As the Edgartown conservation commission prepares to continue its public hearing on requests from the Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) to authorize the sale of over-sand vehicle (OSV) permits for its Chappaquiddick properties Wednesday, recently filed testimonies and public statements from Chappy property owners, the town of Edgartown, and on Monday, the nonprofit itself, highlight a dispute that’s been playing out in Edgartown for some time.
The conservation commission has been reviewing two notices of intent (NOI) applications by the Trustees regarding Chappy OSV access — one for Leland Beach and Wasque Reservation, and the other for Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge, which was filed separately.
Though the series of public hearings have served to shed light on the specifics of the Trustees’ most recent beach management plan, at the forefront of the latest discussions is the dispute over the ownership of the eastern approach of Chappy’s iconic Dike Bridge — the only access point to Cape Poge — which Edgartown officials have said is in desperate need of repair. Cost for the work is estimated at over $4 million.
In a letter to the conservation commission last month, the Edgartown Select Board urged commissioners, upon any approval, to mandate that the Trustees allocate revenue from OSV sticker sales to repair and maintenance costs for the bridge, claiming that the Trustees are responsible for maintaining the now failing portion of its causeway and bulkhead.
Submitted to the select board and conservation commission Monday, a letter drafted by Trustees attorney Dylan Sanders called the board’s request “misplaced,” and reiterated the nonprofit’s stance that though the Trustees are the majority owner of East Beach, which is to the east of the bulkhead, they “do not own the bulkhead itself or the land on which it is built.”
Though Edgartown assessor’s records indicate that the Trustees of Reservations is the owner on file for the area in question, documentation provided to The Times this week suggests that the question of ownership is significantly more complex.
In a letter to the conservation commission on Monday, the Trustees — through legal counsel — claimed that the town’s assessor’s maps which show the bulkhead as forming a part of the East Beach lot “are simply wrong,” and are not reflective of the “underlying deeds or title records.”
Instead, they argue, the bridge’s causeway and bulkhead are owned by successors and shareholders of the Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Co. (PPMFC), a herring fishery established in 1856, which was dissolved more than 60 years ago.
But in his letter to the conservation commission, attorney Sanders refers to a 1950 agreement between the Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Co. and the town, wherein Edgartown Select Board members ordered the taking of land immediately east of the Dike Bridge.
According to Sanders, the documented “instrument of taking” by Edgartown proves that the town had assumed responsibility for maintaining the causeway, deeming it public infrastructure that the town is required to care for.
Regarding ownership of the property in question, correspondence obtained by The Times dated May 23, 1995, and signed by Ronald Monterosso, an attorney representing successors to the Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Co., confirms that as of 1995, a portion of land between the Dike Bridge and Trustees-owned property remains under the ownership of shareholders of the defunct fishing company.
The portion of land is described as “being bounded on the East by the land of Pocha Pond Meadow and Fishing Co. not taken by the town.”
“Thus the Dikes Bridge connects on East Beach to the land formerly of the PPMFC, and not to the land owned by the Trustees,” the documents state.
Regarding the suggestion that the Trustees earmark money from OSV permit sales for bridge repairs, “the select board is asking the conservation commission to do something that the commission simply does not have the power to do,” Sanders argued. “The conservation commission has no authority under either the Wetland Protection Act, G.L. c. 131, § 40 or the Edgartown Wetland Protection Bylaw to require the Trustees to allocate a portion of OSV permit fees to fund public infrastructure as a condition of issuing an order of conditions.”
Simply put, the select board’s funding suggestion is “not an option,” he said. “State funding, not diverting OSV permit fees, is the only practical and lawful solution here.”
The Trustees’ attorney also refutes claims made by Cape Poge homeowners who say that the nonprofit’s operations are largely responsible for the deterioration of Dike Bridge.
“The causeway’s current condition is not a function of misuse or overuse caused by the Trustees,” he said. “Rather, the causeway’s condition is a function of the fact that the bulkhead is 170 years old, that it has been exposed to harsh and often extreme elements throughout that time.”
Further, Sanders suggests that Edgartown is partly to blame for the bridge’s deterioration, as the town “chose not to replace [the eastern half of the bulkhead]” during the bridge’s partial reconstruction in 1995.
“The Trustees recognize that the deteriorating condition of the bulkhead is a significant issue that must be solved,” he said, adding that “ownership of the causeway is irrelevant to the issue of maintenance,” as “neither the town nor the Trustees can bear the necessary expense [of the repair work].”
Insofar as finding a solution, Sanders recommended that, like in 1995, the bridge project ought to be covered through state funds.
In Monday’s letter, he proposes a partnership with the town to secure the funding. “By working together, and with the support of the town’s state legislative delegation, the
Trustees are confident that the funding needed to rebuild the causeway and bulkhead can be secured and a climate change–resilient causeway can be realized.”
The Edgartown conservation commission will resume its public hearing on the Trustees’ applications on Wednesday, Nov. 8.