Bruce Carlisle, director of the state office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) came to the Island on Wednesday to present an overview of the newly released, 206-page 2014 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (OMP) and to hear questions and comments from Vineyard residents.
The public hearing held at the Katharine Cornell Theater was sparsely attended, but many of the attendees who braved the stormy evening stood to speak their minds. The hot topic was offshore sand mining to bolster beaches that are losing their battle against erosion.
Shoring up the beaches
Massachusetts is one of the few states on the east coast that prohibits offshore sand mining, but state and federal agencies, in addition to the CZM, are advocating a change in policy. “Offshore sand mining has been a recommendation from several other higher policy level entities including the Coastal Hazards Commission (CHC) in 2007 and the Climate Change Adaptation report issued by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEE) in 2011,” Mr. Carlisle said Wednesday night.
The 2009 OMP recognized that the mining offshore sand could help mitigate beach erosion, but did not designate specific areas that could be mined. The 2014 OMP has designated “primary resource areas” in Massachusetts waters and in federal waters for a small number of potential pilot projects over the next five years. One of the largest primary resource areas is between the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.
“We’re focused in on medium and coarse grain sand as beach compatible sand, and avoiding gravel and cobbles that have more implications and connections with fisheries resources than medium and coarse grain sand.” Mr. Carlisle said, adding that there was extensive input from the United States Geological Survey in identifying the sand resource areas. After that, the CZM identified areas to avoid because of potential damage to fisheries per the input of the MAssachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Infrastructure uses and navigational traffic were also included in the calculus.
“We chose the areas where sand mining would have the least amount of impact and the least amount of conflicts,” Mr. Carlisle said. One criterion of the pilot projects is that the mined sand must be used on public beaches. Mr. Carlisle said that the CZM does not have the authority to determine which beaches will receive the mined sand.
“While it is outside of the jurisdiction of the plan, the beach nourishment projects will be subject to other review and permitting under state, federal and local regulatory programs,” he wrote in a follow-up email.
Public comments on offshore mining were wide ranging.
Stanley Arend of Oak Bluffs suggested that rather than shipping sand mined from a large offshore facility, a smaller project should be considered for beach nourishment at the Inkwell, where so much sand has collected just offshore, and the water is knee deep for more than 200 feet off the low tide mark.
Shelly Edmundson, is a Tisbury resident and doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire, where she studies channel whelks, also known as conch. She requested more study and communication with the fishing community.
“I work with a lot of the conch fishermen and their concern, and my primary concern, is the potential sand mining locations,” she said. “I think significant fishing areas are included in the potential mining areas. I’m very concerned with whelk habitat. They prefer sandy, muddy areas. They lay their egg strings in the sand. There’s just a whole realm of concerns associated with sand mining in general.”
Mr. Carlisle welcomed input from Vineyard fishermen and said that all mining would be done with consideration to the time of year to minimize potential interruption of breeding cycles.
Caroline Hunter of Oak Bluffs, a member of a recently formed citizen beach committee, told Mr. Carlisle about the much maligned dredge spoils that were put on Inkwell beach, and the public protests that ensued. She also read from a letter from the citizen beach committee. “We support the mining of offshore sand with the potential of providing high-quality replenishment material that preserves the quality and safety of our beaches,” the letter said in part.
Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and the founding president of two fishermen’s organizations, spoke against the pilot program off the Island’s north shore. “The reason the Massachusetts oceans act was passed was because the state considers the oceans a top priority,” he said. “We are not improving the health of the ocean by digging up the benthic environment. I’m sympathetic to the people who want their beaches restored, but that’s not why we passed the Oceans Act.”
Mr. Doty said the designated area off the north shore is a rich fishery for the Island. He also said that small core samples taken during Ms. Edmundson’s studies have shown a fecundity of sea life that would be damaged with offshore sand mining. “The lab in New Hampshire can pick out 47 small living things you couldn’t even see,” he said, adding that mussel beds would also suffer. “It’s not going to help the health of our oceans and it’s not going to help our fisheries.”
The CZM will continue to hold public hearings in Massachusetts coastal towns during the 60-day public comment period.
Mr. Carlisle implored all Vineyarders to weigh in before the comment period ends at 5 pm, November 25.
The ocean plan draft is available online at the EEA website, www.mass.gov/eea/. Written comments should be sent to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, ATTN: Ocean Plan, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 800, Boston, MA 02114. Comments can also be sent by email to email@example.com.