Efforts to remove certain restrictions from the state’s updated shorebird protection plan are continuing to garner support from proponents of responsible beach access on Chappaquiddick.
This past week, county commissioners and a state representative contributed to the recent protest against updated shorebird protection measures believed by some to be thwarting public access on Norton Point Beach.
In August, Edgartown Select Board members backed local nonprofit organization M.V. Beachgoers Access Group (MV BAG) in its efforts to get rid of a new mandate by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife that calls for a 150-foot buffer between nesting shorebirds and over-sand vehicles (OSV).
That new contingency has been included in the state’s May 24 approval of the town’s beach management plan for Chappy’s Norton Point Beach, despite there being no precedent for such a restriction. Up until this year, conditions placed on Norton Point management plans were based upon the “1993 Guidelines for Managing Recreational Use of Beaches to Protect Piping Plovers, Terns, and Their Habitats in Massachusetts.”
MV BAG representatives have claimed that the newly imposed 150-foot buffer area is an overreach by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, exceeding the decades-old guidelines on OSVs and protected shorebirds, which make no references to the buffer.
They also argue that not only is such restriction on a barrier beach like Norton Point akin to denying public beach access, but also highlight that there had been no public discourse among stakeholders regarding a change to the state policies.
Last week, State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, sent a letter to Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Tom O’Shea, calling for the removal of the 150-foot buffer from the order of conditions for management of Norton Point.
“For properties funded, owned, or managed by a municipality or the state, the only requirement for obtaining an order of condition relating to shorebird management for OSV access should be strict adherence to the guidelines,” Fernandes wrote. “No additional shorebird management policies should be necessary for obtaining approval.”
Fernandes also asked that any potential changes to the 1993 guidelines go through a public hearing and review process.
A few days later, members of the Dukes County Commission filed a similar letter with the state, expressing the county’s support for the pleas made by Fernandes and MV BAG members.
“The imposition of a [150-foot] “buffer” for OSV beach access, as outlined in the determination, appears to deviate from the established standards and the guidelines that have been relied upon for at least three decades,” County Manager Martina Thornton wrote on behalf of the commission. “We have seen firsthand this summer that the additional requirements imposed by the determination have far-reaching consequences, limiting responsible beach access and impacting the local economy and quality of life for our residents and visitors.”
Similarly, county officials expressed concern over any changes made to beach regulations without undergoing due process. “We would like to respectfully request that should the Division [of Fisheries and Wildlife] consider imposing any changes to established standards, they do so through a transparent and inclusive process, involving input from stakeholders and the public,” the letter states.