aquaculture project currently rests with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and selectmen cannot act until that decision is made. Mr. Coogan assured the concerned residents that the board was taking in both sides of the debate, and he showed a thick stack of letters to that effect.
Selectman Gail Barmakian said a recent site visit to Eastville Beach gave her a better understanding of the group’s concerns. Eastville residents also asked for improved communication from the town during the off-season, including email blasts on upcoming decisions. Mr. Whritenour said that tailoring emails to specific groups is a large undertaking and is not in the town budget. He added that all taxpayers in Oak Bluffs can keep abreast of developments by checking the town website. Selectman Michael Santoro said that improving the town’s Internet infrastructure and social media is a high priority for the capital committee in the coming months.
Mr. Whritenour informed the selectmen that for the town to maximize insurance benefits to cover repairs to the fire damaged transfer station, a declaration of emergency had to be passed. Selectmen endorsed the move unanimously.
Selectmen also unanimously endorsed the appointment of Jennifer Parkinson to the Council on Aging board of directors. “I think she’ll be a great asset to the council,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “I’m sure she’ll bring some great ideas.”