To the Editor:
The Trustees was surprised and disappointed by Abigail Rosen’s Jan. 4 story, “‘It almost feels spiteful.’” The article addressed the reaction of local officials to our decision not to lead the second phase of a dune restoration project at Norton Point Beach, which carries an estimated price tag of $366,000. The coverage did not accurately depict our efforts to work collaboratively and in good faith on the dune restoration project affected by the upcoming management change, and contained some claims that were incorrect and misleading. I am writing today to clarify and correct the record.
The article claimed that the town secured a Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) grant to pay for the design and permitting of Phase I of the project. In fact, the Trustees paid for the beach vulnerability assessment, design, and permitting of the project, without grant funding. This beach vulnerability assessment included all the properties that we manage on the Island, and resulted in a conceptual design for the Norton Dune project, as we sought to better understand the vulnerability as part of our long-term commitment to coastal resiliency.
Eager to be an involved partner with the town and county, the Trustees secured a state Coastal Zone Management (CZM) grant to conduct community outreach and stakeholder meetings, paid $50,000 for the design and permitting, assisted the town in securing a $240,000 CZM grant for construction of Phase I, contributed $76,000 of our own funding alongside $16,000 from the county, and provided additional funding toward project overages. The Trustees was thrilled to be able to do its part and assist the town and county in completing Phase I, which is why the article’s claims and its unnecessarily divisive nature do a disservice to the project’s collaborative effort.
While we have seen benefits to Phase I of this work, we have also seen significant erosion over the past year; the beach has now lost more than 30 feet with the most recent storms. Given the highly erosive and ever-changing nature of Norton Point Beach, maintaining this dune restoration will require constant monitoring and renourishment of sand by the town and county into the future. That need, combined with the fact that the Trustees will not be managing the beach after March 31, led us to inform our town and county partners that we will not be in a position to lead Phase II of the project.
The $100,000 American Rescue Plan Act grant awarded to the Trustees for Phase II will still be spent on the project, as we are committed to supporting the efforts of town and county officials as they explore options to complete the project, by reducing costs by sourcing locally dredged sand and/or re-thinking the best approach to maintaining over-sand vehicle (OSV) access on this highly dynamic beach.
The final statement from the article that requires more context is the claim that the Trustees has “made millions” from its management of Norton Point.
The Trustees operates at an annual net loss on Martha’s Vineyard. While the OSV permit program generates revenue, talking solely about revenue absent any reference to the related operating expenses we incur on the Island paints an incomplete picture of our financial reality.
The revenue we raise goes toward staffing beaches, investing in infrastructure like the kitchen at the FARM Institute, running programming to benefit more than 5,000 Island residents annually, hosting free educational programs, awarding scholarships for kids to participate in Trustees’ summer camps, managing efforts to protect endangered and threatened shorebirds and their habitat, and implementing special programs like the Habitat Conservation Plan, which requires additional staff to help OSVs navigate to beaches during nesting shorebird closures.
The Trustees is grateful for the opportunity to have managed one of the most beautiful and ecologically significant beaches in the commonwealth for more than a decade and a half. During this time, we have devoted our efforts to fulfilling our dual mission of conservation and recreation. We have stewarded this stretch of barrier beach through storms, erosion, and sea level rise while trying to balance the desire for OSV use with our successful shorebird protection efforts.
Our staff cares deeply about Norton Point Beach, and we are committed to doing our part to successfully transition management responsibilities and support continued dune and habitat resilience. We will continue to focus on our work at our other Vineyard properties, and look forward to seeing our island visitors at some of the most beautiful properties in the state.
Nicie Panetta, interim president and CEO
The Trustees of Reservations