On The Sconset Bluff, Doing Nothing Is Not Sustainable

Emily VanDixhoorn •

To the editor: The Feb. 16 Conservation Commission (Con Com) meeting discussing the standing removal order of the geotubes is worthy of reflection.

The meeting made me think of an ambulance being ticketed for speeding. “Compliance” was the word of the evening, coldly tossed about. The geotube project was not in “compliance.” While this is true, the Con Com leader continually disregarded the context for the lack of compliance and she belittled the purpose behind the nothing less than heroic actions of SBPF and its supporters.

For a fuller description of the context, see Josh Posner’s January 31 letter to Sconseters. To cut to the chase: over the past decade, the Con Com forced SBPF into multiple court cases which the Con Com lost at the time, but which led to its victory at this point. How? The Con Com employed a divide and conquer approach, splitting SBPF’s precious resources between exorbitant legal fees and the anticipated project maintenance. This was not what SBPF signed up for. I question whether the Con Com was acting in good faith in accordance with the original agreement.

What is more, there was no adverse impact of the lack of compliance, only the fact that a misguided requirement was not met. As a pilot project, proper research had not yet been done to determine natural sand erosion rates. It turns out the sand requirement was set at nearly double the amount that naturally erodes. SBPF followed the intent of the permit and kept the geotubes fully covered, providing significantly more sand than the average amount nature takes away. When the pilot project proved successful, the Con Com was to give permission for the extension. Instead, the Con Com used the lack of “compliance” to the arbitrarily set letter of the law to take down the project.

The Con Com’s disregard for a science-based appropriate sand requirement and the context of the non-compliance demonstrates its true lack of support, even opposition to the goal of protecting the bluff, the road, and the neighborhood. The Con Com’s actions demonstrate a philosophical commitment to doing nothing to protect ‘Sconset Bluff from severe erosion.

Some people with such commitments say “Mother Nature will always win. Don’t try to fight it because you will eventually lose.” This is like telling an ambulance driver to go home because the person is going to die anyway. How discouraging and inaccurate! Records show that EMT’s save lives and the geotubes save the bluff. They do not need to save “forever” to nevertheless add meaningful time and prove to be a worthwhile effort.

As one Con Com member aptly said last night, when the geotubes are removed, someone should be ready to cry “Avalanche!” That is a fair expectation. And all because an inaccurate and inappropriate sand requirement was not met, and the request to amend that requirement was not formally applied for? No, the real reason there is a removal order is because the Con Com opposes the geotubes outright.

This is more than frustrating. We need to stop talking about shifting sand and start talking about shifting priorities. Priorities need to shift from “Leaving mother nature alone” to protecting valuable resources, including the natural beauty of the area. Ideally, this shift in focus will be addressed at the upcoming joint meetings between the Select Board and the Con Com. There is no time to spare. Some people have already lost their homes because of a lack of protection. With geotube technology, no more homes, roads or landmarks need to be lost.

SBPF acted in good faith for an important task. The town should be thankful for SBPF’s efforts on its behalf, donating $17 million dollars and the best decades of their lives to developing and maintaining an efficient, effective and environmentally sensitive technology that works for this area. I believe many who have studied the situation are thankful for these sacrificial efforts. The town knows that it would be in extreme trouble without the geotubes, facing bills estimated at over $40 million, and that’s just to deal with immediate erosion! What about the erosion forecasted in the decades ahead if there are no geotubes? Doing nothing is not sustainable.

Independent experts recommend the geotubes as the best erosion control measure for ‘Sconset. Yet the Con Com is ordering that they be removed. If the current Con Com will not shift its priorities to sensibly protecting our shared resources, we need a new Con Com that will. This is the “compliance” we should pursue. With such cooperation between the Town, the Con Com and private donors, the geotubes can be intelligently maintained and extended, preserving the historic neighborhood, natural beauty, and national landmark of Sankaty Light for future generations.

Emily VanDixhoorn

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