On a typical summer day, during the height of the tourist season, as many as 5,000 people stroll off the ferry in Oak Bluffs and get a close-up look at Martha's Vineyard. Their gaze may be immediately drawn to the stately Victorian homes that ring Ocean Park. Often though, the first impression of the Island is far less positive.
They see a steep bank leading from the water up to the street level, coated with unsightly and deteriorating asphalt. They see a rusty and bent railing, patched together with temporary fixes.
"The railing is held together with duct tape," said Nancy Phillips, co-chair of the Oak Bluffs Boardwalk to Beach Task Force. "Duct tape is not a Victorian artifice."
Next month, at a special town meeting, Oak Bluffs voters will be asked to appropriate $46,200, a step toward a proposed $2.7 million renovation of the road, sidewalks, railings, and beach structures along the town's historic shorefront.
The article on the Dec. 11 special town meeting warrant requests funds for an engineering survey and drawings, so the project can go out to bid. Proponents hope to fund part of the venture with federal and state grants. Whatever cannot be funded by grants will go into a request for a bond, which the task force hopes to have ready for voters' consideration at the April 2008 town meeting.
Ms. Phillips is blunt in her assessment of why she believes project is important. "The beach is the town's cash cow," she says. "It gives people a flavor, when they come in on the ferry, they get a flavor of what the town is like. It would be nice for the view to be of a Victorian railing and Ocean Park there, instead of a broken down railing with duct tape."
The project, outlined in a 35-page report called the Sea View Revitalization Concept Master Plan, is the result of a summer of study and public hearings, which task force members say drew significant interest from residents. Especially well attended, they say, were the meetings scheduled on the beach itself.
"This is not a fluffy, feel-good master plan," said Richard Westcott, the other co-chair of the task force. "We attempted to put costs to all these ideas."
What's the plan?
Among the most expensive elements of the plan is a new railing along the entire one-mile stretch of shorefront. The design calls for a galvanized steel railing with the town seal in the center, inspired by historic photographs taken at the turn of the century, when the town was called Cottage City. Memorial or informational plaques could be attached to the upper rail sleeve. A mock-up of the railing and sidewalk were installed last summer near the Vineyard Transportation Authority bus stop.
Each section of 36-inch high rail will cost $195, each section of 42-inch rail will cost $250. The total cost is estimated at $651,100.
Also a major expense is replacement of the sidewalks, estimated at $10 per square foot. The plan calls for aggregate pavement, a mixture of concrete, small beach stones and fine sea shells. The total cost of sidewalk replacement is estimated at $290,000.
The entire project offers access to the beach, walkways, and bathrooms for disabled people, including the possibility of a railing extending into the water, allowing disabled people safe access to the ocean itself.
Section by section
The plan treats the shorefront in four sections. Proposed for the first stretch, from the harbor to the Steamship Authority terminal, are new steps to a sand walk, and renovations to the public restrooms. New benches, bike racks, and an information kiosk are also proposed.
The next section is from the ferry terminal, to Ocean Avenue, the area planners consider the gateway to Oak Bluffs. Extensive planting is suggested to replace the unsightly asphalt erosion bank between the beach and Sea View Avenue. Three separate stairways down to the beach are slated for replacement or repair.
The most dramatic change is planned for the short stretch from Ocean Avenue to Pennacook Avenue. Here planners envision outdoor showers, a street-level viewing pagoda with steps down to the beach, and a picnic area with tables, shade umbrellas, and a new concession stand. The cost of the pagoda is estimated at $75,000, while the concession stand and picnic area will cost $71,400.
The final stretch of beachfront due for renovation is from Pennacook Avenue to the Farm Pond multi-user path. The plan calls for bathrooms at this location, tied into the town's sewer system. Also recommended is extending the path, from the point where it currently ends at Farm Pond, to Canonicus Avenue. That would give path users a route to town without crossing the busy roadway at a particularly dangerous bend. Task force members say an informal survey indicates there may be enough room to shift the roadway toward the ocean slightly by eliminating some parking spaces, making room to extend the path along the western side of Sea View Avenue.
Gated access to the beach would be created across from Pennacook Avenue, to allow access for emergency responders and concession operators.
Removal of utility poles and relocating utility lines underground would cost an estimated $160,500 along this stretch of shorefront.
A number of other projects are planned, or already under way along Sea View Avenue. Some of those projects are included in the master plan, though funding will come from other sources.
The Dec. 11 special town meeting warrant also includes a request from the Conservation Commission for $65,000 to fund an engineering survey of the beach, bank, and seawall along the entire length of shorefront from North Bluff to Farm Pond. The survey will determine structural work needed to preserve the beach and bluffs.
The town of Oak Bluffs began a project to reconstruct the seawall and harbor bulkhead in September, due for completion next spring.
A 300-foot pedestrian fishing pier is in the works for the North Bluff section of the beach. That project would be entirely funded by the Department of Fish and Game.