Chilmark selectmen hire group to study Lucy Vincent erosion

Lucy Vincent Beach and the bluffs behind it were ravaged by Monday's big blow, as were beaches around the Vineyard. — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

Selectman planned to hire consultants before Hurricane Sandy arrived, but the storm accelerated deliberations. By Jim Hickey

Just hours after Hurricane Sandy caused major coastal damage across the Island, Chilmark selectmen Tuesday voted to hire the Woods Hole Group to examine coastal erosion at Lucy Vincent Beach and the surrounding area.

Three environmental consulting firms submitted proposals to perform an alternatives analysis: the Woods Hole Group of Falmouth, Shorefront Consulting of Dennisport, and LEC Environmental Consultants of Plymouth.

The proposals were submitted several weeks before Hurricane Sandy hit the Vineyard and caused major erosion and damage.

The Woods Hole Group bid $3,000, which was $150 more than Shorefront Consulting. But the town beach committee recommended that selectmen choose the Woods Hole Group, which is the organization most familiar with the town beaches.

“The Woods Hole Group has already visited the site on three separate occasions, as well as Squibnocket Beach, to assess the erosion problem at no cost to the town,” the beach committee members wrote in a memo to selectmen dated October 18.

The goal of the study is to come up with the least aggressive and most cost-effective solutions to slowing erosion along Chilmark Pond and Lucy Vincent Beach.

The group will review existing environmental data, work closely with the beach committee, conduct a site evaluation, and identify options for curbing erosion — and include approximate costs.

The findings of the study will be submitted to the beach committee in the next few months, so an article may be prepared for the annual town meeting in April.

“This info would provide the town with a decision point as to whether or not proceed with Phase Two, based on feasibility and costs of the preferred alternative,” the proposal from the Woods Hole Group explained.

The proposal estimates that the cost for Phase Two would be between $7,000 and $10,000, and if applicable would include a final engineering design and environmental permitting for the alternative chosen by the town.

Selectmen were scheduled to choose one of the three environmental firms at their regular meeting Tuesday, but the discussion quickly veered to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Building Inspector Lenny Jason said the barrier beach between the ocean and Chilmark Pond had been breached in several spots, including an area near Lucy Vincent Beach.

Joan Malkin, president of the Chilmark Pond Association, described the problem as wash-over and not a permanent breach. “I am not sure it exactly breached, but it had a wide swath of wash-over on the western side and eastern side.

“It washed over twice as big as it was before, and incidentally there are at least four or five areas where there is also wash-over as you continue to go eastward on the beach… We don’t have any permanent canals, just wash-over.”

Mr. Jason said many waterfront houses lost at least five to 10 feet of beach, and at least one house was left perilously perched near the ocean.

“We are going to lose of a lot of land in the next few years, they say about five feet a year, but they certainly got a couple of years worth yesterday [during the hurricane],” Mr. Jason said.

Beach committee chairman Pam Bunker said the cave at Lucy Vincent Beach seemed like it exploded in the middle “You have a cliff and then a vacant spot and then the rest of the cliff,” she said.

Considering the extent of the damage, Ms. Bunker questioned if the town should continue to pursue half-measures and temporary fixes such as placing hay bales at the beach to slow erosion.

“I don’t feel its in the best interest of the town to be spending money to see if there are any soft alternatives, especially after we’ve seen people who have already invested over $100,000 just to see it wash away,” she said.

Ms. Malkin said she still supported moving forward with the study.

“We wanted something that was reasonably affordable, we told them: don’t provide us with some big, alternative. We need an easy fix that will buy as much time as possible,” Ms. Malkin said.

“Whether there is a solution, I don’t know,” she continued, “though this was a once in how many years storm.”

“We seem to have it every few years,” remarked selectman chairman Jonathan Mayhew.

Town administrator Tim Carroll said the study was relatively inexpensive and could still yield valuable data and ideas. “We are now behind the curve, but we couldn’t have stopped it anyway,” he said. “Let’s go forward and study it and see if they come up with something and do the due diligence so that we are trying to protect the assets of the town. We can talk about it like we did last year and not come to a consensus or we can hire someone to look into what our options are. It’s not like were spending $100,000.”

Selectman Bill Rossi said he was worried about spending money on an “expensive temporary solution.”

“How much does it cost to put up hay bales?” Mr. Jason said. “We started that 40 years ago. Do you know where we would be if we didn’t do that?”

Mr. Mayhew said he supported moving forward with the study, but said the town may have to consider something more drastic to stop erosion, such as placing an old ship at the bottom of the ocean to create some type of barrier. “Maybe we should be looking at a bigger, more costly solution,” he said. “If you have 27-foot seas the only thing you can do is put something major a half-mile out.”

In the end, selectmen agreed to hire the Woods Hole Group to perform the alternatives analysis study.

In other news, selectmen praised the work of the town police department and Tri-Town ambulance for their hard work and long hours during the hurricane.

Paul “Zeke” Wilkins, the ambulance chief, said the Chilmark Community Center was converted into an emergency shelter starting on Sunday and was staffed with two paramedics who slept there overnight.

Mr. Wilkins said he also stationed paramedics in Aquinnah during the storm, in case the Hariph’s Creek bridge was flooded and travel was blocked. “It was a major team effort,” he said. “We did fine: there was a lot of really good communication.”

There was only one ambulance run during the hurricane, Mr. Wilkins said, and it was not storm-related.

Mostly emergency workers used the shelter during the storm, although several people did stop in when their power went out, Mr. Wilkins said.

Selectmen agreed to appoint Steven Pupek as a full-time member of the town police department.

“I conducted the interview with [human resources board member] Max McCreery, and we were both satisfied he would be a good addition to the police force,” Mr. Rossi said.

Police Chief Brian Cioffi presented Mr. Pupek with a small gift, a pair of heavy work gloves he can use to move all the branches fallen in the storm.

Selectmen also voted to adopt a single tax rate for fiscal 2013, as required by the state law. Each year, selectmen have the option of splitting the tax rate among the five classes of real estate: residential, open space, commercial, industrial and personal property.

Ms. Bunker, also the town assessor, said the board of assessors recommended selectmen adopt the single tax rate, since 98 percent of the town is residential and the remaining two percent is commercial, industrial, and personal property.

Ms. Bunker said that based on the fiscal 2013 average assessment, the average tax bill is expected to be $3,203.81.