Chilmark selectmen reject sand mining in Vineyard Sound

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Menemsha is home to a small commercial fishing fleet. — Photo by Kris Rabasca

Chilmark selectmen met last week and took a strong stand against the mining of sand in Vineyard Sound, a proposal included in the newly released Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (OMP), now under review by local and state officials.

Selectman Warren Doty attended a meeting on October 22 where Bruce Carlisle, director of the state office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM), presented an overview of OMP. One major area of concern is the designated “Sand Resource Area,” which includes a swath of ocean bottom from the north shore of Chilmark off the brickyard to the west end of the Elizabeth Islands. Mr. Doty reported that out of all the areas in Southern Massachusetts, this is the largest area designated for sand mining.

“It just happens to be the area that our fisheries use a great deal,” Mr. Doty said. “It is our area for summer flounder (fluke), it’s our area for all of the fish that are in the striped bass derby, and it is also an area for our shell fishing.”

Mr. Doty explained that fish such as winter flounder feed on that area’s bottom, especially while in the juvenile stage.

“I think that this is not good at all for Menemsha or for us to see big dredges out there between us and Cuttyhunk,” Mr. Doty said. “They’d be dredging up sand, filling barges, and the barges would be towed to some beach that needs it in Hyannis. And the beach is going to erode in four to five years anyway, and then they’ll have to do it again.”

The proposal to mine sand has been welcomed by Oak Bluffs officials who are anxious to find a supply of clean sand to replenish their eroding beaches.

“Now other people who have beaches think that it’s a wonderful idea,” Mr. Doty said. “Oak Bluffs and Dukes County have endorsed it as they want sand for State Beach, and Oak Bluffs wants it for the Inkwell and other town beaches, but it is very harmful for our ocean, for our environment.”

Selectman Jonathan Mayhew, a commercial fisherman, was in agreement with Mr. Doty. “I highly agree, I’m totally opposed to it,” Mr. Mayhew said.

The selectmen approved a motion to send a letter to Mr. Carlisle stating that the Chilmark Board of Selectmen is “strongly opposed” to sand mining in Vineyard Sound. The letter states that dredging up the sand bottom would “disrupt and destroy all the living creatures that we depend on for a healthy marine environment.”

In other business last Wednesday, Jessica Roddy of the Affordable Housing Committee spoke about the proposed zoning bylaw for accessory apartments. The selectmen agreed that the proposal go to  public hearing, and they anticipate it going on the warrant for the April town meeting.

Accessory apartments are meant to be affordable housing options for immediate family members and caregivers. “Everything starts with the best of intentions,” Mr. Mayhew said.

“There’s no question it needs oversight,” chairman Bill Rossi said. “I for one appreciate the effort that went into it.”

Selectmen also discussed possibly widening roads and building an aesthetically pleasing walking path in Menemsha to ease summer chaos. Selectmen had a chuckle. “That has the capital “C” word on that – Change!” said Mr. Doty. Selectmen agreed to explore both ideas.

Selectmen agreed to sign a contract with Epsilon Associates to conduct an environmental study intended to help bridge the two entrenched and opposed positions on how best to restore Squibnocket Beach and provide access to the Squibnocket Farms subdivision.

The existing causeway and parking lot is threatened by erosion. Jim Malkin, chairman of a town committee charged with coming up with recommendations, said the study would examine the environmental impact of the alternatives under consideration with respect “to feasibility and regulatory impacts/issues.”

The cost of the study is not to exceed $16,000 and the work is expected to begin next week.

Lastly, NSTAR has asked the town to pay for the design of the new service connection at Nab’s Corner. Selectmen do not want the affordable housing project held up, and will seek to pay the $19,558 price tag from the Molly Flender Affordable Housing Trust. They will then ask the Chilmark community preservation committee to reimburse the trust. There is no money in the project’s working budget for the connection. Town officials noted that this was not required at The Middle Line Road project six years ago.