In a markedly short meeting by Oak Bluffs standards, selectmen on Tuesday breezed through a wide variety of hot topics including the growing likelihood of an override for next year’s budget — the first in six years — and plans for emergency repairs to a 30-ton retaining wall that collapsed along Sea View avenue last month.
Plans for the collapsed retaining wall drew darts from Nancy Phillips, who complained that officials had focused their efforts on a plan that would negate another proposal for the revitalization of the town waterfront.
Ms. Phillips is the former co-chairman of the Boardwalk to Beach task force, the group tasked with developing a plan for land-side improvements to the approximately one- mile stretch of sand from Farm Pond to the North Bluffs.
The group helped to draft a 35-page report entitled the Sea View Revitalization Concept Master Plan, which recommends a wide range of improvements including the installation of new railing along the beach, new walkways down to the shoreline, a new viewing pagoda opposite Samoset avenue, and new light fixtures and recycling bins. The total cost is estimated at $2.7 million.
An integral part of that plan was to make improvements to the old snack shack at the foot of the town beach, adjacent to the area where the retaining wall collapsed on Feb. 20. Members of the boardwalk to beach group had discussed an ambitious timetable for the plans; they had hoped to have a funding article on the warrant of the upcoming town meeting and start making some improvements this spring.
Last week, the conservation committee hosted an emergency meeting at town hall to discuss plans to repair the collapsed wall that was attended by selectmen, conservation commissioners, town staff and finance officials. Although officials did not choose or focus on one particular plan, there was discussion about building out the beach slopes that would require the snack shack to be removed.
Ms. Phillips said at Tuesday’s meeting she felt the conservation commission was not sharing information with the Boardwalk to Beach task force. “Can you ask the conservation commission to share the information they have with us . . . I don’t think they’re being forthright,” she said.
Town administrator Michael Dutton said officials had not decided upon any one plan but they must act quickly to shore up the town waterfront. In the weeks following the collapse, the sidewalk along Sea View avenue has sloped and new cracks have appeared along the roadway.
Mr. Dutton said any plans for repairs will likely include the removal of the snack shack building.
“As part of the long-term repairs, it is likely [the removal of the shack] will have to happen. The seawall behind the structure is compromised ... it’s not safe.
Mr. Dutton also said there is a perception around town that officials may be putting the cart in front of the horse by moving forward with plans for land-side improvements when the infrastructure of the waterfront is threatening to collapse. He estimated the long-term costs of shoring up the wall may be between $50,000 and $70,000.
Ms. Phillips cited a plan distributed at last week’s meeting by the conservation commission calling for the use of gabion baskets. These baskets are filled with earth or sand and are commonly used to stabilize waterfronts against erosion; they are especially useful for rebuilding beaches because of their modularity and ability to be stacked in various shapes, as well as their ability to gather and collect sand.
The tentative plans call for building a gradually sloping bank, anchored by these gabion baskets and concrete rubble fill that are then covered with sand. The whole area would then be fortified by planting vegetation, which would help to create a natural coastal dune system.
Ms. Phillips said such a plan would rule out the possibility of a concession stand or other permanent structures being built along the beach. The office of coastal zone management had already told the town it will not issue permits to rebuild the structure because of the instability of the waterfront, Mr. Dutton said.
“Your talking about a permanent solution that will forever be protected [by state guidelines] ... if we lose that building we lost it forever,” Ms. Phillips said. “I can tell you that people are very appreciative of having that [concession area] at the beach.”
Ms. Phillips asked the board to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to be reviewed as a development of regional impact (DRI).
Selectman Ron DiOrio, who was running the meeting due to the absence of chairman Kerry Scott, said he would call a meeting to discuss the repairs involving all the appropriate boards and committees, including the Boardwalk to Beach task force. Selectmen did not vote on Ms. Phillips’ request to refer the project to the commission.
In other business, finance director Paul Manzi announced the town financial advisory committee is leaning toward recommending an override of Proposition 2 1/2 in next year’s budget, likely in the amount of at least $800,000.
Approximately $200,000 would go towards the town’s share of the regional high school and the Oak Bluffs school, while around $600,000 would go towards a plan to start funding post-retirement benefits for town employees, he said.
While several selectmen said they understood the need for the override, they warned there will be consequences if the request does not pass at the annual town meeting.
“If it doesn’t pass we have to go back and find a way to balance a budget, and then we have to schedule a special town meeting. It’s not an easy process. I can remember one year [when voters rejected an override] when we went until August without a budget,” said selectman Roger Wey.
Selectmen also met with the organizers of the Martha’s Vineyard Festival who presented a preliminary plan for the concert in Ocean Park featuring the Boston Pops scheduled for Aug. 10.
Promoters this year want to expand the concert to include food and alcohol sales and also have a longer running time from early afternoon to late evening.
Senior producer Rick White told selectmen on Tuesday that his group, Festival Networks, has proposed donating $1 from each ticket to the town and projected that approximately 8,000 will attend the concert. After some selectmen questioned whether collecting $8,000 constituted the public benefit needed to justify the event, Mr. White warned selectmen not to assume the event would be profitable this year.
“Last year it was successful in a social sense, but from a financial perspective, I would say it was a disaster. We lost nearly a quarter-million dollars,” he said.
Mr. Wey said he understood that Festival Networks needs to make money, but noted that some business owners had questions about the event.
“You wouldn’t be here today unless you stood to make a profit, but I just want this whole process to be open. I don’t want a song and dance group to come in here, reap the harvest, and then leave the town with very little ... I look at the figure of $8,000 and that’s not very much,” he said.
Mr. White said the concert would bring additional customers to town businesses and would also start to use local workers to staff the event this year.
Selectman Duncan Ross said he felt overall the event was good for the town.
“Considering the festival lost money last year, I think the prospect of the town making $8,000 is very generous. And as this festival grows the amount the town stands to gain will grow too,” Mr. Ross said.
Selectman Gregory Coogan said he felt some businesses just want to be included more in the discussions about the festival in the future.
“I think they need to be assured they stand to make money, too. They just need to be assured about the future of this event ... I think a lot of this is just allaying people’s fears,” he said.