With Removal Order Of Geotubes Still Pending, Select Board And ConCom Look To Reset

Brian Bushard •

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The geotubes as seen in late January 2023 at the base of the Sconset Bluff | Photo courtesy of Nantucket Coastal Conservancy

Two months after the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund pulled the plug on its controversial geotube project at the base of Sconset Bluff, members of the Select Board believe the town has an opportunity to “hit the reset button” on protecting the homes above the bluff on Baxter Road from erosion.

At a joint meeting between the Select Board and the Conservation Commission Tuesday night—the first since the SBPF withdrew its application to expand the geotubes nearly 3,000 feet—board members argued the town will need to come up with a plan of its own, though the question of who will fund that plan is yet to be determined.

“Who's going to pay for it and run it if it's not going to be with the SBPF?” Select Board vice-chair Dawn Hill Holdgate asked.

Town officials were presented with three options Tuesday: leave the geotubes in place indefinitely, leave them in place for the short-term, or remove them and “allow nature to take its course.” Those options have been at the center of an ongoing debate between the two boards, which have not seen eye-to-eye on the SBPF’s geotube project.

“A lot of us dread the past but this is an excellent opportunity,” ConCom member Seth Engelbourg said. “We have essentially a path forward where we can consider types of actions to be a global leader.”

The meeting comes as the ConCom weighs options for removing the 950-foot project from the bluff, a decision that comes roughly a year and a half after it issued a removal order to the SBPF over violations in its permit, namely the amount of sacrificial sand it was required to pour on the geotubes. Town officials, meanwhile, have been devising a plan to relocate portions of Baxter Road to provide access to the northernmost houses at risk of erosion.

The ConCom voted last month to extend its removal order until April 27, and gave the SBPF a list of requirements in the meantime, including re-covering the project with sacrificial sand and drafting plans for its removal. At the time, Mark Haley, a consultant with the SBPF’s engineering consultant Haley Aldrich, warned the commission that by removing the geotube project, the integrity of the bluff would be jeopardized and the houses on Baxter Road would be in danger of collapsing.

With the SBPF out of the planning process, however, project opponents believe the two boards will be able to find a path forward. The Select Board and the ConCom plan to meet again on April 11.

“It was incredible to see everyone sit down and have productive conversation because this coastal resilience issue is not going away and Sconset is not the only place dealing with it,” Nantucket Land Council resource ecologist and Nantucket waterkeeper RJ Turcotte told the Current.

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