Planning for sea level rise in Vineyard Haven

Town planners illustrated current goals for the B1 commercial district.


Officials helping to map Tisbury’s master plan discussed concepts and priorities for downtown Vineyard Haven, with the primary goal of preparing for sea level rise and larger and stronger storms. 

During a meeting last week, topics included the possibility of a storm causing 10 feet of flooding at the waterfront in 2030, and plans to add parking underneath Stop & Shop and around the post office. 

No plans or specifics are set in stone, and they will be subject to change as more public input is gathered.

The proposals follow more than a year of community engagement regarding the master plan.

Master plan goals for the B2 commercial district were covered in a previous Times article.

Dillon Sussman, of Dodson and Flinker landscape architects and consultants, presented possible adaptations for sea level rise, especially at the waterfront. Sussman referenced a map showing the annual chance of flooding, sourced from the state Office of Coastal Zone Management. The map incorporates information regarding sea level rise, flooding, and wave action, to indicate depths of flooding that would result from storms of different likelihoods.

According to the map, a storm that has a one-percent chance of occurring in 2030 would cause flood depths of 10 feet for much of the waterfront area, and would significantly flood Beach Road and Lagoon Pond Road.

“There is of course some degree of uncertainty in these things,” added Sussman. “But I think the conclusion is that it makes sense to plan for a reasonable but conservative estimate of the bad future, so that you’re prepared for it, and also to be in line with what the state of Massachusetts is planning for.”

Sussman recommended that Tisbury work to develop a basic coastal sea level rise strategy, which could involve three options. For the first option, dubbed “Accommodation,” structures in harm’s way would be modified. “That’s techniques like raising buildings so floodwaters can move beneath them,” said Sussman.

The second option, “Protect,” would involve adaptations to block floodwaters. This can include engineered structures like bulkheads, seawall or sheet-pile wall; or more naturally based options, like engineered dunes.

In the third strategy, “Retreat” structures would be relocated. “[This can involve] moving a building a little bit, or it can be a larger retreat where buildings and other things you don’t want harmed are moved out of the area entirely,” Sussman said. “Moving forward, the master plan recommends that Tisbury have a robust community conversation about basic strategy for responding to sea level rise.”

Sussman also recommended increasing flood-tolerant uses, like temporary businesses and stormwater management facilities, as well as supporting water-dependent uses in the waterfront, like bulk shipping and marina uses.

With flood risk in mind, Sussman also discussed the importance of developing better circulation for pedestrians, and shared-use paths for bikers. A specific location of focus is the existing connection through Cromwell Lane to Veterans Park. This could provide better passage for pedestrians and bikers who are trying to avoid Five Corners. “[This connection] enables you to get out towards the B2 [commercial district], or from the B2 to cut through Veterans field to come out to Lagoon Pond Road, and then use the developing path network to get over to the bike paths on Beach Road,” said Sussman. “[This] would enable you to avoid the more dangerous and narrow portions of State Road, and in particular Five Corners.”

Planners did state that no solutions currently exist for Five Corners. “[Five Corners] clearly could use improvement, both for stormwater flooding and for safety of people moving through the intersection and for congestion. So, the master plan makes a recommendation to basically do comprehensive transportation planning…it’s going to take more work to come up with one,” said Sussman.

Regarding all master plan goals, more coordination is needed with private property owners. “Stop & Stop has been talking about redevelopment of their stores for quite a long time,” said Sussman. “The town parking lot is right next to it, [and Stop & Shop] utilizes the town parking. So, work together with Stop & Shop to come up with a plan that works for the town and works for Stop & Shop.”

Peter Flinker of Dodson & Flinker then shared the town’s priorities for walkability. “[O]ne of the principles and objectives we want to keep in mind…is about creating more space for pedestrians, planting more trees, and making the whole [downtown] into more of a coherent grid of sidewalks and streets that is easier to navigate, even without an official wayfinding signage program,” said Flinker.

Flinker also remarked upon the current state of connections from the waterfront toward Main Street. “Right now there’s sort of a web of narrow pedestrian crossings. You could go up Union Street. You can go up through the town parking lot, some of which is paved and some not. You can take Norton Lane, which is marked for both pedestrians and bicycles as well as cars, but a little unclear [on] where you’re supposed to be walking.”

According to Flinker, instead of relying on those multiple paths, one primary connection could be developed. “[An] idea is, maybe consolidate some of that movement through the [town] parking lot, so instead of multiple narrow sidewalks and marked lanes you have a single larger one.”

The easiest way to achieve this involves Norton and Cromwell lanes, said Flinker. “The first step would be, say, to…repave those [lanes] with a continuous, attractive pavement…Instead of having half a sidewalk and some asphalt for the street, [one could] repave the whole thing—including the sidewalk and the street—as a shared street which is attractive, comfortable to walk on, but also available for vehicles.” This solution is easier, according to Flinker, because it largely involves use of public spaces.

Further concentrating parking is another focus for the town. Flinker supported a past Stop & Shop plan that involved creating additional parking space underneath the supermarket building.

During the public comment portion of the presentation, many asked about the role of the supermarket in Tisbury’s plans, and the increased flow of traffic from out of the town lot.

Flinker advocated for future negotiations between the town and supermarket.  “The issue of traffic coming in and out of that [lot] is something that’s sort of beyond what we can tell [is] the right approach. But appropriately, when we get to that point, [Stop & Shop’s] traffic engineers will be able to analyze that and tell you exactly what the impacts are, and then you can make a decision…We know that no change prevents anything from happening, but it also prevents something good from happening.”

Carolina Cooney, Executive Director of the Vineyard’s Chamber of Commerce, shared her experience discussing master plan priorities with Stop & Shop. “[Stop & Shop] is dying to improve that store…they really are interested in being a part of the conversation, a part of the community, making the fixed and recommendations that the community and town recommends, and even potentially including a visitor center as part of their master plan and master rebuild.”

