Edgartown offers to manage Norton Point Beach for Dukes County
Citing a summer-long closure, the Edgartown park commissioners have asked the Dukes County commissioners to turn over management of the county-owned Norton Point Beach to the town.
The proposal to lease the three-mile strip of barrier beach between the open Atlantic Ocean and Katama Bay that links Katama to Chappaquiddick was outlined in a letter to the Dukes County commissioners that raises numerous questions about past and future beach management.
The letter signed by the three Edgartown park commissioners proposes that the town, through the park commissioners, lease the beach from the county and turn over management to The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR). "We see this as a win-win situation," reads the letter. "The beach gets managed properly and some profit goes back to the county once the start-up costs are covered and the property is brought into compliance."
Jayne Varkonda, park commissioner, said the idea to lease the beach grew out of discussions held several months ago with Winn Davis, county manager. She said that as far as she knows there has been no response from the county to the August letter.
TTOR has a record of successful shore bird monitoring and beach management on its properties. Edgartown, which manages the adjacent South Beach, has lifeguards and beach patrols.
TTOR, a nonprofit state conservation organization, already owns and/or manages approximately 12 miles of beach and more than 800 acres on Chappaquiddick, extending from the county's Norton Point beach to the tip of Cape Poge.
The beach route provides vital access for fishermen and residents of Chappaquiddick who want to avoid the wait to cross Edgartown harbor by ferry, as well as an unspoiled area for recreation.
This summer the entire beach remained closed from mid-June until late August to protect a colony of least terns and two pairs of piping plovers. Both species are protected under state and federal laws.
In their letter, written at a time when it appeared the beach might remain closed through Labor Day weekend, the park commissioners said, "It is a real loss to everyone that this beach is still closed and will remain that way for the next one to two weeks.…" The park commissioners questioned why a portion of the beach could not be opened since the birds were located at the eastern end and asked if the county had hired a bird monitor for the next season.
The beach was opened on August 27, earlier than first predicted, once the nesting chicks were able to fly.
This summer the Dukes County sheriff's department was given responsibility for managing Norton Point following the departure of Rob Culbert, a bird biologist and county beach manager. That left a county recreation department, which is overseen by the county manager, consisting of one employee.
The park commissioners propose to set beach sticker levels at a level approved by the county and provide the county with an annual financial report.
The 2006 fiscal year (FY) budget, which began on July 1, provides $75,636 for the county recreation department, which is responsible for Norton Point Beach, State Beach, and Eastville Beach. The county collected $50,545 in sticker revenue in FY 2005.
Beach patrols by the sheriff's deputies add an additional expense to the cost of county beach management.
Eight years ago, the county commissioners considered turning over management of Norton Point Beach to TTOR. The goal was to save the county thousands of dollars and improve the condition of the beach then littered with rusting posts and strung with rope fencing. Following months of discussion the proposal was dropped in the face of opposition by some Edgartown officials and county commissioners.
This week, Chris Kennedy, TTOR regional director, said TTOR would welcomes the opportunity to manage Norton Point in conjunction with the town of Edgartown. "We have an excellent working relationship with Edgartown, which already does an impressive job of managing their end of the beach," said Mr. Kennedy. "And we have an excellent track record of working with state and federal wildlife officials."
Asked about the proposal, John Alley of West Tisbury, county commission chairman, told The Times that the first time he heard about the letter from the Edgartown park commissioners was at a meeting of the county commissioners on Sept. 28.
Mr. Alley said the letter was presented to the commissioners by commissioner Lenny Jason of Chilmark, who is also Edgartown's building inspector. According to Mr. Alley, Mr. Davis told the board he was trying to set up a meeting with Mr. Kennedy but was having scheduling difficulty. Mr. Kennedy said he has had no contact or conversations with Mr. Davis for several months.
Yesterday, Mr. Davis, who was planning to leave on a one-week vacation later in the day, said he did not have time to speak to a Times reporter.