Massive move planned to save Chappaquiddick home

This aerial photo was taken shortly after the two big fall storms. Engineers have since shored up the sand cliff with coir envelopes, tubes of mesh filled with plant material, to mitigate erosion. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

It is not often that the words “dramatic” and “planning board” belong in the same sentence, but with another ocean storm barrelling up the coast, and the sand cliff on Wasque Point eroding by the day, Tuesday evening’s Edgartown planning board meeting took on an unusual air of urgency. The board held a public hearing to review of an application to move a 8,300 square foot Chappaquiddick luxury home away from the eroding coastal bank.

The planning board members, engineers, house movers, and property owner Rick Schifter all chafed at the slow grinding of government gears.

“We’re trying, Mr. Schifter,” said planning board member Robert Sparks. “We’re not moving as fast as the ocean, but we’re trying.”

The board unanimously approved the first steps in a complex plan to move the main house, a garage, a guest house, and a single family residence on a nearby parcel.

Tuesday evening, the planning board gave the green light to moving a residence known as the Leland House, on an abutting property which Mr. Schifter purchased earlier this year. They also approved a change in the property lines to accommodate zoning requirements.

That will make room for eventual relocation of the three buildings now threatened by erosion. The

Schifter’s guest house faces the most immediate threat of tumbling into the ocean, according to engineers familiar with the project.

The Schifter family still needs approval from the Edgartown conservation commission, which meets to review the plans March 12, and the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program.

After the coastal storms earlier this winter, engineers installed coir envelopes, large tubular mesh filled with plant fiber, on the sand cliff in front of the Schifter property, hoping to stave off the ocean long enough to move the buildings.

Moving expenses

International Chimney Corporation, a New York firm experienced in moving large buildings, including several New England lighthouses, has crafted a plan to move the structures. Moving the main house will require transporting the entire structure, including the basement, intact.

Richard Lohr, president of International Chimney Corp, told the planning board that the most efficient way to do that is not to raise the building, but to dig an enormous trench to the new location, and transport the building through the trench.

Engineers estimated that will mean removing 33,000 cubic yards of material, requiring as many as 2,000 truck trips to a storage site two miles away, then transporting it back when the move is completed.

After the proposed move, the structures would be located 275 feet from the quickly eroding coastal bank.

Recently, engineers measured just 24 feet between the 30 foot high coastal bank, and the Schifter’s guest house.

Much of the equipment for the move, including 60 foot beams to support the house, will arrive by barge from a storage location in Maryland.

Moving the home will take only three to four days, according to Mr. Lohr, but moving the material from the trench and returning it to the site will take considerably longer.


Though no one at the planning board public hearing objected to the plan to move the buildings, board members and Chappaquiddick residents have a long list of concerns.

Edgartown has hired its own engineer to consult on the project. He advised the board to take samples of the soil to be removed, so that it when it is returned, it can be compacted to the same degree. Otherwise, he said, it will erode more quickly.

He also advised the applicants to provide a plan on how they will deal with truck traffic, and estimate the duration of the project and the time of year. He also asked that they review whether the house might be moved without the foundation, which would eliminate the need for a trench.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” town consultant John Ramsey. “You just can’t control the ocean. Moving the house back is a wise move. I’ve never seen a house of this scale moved, with the foundation.”

Chappaquiddick resident Woody Filley was concerned that there were no drawings of how the site will look when the project is done.

“Will there be trees, will the viewshed be changed dramatically?” he asked. “Two hundred seventy-five feet doesn’t seem like a whole lot when you see what’s actually happening. Is this a problem that’s going to be reemerging in a couple of years or a couple of decades?”

Chris Kennedy, supervisor of The Trustees of Reservations property which abuts the Schifter property also had concerns about whether the houses would be visible from the Wasque Reservation after the move. He was also concerned about safety, with at least 4,000 truck trips in and out of the property.

“We are generally supportive of this effort to move the house,” Mr. Kennedy said. “Obviously the trustees clearly don’t want to see any of this structure down on the beach. In a typical summer we see 16,000 to 20,000 visitors, June through August. We’re really concerned about how we’re going to safeguard the public.”

This story was corrected to reflect the size of the Schifter house.