At a continued public hearing Wednesday, the Edgartown conservation commission took up the Trustees of Reservations’ proposed beach management plans and requests to allow over-sand vehicle access on its Chappaquiddick properties.
The beach management plan under review is a revision of last year’s controversial proposal, which had received intense pushback from various Island stakeholders who criticized the Trustees over the plan’s restrictions on OSVs and dogs. Due to the public’s response, TTOR announced they’d be pulling the plan and begin drafting a new one.
In August, a new beach management plan was submitted to the Edgartown conservation commission, which has been in the process of reviewing two separate applications regarding OSV access — one for Leland Beach and Wasque, the other for Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.
Due to litigation in Land Court with some Cape Poge residents over TTOR’s management of the area, the Trustees chose to file its notice of intent (NOI) with the conservation commission independently.
Earlier this month, the commission was presented with TTOR’s plan for Leland Beach and Wasque, which contained several changes from last year’s proposal. Most notably, the new plan calls for an “adaptive” management approach, which allows the organization more flexibility when it comes to OSV access.
The plan also includes changes to the Trustees’ dog policy, which would allow leashed dogs on Leland Beach year-round, and at Wasque from October to the end of March.
However, some commissioners and members of the public questioned whether the proposed OSV capacity limit for those beaches, which Trustees Island director Darci Schofield said would be set for 300, could negatively impact the landscape, if reached on a regular basis.
Schofield explained that the limit could be decreased depending on vehicle activity, but historical data has shown that there’s only been a handful of times in the past few years where that 300 number was reached.
On Wednesday, with the ownership of Chappy’s Dike Bridge under debate, this week’s hearing regarding over-sand vehicle (OSV) access on Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge — which is only accessible to the public via Dike Bridge —- centered largely on whether the Trustees ought to contribute to the upcoming, and pricey, repair to the iconic structure, which is expected to cost upwards of $4 million.
Conservation commissioner Geoffrey Kontje relayed a letter submitted by the Edgartown Select Board earlier this week, in which the town urged the commission — upon an approval of TTOR’s application — to mandate that the Trustees allocate revenue from OSV sticker sales to repair and maintenance costs for Dike Bridge.
Specifically, the town is hoping that the Trustees will take responsibility for a deteriorated portion of the Dyke Bridge causeway and bulkhead, which they say is owned by the Trustees.
Though Edgartown assessor property records indicate that the Trustees of Reservations is the owner on file for the area in question, the nonprofit has repeatedly denied those claims.
The Trustees’ stance was reiterated Wednesday by Dylan Sanders, attorney for the Trustees, who stated though the organization is “very motivated to find a solution” for repairing the bridge, “categorically, this is not our bulkhead. This is not our land.”
Further, Sanders claimed that “the town is aware” that the parcel in question is not owned by the Trustees; rather, it’s owned by successors of the Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Co. which was dissolved more than 60 years ago.
“No one is more interested in ensuring that the bulkhead is safe [than TTOR],” Sanders said. “Not just for our permit holders, but for every member of the public who uses Leland Beach, which is a state beach, [and] those who own property on Cape Poge.”
The Trustees’ attorney noted that he will be providing “possible pathways to a solution” in TTOR’s formal response to the select board.
But using sticker revenue “can’t be part of the solution,” he said, adding that the land conservation group does not pull in enough annual revenue to cover the costs of beach management as it is.
In his testimony, Cape Poge homeowner Joseph Russo questioned those claims, noting that the Trustees are profitable enough for the organization’s top executives to earn close to half a million dollars in annual salary.
Pertaining to the bridge, Russo said, “Ownership is not the issue. The issue is who caused the damage.”
“If you break it, you buy it,” he said, claiming that the Trustees’ allowance of OSVs on Chappy beaches over the past few decades is the cause of the bridge’s damage.
Commission chair Peter Vincent, who admitted an agreement among parties is necessary, questioned whether the Trustees’ revenue from the sticker sales would be enough to subsidize the work needed on the bridge.
Still, at least some of TTOR’s sticker sale money should be allocated toward Dike Bridge work, Commissioner Robert Avakian chimed in.
“The whole place is shrinking. Erosion is taking its toll every single year,” Commissioner Kontje said. “And we still have one point of access for the whole property, that all depends on this causeway … If [TTOR] can’t come up with some kind of time frame for building the causeway, it won’t be long until nobody can get to the beach.”
Commissioner Christina Brown agreed. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to “how much do we want to fix the bridge,” she said, “in order to have a bridge.”
“If we stay in that mindset, ‘Well, I’m not fixing it, you fix it,’” the problem won’t be solved, she said, adding that it would behoove all parties to find ways to work collaboratively.
Despite conservation commissioner Kontje briefly suggesting that the public hearing be postponed “until we have some kind of plan from the Trustees in front of us” on the maintenance and reconstruction of the bridge, the commission voted in favor of continuing the hearing until Nov. 8.