Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren have requested federal funding to plan much-needed repairs for Vineyard Haven’s Beach Road seawall and Oak Bluffs’ jetties. Both sites need protection from coastal storms and sea level rise.
In an October 13 letter to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the senators requested Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorization for 13 projects across the state, including Beach Road, the Oak Bluffs jetties, and the Bourne and Sagamore bridges. Authorization would qualify a site for federal funding. The letter also requested funds to design and complete repairs on the jetties.
The committee will likely address the requests in late 2024.
WRDA is a legislative package that helps to develop water resources across the country. It authorizes the Secretary of the Army to conduct studies, construct projects and research activities that can lead to improvement of rivers and harbors.
Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) and Tisbury planning board member Ben Robinson says it’s still unclear how much funding the WRDA process could yield, but town officials have estimated costs for the seawall at several million dollars.
To aid and fund planning for both sites, partnership has also been sought from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
In their letter, Senators Markey and Warren say Beach Road’s seawall will collapse if not repaired, given 50 years of degradation from storms and erosion.
“Given the ongoing deterioration, the seawall is expected to collapse and breach the adjacent Beach Road causeway, impacting emergency access, utilities, and habitat important to the Martha’s Vineyard economy,” the letter states.
The seawall is critical because it guards an arterial road, which connects Tisbury to Oak Bluffs and to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. It protects the electric grid and Lagoon Pond, and preserves waterfront access. Operation and maintenance facilities for the Vineyard Wind 1 project will also be on Beach Road.
The seawall has been a key focus for the town of Tisbury, which earlier this year secured a $78,750 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Building Resilient Infrastructure & Communities grant.
Tisbury also has Tighe and Bond company under contract to engineer a seawall concept for that grant project.
“The town has been looking at the seawall for a number of years with different ideas about how it could be developed,” says Robinson.
Though failing to gain authorization in this round of WRDA would delay planning for the seawall, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande thinks its reconstruction will take about five years overall. “I am assuming within the next five years, you could see a project planned, designed, engineered, bid, and constructed,” says Grande.
In Oak Bluffs Harbor, the north and south jetties are allowing silt to enter and clog the channel. Erosion has reduced the jetties’ height, increasing the harbor’s vulnerability to storms.
“The Town has had to execute an emergency dredge in each of the last two years to provide adequate navigational depth in the harbor near the jetties,” reads the letter.
“Among other benefits, a jetty restoration and improvement project will ensure the continued operation of ferry services between the island and the mainland which is critical for the Town’s tourist economy and a lifeline for island residents,” states the letter. “An improved jetty will also facilitate the continued operation of numerous commercial fishing businesses, sport fishing, pleasure boating and the associated land-based portions of these operations.”
The senators’ letter comes as the MVC is considering applying for the USACE Planning Assistance to States (PAS) grant. This grant would fund half of the comprehensive planning activities for water resources issues, such as the seawall or jetties. Massachusetts or Vineyard municipalities would fund the other half.
Robinson says that multiple projects in the same region can strengthen a PAS application.
“If we can build a relationship with the Army Corps for an inventory of critical infrastructure to be repaired in a certain time frame, it [can] align better for federal funding,” he said.
With these funding opportunities in mind, the commission will also work this winter to establish certain “first-order priorities” in coastal infrastructure between the Vineyard, Nantucket and Cuttyhunk. This will involve identifying engineering challenges, and gathering input from municipalities, stakeholders and the public.
Robinson says that not all coastal infrastructure opportunities along the coast have gotten due attention. “Other critical parts haven’t been recognized yet in the same way,” says Robinson. “There will be more of them. A lot of what we think about is prioritizing, and the value we get from investing in infrastructure.”