Chilmark officials wonder if artificial reef might protect beaches

Battered by the sea, in peaceful weather and in storms, South Shore beaches have been transformed. This is a view of Lucy Vincent Beach. — File photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

In the wake of devastating coastal damage caused by hurricane Sandy, Chilmark selectmen this week discussed the possibility of creating an artificial reef off the town’s south shore in an attempt to curb erosion. At their regular meeting December 4, chairman Jonathan Mayhew raised the possibility of building an artificial reef about a quarter of mile off the beach.

Mr. Mayhew cited one company, Pearson Sustainable Solutions, which has developed artificial reefs for several communities. An information packet in the selectmen’s meeting package outlined the company’s accomplishments.

“EcoSystems [artificial reefs] are inexpensive to manufacture and easy to install. They can be adapted to fit any need by using different shapes, different sizes, offset mounting holes or pedestal mounts,” the info packet reads.

Mr. Mayhew said he did some research and learned that several states have already built artificial reefs. “I was thinking it might be an interesting idea,” he said. “This company has been doing it for 22 years, and it sounds like a viable concept.”

Many artificial reefs are built using objects that were built for other purposes, for example by sinking oil rigs, scuttling ships, or by deploying rubble or construction debris.

Other artificial reefs are purpose built from PVC or interlocking concrete blocks. Artificial reefs generally provide hard surfaces where algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters attach.

The accumulation of attached marine life in turn provides intricate structure and food for fish.

Mr. Mayhew said that building an artificial reef can be “relatively inexpensive” for small areas, but he noted that Chilmark has a seven-mile area from Squibnocket to Tisbury Great Pond that needs protection from erosion.

Mr. Mayhew said he thought the area most in need was the barrier beach between the ocean and Stonewall Pond, which has breached at least three times in recent years. “If it breaks a fourth time we could lose all our shellfishing,” he said. “If Hariph’s Creek Bridge goes, the town of Chilmark is divided in half.”

Selectman Bill Rossi said the idea is intriguing

“I think it’s a bold idea and worth looking into. We need someone to look into it and give us an assessment,” he said.

Selectman Warren Doty suggested the town host a meeting with representatives from Pearson and the consultant from the Woods Hole Group that selectmen agreed to hire back in October.

The goal of that study was to discover the least aggressive and most cost-effective solutions to slowing erosion along Chilmark Pond and Lucy Vincent Beach.

In other news, selectmen voted 3-0 to accept the bid from KME Kovatch to purchase a new 3,000-gallon fire tanker at a cost of $212,385 for the fire department.

Town executive secretary Tim Carroll said he called other towns that have purchased trucks from KME, and those who responded said positive things about the company.

Fire Chief David Norton said the town has needed a new tanker for quite some time. He said the current tanker is more than 20 years old and has a capacity of only 500 gallons. “Our fire department is only as good as our smallest tanker,” he said.

The town already has $220,000 appropriated to buy the truck.

Selectmen also approved a request from NSTAR to install two new radio repeater antennas at 55 Tabor House Road. The repeater antennas will be used to support the company’s upgraded voice radio system. They will be built on top of a wood pole, 50 feet above the ground.

Darrell Peterson, an engineer for NSTAR, told selectmen that the upgraded system is an important safety enhancement during both normal and emergency operations. Mr. Peterson said NSTAR wants the approval on a temporary basis, until the U.S. Coast Guard approves the installation of permanent antennas on their tower at Peaked Hill.

Selectmen said they were not happy about a new tower being built near the capped town landfill and that they are not happy about towers being build on Peaked Hill, but in the end they voted unanimously to approve the request.

Selectmen also deferred approval of a conservation restriction for 5.5 acres off Meetinghouse Way, owned by seasonal resident Richard Coleman.

Mr. Mayhew said he was concerned there was no access to trail easements on the property, and he cited language in the agreement, which allowed the Coleman family to have gatherings and parties on the property.

“Right now, we have the power to say no. It makes very little sense to me,” he said.