TTOR poised to manage Norton Pt. Beach
The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), a private conservation organization that now manages extensive beachfront on Chappaquiddick, is poised to take over management of Norton Point Beach, pending an agreement with Dukes County officials on the details of a multi-year contract.
The three-mile strip of county-owned barrier beach between the open Atlantic Ocean and Katama Bay links Katama to Chappaquiddick and provides an important transportation route and recreational resource. The beach is also considered to be prime nesting habitat for protected species of shorebirds.
County and TTOR representatives are very close to an agreement, said Chris Kennedy, TTOR regional director.
Norton Point Beach. Photo by Tim Johnson
Mr. Kennedy described recent discussions with Winn Davis, county manager, as "very productive and positive."
Mr. Davis said he hopes to meet with the Trustees next week, once the TTOR board reviews the current proposal. He said the agreement is moving along with the full support of the county commissioners. "We hope to have an agreement concluded by end of February so they can take over for the summer," he said.
Mr. Davis said the Sheriff's department would assist the Trustees in any beach cleanup. "The county wants to improve the condition and access to the beach and that is our goal," he said.
The final sticking point is the distribution split of any future revenue realized from the sale of beach stickers. That issue is not expected to be a deal breaker, according to Mr. Kennedy, who said that he expects costs will exceed revenue at least for the first several years while the Trustees work to clean up the beach and improve overall management. Setting up an air station, cleaning up the rusting metal posts that litter the beach, providing full-time ranger coverage, and shorebird monitoring are just some of the anticipated costs, he said.
The county wants beach permits to be available and affordable for local residents. Beach permits in 2005 cost $100 for non-residents and $60 for residents.
The discussions now underway originated with a group of Island fishermen, members of the Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association, who often fish and travel the beach. Their involvement and the support of Edgartown officials for a change spurred the county to act.
Over the years, fishermen and town leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with the poor condition of the beach, and lengthy closures to protect nesting shorebirds.
Last 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, which left a county recreation department consisting of one employee. The department is overseen by the county manager.
Norton Point Beach was closed from mid-June until late August last summer to protect a colony of least terns and two pairs of piping plovers. Both species are protected under state and federal laws.
According to the county budget, in the 2006 fiscal year (FY 2006), which began on July 1, 2005, the county recreation department will cost county taxpayers $75,636. Revenue, primarily from the sale of beach permits for off-road vehicles that use Norton Point, is projected to be $65,600, but year-to-date it is $2,880, reflecting last season's lengthy beach closure. In FY 2005, $50,545 was taken in by the county recreation department, which also manages State Beach and Eastville Beach.
Action is needed
The TTOR board of directors and the county commissioners must approve any final agreement. But time is getting short if the Trustees are going to be ready for the coming season, according to Mr. Kennedy.
Despite blustery February weather, summer is just around the corner for professional beach managers. Mr. Kennedy said that environmental regulations require that shorebird habitat be delineated by April 1. With less than two months left TTOR would have much to do should it take over management of Norton Point. "We would need to move fairly quickly," said Mr. Kennedy.
TTOR has a record of successful shore bird monitoring and beach management on its properties. The 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.
Initially, said Mr. Kennedy, the Trustees would erect a gatehouse at the entrance of the beach to better control access and provide an air station for vehicle drivers to re-inflate tires. The beach roadway, now delineated by a helter-skelter collection of posts and rope, would be better marked off with appropriate signage and the Trustees would provide ranger supervision. Eventually, the road layout would likely be changed, but there is no time this season for needed permitting.
Mr. Kennedy said the Trustees would benefit by having better control of a critical access point to its own beaches. Late night beach parties and the lack of resources available to the county for shorebird management have often been a concern, he said.
Mr. Kennedy said there is no guarantee that TTOR management would result in shorter beach closures, but he thinks the conservation group's technical expertise and good track record of shorebird management will lead to more flexibility from state and federal environmental officials.
Fishermen plug away
The current discussion began more than one year ago when a group of surfcasters sounded out Mr. Kennedy about the possibility of TTOR managing Norton Point. Encouraged by that conversation, the fishermen aired their concerns in a letter to John Alley, county commission chairman, dated January 10, 2005 citing the importance of Norton Point Beach as the only alternative route to Chappaquiddick, along with concerns about trail definition, signage and maintenance, vandalism, late-night gatherings, litter, and public relations.
The fishermen eventually met with Mr. Alley and Mr. Davis. The initial reaction of county officials was mixed, said Ron Domurat of Edgartown, chairman of the Surfcasters' beach access committee, but the fishermen kept plugging away.
At one point, the fishermen took Mr. Davis for a tour of the beach. They started with the Trustees beach and ended with Norton Point. "We really wanted to open his eyes a bit," said Mr. Domurat, who added that discussions remained stalled until Edgartown got involved,
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. Following months of discussion, the proposal was dropped, in the face of opposition by some Edgartown officials and county commissioners.
Mr. Kennedy said the difference this time was the involvement of the Edgartown Parks and recreation department. He credited Ms. Dolby, the town's former parks and recreation department administrator, with helping to bring the two parties together. "Getting the town on board really helped move things along," he said.
Last August, citing a summer-long beach closure, the Edgartown park commissioners asked the county commissioners to turn over management of the beach to the Trustees in a letter that raised numerous questions about past and future beach management. They questioned why a portion of the beach could not be opened since birds were located at its eastern end and asked if the county had hired a bird monitor for the next season.
This week, Ms. Dolby, Edgartown's new town administrator, said the town had mostly been involved as a facilitator to bring the county and Trustees together. She said Norton Point Beach is an important recreational resource that needs to be well managed.
"We have been working on it for a long time and I think it is good for the town because the beach will be managed properly," said Ms. Dolby. "Hopefully, if it is managed properly the beach will stay open longer and that is the outcome that everybody is looking for." Ms. Dolby said the agreement is an example of three agencies working together for the benefit of all citizens.