The removal of 230 tons of lead-contaminated soil at East Chop Lighthouse is “unlikely” to begin in September as planned, according to a U.S. Coast Guard official. Municipal emails obtained by The Times through a public records request reveal permitting issues have been blamed for the work hold-up.
In an email to Oak Bluffs town administrator Deborah Potter and assistant town Administrator Wendy Brough, Coast Guard Lt. Brandon Newman indicated the Coast Guard prefers to wait until spring to do the work. Lt. Newman also appears to suggest waiting until an anticipated transfer of the lighthouse from the Coast Guard to the town of Oak Bluffs via the General Services Administration (GSA) occurs, and then shifting some of the work responsibility to the town.
“Due to permitting delays, the originally planned timeline of beginning remediation in September is unlikely,” Lt. Newman emailed. “As we get closer to the winter, it will be harder for the grass to grow in the cold weather and stabilize the soil, potentially requiring the contractor to return in the spring. To mitigate this, we would recommend holding off remediation until the spring, which would just delay the GSA transfer process. We are confident the project would still be completed by Memorial Day in this case. There are other avenues such as placing the responsibility of soil stabilization on the new owner, or if there is a prioritization on permit review. We can discuss those with you further if desired.”
In an email to The Times, Petty Officer Amanda Wyrick specified the permitting issue stems from the Oak Bluffs conservation commission.
“The current delay has to do with submitting a notice of intent to the town of Oak Bluffs conservation commission (they enforce the Wetlands Protection Act, I believe) because our land-disturbing activities are within 100 feet of a coastal bluffs,” Wyrick wrote. “The NOI process requires an engineer-stamped site map with various elements that our contractor is having difficulties finding an engineering firm that is not two months backed up. Additionally, the contractor has been told when they reached out to the conservation commission that all NOI applicants are being forced to waive the 21-day review period due to a COVID delay.”
Wryrick also clarified what was meant by work after the potential transfer through GSA.
“The Coast Guard has not suggested that the town of Oak Bluffs could do the remediation itself,” Wyrick emailed. “One of the ideas that we were offering to the town was that if we could complete the NOI process in a reasonable time frame, such that we could complete the soil remediation phase in 2021, the real property branch could begin the transfer of the property if the town wanted it done sooner than later if they wanted to finish the restoration portion of the soil (i.e. grass planting/watering). The goal of the USCG has always been to remediate the property to ensure it is safe for human health prior to the transfer out of USCG Property.”
East Chop Light sits inside Telegraph Hill Park on a 60-foot by 60-foot parcel of federal land. It’s a popular tourist attraction and wedding venue. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has a usage license for the lighthouse from the Coast Guard, but has been unable to grant public access to the structure for well over a year because of lead hazard revealed to be in the soil.
Recent survey work revealed that lead contamination from old lighthouse paint was highest just outside the federal parcel, in Telegraph Hill Park. The concentration topped out at 16,600 ppm (parts per million). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) thresholds for action are 1,200 ppm for general bare ground, and 400 ppm for child play areas.
The Oak Bluffs board of health recently recommended town-backed survey work be conducted because the Coast Guard’s survey work was largely limited to the federal parcel and its immediate periphery. The select board subsequently authorized $3,400 to test 6,500 square feet of town land. Town health agent Meegan Lancaster told the select board the primary concern is lead paint from a previous lighthouse keeper’s dwelling and from a shed.
Town administrator Potter didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.