Squibnocket Beach erosion plan detailed at MVC hearing

In a four-hour hearing, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission began its review of a plan to restore the beach and preserve subdivision access.


Representative of the three years of discussion, planning, meetings and votes leading up to this night, a general mood of agreement pervaded the first formal public hearing for the Squibnocket project at a meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) Thursday night in the Chilmark Community Center.

The Island’s powerful regional permitting agency is reviewing plans to restore Squibnocket Beach to its natural state, move the existing town beach parking lot and construct an elevated access road over a wetland to an exclusive subdivision as two separate developments of regional impact (DRIs). The MVC can permit the plans as presented, permit them with conditions or reject the plans.

Representatives of the various interested groups, including subdivision homeowners, town committee members, and professionals hired to address the issues spoke to the three-year process that resulted in a plan that has won approval from state environmental and regulatory agencies. But there was not total agreement.

Property abutters primarily objected to the height of the proposed causeway and guardrail that is designed to replace the often storm-damaged gravel road that provides the only access to the 14 homes in the Squibnocket Farm subdivision to the west of the town beach.

The MVC hearing took up the two DRIs simultaneously. The causeway, a 300-foot long 12-foot wide, single-lane road similar in style to the Menemsha dock causeway, is elevated as much as 13 feet above the marshy ground at the edge of Squibnocket Pond. The estimated $4 million project was designed and will be paid for by the Squibnocket Homeowners Association.

A separate but related project includes the removal of the stone revetment behind the existing and eroding town beach that proponents said will allow it to return to a more natural state. In conjunction, a new, larger town parking lot would be created along the access road that now leads to the existing lot under the terms of a new 99-year lease, on higher ground. The town will construct a small boat launch on the association side of the causeway on what is known as Money Hill, allowing access to the pond.

The meeting opened with a 30-minute staff report by MVC DRI coordinator, Paul Foley. It was a detailed description of the projects, complete with photos and diagrams, many of which were used repeatedly by other presenters, projected on a large screen. Historic photos of the beach area were used to demonstrate erosion patterns.

Chilmark selectman Warren Doty spoke of the need for a longer term fix for the problem of access to the town approved subdivision of Squibnocket.

Jim Malkin, chairman of the town committee appointed to hammer out the complex plan, described in detail the process that took three years and included 21 open meetings and hearings. Administrative pointman for the town Chuck Hodgkinson outlined the finances; the town approved $350,000 to purchase the two lots for the new parking area and up to $410,000 of Community Preservation Act funds for the new 99-year beach lease, and two state grants of $280,000.

Mark Haley, principal at the engineering firm Haley and Aldrich, represented the Squibnocket Farm homeowners. He presented the final design for the new causeway. Reid Silva, of Vineyard Land Surveying and Engineering, who represented the town, presented the final design for a new skiff launch ramp and parking area and discussed the ecological forces at work on the beach. He said that 470 feet of the stone revetment would be removed, much of it reused to shore up the new 45 car parking lot which will include a turn around circle that will be large enough to handle Island buses.

Local homeowner Charlie Parker said he had met with approximately 20 fellow abutters, and he questioned the need and desirability of a causeway as high as the one proposed. He reviewed the data, presenting his own photos, and suggested that the causeway could meet the needs two feet lower with the mass of the railing reduced similar to the Menemsha dock. Several other people spoke to the same issues.

Chris Murphy, former chairman of the MVC and member of the Chilmark Conservation Commission, read a lengthy statement in which

he described the geological forces at work and suggested that what worked 100 years ago without any human intervention would still work.

Mr. Murphy suggested the MVC’s role was “to bring a little more common sense to the problem in front of you.”

Describing the existing strategy of “managed retreat” as a good approach, Mr. Murphy took issue with the plan to construct a steel and concrete bridge. “Instead of recognizing the beach, dune, wetland and pond as a living, moving, ever-changing thing that we should adjust to, this plan firmly places an immovable object in front of an unstoppable force.”

He recommended “a road at grade that moves as the beach-dune moves.”

Interested parties have until April 1 to submit written comments to the MVC.