Updated 4:40 pm
After heavy criticism, the Trustees of Reservations announced Thursday afternoon it was withdrawing a draft beach management plan that placed significant restrictions on over-sand vehicles (OSV) and dogs. The announcement was made through a press release, and comes after the Edgartown conservation commission rebuked the plan. The release itself, in its entirety, quotes Trustees president and CEO John Judge:
“Earlier this summer, we released the draft of our updated Beach Management Plan to the public and our partners at the local, county, and state level, and then provided the community with the opportunity to review it, evaluate it, and weigh in with their ideas, and work together with us toward a final plan. Some members of the community have expressed that they would like to have even more voice and input into our planning process. With that in mind, effective immediately, we are rescinding our draft beach management plan and expanding our process to allow for more discussion on these complex issues through local collaboration. The two in-person community meetings and the virtual meetings planned for August will be rescheduled for a date to be determined this fall, at which point the revised plan with added community input will be reviewed. The Trustees will be reaching out to stakeholder groups in the coming weeks to better understand areas of greatest concern and develop potential solutions around issues such as bayside over-sand vehicle (OSV) access and the dog policy. By pausing to have these conversations, we are optimistic that we can come up with a collaborative plan that best balances recreation and resiliency. For more than 60 years the Trustees has been a successful steward of land on Martha’s Vineyard. We remain committed to protecting these dynamic and unique habitats, and the wildlife that calls them home, while also honoring the community’s deep love for the beaches. Our current beach management practices must be changed to reflect the ongoing impacts of climate change like sea level rise and erosion. Together we aim to craft a plan that will ensure that these spaces are best equipped to handle these challenges so the beaches can be enjoyed today and by generations to come.”
The decision to withdraw the management plan comes as the draft was receiving significant pushback from various Island entities and residents. On Wednesday, members of the Edgartown conservation commission and the public attending their Wednesday meeting piled on.
The 49-page draft plan, which in part hones in on stricter enforcement of OSV access on beaches and has new dog restrictions, has been met with contention from residents Island-wide, and was lambasted by former Trustees Superintendent Chris Kennedy.
After being provided with a thorough presentation by Island director of the Trustees of Reservations Darci Schofield, the commission and members of the public voiced their objections to the strict proposal.
“It’s got some nice pictures in it,” commission chair Edward Vincent said of the lengthy plan. “But there’s a lot of stuff in there that needs to be digested, and there’s a lot of things that I think a lot of the public aren’t going to be happy with.” Vincent said limited bayside access, of which “a great number of Edgartonians,” along with other Islanders and vacationers, “take recreational shellfishing permits and go to those exact spots, limits the recreational use of this property beyond what it should be.”
Commissioner Robert Avakian agreed.
Vincent read a letter sent to the commission by Edgartown shellfish constable Rob Morrison, in regard to bayside OSV access in Katama Bay and Cape Poge. ”Closing the OSV trails at Cape Poge Bay would be a devastating outcome for the 900-plus annual recreational shellfish license holders in Edgartown,” the letter states. “Closing bayside OSV trails would effectively deny access to almost all of the bay scalloping areas or recreational harvest, and the majority of the quahog areas in Edgartown.”
Conservation assistant Kara Shemeth, speaking as “a lifelong Norton Point and Wasque attendee,” said, “As a parent of two young kids, and recreational shellfisherman, to be taking away the bayside access would be significantly change the way I’m able to use the beach — and I think other families as well.” The area is a safe, family-friendly area after the birds are fledged, she said.
Regarding dogs, Shemeth said the area is particularly unique. “It’s not like other properties,” and should be treated as such, adding that responsible dog owners should be allowed access.
Emphasizing the mission of the Trustees, Schofield noted that the 133-year-old organization is “in a unique position to share a long-term perspective,” in ensuring protection of the Island’s prime habitats along the coast. As the largest private coastal land owner in the state, the Trustees are charged with identifying the risks that come with climate change, such as sea level rise, increasing storm sturges, and beach erosion.
With the aim of “advancing our learning and knowledge of the climate change risks of our coastal properties,” last year’s State of the Coast report helped guide the Trustees in their mission to protect the Vineyard’s coast, Schofield explained.
Schofield said that in the last century, the Island has experienced a foot of overall sea level rise, and at “an accelerated pace,” projections point to another foot of sea level rise by 2030, and an additional 0.8 feet by 2050. These estimates, gathered from data made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and state researchers, do not include impacts from a 50- or 100-year storm.
With the loss of the beach, said Schofield, “there isn’t enough space” to fully comply with the existing guidelines set regarding beach barriers and OSV access and, in turn, added to what has triggered the draft management plan.
Schofield said she fully understands the frustration due to changes mentioned in the plan, and in support of recreational use of and access to the sites, the Trustees are looking to increase parking for continued availability.
Schofield said she “appreciate[s] the value” of comments put forth by the public — which have been plentiful — and is eager to listen to opinions and innovative suggestions on how to balance conservation efforts and public access.
“You indicated that there’s been lots of outreach to the public,” said Kirk Oswald. “You’ve been doing lots of communication with various groups … What has been the impression from all of those meetings you’ve been having? What has the feedback been, positive or negative?”
Schofield said she’s received both, adding, “I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s quite a few individuals who have very strong feelings about the plan.” She said that accessibility to the bayside trails and the dog embargo has been met with the most contention, but that Trustees have gotten a number of supporting messages, such as “keep the plan as it is,” and “stop OSVs.”
Oswald noted Kennedy’s opposition and his recently launched petition “that over 1,000 people have signed that are in support of [his] position and comments.” Schofield said she was unaware of the petition.
Among his many concerns, Oswald highlighted the parking availability, or lack thereof, when accessing the bay waters, deeming it “not adequate,” as one must “lug things across the dunes.” Eliminating access to Cape Poge, Oswald said, is “a huge, huge problem.”
Additionally, he said that from reading the plan in its entirety, he feels that the narrowing of OSV corridors does not even meet the 1994 guidelines cited by Schofield, and that there will be even less room for vehicles to maneuver.
The Trustees will be holding public meetings to discuss the draft management plan on Monday, August 8, 5-6:30 pm at the Chappaquiddick Community Center; Wednesday, August 10, 10 -11:30 am at the Edgartown library; and a virtual meeting on Tuesday, August 16, 5-6:30 pm.
Reporter Rich Saltzberg contributed to this story.