The "soft" bank stabilization project sponsored by property owners on a steep eroding coastal bank. Arcadis

MA - There Once Was A Coastal Resiliency Project On Nantucket . . . A Cautionary Tale.

Yesterday the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund announced it would comply with a Nantucket Conservation Commission enforcement order and remove a "soft" coastal bank stabilization project it had constructed on the eastern bluff of the island.

Everyone agrees that the bank stabilization project paid for by neighborhood property owners is the only thing keeping their homes, a public street to the Sankaty Head Lighthouse, and various public utilities from tumbling into the Atlantic Ocean.

On the one hand, the decision to concede defeat in a decade long battle with the Conservation Commission isn't surprising. A Massachusetts Superior Court Judge upheld the Commission's order and the Judge's decision to do so wasn't going to be reversed by the Appeals Court. For more on that, see my September post "Dramatic Shoreline Realignment" In Store For Nantucket's Eastern Shore As Bitter Intra-Governmental Dispute Continues.

On the other hand, it was hard to believe that the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund and the Board of Selectmen, which strongly supports the project, and the Conservation Commission weren't going to find a way to put the past behind them to avoid the certain catastrophic consequences of their failure to do so. But here we are with the Fund saying it is ready to remove the stabilization project and the Conservation Commission left to determine whether it will pull the pin in the grenade that it is holding.

There are two lessons for everyone to draw from this sad story that could be about to get much sadder.

First, whatever the context, don't agree to permit conditions that you can't meet. At the heart of the toxic dispute between the Fund and the Conservation Commission is the Fund's non-compliance with the Commission's specification of the amount of sand the Fund was required to add to the ecosystem every year to make up for the sand that the Conservation Commission determined wouldn't be contributed to the ecosystem by the stabilized bank. It seems pretty clear that the Fund hoped that the Conservation Commission would later reconsider that condition after the project was in place. That hasn't happened. The better course if the Fund couldn't live with the condition would have been to appeal it to the Department of Environmental Protection which is authorized by the Wetland Protection Act to supersede decisions by local Conservation Commissions. When the Fund failed to do that, this became a political dispute, not a legal one.

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