Conservation Commission Affirms Vote To Remove Sconset Bluff Geotube

Written By: Jason Graziadei | Photography By: Kit Noble

The Conservation Commission affirmed its previous decision to remove the controversial erosion control geotube at the base of the Sconset Bluff last night, voting to issue the enforcement order for removal to the project proponent, the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund (SBPF).

The 5-1 vote by the commission, with Linda Williams casting the sole dissenting vote, sets the stage for a likely legal challenge by SBPF in Superior Court, as well as renewed calls by the commission for the Select Board to grant it independent legal counsel.

Yesterday’s meeting included comments from Baxter Road residents, renewed debate over the question of independent counsel, and discussion on whether the Conservation Commission should hold a joint meeting with the Select Board to clear the air.

Over the past two months, the project has become a political lightning rod, as the Select Board took the extraordinary step of formally requesting that the ConCom reconsider its previous vote, and the commission pushing back strongly to reject that request.

“They (the Select Board) have deviated from their lane by trying to manipulate our process,” Conservation Commission chair Ashley Erisman said. “We need to uphold the wetlands bylaw regardless of political pressure.”

The geotube has been in place at the bottom of the Sconset Bluff for nearly eight years, representing SBPF’s most recent bid to protect the homes perched precariously along Baxter Road at the edge of the bluff from erosion.

Back in June, the Conservation Commission determined 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, and that the erosion control installation must be removed.

Sconset Beach Preservation Fund attorney Steven Cohen chastised the members of the Conservation Commission for pursuing the removal order rather than a plan to bring the project into compliance, calling it “punitive.”

“You’re going down a path you shouldn’t, and you’re making mistakes you should back away from,” Cohen told the commission. “The commission should consider if there are ways to resolve this without termination and weather termination is going to lead to other, bigger problems. There is no harm, there are other ways to fix this, and implementing this order is a disaster. I meant that environmentally, from a public policy point of view, and a good government point of view. Government shouldn’t be putative.”

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