Former Trustees of the Reservations regional superintendent Chris Kennedy, a longtime resident of Chappaquiddick who now lives on the Cape, came out swinging against a draft management plan for Trustees beaches that included new over-sand vehicle (OSV) and dog restrictions for Vineyard beaches. In an email to Trustees president John Judge about the plan, Kennedy railed against community exclusion, misleading use of reference materials, and mortal dangers kids would face.
Kennedy wrote that he was “saddened” to announce the Trustees draft beach plan marked the end of a “lifetime” of Kennedy being a “cheerleader” for “one of the premier land conservation organizations in the world.”
“I can honestly say that I have never read a document so blatantly anti-community, anti-history, and without a care in the world for the resource balance it claims to seek,” Kennedy wrote. “In short, this document should NEVER have been released in its present form. It is filled with some great wisdom and scientifically supported data regarding the threat of sea level rise on our barrier beaches. Much of the rest of the plan is rubbish. It is clearly written with an ecological voice which is tone-deaf to the existence of its surroundings on Martha’s Vineyard. At Norton Point, Leland Beach, and Cape Poge, we have always found a balance between resource protection and public access. We emphasized public access for pedestrians and over-sand vehicles (OSVs) with provisions for boats, windsurfers, kiteboarders, and kayakers. This plan seems to treat human visitors in OSVs as the enemy.”
Kennedy argued that OSV use is not beach-detrimental “if some simple, commonsense rules are followed.” He noted that the draft plan “purports” to follow older guidelines for barrier beaches and piping plover protection, but doesn’t actually follow them.
In a statement to The Times, Darci Schofield, the Island’s director for the Trustees, pushed back, and pointed out that the management plan is a draft.
“First and foremost, I’d like to thank members of the public for providing their input. We’ve had emails, phone calls, and more than 250 people have completed our survey to collect feedback, which will be thoroughly reviewed. This beach management plan is a draft focused on providing OSV access, improved beach resiliency and shorebird protection, and responding to increasing flooding and erosion from sea-level rise and storm surge,” Schofield said. “The plan is informed by best management practices, research, and data from a variety of sources, as well as local, state, and federal laws. This plan builds on the Islands-focused Trustees’ State of the Coast Report released last year, which found from 1994 to 2018, Norton Point Beach (the most impacted beach on Martha’s Vineyard) lost 93 acres. That’s why, as our understanding of the escalation of erosion and sea level rise increases, it has necessitated a change in some OSV road sections.”
According to Schofield, despite the challenges of climate change, the Trustees are committed to keeping 75 percent of existing trails open under the draft plan. “We know how unique and valuable OSV access is to people seeking to enjoy the outer extents of these beaches, and we seek balance that ensures a middle ground that protects these fragile resources from the impacts of climate change, and maintains public access today and for future generations.”
Schofield’s prepared remarks did not address other complaints made by Kennedy. For example, Kennedy wrote, the plan “deviates from their provisions by substituting personal opinion and by failing to provide note of key provisions which mitigate the strict interpretation the ecology staff uses in this draft.”
Kennedy lamented that beach managers apparently weren’t given a say in the creation of the plan.
“Further, I find it incredible that our beach partners were not involved in the writing of this controversial plan,” he wrote. “The Trustees sent copies of this plan to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (the owner of Leland Beach), Dukes County (the owner of Norton Point), and the town of Edgartown (the owner of the Jetties) two weeks before releasing it to the public! President Judge, if I were them, I would be insulted that they were ignored in the drafting of this controversial and divisive plan.”
Dan McKiernan, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries director, and Christine Todd, chair of the Dukes County Commissioners, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty told The Times on Wednesday he was aware feedback sessions were slated for August. He also said the draft plan will come before the select board in mid-August, and town counsel is reviewing the plan.
In his email, Kennedy noted that he warned ecology staff “NOT to pursue their desire to ban dogs from Cape Poge, Leland, Wasque, and Norton Point because they failed to gather data on their assertions that dogs were actively harassing plovers, terns, and other beach-nesting birds.”
He went on to write, “To date they still have not presented data on Chappy or Norton Point dog incidents. I should know. I managed those beaches, and spoke daily with the shorebird staff and beach rangers. No question that unrestrained dogs running within proximity of nests is a violation of state law and should be documented. I am aware of a handful (less than six) incidents of dogs off-leash within a shorebird nest zone (these plovers were also protected by wire mesh exclosures) over 32 years of beach management. No question our rangers were daily reminding visitors to put their dogs on leash, but in most cases the dogs were standing/lying next to their owners/families. Are these dogs a threat to nesting shorebirds? Certainly not. And dog feces on shellfish flats? Huh? We have a small area on Katama Bay which is exposed at low tide. President Judge, believe me when I tell you that I have never seen our coastal ecologists, nor their staff, diligently searching this small shellfish area for dog feces. This plan also points out that there are other beaches which ban dogs on the Vineyard. This is a red herring. Almost all of the Island beaches which ban dogs are beaches where you park in a lot or alongside a road, thus dogs in those concentrated areas can be a nuisance. Here, we are talking about a seven-plus-mile stretch of remote ocean beach. This is a silly dog policy which needs to be reconsidered.”
As an author of an older beach management plan, Kennedy wrote that there was never a call for narrow OSV trails.
“We never advocated for OSV trails which were narrow and placed passing vehicles in close proximity to parked vehicles,” he wrote. “This plan endangers our visiting public on wide sections of the beach by mandating OSV trails which are exceedingly narrow and far from the Toe of the Dune. The resulting OSV travel corridor is too restrictive, and forces vehicles who wish to park with little to no room for passing vehicles. Under this scenario, the passing vehicles are given little to no reaction time to stop their vehicles. President Judge, I have years of experience driving on this beach, and not a summer day went by that I did not see a young child run into the travel lane chasing a toy, or a teenager leaping into the trail to catch a Frisbee. In my opinion, this plan, if it is implemented, may well lead to the death or injury of children who play at the beach.”
Kennedy described “some of the most discouraging parts of this plan” as “its ignorance of historical use of trails for recreation, shellfishing, fin fishing, and quiet rejuvenation in nature.”
Kennedy evoked Charles Eliot, the late 19th century landscape architect whose preservation ideas fertilized the legislative birth of the Trustees of Reservations.
“The world envisioned in this draft beach management plan is not the kind of place which Charles Eliot ever envisioned,” he wrote. “Even with sea level rise, we can find the balance between public use and enjoyment and protecting the places that we love. That spirit is missing in this plan.”
Kennedy insisted the plan be withdrawn and redrafted with community input. “There is no ‘fixing’ this draft plan. It needs a complete rewrite with a balanced point of view, which provides more than lip service to our mission, and truly embraces our mission of public use and enjoyment as well as protection of the properties which we all love and seek to protect.”