East Chop Light to undergo archeological survey 

Museum restoration project, Coast Guard clean up efforts overlap.

Contractor's flags on the grounds of East Chop Lighthouse

Coast Guard work at East Chop Light and Martha’s Vineyard Museum restoration work on the lighthouse are overlapping. Telegraph Hill Park remains cordoned off due to lead contamination in the soil around the lighthouse. Town officials have affixed lead hazard signs to the picket fence facing East Chop Drive, and have barred the picket gate leading to the lighthouse. 

On May 11, Oak Bluffs acting town administrator Wendy Brough signed a license agreement with the Coast Guard that will allow contractors to survey parts of Telegraph Hill Park for contamination. The work is part of a lead mapping and remediation project for soils around the lighthouse. Separately, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum has just begun Phase 2 of a project to restore the lighthouse. Following a $259,700 Community Preservation funds approval by Oak Bluffs town meeting voters, the museum’s contractor has begun the process of rebuilding the gallery deck of the lighthouse. 

The next step in the Coast Guard work will be an archeological survey of the area, according to Capt. Eric Bader, who spoke with The Times in May. Capt. Bader said an examination of the lighthouse property with ground-penetrating radar was done not so long ago to ensure large subterranean objects, like underground fuel tanks, weren’t present. 

Kelly Giles of Renova Environmental Services, the Coast Guard’s contractor for survey work at the lighthouse, confirmed the use of ground-penetrating radar. Giles, who is project manager for the survey work, said her company subcontracted the radar investigation. She declined further comment, and referred more detailed questions to the Coast Guard. Capt. Bader, who recently retired from the Coast Guard, said he expected further lead testing and soil remediation work would take place at the end of the summer or start of autumn. 

The Coast Guard owns a 60- by 60-foot parcel of land inside Telegraph Hill Park. The park itself is owned by the town of Oak Bluffs. Lt. Brandon Newman said on Friday the Coast Guard’s survey and remediation efforts will extend to the periphery of the 60- by 60-foot federal parcel to include small portions of town land. However, work won’t extend further out into the park, he said, even though other structures that may have shed lead paint existed there. The work, he said, is meant solely to address contamination that came from the lighthouse.

As Oak Bluffs health agent Meegan Lancaster put it during an April 27 board of health meeting, contamination that’s “directly attributable to the federal parcel” is what the Coast Guard intends to clean up. Lancaster told the board at that time the Coast Guard anticipated cleanup excavation work to begin Sept. 13, and be done by the beginning of October. 

Martha’s Vineyard Museum director of operations and business development Katy Fuller said on Monday that the museum’s contractor, ICC Commonwealth, has done preliminary work for Phase 2 restoration, and is expected to return to complete that work in the fall. Restoration notwithstanding, Fuller said, the lighthouse won’t reopen until the museum is satisfied the area is decontaminated.

”Our stance is we’re not reopening until we know the lead is gone,” she said. The museum is licensed by the Coast Guard to use and manage the lighthouse. In addition to serving as tourist attractions, the lighthouse and the Telegraph Hill Park have been popular settings for weddings. Fuller made it clear it would be untenable to reopen the lighthouse if pollution uncertainties remain in any portion of the surrounding park. Fuller also said she expects third-party verification of any testing results done by federal contractors.