Stalemate: SBPF Wants Houses Removed Before Geotubes

Jason Graziadei •

Baxter road vertical 4167
Photo by Cary Hazlegrove |

Nearly two years have passed since the Nantucket Conservation Commission ordered the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund (SBPF) to remove the controversial erosion-control geotubes from the base of the Sconset bluff.

And yet the geotubes remain in place. While the SBPF has already put up the money to remove the massive, 900-foot sand-filled geotubtes through an escrow account and is working on an engineering plan to remove them - the removal order has reached a "stalemate" according to one member of the Conservation Commission.

The SBPF will not get rid of the geotubes unless the two private homes perched on the Sconset bluff directly above them are removed first.

"I as a professional engineer cannot recommend to my client to remove those geotubes," said Mark Haley, of Haley & Aldrich, Inc., an engineering consultant for the SBPF. "I cannot recommend to them to put them at risk of having those houses collapse...We take these (geotubes) out, we’re putting these structures at risk."

Haley outlined the conundrum in a recent letter to the Conservation Commission and made the comment above during last Thursday night's meeting. He said that after a meeting with Nantucket building commissioner Paul Murphy, they agreed that once the geotubes were removed, Murphy would have to declare the houses unsafe and require removal. 

The houses in question - located at 93 and 97 Baxter Road - are owned by Charles and Miglena Fotopolous. The couple, who run car dealerships in Lowell and Westwood, Mass., purchased both properties in 2021 for $899,000 and $400,000, respectively, even though the homes located on the lots were just feet from the edge of the eroding bluff. At the time, Charles Fotopolous told the Current "A lot of people think I’m crazy, but if I get five years out of it, I think I’m good. I’ll take that any day.”

Reached by phone last Friday, Fotopolous said he was unaware of the discussion at the Conservation Commission meeting, and declined to comment.

Members of the ConCom, however, said it was not within their purview to consider the fate of the houses with respect to the removal order of the geotubes.

"Frankly, the requirement to move a house is beyond our jurisdiction," ConCom member Seth Engelbourg said. "Our jurisdiction is to deal with the geotubes on the beach and the bluff and the buffer zone. Yes, they're in the buffer zone, but it's not up to us to condemn them."

Since the Conservation Commission ordered the geotubes to be removed in June 2021 due to the SBPF's failure to comply with a requirement of its permit to cover them with a specific amount of sacrificial sand, there have been numerous developments. Chief among them were a Superior Court judge's decision last September to uphold the Conservation Commission's decision, and the SBPF's announcement in January of this year that it was ending its decades-long fight against erosion along the Sconset Bluff.

Conservation Commission member Ian Golding raised the prospect of exploring financial penalties against the SBPF for what he described as "stalling" the removal of the geotubes.

"It's starting to become a chicken and an egg debate, which is very unfortunate," Golding said. "It seems we've reached a stalemate here rather than moving forward with removal. I wasn't expecting it to be quite this drawn out." 

Engelbourg last Thursday continued to push the SBPF to disclose how long the process would take to develop a shovel-ready engineering plan with construction protocols to remove the geotubes - regardless of the dilemma over the two private homes on Baxter Road. 

By the end of the meeting, the Conservation Commission voted unanimously to accept a preliminary plan provided by the SBPF outlining a two- to three-month timeline for an RFP and contract documents to be drafted and submitted to the ConCom for the removal of the geotubes, which would then allow for contractor selection and further documentation. The question of the removal of the homes at 93 and 97 Baxter Road, however, remains unresolved. 

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