Land Council Petition Urges Town To Make Baxter Road Private

Jason Graziadei •

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With the Select Board and the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund pushing to expand the erosion-control geotubes along the Sconset Bluff even as the Nantucket Conservation Commission is poised to enforce its order to remove them, the Nantucket Land Council announced Monday an alternative proposal that it believes could help defuse the contentious situation.

The Land Council has filed a formal petition to discontinue as a public way the northernmost portion of Baxter Road – roughly half-a-mile from Bayberry Lane to the Sankaty Lighthouse – and create a so-called statutory private way in its place.

By making that portion of Baxter Road a private way – which the public would still have access to – the town would no longer be liable for damages to Baxter Road from natural erosion, and it could “step away from” the contentious debate over the geotubes, and focus on the long-range efforts to relocate Baxter Road away from the bluff as well as other coastal resiliency projects.

Calling the town and SBPF’s proposed expansion of the geotubes “the largest erosion control project ever attempted on Nantucket” that is “akin to laying nearly three Empire State Buildings down end to end on our beautiful and fragile public beach,” the Land Council’s requested that its proposal be taken up at the next Select Board meeting for consideration.

“To avoid the animosity, extraordinary maintenance costs, staff time, and inevitable legal battles that await geotube expansion, the NLC has presented a different approach for the Town to accomplish its coastal resilience goals while rationally allocating scarce tax dollars and municipal resources: discontinuance of northern Baxter Road, from Bayberry Lane to Sankaty lighthouse, and creating what is known as a Statutory Private Way in its place,” the Land Council stated.

Citing a 2012 legal opinion from attorney Shirin Everett, a lawyer with the town’s legal firm Kopelman & Paige, the Land Council believes it would be “unlikely” that the town could be held liable for damages by discontinuing the road. The town could utilize Massachusetts General Law Chapter 82, Section 2, the Land Council added, to discontinue that portion of Baxter Road.

Josh Posner, the president of the SBPF, told the Current on Tuesday that he saw the Land Council’s proposal as an attempt to undermine the newfound cooperation between his organization and the town to move forward with the expansion of the geotubes.

“The Select Board has taken strong and appropriate steps to work cooperatively with SBPF and the Sconset community to protect Baxter Road, maintaining access to Sankaty Light and private homes,” Posner said. “We are disappointed with the Land Council’s call to undermine this partnership leading to the preemptive closing of the road, particularly given the Town’s efforts to meet its obligations via the balanced approach recommended by Arcadis. SBPF will continue to work with the Town to protect the road for as long as is feasible, as is allowed by law, while on a parallel track, putting in place the voluntary legal agreements with private owners for a back-up access plan if keeping the road open stops being feasible. The project has worked well for nine years; it is likely to last decades more.”

The Nantucket Coastal Conservancy, a non-profit organization that has opposed the installation of the geotubes, said it was still evaluating the Land Council’s proposal, but praised its efforts as “creative” and expressed gratitude for it putting the petition forward.

“Our team hasn’t had time to carefully review the Land Council’s petition, but overall we are supportive of any way forward that preserves and protects the public beach below the bluff in Sconset,” Conservancy representative D. Anne Atherton said. “The Nantucket Land Council has always been very thoughtful and thorough in their advocacy work for island environmental issues, resources, and solutions, so we are certain that their proposal deserves careful consideration. We are grateful to them for trying to solve the issues relating to Baxter Road in a creative way.”

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