Construction of a bridge-like structure at Squibnocket Beach that has been the focus of a controversy for the better part of three years appears to be within days of breaking ground. A crane has been moved into place to help build the structure and Chilmark selectmen were told Tuesday, Oct. 3, that bids are being sought on removing a revetment — the second phase of work at the beach.
Meanwhile, opponents of the structure are making a last-ditch legal effort to block it. A September land court decision gutted their efforts to compel the Chilmark zoning board of appeals, the Town of Chilmark, and Squibnocket Farm Inc. to halt the project until it has a building permit.
Led by Chilmark homeowners Doug Liman and David Stork, the plaintiffs in the land court case have filed a notice for appeal to that decision, filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and again appealed building inspector Lenny Jason’s permit refusal to Chilmark’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA), according to Chilmark counsel Ron Rappaport.
Residents of Squibnocket Farm, a residential subdivision just beyond Squibnocket Beach, have sought a more secure roadway between Squibnocket Beach and Squibnocket Pond after the revetment they have used as a driveway began to succumb to the elements and look increasingly vulnerable to sea level rise. An elevated causeway arose as their plan to surmount those issues. With the beach parking lot decaying and the revetment thought to prohibit beach sand from renourishing itself, Chilmark has sought to eliminate the revetment. Though closely associated, especially in their formative stages at public meetings, the projects are separately funded and managed.
Critics of the elevated causeway have argued that the town has bent the law to suit the needs of a wealthy minority at Squibnocket Farm and have questioned the motives of town officials. A major contention of the causeway opposition is that it is an unpermitted structure — a bridge — and that it is being erected with scant oversight and little transparency. Opponents also deem it environmentally questionable and a potential eyesore if built.
Daniel Larkosh of Larkosh and Jackson, the Island firm the plaintiffs retained for their appeal process, confirmed that an appeal to Chilmark’s ZBA was underway and that a notice was filed to reserve the right to appeal the land court judgment. Judge Piper’s three-page prejudicial dismissal noted a non-prejudicial aspect of the case — a ZBA argument that the court left open should the plaintiffs wish to pursue it, Mr. Larkosh said. Ensuring Mr. Stork was on the ground floor of the new ZBA appeal was the key difference from the last round where the court found that Mr. Stork came into the proceedings too late and that with Mr. Liman, as initiator, did not have proper legal standing.
Mr. Larkosh said his clients’ avowed opposition to the project in its current form has not dwindled.
“We definitely have issue with the way this project was proposed and presented by the town,” he said.
The lack of a building permit is a key issue, he said and added that is clients are “looking into” an injunction to halt construction.
Peter Alpert of Ropes and Gray continues to represent defendant Squibnocket Farms. In an email to The Times, he questioned the plaintiff’s tenacity.
“These actions beg the question of how many bites at the apple does one get in this country?” he asked.
Concerning the land court appeal, he said nothing has happened. “There’s nothing for us to do until notified by the appeals court,” he wrote.
As to the argument the plaintiffs made to Mass DEP —t hat the project requires a Chapter 91 license, Mr. Alpert sees it as an exercise in haymaking.
“DEP has already answered the question in the negative and there’s no reason we can see for it to change its mind, “he wrote
While ground does not yet appear to have been broken for the elevated causeway, a large Manitowoc crane belonging to C. White Marine, a bridge, marine, and general contractor, now rests in the beach parking lot behind a chainlink fence. Construction is expected to be underway “any day,” according to Chilmark zoning board of appeals administrator Chuck Hodgkinson. John Keene Excavation began brushcutting at the site Friday in preparation for the impending work, John Keene told The Times. Mr. Keene said his company will also haul tailings to the jobsite, but noted this activity was part of a piecemeal subcontracting in service of C. White Marine, the lead contractor.
Chilmark sent out an RFP for the revetment removal this week and expects to begin that project in the spring.