Updated Oct. 25
Officials in Edgartown are hoping that the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) will help pay for repairs to Chappaquidick’s Dike Bridge, and they are proposing using vehicle permit fees to do it.
The bridge — widely known by its association with the 1969 death of Mary Jo Kopechne — is owned jointly by the town of Edgartown and the Trustees.
According to the town, Edgartown owns the western approach to the bridge, while TTOR is responsible for the eastern side. For the Trustees, the ownership agreement is questionable.
Earlier this year, and in response to concerns raised by Chappaquiddick residents, Edgartown undertook emergency repairs to the eastern portion of the bridge, which according to engineering firm Tighe & Bond had been subject to weather-related erosion and deterioration, showing “significant decay in many areas.”
The estimated cost for long-term repairs, which includes a replacement of the wooden bulkhead on the western approach, is upwards of $4 million.
In July, the Edgartown Select Board agreed to engage town counsel in drafting a letter to the Trustees, requiring them to make “some sort of forward action” to address the damages to the Dike Bridge causeway and bulkhead.
At Monday’s select board meeting, Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty said since that discussion, the town’s been unable to come to terms with the Trustees on how to move forward with a long-term solution.
In a letter sent to the town’s conservation commission — which will be soon be reviewing a request by TTOR to sell vehicle permits on Wasque — the Edgartown Select Board asks that if the Trustees beach plan’s notice of intent is approved, that a condition be included mandating “the allocation of a reasonable percentage of sticker sale revenue” be designated for future repairs to the Dike Bridge Causeway.
Despite a number of meetings regarding the need to address the bridge’s deterioration, “there has yet to be a substantial proposal submitted by TTOR to address and remedy the situation,” Edgartown Select Board members said in Monday’s letter.
“TTOR’s refusal to acknowledge ownership of the causeway, especially when considering the cumulative annual sticker sales and the direct depreciation resulting from their promoted activities, is not only disconcerting, but also lacks a sound legal, historical, or common-sense basis for discussion,” the letter states.
Deeming it “regrettable that matters have reached this juncture,” the select board highlighted the need to alleviate the financial burden the town’s emergency work on the bridge has had on local taxpayers.
In a statement to The Times this week, Trustees representatives reiterated their stance that the organization does not have ownership over the eastern portion of Dike Bridge.
They say they are the majority owner of East Beach, but “do not own the bulkhead itself, or the land on which it is built.”
According to TTOR, the portion of the bridge and bulkhead not owned by the town is the responsibility of shareholders of the Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Co., creators of a herring fishery that was dissolved more than 60 years ago.
But, TTOR says, “as the owner of the Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge and Wasque, and the manager of Leland Beach, the Trustees share an interest with others in ensuring that the bulkhead, like the town-owned bridge, remains a safe and reliable means of accessing these areas for the public, and for the residents who have chosen to live on Cape Poge.”
They add that the Trustees “have pledged to work with the town and the commonwealth to study and monitor the condition of the bulkhead, and to help secure funding for its maintenance, reconstruction, or replacement when needed.”
The conservation commission is set to reconvene its public hearing on the Trustees’ notice of intent for Wasque, Leland, and Cape Poge on Wednesday.
Updated with comments from the Trustees of Reservations.