Beach theft in progress


To the Editor:

Who among us would dispute that all public land should remain in public hands? We support the decisions of Island officials regarding the management of public parks, beaches, and tennis courts. But in a larger sense, we must never support private citizens who pursue personal enrichment at the expense of the public. This is non-negotiable. 

The gorgeous public beaches of Chappy stretch roughly 8 miles and represent 35 percent of the total public beach access on the Island. Unfortunately, there are only 20 public parking spots (all of which require a half-mile walk to the shoreline), and Chappy has no public transportation options. For comparison, South Beach has less than 1 mile of public beach, but enjoys 460 directly accessible public parking spots, and is serviced by public transportation. Therefore, the ONLY way to access the public beaches on Chappy is by OSV. It is not a matter of preference or indolence. This is the simple reason that supervised, responsible OSV access, which is carefully restricted based on environmental and wildlife concerns on Chappy, has successfully existed for decades. To state the obvious regarding Chappy beaches, denial of OSV access is unequivocally denial of public use. 

Now a small number of Cape Poge landowners seek to abolish (not restrict) OSV access to these public beaches, while maintaining their own private access. They pursue this act of egregious entitlement to advance their goal of enshrining a private sanctuary for their exclusive use and enjoyment. Let’s see — 11 private landowners could be effectively granted 35 percent of the Islands’ total public beach shoreline, thus denying access to 20,000 annual visitors. How could this gigantic wealth transfer possibly transpire in a democracy?

These 11 landowners demand access to continue to drive over the very beaches they demand the public be prohibited from using. Their so-called “reasons” for banning OSV access do not apply to them. How convenient for them. Their manipulative ingenuity is matched only by their profound lack of shame. The hypocrisy meter is blushing. 

Nobody wins from closing Chappy beach access. Except the 11 Cape Poge landowners — they would hit the jackpot, and be proud sovereigns of a newly minted private sanctuary, for which they compensated the town of Edgartown zero dollars. How convenient for them. And how preposterously inconvenient for every other citizen and visitor to our Island. 

An OSV abolisher wrote in a local newspaper that “the masses are readying their pitchforks.” Excuse us, but we “the masses” are legally using public property. We are not armed with pitchforks. We come bearing beach balls and sand buckets for our children’s entertainment. Is this offensive to you? 

A Cape Poge landowner filed a lawsuit to block OSV access on Cape Poge two years ago. For the record, this motion was denied and summarily dismissed by Judge Speicher of the Massachusetts Land Court in May 2022 because it is devoid of merit. Did this sober dose of reality slow the obstructionists? No, perversely it seems to have stimulated their narcissistic agenda. 

Supporting this convoluted misadventure would be like showing up before the FAA to support the closure of a public airport that airport abutters seek to shutter, thus causing economic disaster and widespread public inconvenience, while still allowing the abutters to land their private jets there. 

This is a public beach — and we the people all have an equal voice in its governance. We don’t all use the beach, but we all must follow established rule of law and common decency. It is time to move on from this embarrassing episode, and seek peaceful compromise rather than the nuclear route of public prohibition. Fewer lawsuits coupled with broader public involvement will go a long way to forming our much-needed reconciliation. After all, sunlight is the best disinfectant.


Richard Thompson