No bridge, no dune, but causeway recommended for Squibnocket

The only access road to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision has been battered by recent storms. — Photo by Steve Myrick

The Chilmark town committee on Squibnocket charged with finding a solution on how best to restore Squibnocket Beach and provide access to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision in the face of increasing storm damage and sea level rise has proposed the construction of a low, one-lane causeway set back from the shoreline and parking along the road that leads to the popular beach.

The draft plan calls for removal of the current boulder revetment and beach parking lot, to allow the shoreline to return to its natural state.

The solution, hammered out over months of discussions with opposing camps, requires the town to acquire two small privately owned parcels of land, abutting the town parking lot and Squibnocket Pond.

An informational session for town residents is scheduled for December 18. Town committee chairman Jim Malkin said that after hearing from residents, and considering their suggestions, the committee will issue a final recommendation. A special town meeting is scheduled for February 9, where voters will decide whether to accept the final recommendations.

“It’s the committee’s hope that, as reasonable and concerned citizens, they see the committee’s recommendation as being in the best interest of all concerned,” Mr. Malkin said in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. “It’s not as if everybody is getting half a loaf instead of no loaf; it’s almost like everybody is getting seven-eighths of a loaf. It’s our hope, and strong feeling, that things can be worked out.”

Last week, the administration of governor Deval Patrick announced a grant of $280,000 to the town of Chilmark, as part of a program to help communities deal with the impacts of climate change and coastal erosion.

Committee work

TheSquibnocket Farm Homeowners Associationincludes residents along the coastline, whose access to their homes is threatened by the current causeway, which is deteriorating and vulnerable to ocean storms. The Friends of Squibnocket include many property owners from the Blacksmith Valley neighborhood, situated on a hill overlooking Squibnocket Pond and Squibnocket Beach, who are concerned about the view and environmental issues.

At annual town meeting, a long and emotional debate concluded with a decision to shelve a plan endorsed by selectmen and the homeowners association to build a 15-foot-high bridge to provide access to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision.

At the request of voters, town moderator Everett Poole appointed the seven-member committee in May to bridge the gulf between members of the homeowners association and the Friends of Squibnocket, who wanted to construct an artificial dune and a new road.

The committee recommendation incorporates elements of plans proposed by both organizations.

Mr. Malkin said the seven-month process of reviewing studies, researching property options, and listening to all the stakeholders was thorough, open, and exhaustive. He said he was pleased with the committee, “none of whom have a horse in the race or an axe to grind.”

Compromise solution

The town committee labeled its draft recommendation unveiled last week a “preferred alternative,” and described it as a one-lane roadway close to Squibnocket Pond, with parking to the south of the new roadway. Committee members recommended the part of the roadway that passes over wetlands be a low causeway, clad in wood or other native material, perhaps four to five feet in elevation. The committee estimates a causeway of that height would experience several washovers each year. If there are more washovers than anticipated, the committee proposed constructing an artificial sand dune to further protect the roadway, but initially, the plan does not include a protective dune.

“We looked, ultimately, at eight different access alternatives,” Mr. Malkin said. “We looked at six different parking alternatives. We have engaged our own consultants. They, also with the committee, evaluated the facts on the ground, the data, and the submissions of each of the experts.”

The committee suggested that the town pursue its preferred alternative for 90 days, and if no agreement is reached, the committee recommended what it called a “second alternative.” That plan is essentially the same proposal submitted by the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association before the annual town meeting — an elevated bridge spanning more than 400 feet from Squibnocket Road to a point near the current location of the gated entrance. One difference is to locate the bridge north of the original plan, closer to Squibnocket Pond. The other difference is that the committee’s second alternative would locate parking along Squibnocket Road. The second alternative would require no negotiation for property. The homeowners association already owns the land, or rights of way, necessary to build the bridge, and is ready to finance the $4 million project on its own.

A good start

The response from theopposing groups was measured.

In a statement reviewed by members of the Friends of Squibnocket, and emailed to The Times, the organization described the committee recommendation as a good start.

“Based on our initial review, we believe the committee has recommended an approach that is similar in many ways to what we have proposed over the past three months,” wrote Charlie Parker, speaking for the Friends of Squibnocket. “As a blueprint for future discussions, it is a good start. We do feel the town has come up with an intriguing solution and we will participate in the next phase of the town’s process with an open mind.”

Larry Lasser, president of the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association, spoke favorably about the committee’s recommendation. “We appreciate the extraordinary effort of the town committee to find an appropriate compromise solution for access to our homes and parking for the town beach while respecting the concerns of our neighbors,” he wrote in an email statement. “We intend to work within the guidelines established by the committee if they are approved by the voters at the town meeting in February.”

The committee’s recommendation is also favored by David Damroth, a former Chilmark selectman and resident of the Blacksmith Valley neighborhood who was a vocal critic of the original bridge proposal.

“I’m in favor of it,” Mr. Damroth said. “One never knows how it’s going to wind up at town meeting, but if it’s in this form, I will be supporting it. They’ve pulled the bridge back, and that has a lot of advantages. It opens up the possibility for different things to happen at the shoreline. The original proposal would have put the shoreline under the bridge.”

Mr. Damroth also said he was pleased to see parking proposed at a higher elevation along Squibnocket Road, rather than the original plan to locate a new lot closer to the shoreline.

Land issues

A key element of the committee’s draft recommendation is the town’s ability to lease or buy two small parcels of land, where the beginning of the road proposed in the committee’s prefered alternative would be located. One parcel is owned by Peter Weldon. The other is owned by Wendy Jeffers and Tony Orphanos, both prominent throughout the committee process as part of the Friends of Squibnocket organization.

The Friends of Squibnocket promoted a plan that included a roadway, protected by constructing a dune to prevent overwash during most storms. According to their final proposal, the lot owned by Ms. Jeffers and Mr. Orphanos would be available only as part of the solution proposed by Friends of Squibnocket.

“Our parking plan is bundled with the Dune Solution and is not available if Squibnocket Farm decides to pursue the Bridge Solution,” the Friends of Squibnocket wrote in their final proposal dated Sept. 16 to the committee.

The committee acknowledged the complexity of getting agreement between the owners of property that the town must acquire, the opposing groups of homeowners, and the town.

“Mr. Weldon has indicated he is pleased to work with the town on a solution,” Mr. Malkin said. “To date Orphanos/Jeffers said their lot would only be available if we adopted their solution.”

Ms. Jeffers and Mr. Orphanos responded to a question from The Times about whether they are willing to sell or lease their land for the town committee’s solution with a short statement.

“It would be premature to comment until after after we have further discussions with the town committee,” they said in an email to The Times.

New study

In addition to extensive consultation with their own coastal geologists and engineers, the committee reviewed the work of experts hired by the two opposing homeowners groups, as well as other stakeholders.

Among them was Duncan Caldwell, an Aquinnah homeowner who first appeared before the town committee to propose a solution that included creating artificial reefs by sinking two barges off the shoreline to redirect the flow of sand shaping the beach. Later he submitted another proposal, which questioned the solutions offered by both the Friends of Squibnocket and the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association.

“My investigation led to the discovery of a number of weaknesses in previous analyses for FOS and SFHA. Some of these defects led to inaccurate projections and design flaws that could be extremely costly,” Mr. Duncan wrote in an email to The Times.