Chilmark voters have spoken, voting by a slim margin at the annual town meeting Monday to send the town back to the drawing board on the restoration project for Squibnocket Beach.
To be sure it’s been a complicated issue, and was fraught with confusion at the eleventh hour as rancorous disagreement spilled out between the residents of Blacksmith Valley and Squibnocket Farm. The plan was crafted by the town, Squibnocket Farm homeowners and Vineyard Open Land Foundation in a good-faith effort to stabilize the beach and save the roadway from the encroaching sea.
If the selectmen woke up the morning after the town meeting feeling frustrated, they would be justified. We continue to believe that Chilmark is lucky to have such good leaders and that the deal they brokered on behalf of the town was a sound attempt to chart a thoughtful course through difficult political as well as environmental terrain. The plan rejected by voters Monday night would have accomplished a number of key objectives: It would rebuild the roadway which provides access to both the public beach and the private homes at Squibnocket Ridge, and it would add a significant stretch of public beachfront to town holdings at a very low cost. The Squibnocket Farm homeowners would bear the cost of rebuilding the roadway. Of course a gauntlet of permit hurdles would still need to be cleared and careful environmental study had been advised for the part of the plan that envisions a raised roadway and removing the stone revetment at the beach head. And that is exactly what the selectmen intended to do, based on an early report from senior scientists in Woods Hole who have spent years studying the complex issues of coastal erosion. Those scientists have said they believe the town could be a pioneer and help lead the way for other coastal restoration projects.
The broadly worded amendment approved on Monday night calls for more study and evaluation of the problems at Squibnocket, to be led by a new committee appointed by the moderator. To the extent that some residents felt their concerns were not fully considered by the selectmen, this is the moment to come forward with specific suggestions to improve on the selectmen’s plan.
And that plan should be treated as a starting point, not thrown out. It’s nearly impossible to negotiate an agreement by committee, and ultimately the solution must be one that is acceptable to the homeowners who are directly affected.
Opponents of the selectmen’s plan have downplayed the urgency of the situation, but it is difficult to predict the timing or effects of another major coastal storm. Squibnocket Farm homeowners, who are understandably concerned about access to their homes, have said clearly they intend to proceed with rebuilding the roadway, even if it means cutting off town access to the beach.
It is time for everyone involved to sweep away the lines in the sand they have drawn and work with expediency to agree on a plan; the issues are far too critical to be hijacked by narrow self interests.