Chilmark selectmen stop dig at LVB
Irate Chilmark selectmen put a stop to all digging in the cliffs for fossils and other artifacts at Lucy Vincent Beach, including a scientific researcher's excavations, after an Island resident was caught and warned by Chilmark police Tuesday to stop his digging.
"He was chiseling away at the face of the cliff," Chilmark police officer Jeff Day told the selectmen Tuesday night. "He has been there before." Mr. Day did not reveal the man's name. Mr. Day said he gave the man a verbal warning, and the selectmen also will send him a letter of warning.
"The beach is not ours," selectman chairman Riggs Parker said. "We don't have the power to give permission to anyone." The town has a 99-year lease to use the beach and it leases the parking lot and access road from beach neighbors.
Island ecologist Greg Whitmore said Lucy Vincent Beach is rich with pre-ice age fossils. Photo by Aubrey Gibavic
"We need to be careful with these eroding cliffs," Mr. Parker continued. "To have someone digging is outrageous and an invasion of our rights.... This is not going to be acceptable behavior."
Tim Carroll, the selectmen's executive secretary, had already made up warning signs with big red letters before the meeting. The signs stated that the penalty for digging in the cliffs includes fines up to $25,000 and two years in jail. There are additional fines for removing stones, sand, or gravel from the beach, Mr. Carroll said.
The selectmen blamed the new attention to the beach on a news story in the Martha's Vineyard Times about ecologist Greg Whitmore of West Tisbury, who was planning to do a research project for a doctorate degree from the pre-ice age specimens he hopes to collect at Lucy Vincent and Gay Head beaches.
The story, published on Feb. 8, described the background behind a scheduled public hearing of the Chilmark conservation commission to hear from Mr. Whitmore.
The Times reported that Mr. Whitmore received preliminary approval from the Chilmark Conservation Commission, but still needed to get final approval from the Chilmark selectmen and beach committee.
Mr. Whitmore, the regional ecologist for the Trustees of Reservations, received an undergraduate degree in biology and archeology, along with a master's in zoology, from the University of New Hampshire.
Selectman Warren Doty said that he had received a couple of phone calls after the story appeared from people who have collected sharks' teeth and other specimens in the past, and they were opposed to closing off the beach.
However, Mr. Doty recommended that the selectmen deny Mr. Whitmore access to the beach for his research. "This resource needs to be protected," he said.
Mr. Whitmore said Wednesday he was awaiting permission from the town's beach committee to enter the beach in the summer. He also received preliminary approval from the town conservation commission pending the selectmen's final approval. He had not brought his request to the selectmen. Mr. Whitmore also said he has not been on the beach in at least three weeks.
The selectmen unanimously agreed to Mr. Doty's recommendation to deny Mr. Whitmore access to Lucy Vincent Beach. Mr. Whitmore said he received permission from the Aquinnah selectmen Tuesday to collect the fossils on Gay Head Beach, but the Wampanoag Tribe has denied him access to the Gay Head cliffs.
The Chilmark selectmen also debated whether to put up more barriers to the beach cliffs, such as ropes or fencing, but instead opted for more police patrols of the beach. Officer Day said the patrols have been increased and police have been walking onto the beach to check for people at the cliffs.