Dispute over Dike Bridge funding continues

Edgartown Conservation Commission resumes its hearing on the Trustees application for over-sand vehicles on Chappaquiddick.

The conservation commission will continue its public hearing on the Trustees’ notices of intent on Jan. 24. -MV Times

The Edgartown conservation commission voted Wednesday to again continue its review and public hearing for the Trustees of Reservations’ application to sell over-sand vehicles (OSV) permits for its Chappaquiddick properties.

It was the latest of a number of hearings regarding two separate notices of intent (NOI) submitted to the Edgartown commission by the Trustees concerning Leland Beach/Wasque and Cape Poge Wildlife Refuge.

Testimonials Wednesday on the conservation nonprofit’s proposed beach management plan ranged from Cape Poge homeowners who expressed concern over the impact the Trustees’ OSV-related activity has had on the natural landscape, along with proponents of public access who highlighted the importance of maintaining the historic tradition of supporting responsible access to Chappy’s iconic beaches. 

Though no decision was made yet on the Trustees’ request, Edgartown commissioners shared their reasoning, as they must thoroughly review TTOR’s application and consider all submitted testimony. Any approval of the NOIs will require an order of conditions, which will likely — per their charge — be catered to adequately serving both environmental conservation efforts and upholding responsible public access. 

Commissioners also expressed the need for more information from the Trustees about its beach management proposal, including plans to increase the number of appropriately trained staff onsite, additional details on TTOR’s so-called “adaptive management” approach, and general transparency concerning the nonprofit’s finances. 

Also in dire need of resolution, commissioners said, is the ongoing dispute over the ownership of Dike Bridge, part of which is in desperate need of repair. 

The bridge, notorious for 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 and Bond, had been subject to weather-related erosion and deterioration; there’s also been “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. 

After what Edgartown officials say was a lack of communication between the town and the Trustees over who will take on the pricey project, the town’s select board drafted a letter to the conservation commission, urging commissioners that upon any approval of the Trustees’ NOIs, a condition be included mandating “the allocation of a reasonable percentage of sticker-sale revenue” be designated for future repairs to the Dike Bridge. 

In response, the Trustees argued they are unable to use sticker-sale revenue, for financial reasons, and they lack any ownership claim to the bridge. 

To support their argument, TTOR attorney Dylan Sanders submitted documentation to the select board and conservation commission, which he suggested was proof that the bridge’s causeway and bulkhead on the eastern approach 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. 

To help fund the repair work, TTOR suggested, the town ought to pursue state funding. 

But earlier this week, Edgartown legal counsel Ron Rappaport issued a response to the Trustees’ denial of ownership, stating that the Trustees had “incorrectly interpreted certain documents in its chain of title that assert ownership of the area in question,” and reiterated the town’s stance that the Trustees ought to contribute to the maintenance and repair of Dike Bridge.

In the letter, Rappaport, on behalf of Edgartown, cites decades-old conveyance documentation that he says clearly indicates TTOR’s responsibility and property ownership.

“It would be helpful if TTOR could offer a concrete financial proposal, rather than stating that state funding is the ‘only meaningful, lawful, and viable path forward,’” Rappaport’s letter stated. “There are a variety of cooperative endeavors which would ensure the continued right of the public (not simply the town’s citizens) to enjoy access to TTOR’s recreational facilities. As a party with a claimed ownership of East Beach and the deteriorated portion of the causeway/bulkhead, TTOR should play a meaningful role in this effort.”

The conservation commission will continue its public hearing on the Trustees’ notices of intent on Jan. 24.