Denial of expanded erosion-control measures for Nantucket bluff under appeal
NANTUCKET — Efforts to fight erosion on the Sankaty Bluff are headed to court. The Sconset Beach Preservation Fund has appealed the Conservation Commission’s decision to deny expansion of an erosion-control project at the base of the bluff. The fund’s leaders have appealed to both the state Department of Environmental Protection and Nantucket Superior Court.
“It’s time Nantucket moved into the 21st century, recognized the existential threat to coastal communities posed by climate change, and begins the multiple interventions that will be required if we want future generations to experience any semblance of the Nantucket we have known and love,” preservation fund member Amos Hostetter said.
The problem is not merely a Sconset problem, Hostetter said. The Conservation Commission’s “noninterventionist thinking” is a threat to the entire island. “Wake up, Nantucket,” he said. “This is now, and it’s about all of us.”
The commission last month voted to deny a 3,000-foot expansion to the north and south of the 900 feet of existing sand-filled geotextile tubing along the base of the bluff. The vote came two weeks after the commission closed a public hearing that lasted nearly a year.
Commissioners expressed concern that the expansion would have a negative environmental effect on the bluff and the beach below it, as well as sea life and animals that inhabit the bluff, and would accelerate erosion along the ends of the project.
But project proponents say the expansion is necessary to protect historical houses and summer homes along Baxter Road. Several of the houses, and some parts of the road itself, are within 50 feet of the bluff’s edge. Some of those houses are backed up to the road.
Hostetter wants something to be done to keep them from toppling to the beach.
“The influence of this determined cabal on Nantucket’s ConCom has come at a very high price,” he said. “As a result of their uncompromising opposition over the last two decades, a dozen Sconset owners have lost all or most of their property, over 10 acres of town beach has been allowed to wash away, the northern half of the iconic Sconset Bluff path has been lost forever, and the town of Nantucket’s real-estate tax collection from the area will be down over $500,000 every year going forward. This says nothing of the town’s mounting legal bills to defend the ConCom’s losing positions.”
What he calls a “cabal” includes the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy, formed in opposition to the existing geotube, which was permitted in 2013 under a set of emergency conditions after a series of winter nor’easters chopped off up to 30 feet from the bluff.
Coastal Conservancy administrative coordinator D. Anne Atherton argued the existing geotube was meant to be temporary, and that alternate mitigation plans could be put in place. Those range from softer, smaller and less durable sand-filled coir bags (which are currently in place along stretches of the beach), to moving the houses on Baxter Road, and the road itself, farther to the west.
But Hostetter said the need to protect the houses on Baxter Road is urgent and could not wait for a road move, which would come at taxpayers’ expense. He was optimistic the Conservation Commission’s denial of the geotube would be overturned. He pointed to a Department of Environmental Protection reversal of the commission’s original 2014 denial of the 900-foot geotube under the permitting process, after the geotube was in place.
That geotube has been studied for possible environmental impacts on the beach, the bluff and the ocean since its installation, he said.
Town natural resources director Jeff Carlson said he was not sure how long the appeal process would take.
“With something like this that’s gone on as long as it has it’s out of the ConCom’s hands,” he said.
If the Superior Court reverses the commission’s denial, and the state issues a superseding order approving the project, the preservation fund would still need both Select Board and town meeting approval for installation of the project on the town-owned beach.