The Dukes County Commission was given a presentation Wednesday afternoon by Edgartown Parks commissioner Andrew Kelly regarding potentially transferring management responsibilities of Norton Point from the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) to the town of Edgartown.
Norton Point, a barrier beach stretching over two miles, connects Edgartown to Chappaquiddick, and serves as a habitat for protected wildlife, along with being an ideal location for fishing and recreation. It is owned by the county, and has been managed by the Trustees since 2006.
During the preliminary proposal, which also involves the taking of a portion of State Beach between Bend in the Road and Big Bridge, Kelly outlined reasons why Edgartown would be a more effective manager of the property.
Kelly, who also serves as the town’s deputy fire chief, said there have been discussions on the topic at the town level for a number of years, but now, the timing seems right, since the current management agreement with the Trustees is set to expire on March 31. Additionally, with town budget season and permitting deadlines around the corner, Kelly said it would be an opportune time for the town to take over.
Financially, the swap also makes sense, Kelly said. “We’re going to guarantee that after we pay the county, the remainder of that money is going back into that beach.” He proposed a percentage of sticker sales — capped at 25 percent — to go back to the county.
Kelly said he has no idea where the money is currently going under the management of the Trustees, but promised greater transparency if the town were to gain control. “We want the public to understand what we’re doing, and where the money is going,” he said.
Edgartown also has the resources, Kelly said, including the town’s parks department which already has a robust presence on South Beach, along with the vast knowledge and experience of members of the conservation, dredge, highway, and shellfish departments.
The town already provides amenities for the area, such as air inflation and deflation locations, restrooms, trash collection and removal, and sand for beach nourishment.
“We’ve established ourselves on our side,” Kelly said of South Beach. “I think we’ve come to recognize what our strengths are … We feel that we have the ability, with all the infrastructure that we already have in place, to easily make a seamless adjustment over.”
Ultimately, Kelly said, the goal is to have public management of Norton Point. Ideally, that management would cover both South Beach and Norton Point, both of which the town touts significant familiarity with.
“It’s our feeling that South Beach and Norton Point should be unified,” Kelly said, “It would be a much more seamless thing.” He noted the ease of having consistent policies and procedures throughout the entire stretch of beach.
The transfer would allow for more transparency, public input, and efficient lines of communication among town officials, Kelly said. The town would plan on merging existing resources with additional ecologists, staff, and eventually a town beach director to establish the best practices for caring for the property.
Another key driving force of the proposal, Kelly said, was increasing public input from people who have been inquiring as to why the town isn’t already managing Norton Point, since it already manages state-owned South Beach. Kelly said the goal would be to create working groups that involve representatives from the public.
The Trustees have recently been faced with significant backlash from Islanders after publishing a draft beach management plan this summer that would have greatly increased beach access restrictions on its properties. The plan was ultimately withdrawn, with Trustees Island director Darci Schofield promising to revisit the management in a collaboration with various stakeholders, interest groups, and beach users.
“We’re confident that we can manage the county-owned beaches within the town of Edgartown,” Kelly said, including staying within the parameters of state and federal regulations concerning wildlife protection and dune restoration, along with pedestrian and over-sand vehicle (OSV) access and trail maintenance, which would be handled by the town’s conservation department.
Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty confirmed that the revenue from sticker sales will circulate back into beach improvements. “When Edgartown does well, the county does well,” Hagerty said. “When the county does well, Edgartown does well … If we can offer a higher price point than currently is being offered, then in turn, we can ensure that every dollar goes back into the community.”
“It’s a win-win,” he said.
Schofield took a moment to briefly respond to the proposal. “We’ve been a steward of this space for over 15 years,” she said, “and we know how important Norton is to all of us in the community.”
“I just want to reinforce the Trustees’ incredible value to this extraordinary place,” Schofield said, “not only [to] the extraordinary wildlife that is there, but also the value of accessing that beach … we’ve been very proud to provide that service to the community.”
The Trustees hope to continue investing in Norton Point, Schofield said, by way of its dune restoration, which is in its second phase, and its shorebird protection program, which has been ongoing and has involved a significant investment.
Dukes County Commissioners took no vote, and subsequently arranged to hear a more thorough presentation from the Trustees regarding the management of the property, on Dec. 21 at 4 pm.