$2.5 million settlement reached in Menemsha tree cutting

A satellite photograph filed with the court by Cottle's attorney. —Google Maps

A Menemsha resident who sued her neighbors for alleged illegal tree cutting on her property has agreed upon a $2.5 million settlement.

In the original complaint, filed with the Dukes County Superior Court in February of last year by her attorneys, Martha Cottle, trustee of the Cottle Family Realty Trust, claimed that more than 100 trees were illegally cut down on her property at the direction of Beach Plum Inn owners Robert and Sarah Nixon in 2019. 

The lawsuit alleged that Swordfish Enterprises LLC and its principals, the Nixons, were “without license, and negligently, or willfully cut down, carried away, girdled, and otherwise destroyed the trees, timber, wood, or underwood” on Cottle’s property for the purpose of enhancing their water view of Menemsha Harbor, Menemsha Pond, and Menemsha Bight, and to increase the value of their real estate.

It argued that the Nixons’ “unauthorized environmental destruction of the Cottle property wreaked havoc and devastation akin to a war zone,” which took place within an approximate one-half acre on the Cottle Chilmark property. 

According to the suit, around 136 trees, which included beech, oak, and locust trees located on Cottle property, were chopped down by Erick Taylor of Connecticut at the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Nixon.

All three were named as defendants. 

In their filed response to the lawsuit, both the Nixons and Taylor deny clear-cutting the trees on Cottle’s property, and reject the allegation that they were responsible for harming the Cottle trees or land.

Estimated costs for repairing the damage and replacing the cleared trees, which had been provided by Donaroma’s Nursery and Landscape Services and included in Cottle’s original complaint, stated that the three-phase restoration project could cost as much as $3.63 million.

Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly reports that in September, following successful mediation, the parties agreed that Cottle would receive $2.5 million, with Swordfish contributing $1.5 million to the settlement, and Taylor’s insurer covering $1 million.


  1. No, No wait, it can’t be so. The Nixon’s are so environmentally conscious! Said no one ever……( well, those that know them anyhow)

  2. I find it interesting that everyone involved
    denies having anything to do with it, and the
    Nixon’s themselves have no consequence.
    Obviously, their company will write this off.

    I guess the trees cut themselves down
    in a mass murder suicide event.

  3. Another reason to boycott the Beach Plum Inn and Erick Taylor’s landscaping.
    Both seem to have a problem with ethics.

  4. This high profile case reveals how people work… forever deny culpability, rely on insurance to cover your mess and count on short memories of the community. If we want to operate fairly let’s pay closer attention to every cutting infraction and focus on the landscaping companies performing the cutting. They are business and they should be obeying bylaws; listening to all of us not just to the big dollar. As Vineyard homeowners may be desperate for increased views, most would not be swinging chainsaws on their own.
    Having said this, tree maintenance for peaceful existence with neighbours is the gold standard. Let’s build community in this amazing place, not cut it up like enemy camps.

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