Hospital access faces risk as sea rises

Oak Bluffs officials consider raising roads.

The entrance to Martha's Vineyard Hospital. —MV Times

Oak Bluffs officials are assessing roads now to protect vehicle access to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital should rising sea levels pose a threat to the Island. 

Ambulances for the Island’s only hospital and for the Windemere Nursing Home are seen as particularly vulnerable if local roads are flooded, since they avoid waters more than eight inches deep.

In a June 1 public meeting, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Resilience Project, which formed in December and includes multiple government agencies and Vineyard towns, said they are looking at long-term solutions, given projections that parts of the Island may be inundated in coming decades. 

The project, which received a $169,000 grant from the state Office of Coastal Zone Management, is studying the storm and flooding risk to major Oak Bluffs roadways. 

These include Eastville Avenue, East Chop Bluff, County and Beach roads, and Lagoon Pond Bridge. But officials said Oak Bluffs isn’t the only focus. 

“It’s an Island issue, because all towns are affected by access to the hospital,” Wendy Brough, the Oak Bluffs assistant town administrator, said. 

“It [is] obvious that State Road is going to be an issue, so we need to look at town-owned roads to make sure they’re resilient, so we can get to the hospital in the event Five Corners remains flooded,” she added. 

Eileen Gunn, project manager at Fuss & O’Neill, a civil and environmental engineering firm based in Manchester, Conn., presented the project’s findings at town hall.

Data from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs show a range of possible outcomes for sea level rise. 

By 2030, intermediate projections predict 0.9 feet of sea level rise, while high projections show 1.4 feet. By 2070, intermediate projections show 2.6 feet of rise, while high projections show 4.5 feet. 

By 2030, Gunn said, 17.5 miles of Vineyard roadways will be vulnerable to a storm with a 50 percent chance of occurring annually. In 2050, 21 miles of road would be vulnerable to such a storm, and 25 miles by 2070.

By 2050 and 2070, many areas are projected to be subject to twice-daily tidal flooding. These include the southern and northern portions of Beach Road, Lagoon Pond Road, and Five Corners, the study projected, causing significant delays to ambulances and other emergency vehicles. 

Gunn said she asked emergency service officials how much delay is acceptable. 

“I was really trying to pin them down to a certain amount of time,” she said. “If someone’s having a heart attack, what additional time is acceptable for that situation? … ‘Any amount of additional time is not desirable,’ is what their answer was.”

She said the town should consider elevating priority roads, including Beach, Barnes, and County roads, and Eastville Avenue. 

The cost to elevate these roads would be substantial, but Gunn recommended Oak Bluffs pursue federal funds. 

“It is an unprecedented time in terms of funding for this type of work on the federal level,” she said. 

Nature-based solutions, such as installing landscape berms or dunes, also could mitigate flooding in many areas.

The resilience project’s advisory committee includes representatives from the state department of transportation; Dukes County; Oak Bluffs, Tisbury, and Edgartown town officials and first responders; Martha’s Vineyard Commission; the Tri-Town Ambulance Service; and the hospital.

The resilience project briefed the Oak Bluffs select board on June 11, and will draft a graphic report by June 20. It plans to deliver its final report to the state department of Coastal Zone Management by June 30.


  1. wouldn’t it be cheaper to just fork up the 10 or 20
    trillion dollars for the green new deal and get off of fossil fuels ?

      • Carl, what is your solution to rising ocean water?
        Another by-product of rising temperatures on the
        planet is stronger storms.
        So, more Hurricane Sandy-type events.
        More storms like Hurricane Irma in Florida.
        (Estimated that 80% of flood losses were not insured).
        In my opinion, the most important thing that we can do,
        collectively, is to drive an electric car and run the car and
        our house by solar panels. Exit the grid.

        • Just my opinion Mary but I don’t think we can reverse climate change and therefore propose not spending tax payers dollars trying to change the climate but rather mitigate the rising tides by building smarter and away from water. Marching around five corners and driving around in government mandated EV’s will not do much to influence the rest of the world to stop using fossil fuels.

  2. Maybe move hospital to airport area is wiser. You can increase road height but never know if it was high enough. Too bad this was not considered before hospital was recently renovated.

    • How much did the renovation cost?
      How much will it cost to move the hospital to the airport?
      Hindsight is low value.

  3. That was already predictable when the Hospital was built. If you put any $$ into it, plan for worse than predicted, sooner than predicted, which is what we are consistently seeing from the science: they have underestimated the speed at which this is all going down. What is projected sea level rise for when Thwaites glacier gives way? Build for that, not high tides in 2030.

    • Marina –When the hospital was built, they raised the grade by a considerable amount.
      The hospital itself will be fine for quite a while.
      But as this article states, access will be a problem. The recent work on beach road
      was a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t have cost that much to raise the
      road by about 4 inches by simply not tearing up
      the existing asphalt and just paving over it twice. Since they were
      redoing the sidewalks they could have done the same with thm.
      But it is not fully in our faces yet, and denial is still deeply rooted
      It seems the “managers” of all this stuff only react when forced to.

  4. Thank goodness someone is taking the
    flooding seriously!
    Sea levels have risen 6 to 8 inches in the
    last 100 years (half of that since 1993)
    due to a 1 degree C rise in temperature.
    In the next 30 years, flooding will intensify
    by ten times! Will there be federal money
    to go around for every state facing flooding?
    When the water rises by two feet in the
    next 30 years, how many houses (hospitals,
    libraries, stores) will be affected? How
    many insurance companies will be willing
    to foot the bill? I know people in Florida
    who are dumping their homes because
    they can’t afford homeowners insurance.
    We MUST vote against the oil industry!!
    The oil industry is frantic because they
    know we need to drive electric cars to
    save ourselves. The oil industry knows that
    we need solar panels on every roof! The oil
    industry is watching as families slowly
    disengage from the electricity grid and
    become independent. The oil billionaires
    are watching as their billions dwindle away.
    Expect to see more propaganda from
    Conservatives (why conservatives? Because
    the oil barons are paying the bills for
    conservative politicians).,about%206%20to%208%20inches.

    • But Mary– The governor of Florida has “canceled” any discussion of
      climate change. Don’t worry about them anymore. Now if only our
      governor, who I met yesterday, would just ban discussions about
      so called climate change or global warming ,
      so called sea level rise, heat domes,
      heat indexes, hurricanes and various other things that
      the crazy liberals are trying to talk about, everything would
      be fine here also.

      • Don, I hope the crazy liberals have purchased solar panels for their homes and cars and have exited the grid.
        -This provides safety from foreign attacks on our electric grid
        -This helps lower carbon emissions
        -This helps lower the temperature on the planet to slow melting of ice packs
        -This helps lower instances of lung diseases, asthma, and allergies
        -This creates a way for families to save tens of thousands of dollars per year
        There are more benefits and we will see them when we exit the grid.

  5. Buy a couple of used military 6×6 cargo trucks to carry ambulances through the high water. Probably cost less than the study.

    • Ouch man. That is the best solution yet given the hysterical nature of the other opinions. Get a big ambulance with big wheels. No problem while we wait for ten times sea level rise.

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