Future Of Sconset Bluff Outlined In Arcadis Report

Written By: Jason Graziadei | Photography By: Kit Noble

The future of Baxter Road and the Sconset Bluff should be a strategic retreat from the shoreline as climate change and sea level rise accelerate erosion on the east end of the island. But to buy the time necessary to complete the planning efforts associated with such a retreat, short-term solutions like near-shore breakers and maintaining the existing geotube installation are necessary. 

Those were among the recommendations of a long-awaited report from a consultant, Arcadis, the firm that was hired to guide the town’s management approach to the high-stakes decisions on the horizon in Sconset. 

“Indefinitely protecting the bluff from erosion is no longer a practicable option,” the Arcadis report states. “All of the adaptation pathways eventually lead to strategic retreat from the shoreline. However, the retreat must be carefully planned, and the planning must begin now.”

With erosion bringing the Atlantic Ocean closer and closer to Baxter Road each year, the Select Board is under pressure from a variety of stakeholders and weighing a host of considerations including public infrastructure, multi-million dollar private homes, and public access to the iconic Sankaty Head Lighthouse. 

The report has been highly anticipated in light of the recent machinations surrounding the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund’s (SBPF) multi-million dollar geotube project, which has been installed at the base of the Sconset Bluff for the past eight years to slow erosion and save the homes on the east side of Baxter Road. The Nantucket Conservation Commission has ruled that SBPF is in violation of its permit for the project, and has ordered the geotube to be removed. The decision sparked a standoff between the Conservation Commission and the Select Board, which had urged its appointed body to reconsider it removal order until the Arcadis report was released. 

The recommendations of the report hit directly on the controversy over the geotubes: 

“It is not prudent to remove the geotubes without a plan to prevent the erosion and other impacts that will come with their removal. Time needs to be given to plan for minimizing these potential impacts….At a minimum, it is recommended that the existing system remain in place and that it continues to be maintained and monitored. This provides time for comprehensive retreat planning.”

The report will be reviewed next week by the town’s Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee, but Josh Posner, the president of the SBPF, was ready to weigh in Thursday night shortly after the report was released. 

The Arcadis Report is out and states that if ‘effectiveness were the only criteria, expansion of the existing system would be the recommended adaptation alternative’,” Posner said. “Our hope at this point is the report will lead to a resolution of the long-standing dispute as the Select Board had hoped when it commissioned Arcadis to do their assessment.”

The Nantucket Coastal Conservancy, a group that has been highly critical of the SBPF’s geotube project, said Thursday that it was still digesting the report, and planned to weigh in at the advisory committee’s meeting next week. 

 Our team will review the 88-page draft report and prepare questions and comments for the stakeholder workshop public workshop meeting to be held next Tuesday,” President D. Anne Atherton said. 

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