Squibnocket Land Court injunction denied

Judge kills opponents’ motion to block use of access structure.

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A crane is dismantled at the site of a new Squibnocket bridge-like structure. - Rich Saltzberg

Updated Feb. 27, 3:20 pm

Defenders of the structure built to access Squibnocket Farm won a victory in Land Court Friday when Judge Gordon Piper denied an injunction requested by opponents Doug Liman and David Stork.

The injunction was sought as part of an appeal of the Dec. 13 decision by the Chilmark zoning board of appeals’ rejecting a cease-and-desist request. The injunction sought to prohibit use of the structure until a building permit was issued. Squibnocket Farm, the town of Chilmark, Chilmark’s zoning board of appeals, individual members of that board, and building inspector Lenny Jason were named as defendants in the appeal.

Friday marked the second time complaints against the bridge-like structure reached Judge Piper’s bench. On Sept. 6, Piper dismissed with prejudice a similar case brought by Liman and other plaintiffs.

The town of Chilmark and the Squibnocket Farm subdivision have weathered repeated legal attacks on the structure — a pier-supported roadway alternatively termed a bridge or causeway — meant to provide access from Squibnocket Road to the multimillion-dollar properties of Squibnocket Farm.

In a deal with Squibnocket Farm homeowners, Chilmark received Squibnocket Beach in exchange for a cashless agreement that granted perpetual rights of way to Squibnocket Farm homeowners and other landowners on Squibnocket Point. Chilmark voters approved that agreement at a special town meeting on Nov. 27. In light of that agreement, Chilmark is poised to break ground on a beach restoration project that will include relocation of a parking lot, beach renourishment, construction of a dune, and the dismantling of a granite revetment. Until the newly constructed span opens for use, the revetment continues to double as a causeway for Squibnocket Farm residents.

Squibnocket Farm attorney Richard Batchelder told The Times he was “very pleased” with Piper’s denial. The motion would not only have prevented use of the structure, but stopped Chilmark from moving ahead with its beach project, because the plaintiffs also sought to prevent the destruction of the old access road, Batchelder said. Part of that road stretches across the granite revetment slated to be removed.

Beach project general contractor John Keene previously told The Times the revetment removal is a key element of the project, and that the removal has been sequenced with other parts of the project to hedge against unpredictable late winter weather. Chilmark conservation commission administrator Chuck Hodgkinson has repeatedly said structure delays that translate into beach project delays threaten time-sensitive state funding. Until the structure opens for passage, the revetment offers the only way for vehicles to pass between Squibnocket Beach and the Squibnocket Farm subdivision. However, last week Haley and Aldrich senior vice president Mark Haley told The Times that contractor C. White Marine was in the process of “demobilizing” from the site, and that the opening of the structure is imminent. Haley and Aldrich designed the structure, according to Haley.

Piper’s denial stated the plaintiffs failed to meet the necessary standards in their motion, weren’t likely to succeed on the merits of their arguments, and did not show harm had been done, Batchelder said. Batchelder also said Piper “agreed 100 percent” with Judge Gary Nickerson’s past reasoning that the project served the public interest.

Chilmark town counsel Ron Rappaport said Piper “issued a comprehensive order” and “fully stated the reasons for doing so.” Copies of the decision are expected to be distributed in a day or two, he said.

“The judge affirmed all the points made by the town, as well as the conclusions and decisions of the town, its committees, the DEP, and the multitude of courts and review agencies,” Chilmark selectman Jim Malkin said. Malkin, who chaired the town’s Squibnocket Committee, has gone on record to describe the structure’s opponents as “well-meaning people” who he wished would stop assailing the project(s). “We’d love to have a beach,” he said last November.

Attorney Dan Larkosh, who filed the injunction on behalf of Liman and Stork, wrote The Times from California that he is contemplating the ruling with his clients.  “It was important that we be heard on this request prior to the removal of the causeway,” he wrote. “While the court denied our motion, the judge did state to the defendants that they bear the risk of cutting off their access should the appeals court see things differently.”   

Updated to include commentary from Malkin and Larkosh.