The Conservation Commission is planning to move ahead with its removal order of the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund’s geotube project, leaving the question of when—and how—the 950-foot erosion-control project is removed solely in the hands of the seven-member commission.
“When these geotubes are removed, those structures (at the top of the bluff on Baxter Road) will be in danger of potentially having erosion occur on the bluff undermining their houses because they’re so close to the edge of the bluff today, and we need to understand what the impacts of removal would be on those structures,” Mark Haley, a consultant with the SBPF engineering consultant Haley Aldrich, told the commission at its meeting on Thursday.
Haley presented the ConCom with three options for removing the geotube project: removing sand from within the tubes by cutting them in long sections parallel to the bluff, removing sand through smaller chunks perpendicular to the bluff, or cutting the top of the tubes and allowing nature to slowly release the sand over time.
The commission did not vote on any of the three options, but will have the opportunity to do so at its February 16 meeting.
The commission also voted unanimously to accept the SBPF’s request to withdraw its joint notice of intent with the Select Board to extend the geotubes along the base of the bluff, following the Select Board’s decision on Wednesday to withdraw the proposal, and SBPF president Josh Posner’s monumental announcement earlier this week to step away from the $10-million-plus project, a decision that left the future of its years-long battle to protect Sconset Bluff uncertain.
“(The geotubes) didn’t make (the houses) perched on the top of the bluff any safer or less safe so I would say it’s as precarious as it was beforehand, and those (home) owners should be assessing their property regardless of the geotubes down below,” ConCom chair Ashley Erisman said.
The commission had ordered the SBPF to remove the geotube in September 2021, finding the organization had failed to meet a series of conditions in its permit, including a provision requiring it to pour roughly 22,000 cubic yards of sand per linear foot of the bluff. The SBPF appealed the decision, but lost its appeal in September when a Nantucket Superior Court judge upheld the commission’s decision.
The SBPF had also been working with town officials on the notice of intent to extend the geotubes since November, when it unveiled a joint notice of intent for a phased installation designed to protect a longer stretch of Baxter Road, primarily south of the existing geotube.
In a letter to town manager Libby Gibson and Select Board chair Jason Bridges on Monday, however, Posner said the SBPF has “become convinced that a majority of the (Conservation) Commission will not support the notice of intent or any other reasonable alternative to demanding removal of the geotubes.”
“Our disappointment is particularly deep because we have successfully demonstrated (through years of hard work and study) an environmentally and economically sound method of protecting these assets and homes for decades into the future,” Posner wrote in the letter.
Town officials, meanwhile, have also been working on a separate plan to relocate Baxter Road itself away from the eroding bluff. The town’s third-party consultant, Arcadis, last year recommended the geotubes remain in place until the town has shovel-ready plans to move the road.
Speaking at the meeting on Thursday, commission vice-chair Ian Golding suggested several alternative proposals to stabilize the bluff, including a “modified design” to introduce more sand during nor’easters. Next steps could also involve a follow-up meeting with the Select Board, town natural resources director Jeff Carlson said on Thursday.