Feds eye funding for critical Island infrastructure

The state’s two U.S. Senators have placed the Beach Road seawall and Oak Bluffs’ jetties on a short wishlist for federal funding.

The Beach Road seawall on the way to Lagoon Pond. –Daniel Greenman

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.”


  1. Again my father, Jamie Weisman, was ahead of the curve. Please consider some of his sea wall design ideas if there are any aesthetic details beyond structural engineering. Thank you.

    • Zeb– I saw those plans and talked with Jamie
      about them . Yes– Way ahead of the curve.
      I would love to see his entire design implemented
      and named after him.

    • From what I’ve read most MAGA people do not have a problem with tax dollars on infrastructure improvements. In fact, they have been crying for someone to build a wall across the southern border.

      • Bob– some people don’t consider a wall as
        infrastructure. Besides, trump said that the
        southern border wall which he built very little of
        At one point claimed he had completed
        more than he could have imagined. ( believable
        considering his capacity for “imagination”.)
        But it gets breached all the time with homemade
        ladders and $ 100 off the shelf battery operated
        saws alls. Border patroll spends millions of dollars
        every year to fix it.
        If we are going to invest money in infrastructure
        –like roads and schools–they should work , right ?
        Besides that border wall was 100% paid for by Mexico.
        Sorry for mentioning trump, but someone brought up
        MAGA , and someone else brought up the border wall.
        I think we can agree , both of those topics conjure up
        images of the Baby trump balloon.
        At least for me. But in case you forgot about it or
        wondered what happened to it ;

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