The Town is taking the first steps toward creating a Coastal Resilience District to provide a structure for funding coastal resilience initiatives and collecting money from homeowners who benefit disproportionately from taxpayer-funded erosion control efforts as well as fees from those who may breach town regulations.
Ultimately, the town might establish Coastal Resilience Districts across the island, particularly in areas at risk from erosion and flooding, but the first would likely be located in ‘Sconset, the focal point of many debates around the town’s response to rising seas because of the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund’s controversial geotube installation along the ‘Sconset Bluff.
A Coastal Resilience District would make it easier to tailor policy to the region covered by the district, rather than the entire island, and could help to implement the recommendations of the town’s recently adopted Coastal Resilience Plan. It could also simplify ongoing discussions between town officials and property owners along the Sconset Bluff about the threat rising sea levels pose to their homes, which is why the first district would likely be established in ‘Sconset.
The proposal received a broadly positive reception from both the Select Board and the Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee (CRAC), meaning the Town will likely present the possibility to voters at the 2024 Annual Town Meeting.
In a presentation to the Select Board, representatives from Arcadis, an engineering company hired to consult the town, suggested that the Town should implement a Coastal Resilience District in Sconset through a home rule petition. A home rule petition, they argued, would maximize the Coastal Resilience District’s ability.
However, home rule petitions must be approved by the state legislature, a process that can take years — if it happens at all.
Select Board member Matt Fee is in favor of a Coastal Resilience district, but he isn’t sure about waiting for the state to approve a home rule petition before collecting money from property owners.
“We’re going to have to move more quickly than counting on the state will allow us to,” he said.
At a CRAC meeting Tuesday, several committee members raised similar concerns about the delays that often plague home rule petitions and the power of special interest groups to lobby against them at the state level.
Fee suggested potentially implementing a Coastal Resilience District first through a general bylaw, which just requires a majority vote at Town Meeting, as a temporary fix while waiting for the state.
Sustainability Programs Manager Vince Murphy said the delay caused by the state might not be too problematic, as it will be a few years before most of the town’s major coastal resilience projects are undertaken anyway. Joanna Roche and Rachael Freeman, both members of the Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee, also suggested a delay could buy time for the town to build consensus and consolidate support for the implementation of the district.
Both CRAC and the Select Board plan to discuss the possibility of a Coastal Resilience District further before drafting any warrant article for the 2024 Annual Town Meeting, regardless of what form it may take.