The public is encouraged to provide feedback at the bottom of the Tisbury master plan website.


    • Shawn . So you deny the existence of
      hurricanes ? Or do you just think that Jesus
      won’t allow any to come up
      here in the next 7 years.
      Here’s hoping you are correct,
      but we have been seeing a lot of
      once in a thousand year storms around
      the country lately.

      You know, less that 1% of the houses on the
      Vineyard have burned down in the last
      7 years, but most people have fire insurance .
      I am always amazed at how many people we
      see standing in long lines to get some bottled
      water the day after a storm that they were warned
      about for days in advance.
      I’m ok with Tisbury doing a little planning for
      the future.
      There are some good ideas in this article.

    • A hurricane barrier from East to West Chop? All the way around the Island? How much will that cost? Per Resident?

      • Albert– it would be cheap, since we could
        build it with used windmill blades.
        Speaking of windmill blades. From
        the top of Peaked hill, with a pair of
        standard binoculars, you cannot tell
        which of the perspectively 1/2 inch needle
        sized towers have the blades on them.

        • Well, you sure can from Nantucket.

          I can’t wait for the intermittent energy to start!
          While I’m waiting I’m reading this:

          “After 20 years the first of our solar panels have started to fail and have been replaced. Rather than dump them into landfill because they can’t be recycled, I’m planning on using them to make north-facing sun traps for heat loving plants in our big vegetable garden.

          “Renewable energy systems should more honestly be called replaceable energy systems. None of the components can be expected to work for more than 25 years and often a much shorter time than that.

          “It is the journey as much as the destination. Producing our own power fits with our overall ethos of self reliance. We produce our own free range poultry and eggs and, in a good year, most of our fruit and vegetables. We breed Wiltshire sheep and buy in beef weaners, then we butcher, pack and freeze our own meat supply which we can supplement with hunting and offshore fishing.

          “Extrapolating from our renewable energy experience, anyone who thinks that a modern society can function with a power grid that runs on just solar and wind power without fossil fuel or nuclear backup that’s able to immediately provide up to 100% of power needs on cloudy, still days and dark, windless nights, is totally deluded!

          “And getting grid-scale lithium ion battery storage to provide the sort of supply time that we have on our farm would cost trillions of dollars, deplete the planet’s non-renewable resources to the point of imminent exhaustion and then it would have to be done all over again in 10 years.

          “It matters nought that you have massive renewable generation capacity if you can’t store power for extended periods.

          “So you can have all the wind and solar farms you want, but without fossil fuel or nuclear backup you’ll need to buy a good supply of warm blankets and candles if you don’t want to be spending a lot of time shivering in the dark.”

  1. The “experts” in Woods Hole published a study in 1998 stating all of downtown Edgartown would be a swamp in 50 years. Well we’re halfway there and last I checked half of downtown isn’t underwater yet. Just sayin…….

    • John– I would really appreciate it if you could
      find that study, and put up a link to it.
      Otherwise, I will continue to think that you
      are quite willing to post things that are simply not
      Just sayin….

      • Here you go Don. The report was published by the National Environmental Trust with WHOI scientist contributing to the report. It’s first paragraph in hindsight is laughable now. “A startling new national report that uses computer imaging to flag the effects of global warming on the Massachusetts coast shows that the south shore of the Vineyard will be washed away and downtown Edgartown will be a swamp in 50 years — even if the most conservative projections about rising sea levels are correct.”

        Even the most conservative estimates had Edgartown underwater by now Don. Maybe you can read the whole report while having breakfast at Dock St. Diner. Don’t forget your life jacket!

        • John.. Come on man– I found that Vineyard
          Gazette article within about 5 minutes
          of reading your comment. I couldn’t
          however find the actual study.
          Otherwise , I wouldn’t have asked you
          to provide it and I would have read it last week.
          The writer of the V.G article makes some assumptions.
          Conservative estimates are are about
          3 ft by 2098.
          I agree with that and so did the IPPC in 1997.
          In fact, seal level is currently rising
          by about 1/4 inch per year, a rate double
          that of the late 1990’S, and accelerating.
          That easily puts us on track for 3 ft by 2098
          But back to the article;
          It mentions one “expert” from Whoi.
          The authors of the study , The national
          environmental trust is a non profit
          organization, and not affiliated with
          WHOI. The article from the Gazette
          states that the study is based on a 3
          ft rise and cites conditions
          after a storm surge.
          But I asked for the study itself.
          Not a story about a story about
          the actual article.
          In case you are wondering, I found what
          you were referencing by copying
          you quoted first sentence into google.
          Please provide the full study.
          I will be happy to read it.

    • Perhaps you haven’t been there after rain, John. Even the most ardent detractor of climate change would have to admit that downtown Edgartown is increasingly ill equipped to deal with storms. Just ask any store owner/restaurant owner who has had to deal with the after effects and floods in their buildings. Just sayin….

    • Give WHOI credit for getting the direction right. The details need refinement.
      “Just sayin…….” as an oceanographer?

      • Yes we must all take drastic action today for things that without question will happen long after we’re all dead. It’s going to get bad, really bad 50-100 years from now. No need to look behind the curtain Dorothy.

    • John, I remember that report. It was issued by the National Environmental Trust. A teacher at MVRHS used to reference it often, years after publication.

      I can’t find the presentation online, but the Gazette’s summary is as you said.

      “…the south shore of the Vineyard will be washed away and downtown Edgartown will be a swamp in 50 years — even if the most conservative projections about rising sea levels are correct.”

      The Cape Cod Times and Boston Globe ran similar articles in the late ’90s.

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