TTOR signs deal to manage Norton Point
The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), a private nonprofit conservation organization, will take over management of county-owned Norton Point Beach, under the terms of a long-awaited agreement signed Friday.
The Trustees will begin an immediate effort to clean the beach and mark off-road vehicle trails and protected areas for returning shorebirds, according to the memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed by Winn Davis, Dukes County manager, and Chris Kennedy, TTOR regional director.
The deal relieves the county of day-to-day management responsibility for the narrow strip of barrier beach that links Katama to Chappaquiddick and puts it in the hands of TTOR, which already owns and/or manages approximately six miles of beach and more than 800 acres on Chappaquiddick, extending from the eastern end of Norton Point beach to the tip of Cape Poge.
"This has been a long journey which is now a reality, thanks to the hard work and efforts of many people, but especially the Edgartown Park and Recreation Department and the Martha's Vineyard Surfcasters Association," said Mr. Kennedy. "Both organizations acted as the catalyst to help bring the County and The Trustees together. Now, the real work begins."
John Alley of West Tisbury, county commission chairman, said he was very pleased to see the agreement signed and thinks the public will ultimately benefit from TTOR management. "It will be a win-win situation," said Mr. Alley, who supported an unsuccessful effort several years ago to turn over beach management to TTOR. "I am pleased to see it happen and I think everybody else will be at the end of the season."
Mr. Alley said Norton Point had been a sore point with the commissioners for a number of years. "Hopefully, this will do the trick," he said. Over the years, fishermen and town leaders had grown increasingly frustrated with the poor condition of the beach, and lengthy closures to protect shorebirds.
The discussion leading up to the signed agreement began more than one year ago when members of the Surfcasters Association sounded out Mr. Kennedy about the possibility of TTOR managing Norton Point. Encouraged by that conversation, the fishermen spoke with county officials about the importance of Norton Point Beach as the only alternative route to Chappaquiddick, along with concerns about trail definition, vandalism, late-night gatherings, litter, and public relations.
Discussions remained stalled until Edgartown officials got involved. 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.
On Monday, Pam Dolby, Edgartown executive secretary and one of those who helped bring the deal to fruition, said she was very happy to have it signed.
Ron Domurat of Edgartown, chairman of the surfcasters beach access sub-committee, said he was glad that county officials saw the benefits of the arrangement. "The trustees are proven beach managers," said Mr. Domurat. "They will do a great job. We are really pleased."
One factor influencing county decision-making was the cost of managing Norton Point. In the 2005 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2005, the county natural resource department, which also is responsible for Eastville Beach and Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach, spent $114,852 and collected $50,545 in beach-permit fees.
Unlike the county, TTOR receives no tax dollars. It relies for operating revenues on property-based permit fees, tours, merchandise, donations, and memberships. TTOR plans to support Norton Point management with sticker sales, merchandising, and eventually the sort of natural history tours now popular on other properties.
One sticking point in the negotiations leading up to last week's agreement was the cost of Norton Point off-road vehicle beach permits and any future revenue split. The Trustees and the county agreed to meet annually and review the numbers. After deducting all direct and indirect cost of managing the beach as well as any previous years' deficits, the Trustees and county will split any revenue on an 80-20 percent basis, respectively.
The cost of a 2006 Norton Point permit, unchanged from 2005, will be $60 for county residents and $100 for non-residents. But for the first time, daily permits will also be available, at a cost of $20 for residents and $30 for non-residents.
Last week, it appeared that a county delay in signing the memorandum might not leave enough time for The Trustees to make the necessary preparations. Mr. Kennedy had presented the agreement to Mr. Davis on March 10, but by Wednesday the county had still not responded.
Last Thursday, The Times reported that Mr. Kennedy said he was nearing the point where there would not be enough time to complete the necessary preparations to effectively manage the beach, and a decision would have to be made on whether to go forward. Following a brief discussion and one change, on Friday Mr. Davis and Mr. Kennedy signed the memorandum.
Mr. Kennedy said TTOR would immediately begin watching for returning plovers and terns. State regulations require that beach managers delineate habitat by April 1. Mandated beach closures, a regular occurrence where protected shorebirds nest, is probably inevitable, he said.
But the sooner the birds nest and the young begin to fly, the sooner closed areas can be reopened. "If we are to keep these areas open for access in the future, we need to ensure that these federal and state protected birds are allowed to nest and fledge their young without disturbance," Mr. Kennedy said.
Describing the immediate changes, Mr. Kennedy said that this season beach-goers will see a new staffed gatehouse and TTOR rangers on the beach 24 hours a day from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. "The primary role of our rangers has always been to provide advice and guidance, not to be beach police," he said. "Our rangers are empowered to confiscate permits of vehicle drivers who disregard the beach's common sense rules and regulations, but that's seldom needed."
One very welcome change for off-road vehicle drivers, who deflate their tires in order to avoid getting stuck in deep sand, will be the installation of a new air station located near the beach entrance. Mr. Kennedy said rusty fence posts and miles of rope would be replaced by professional signs and fencing where needed to help direct vehicles onto the safest parts of the beach.
The agreement is valid for five years and will automatically renew for a second five-year term unless either party objects. Trustees and County officials plan to meet every two weeks over the course of the first season to review progress and discuss any issues that may arise. If The Trustees and the County are unable to resolve differences regarding the management or operation of Norton Point satisfactorily, either party may dissolve the agreement with 45 days prior written notice.
Under the terms of the memorandum, the county will continue to own the beach, but The Trustees will be responsible for all aspects of management and visitor services.
The Trustees will provide trained shorebird monitors in accordance with state and federal shorebird management guidelines. They will also provide the county with technical assistance for managing shorebird resources at Eastville and Sylvia State Beach, but the county will need to hire its own monitors.
Mr. Kennedy said, "Norton Point Beach has had a checkered past. All of us see what this beach can be. Our community has demanded that it be better managed and protected. The Trustees are ready to answer that challenge."