MVC approves state-financed Oak Bluffs fishing pier


A proposed public fishing pier to be built with state funds in Oak Bluffs reeled in the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) unanimous approval November 18.

MVC commissioner John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs moved to approve the project, which he described as an asset to the entire Island community.

“Weighing the benefits and the detriments of this project, and we certainly did hear from many of the abutters in the local neighborhood, in my personal opinion, the benefits far outweigh the detriments,” Mr. Breckenridge said.

David Nash, a member of the MV Surfcasters Association (MVSA) and leader of the pier effort, said in a phone call with The Times on Monday that the group was especially pleased the MVC decision was unanimous and that no unusual conditions were attached.

“If the pier does happen, we all think it will be a wonderful thing for the Island,” Mr. Nash said. “But I think it is going to have a much smaller impact than the neighborhood feels will occur. I don’t think it’s going to be the huge draw they’re worried about. I think the ferries coming in every day, any one ferry, have far greater impact than this will all day long.”

The fishing pier project next goes to the Oak Bluffs conservation commission for review, Mr. Nash said.

The fishing pier project will tie in with plans by Oak Bluffs to redo the seawall, boardwalk, and restrooms on the north side of the SSA pier. The town has contracted with CLE Engineering to do the work, including the fishing pier once approved.

Fish and game on

The Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) office of fishing and boating access partnered with the town of Oak Bluffs on the proposal to construct and maintain an L-shaped, pile-supported, handicapped accessible pier. The structure would be located off Sea View Avenue Extension and extend 317 feet into Nantucket Sound north of the Steamship Authority’s pier.

The Oak Bluffs conservation commission referred the pier project to the MVC, because any development in the ocean triggers the commission’s review as a development of regional impact.

The MVC received several letters and testimony at a public hearing on October 7, from property owners and residents in the North Bluff neighborhood who opposed the pier’s location on the north side of the SSA pier. They argued for the south side instead, because of concerns about increased traffic, noise, parking, loitering, substance abuse, interference with swimming, and trash.

State and town officials, however, explained that several factors made the north side the better choice, based on engineering studies, fishing information from the state’s division of marine fisheries and the MVSA, and Oak Bluffs’ plans for a North Bluff revitalization project.

One of the most vigorous opponents was MVC staff member Paul Foley, a renter in the neighborhood. Mr. Foley said he often swims off the beach and finds there are few fish, an observation fishermen said had more to do with his activity than the fish. Mr. Foley’s activities prompted a letter from pier supporters asking that the DRI analyst and planner have no responsibility for the project and he was replaced as staff coordinator on the project.

At last week’s meeting, MVC commissioner Chris Murphy of Chilmark relayed the land use planning committee’s (LUPC) recommendation to the full commission that the fishing pier be approved. Mr. Murphy led the LUPC’s post-public hearing review on November 15, in the absence of committee chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury.

Mr. Murphy said the LUPC went over the fishing pier in great detail and talked to the applicants and interested parties at length.

“And I think that my opinion is we worked this out just about every way you could look at this,” he said.

Reeling in the decision

There was little discussion prior to the vote. Although she did not attend the LUPC post-hearing review, Ms. Sibley did share her thoughts on a way to alleviate the North Bluff residents’ concerns about swimming.

“And it occurred to me that the testimony was that you needed to get all the way out to the end to get to the fish, and at least one person commented that the swimming takes place closer to the shore,” Ms. Sibley said. “And if the applicant was here, I would ask them if they would be willing to offer that they would post the pier as ‘no fishing’ for a certain number of feet out, since the fish aren’t there, according to the testimony, anyway, and that would provide a safe buffer for the swimmers who might want to swim…

“So I’ll just leave it that if someone would bear that message back to the people who are planning this pier, it seems to me that it would be a really nice gesture,” she added. “I don’t think it does any harm to the fishing, and it seems to me based on the testimony to make sense.”

There was no move by the commissioners to add Ms. Sibley’s suggestion as a last-minute condition.

After a brief, favorable comment about the fishing pier, its location, and handicapped access, MVC commissioner Holly Stephenson of Tisbury launched into sharp criticism of the state’s decision to build it and the cost of the project.

Ms. Stephenson said that although during the public hearing many people talked about how they used to enjoy fishing on the jetty, which is now too slippery, or fishing from the SSA pier, which is now prohibited because of security reasons, the state came up with the idea to build something new between the two places.

“And it seems to me that for a fraction of the cost, they could take the jetty and put a ramp and a walkway and a handicapped access ramp on the jetty or they could take the pier and find a way to separate out a section that you could fish off of, and that those two spots already exist, and the fishermen said those were the places that were the best to fish from,” Ms. Stephenson said. “And we now have the state offering a brand new multi-million dollar fishing pier that they’re going to maintain forever, and I just wonder. They said they only build new piers. I would just wonder why there is not a choice or why it was never considered or looked at, the other alternatives.”

“We have a proposal in front of us; we don’t have a ‘what if,'” Mr. Breckenridge reminded Ms. Brown.

“Yes, those are questions that are appropriate to ask the state,” Ms. Brown told Ms. Stephenson.

“I realize that we have to do what we’re given, but I think the logic behind this is a colossal waste of money,” Ms. Stephenson concluded.

Under the terms of a land management agreement signed with the town of Oak Bluffs in 2007, the state will be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of the fishing pier’s design, permitting, and construction, estimated at $750,000 to $1 million. Construction may be one to two years away. Oak Bluffs agreed to be responsible for day-to-day operations and maintenance, public safety and policing, but no capital expenses.

Offers made and accepted

As offered by Oak Bluffs and the DFG, the pier will be handicapped accessible. Aluminum handrails will be lowered in several locations to provide fishing access for handicapped people in compliance with ADA recommendations. The pier will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and its use restricted to fishing or assisting dependent fishermen.

The town of Oak Bluffs will enforce the pier’s use regulations. Surveillance equipment may be deployed at the Oak Bluffs Police Department’s discretion.

The pier will not have electricity, running water, or lighting. Reflectors, including a radar reflector, may be installed if necessary for public safety and navigation. However, boats will not be allowed to tie up at the pier.

A 50-foot buffer will separate the seaward end of the pier from adjacent eelgrass beds to protect them.