In a surprising turn of events, the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) announced Friday afternoon that the nonprofit has opted to forgo its contract renewal with Dukes County regarding the management of Norton Point Beach in Edgartown.
“After careful consideration, the decision not to pursue renewal of this contract was made in order to focus more on the wide and exciting variety of other programs and properties on Martha’s Vineyard that the Trustees owns outright,” Friday’s press release states.
This comes both after the unexpected withdrawal of TTOR’s widely criticized draft beach management plan, and a subsequent presentation to the county by Edgartown officials last week outlining why the town would make better stewards of Norton Point.
Norton Point, a barrier beach stretching over two miles, connects Edgartown to Chappaquiddick, and is owned by Dukes County, but has been managed by the Trustees since 2006. The current contract is set to expire March 31.
“We are looking at the great opportunities ahead to protect, steward, and ensure the public’s use and enjoyment of some of the most beautiful, environmentally sensitive properties in the commonwealth for generations to come,” Darci Schofield, the Islands portfolio director for the Trustees, said in the release. “By relinquishing management of Norton Point, the Trustees can place an additional focus on its protection of access to more than 1,600 acres of special places and 12 miles of pristine beaches on Martha’s Vineyard, including Long Point Wildlife Refuge.”
Although the newly appointed stewards of Norton Point will be tasked with managing over-sand vehicle (OSV) access and nesting shorebird protection for that location, the Trustees will remain in charge of OSV access and wildlife on Chappy’s Cape Poge and Leland Beach.
“The Trustees will continue to work with key community stakeholders to complete a beach management plan that balances conservation needs and requirements with public use and access at the other beach properties it operates on Martha’s Vineyard,” the release states, in addition to offering its support of Dukes County “in transitioning the management of Norton Point to Edgartown, or whichever entity is ultimately chosen.”
Potential managers of the property must first be decided on by Dukes County Commissioners. At their last meeting, commissioners did not make any motions to vote, and instead expressed interest in hearing a presentation from Trustees representatives. That meeting was set for Dec. 21.
In a message to The Times, county manager Martina Thornton said that to her knowledge, the county has not been approached by any other entity regarding potential management of the property. She said commissioners will be meeting Wednesday to “decide the next steps.”
“We have great respect for our partners at the county and the town, and wish them well in the care of this splendid and fragile natural resource,” Nicie Panetta, interim president and CEO of the Trustees, said in the release. “In the meantime, we will continue to provide the Island community with a high level of care and programming at our other Vineyard properties.”
In a call with The Times, Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty expressed the town’s appreciation for the Trustees, and the significant role the nonprofit has played in Edgartown land conservation efforts. He said he’s been in communication with Schofield and Trustees representatives, and continues to have the utmost respect for the organization. “We wish them the best,” he said.
Hagerty confirmed that the town will be actively pursuing the Norton Point lease, but noted that there is uncertainty regarding how exactly a potential agreement will play out with the county.
WIth the Trustees backing out, Hagerty said, the county can choose to put the stewardship out to bid, or choose a government agency to take over. As of now, there are no other known contenders for the role.
Hagerty said town leaders are supportive about the possibility of taking over management of Norton Point. “That’s the general sense amongst the parks department and elected officials of the parks department, who are there every single day,” he said. “If we can make it work, we’ll make it work.”