Chilmark imagines new plan for Squibnocket beach parking

The existing parking lot looking west shows the narrow causeway that is at risk. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

Following a series of negotiations over several months, described as sensitive, Chilmark selectmen and representatives of the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation this week revealed the broad details of a plan intended to address the destructive effects of coastal erosion on the town beach parking area and the single causeway that provides the only access for residents of the Squibnocket subdivision.

The waves that roll in from the Atlantic Ocean and attract beachgoers, surfers, and fishermen to Squibnocket Beach in Chilmark also present a challenge for town officials and local residents. Repeatedly, storm-driven waves have left the town parking lot and the causeway that runs through it unusable. Maintaining the revetment that is the only protection against battering waves is expensive for the town and ultimately may give little long-term protection in the face of rising tide levels and more frequent storms, selectmen said this week.

The proposed solution now on the table is to build an elevated roadway from Squibnocket Road that would lead to the existing Squibnocket Farm Road, above the existing parking lot, which would be restored to a barrier beach state. A new town parking lot would be created to the west of its current location that would lead to access to the beach and Squibnocket Pond. The existing gate that guards the Squibnocket Farm subdivision would be relocated farther west along the road.

The legal arrangements are described in a letter dated November 15, from Ropes & Gray lawyer Peter Albert of Boston, representing the Squibnocket Farm homeowners, to Ronald Rappaport, Chilmark town counsel.

The Vineyard Open land Foundation, a conservation nonprofit that helped craft the original Squibnocket subdivision plan and owns a lot of approximately 30 acres critical to the move, would sell approximately 10.5 acres of that lot to the association “once permits are obtained for the construction of the new causeway and other contingencies are met.”

Mr. Alpert said the association members are on board with the plan.

“If the municipal approval process goes smoothly,” he said, “I see no reason why the contemplated transactions and the projects would not be diligently pursued to completion.”

Mr. Alpert added that the association members were eager to begin working with the town on a lease agreement that could be presented to annual town meeting.

The town currently uses the existing parking lot under the terms of a 100-year lease signed in 1950.

Chilmark selectmen plan to introduce the concept to the public at 7 pm, Tuesday, December 3, at the Chilmark Library.

Mutual interests

Selectman Bill Rossi, the pointman in the negotiations, told The Times Monday that the homeowners’ desire for reliable access spurred the talks.

“We met at the beach over a year ago and engineers were telling them that the current causeway, on the outside, will be there for maybe ten years, so they are trying to be proactive and consider long-term access to their property,” Mr. Rossi said.

At the same time, town officials are keen to preserve the beach parking that is so dear to Chilmarkers who treasure their beach stickers. That created a mutual interest to find a solution that could pass muster with residents and state environmental officials.

Last spring, the town formed a committee, chaired by Mr. Rossi, to explore options.

“After three meetings,” he said, “it became apparent to the selectmen that there was an opportunity to acquire some property to accommodate a parking area that was generally accepted by most people to be a good idea.”

The new parking area is protected by a mussel bed and subject to a lower rate of erosion, about one foot a year, Mr. Rossi said, as opposed to the existing lot which is often flooded. “Based on historical data, it is going to be around for a very long time,” he said.

The town would sign a long-term lease for the new parking lot that would include a longer beach and access to Squibnocket Pond. The cost of the lease would be $400,000. The town has the money in Community Preservation account funds, Mr. Rossi said.

“That’s the beauty of it,” he said, “we’re not going to be going to the town looking for additional money. The money’s there. We just have to vote to use it.”

The homeowners would bear the cost of the 10.5-acre piece of property and the causeway, which would be supported by steel piles and capable of supporting trucks. It would be similar to the causeway that now leads to boat slips in Menemsha.

All is contingent on permitting by the association. “We need their success to determine our success in getting a parking lot there and access to Squibnocket Pond,” Mr. Rossi said.

From an environmental point of view, Mr. Rossi said it is his understanding that state officials prefer soft solutions, for example an elevated roadway under which storm water can flow back and forth, as opposed to hard solutions, for example a stone revetment intended to stand up to a battering.

Mr. Rossi said there was general agreement on the benefits of removing the revetment and allowing the existing parking lot to revert to a natural state. “Everyone agrees that’s the best solution for the beach to not have a stone revetment sticking out causing accelerated erosion on each end,” he said.

Suggestions that the size of the new lot be increased were rejected out of consideration for neighbors to the north in Blacksmith Valley, he said. Natural vegetative screening would be added to minimize the view of the new lot.

Mr. Rossi said there is still a long road ahead, but he thinks the ultimate goal is worthwhile now and for the future. “I think it is a good plan for the town,” he said. “I think access to our beaches and our ponds are a big benefit for people who are not fortunate enough to have a home on the waterfront or pond front and I hope it gets the support it needs. We are just taking the first steps. There are a lot of details to be worked out, but I’m excited about it.”