Opponents of the Squibnocket bridge press four-pronged attack

Chilmark zoning board, DEP, Dukes County Superior Court, and state actions underway in continued assault on project.

A drawing of the Squibnocket access structure bearing the names of three engineering firms. Boring depths are shown and a deck height of 13-feet is given.

Opponents of a new structure going up, pile by pile, beside Squibnocket Pond have opened a new battlefront in their campaign.

David Stork and Doug Liman are slated for round two at the Chilmark zoning board of appeals on Dec. 13 (recently postponed from Nov. 15) and Mr. Liman “et al.” have filed a request with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to learn if a longstanding state waterways regulation applies to the Squibnocket construction site.

Earlier this week, the code appeals board of the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards received an appeal from Mr. Liman and Mr. Stork as well. Like the zoning board appeal, the new state appeal argues that a building permit is a compulsory piece of the bridge construction process that Chilmark has sidestepped. Last, though an emergency injunction filed by 11 Massachusetts residents was denied by superior court Judge Gary Nickerson last month, the lawsuit connected to it still percolates in the court system. Like the DEP request, the suit targets Chapter 91, a state environmental law.

Chilmark plans to begin work on phase two of the Squibnocket project early next year. Phase two involves renourishing Squibnocket Beach sand, building a new beach parking lot, installing a dune, and dismantling a granite revetment that’s long served double duty as a causeway to Squibnocket Farm. The new causeway (or bridge) must be complete for the revetment to be razed, otherwise residents of Squibnocket Farm will have no road access to their isolated subdivision. If legal action delays or thwarts erection of the new causeway (or bridge), Chilmark stands to lose a time-sensitive state grant worth approximately $400,000. The town lost two state grants for lesser sums during the tumultuous multiyear vetting process the project has undergone.

As of The Times’ print deadline, eight days remain in the DEP public commentary period for evaluating the applicability of Chapter 91 to the Squibnocket project. According to a public notice from DEP, failure by “any aggrieved person or group” to send in comments to the Waterways Regulation Program by the Nov. 10 deadline will result in a waiver of right for a hearing. File No. JD17-5084 must be referred to when commenting, the notice states, and addressed to Program Chief Ben Lynch, 1 Winter St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02108.

Drawings surface

Previously scarce engineering plans for the emerging structure in Squibnocket have surfaced recently. Two of these drawings employ the word “bridge” to identify the project type, offering a window into what draftsmen and engineers deem a piece of architecture that has been termed a causeway by the Chilmark zoning board and the defunct Squibnocket Committee. The structure is referred to as an access causeway by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and both an access road and a bridge by Chilmark building inspector Leonard Jason.

One drawing, apparently by Childs Engineering Corp., titled “Squibnocket Bridge … Proposed Bridge Design Concept …,” bears an engineer’s stamp and shows detailed top, side, and cross-sectional renderings. The drawing is dated Dec. 3, 2015; however. fine print along the edge of the drawing reads ”current working drawings Dec. 22, 2015.”

Another drawing, apparently by the same firm, titled “Bridge Plan And Sections,” shows a greater variety of construction details, but most of its fine print is illegible, therefore no dates or dimensions are discernible.

Names appear fluid, depending on how many engineering firms have a say. A third drawing showing elevations that notes “Issued For Pricing Not For Construction” bears the insignia of Childs Engineering along with the firms Vanasse Hangen Brustlin and Haley Aldrich, and is titled “Squibnocket Causeway and Approach Roadway.” No date is legible, though the much-debated height of the structure’s deck is pinned at 13 feet exactly.

The precise definition of the structure may have bearing on the validity of claims by its opponents that it requires a building permit. If the project’s main component is indeed a bridge, a structure that “bears on its piers and abutments,” as Cornell University Professor Kenneth Clark Hover previously put it in an email to The Times, a building permit is needed, opponents like Mr. Liman and Mr. Stork contend.

In an August 2016 memo written to the Chilmark zoning board and building inspector, Mr. Liman wrote, “The applicant in their Notice of intent describe[s] a ‘pile-supported structure,’ so it is not clear what rationale the building inspector would use to describe it otherwise.” Mr. Liman went on to write that after discussion with other building inspectors on- and off-Island, he learned all of them would require a permit for a “concrete and steel pile–supported causeway because that is what is required by Massachusetts building code.”

If it’s a causeway — “a road built on a compacted earth or stone embankment,” as Professor Hover outlined, Chilmark’s initial assessment that no permit is needed because there’s no structure — no bridge — that requires one puts the matter to bed, as Mr. Jason and the Chilmark zoning board contend.

“In my opinion,” Inspector Jason wrote in an August 2016 letter, “the causeway constitutes a relocated roadway, and is not a structure as that term is defined in the Chilmark zoning bylaws. As such, the proposed causeway would comply with town zoning.”

Mr. Jason later went on record in town correspondence and at a zoning board meeting describing the structure as a bridge that did not require a permit. In a telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Jason said he did not issue a building permit for the drive-on dock, the bridge-like structure that connects Boathouse Road to the West Dock in Menemsha. He also did not issue one for his brother, harbormaster Dennis Jason, who built a span over what Mr. Jason described as a seasonal water body. In Edgartown, where he is also building inspector, Mr. Jason said he did not issue a building permit for the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick when it was completely renovated in the 1990s.

Mr. Jason said his viewpoint was informed when studying for his license.

“Railroad trestles were exempt from permits — close enough to a bridge to suit me,” he said. “I haven’t issued building permits for docks either — don’t think anybody does that.”

Terms such as “causeway” and “bridge” (and “structure”) therefore become politically charged while the battle over the project continues at local and state levels. Reached by telephone, Squibnocket Farm attorney Peter Alpert said there was “no regulatory significance” between the terms “bridge” and “causeway.” He referred to the Marx Brother film “The Cocoanuts,” in which Groucho points out a viaduct and Chico asks, “Why a duck?” and argued that squabbles over “bridge” and “causeway” amount to similar comedy.

Daniel Larkosh, who represents the access structure opponents in all four ongoing actions, told The Times that there is a difference, and that a structure 300 feet long and 13 feet tall requires permitting and inspection for safety reasons if it is to be used by emergency vehicles and visitors. It’s not a little bridge over a koi pond, he said, and added it should have someone sign off during each stage of construction, like typical construction sites do. The reason Chilmark may be continually bucking the permit issue is because the town may fear the liability of doing so, he said. “There [otherwise] just doesn’t seem to be any downside to it,” he said.

“Two judges have ruled on this,” Chilmark selectman and former Squibnocket Committee chairman Jim Malkin said. “They both found everything complied with the law. It would be great if the well-meaning people behind this would just let the process continue. We’d love to have a beach.”

Asked if the structure might set a perilous legal precedent, Mr. Malkin said a precedent is not at issue in Squibnocket. “All the appropropriate laws and regulations have been followed,” he said.

‘Chilmarkers for Chilmark’

Chilmark resident and parks and recreation committee member Andy Goldman told The Times he received a telephone call on Oct. 27 from a woman named Grace claiming to represent “Chilmarkers for Chilmark.” She stated she was seeking some 200 signatures to create a special town meeting to address issues with the Squibnocket project. After asking her questions, Mr. Goldman said she seemed uninformed on the history of the project. He said he believed she was reading from a script, and that she admitted she wasn’t from Chilmark. The Times rang the New York area-coded number Mr. Goldman said the caller used. The woman who answered asked to return the call later when informed a newspaper was on the line. She had not done so by presstime.