During a sunny-day tour of two areas on the Vineyard that have been hit hard by coastal erosion in the past year, Cong. William Keating encouraged a small group of public officials Thursday to press for federal funds for repairs — although he had no sunny promises about the outcome.
“Here’s an issue that’s going to affect tourism, it’s going to affect commercial fishing, not to mention public safety. If you don’t invest in that, it’s going to have an effect that hurts growth. It’s that simple,” Mr. Keating said. “We’re going to have to continue to make a case on whatever front we can.”
The daylong visit to the Vineyard included a boat tour of the storm-damaged coastline in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury and a trip to the Gay Head Cliffs where a historic lighthouse must be moved soon due to rapidly advancing erosion. He began the day by meeting with constituents over coffee at Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven.
“It’s a great opportunity to have a conversation with no agenda,” the congressman said. On the topic of the roundabout, he had this advice: “Bear to the right, and when you’re in it you have the right of away, so these out-of-staters will understand what’s going on.”
Later Mr. Keating climbed on Tisbury harbor master Jay Wilbur’s boat for a tour of the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs coastlines. He was accompanied by Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour and selectman Walter Vail, Tisbury selectman Jeffrey Kristal, director of public works Fred LaPiana, and state Rep. Timothy Madden. “Some of you come forward or your nice shoes are going to get wet,” Mr. Wilbur advised.
The tour began at the Owen Park dock, which was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy, and continued to the little bridge off Joseph Sylvia State Beach, where dredging is needed.
The town of Oak Bluffs has applied for nearly $14 million in federal aid to help repair the badly damaged East Chop Drive and also the North Bluff. Tisbury has applied for $66,000 in federal aid.
Mr. LaPiana pointed out 500 feet along Beach Road in Tisbury where the seawall has been undermined. The water routinely comes over at the seawall at high tide during storm surges; Mr. LaPiana said it is beginning to crack.
Along East Chop Drive, large areas are without beach grass and pieces of asphalt are scattered across the bluff. Preliminary engineering has shown that a 2,900-foot segment of road has been undermined and that the bluff is getting closer to the road. Mr. Whritenour has said it will cost $8.7 million to repair the compromised area of the bluff.
He said riprap installed along East Chop Drive was “very temporary.”
“There’s absolutely no way that riprap is going to prevent that road from washing away,” the town administrator said. “All it’s doing is buying us a little emergency time to get permitting and funding to do a more substantial type of a structure over there.” He continued: “We’ve put aside $100,000 of engineering money to prove all of this happened. But to see it, you guys will know what we’re talking about now.”
Mr. Keating agreed that the situation was dire, but he also admitted the competition for FEMA money after Sandy is fierce.
At the little bridge in Sengekontacket Pond, the harbor master boat nearly ran aground in shallow water. Mr. Vail expressed frustration at the inability of the town to dredge the channel and place the spoils on town beaches, due to environmental regulations.
“It’s frustrating — how do we keep our beaches from disappearing?” he said. “It’s economically imperative to have these things because if we don’t get the tourists, we’re dead.”
Mr. Keating said issues of coastal erosion and dredging are not isolated to the Cape and the Islands but extend to other coastal states including New York, New Jersey and the Carolinas.
“We’re working in caucuses on some of these issues and it’s bringing people together around the country . . . if we work together it will be easier to get more funds generally,” he said.
Mr. Keating concluded his visit at the Gay Head Cliffs, where he met with town leaders to discuss the pending acquisition and move of the Gay Head Light. The cliff is eroding at about two feet per year and the lighthouse needs to be moved. The town is in the early stages of acquiring the lighthouse from the U.S. Coast Guard and developing relocation plans.
“This is an icon to the people in your district,” selectman Spencer Booker said. Standing near the cliffs, dwarfed by the brick tower, Mr. Keating agreed.
“What you have you want to preserve,” he said. “Something should be done. I’m not so sure the Coast Guard is viewing this on the same time frame as you are, they don’t quite understand . . . but we’re in a good position to talk to them.
“I’ll keep being persistent and you do the same.”