Select Board Approves New Partnership With SBPF

Jason Graziadei •


Over the objections of the Conservation Commission, the Nantucket Select Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund. The vote was 5-0.

The MOU is an attempt to resolve the dispute over the controversial erosion-control geotubes installed at the base of the Sconset Bluff which the Conservation Commission had ordered to be removed last year due to SBPF’s failure to comply with its permit.

The MOU would establish a partnership between the SBPF and the Select Board to expand the geotube project, while also setting the groundwork for cooperation on the future relocation of Baxter Road away from the eroding bluff.

“We’re working to establish a private public partnership to protect public infrastructure while we’re developing a long-term plan to protect Baxter Road” town manager Libby Gibson said.

Much of the discussion Wednesday night centered around the letter from the Conservation Commission’s special counsel that urged the Select Board to reject the MOU.

Both the Select Board and Gibson expressed their displeasure with the contents of the letter.

"The letter by ConCom special counsel goes well beyond what was authorized for that special counsel," Gibson said. "It’s a concerning letter that quite honestly indicates a pre-judgment of something that hasn't’ gone before the commission."

Select Board member Matt Fee called the letter “inflammatory and incorrect.”

“That letter is undermining our ability to work together,” Fee said. “I’m disappointed in the letter, disappointed in the tone of the letter.”


Among a series of candid comments, Fee added: “I kind of feel like I’ve failed,” he said. “I’ve worked on this a long time, worked with both sides, negotiated in good faith, and maybe it’s my failure or just assuming that people would look at the benefits and understand the tens of millions of dollars of exposure the town has here. I’m sorry, maybe I’ve made assumptions or maybe the whole thing is too politicized and too contentious, and both sides are not going to change. I’m disappointed and disappointed in myself. It’s just discouraging.”

There was some discussion of postponing a vote on the MOU and convening a small group of two Select Board members and two Conservation Commission members to hash out the disagreements over the MOU. But board, while vowing to continue the dialogue with the members of the Conservation Commission, opted to move forward with the MOU.

“We have a lot more to deal with in regard to coastal resilience going forward,” said Select Board Vice Chair Dawn Hill Holdgate. "We can’t be banging heads like this on all these projects. We have to find ways that work and that everyone can live with for the future of the island."

Select Board member Melissa Murphy said she is confident the MOU is “the right thing for our community” and acknowledged how convoluted the issue had become.

"It’s become very confusing for the public to understand the nuances of what’s happening here, with the exception of people really paying attention," Murphy said. "For the public , the full story is hard to take in and keep track of."

The 900-foot sand-filled geotube has been installed at the bottom of the bluff on the east end of Nantucket for more than eight years. But the Conservation Commission determined last June that the SBPF had failed to comply with its permit for the project, specifically the requirement for a certain amount of sand that should have been dumped annually over the geotube to replenish the area, It issued an enforcement order last September requiring the erosion control installation to be removed. Opponents believe the geotube installation has exacerbated erosion at beaches north and south of the projects.

The Select Board subsequently took the extraordinary step of formally requesting that the Conservation Commission reconsider its previous vote, and the commission pushed back strongly to reject that request. The Conservation Commission’s removal order has spurred additional litigation in Nantucket Superior Court, where the SBPF appealed the decision and a neighboring property owner filed his own lawsuit against both parties.

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