Edgartown continues push for Norton Point OSV access

State’s new regulations prompt town officials to find alternative access points to Norton Point Beach.

The Edgartown Conservation Commission has approved additional OSV access points to Norton Point Beach. —Paulo DeOliveira

The Edgartown Conservation Commission unanimously approved alternate access points for Norton Point Beach Wednesday afternoon, in response to new state regulations that prohibit over sand vehicle (OSV) access within 50 yards of protected shorebird nests.

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 had been managed by the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) since 2006 before coming under Edgartown’s management in April. 

In order to secure that management and to begin allowing vehicle access on the beach, Edgartown officials needed approval from the National Heritage and Endangered Species Program of the state’s fisheries and wildlife division, which ensures protection of endangered and protected species. 

Last month, the state gave its approval of the town’s beach management plan, but also included a new order of conditions that restrict OSVs from coming within 150 feet of endangered shorebird nests.

Not only do the new conditions exceed the buffer zone that’s been previously required by law per the 1993 Wetlands Protection Act, but because of the beach’s width, some officials said it could have the potential to cut off access entirely. 

On Wednesday, Edgartown Conservation discussed potential access points, including from the ocean side of the beach, which would allow the town to avoid encroaching on the buffer for bird habitat. 

The area being considered was previously not considered in the town’s notice of intent to the state, since it was assumed it’d be a more popular nesting area for protected species. 

However, Edgartown Conservation Agent Jane Varkonda said there’s been no listed or unlisted shorebird activity yet at the location. 

“We thought it’d be bird heaven,” she said, noting it has been a spot where birds have traditionally nested. But “so far no bird has been interested in setting up shop there.” 

The proposal essentially calls for the creation of a new road from the interior trail out to the ocean side of the beach, Edgartown conservation agent Jane Varkonda said. The alternative access, which would allow for two-way traffic, has so far garnered support from state officials, although the town still awaits the formal greenlight. 

Officials say they expect to get the final approval shortly and hope to open the beach to OSV access as soon as possible.

Varkonda noted the charge of stewards of Norton Point is a careful balancing act.

“We need to protect the birds and get some sort of access to the beach at the same time,” she said.


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