Sconset Erosion Control Project in “Failure”

The Sconset Beach Preservation Fund’s erosion control geotube project along the Sconset Bluff was found this week to be in failure of its permit issued by the Nantucket Conservation Commission. In a unanimous vote Monday evening, the Conservation Commission members ruled that the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund (SBPF) had failed to replenish the project area with a sufficient amount of sand as required in its permit.

“You’ve been in violation for months and months and months,” Conservation Commission member Maureen Phillips said to the SBPF team during the virtual meeting. “I believe we have enough for a finding of failure tonight.”

Her fellow commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to find the SBPF project to be in failure of two conditions of its permit, setting the stage for a follow-up meeting with project representatives on May 27th when the commission will consider enforcement actions.

According to its permit, the SBPF is required to dump at least 22 cubic yards of sand per linear foot every year over the top of the project site to replenish the areas around the geotube installation and prevent increased erosion at either end. The deficit of sand as of January 2021 now stands at 26,637 cubic yards of sand that were not delivered to the project site.

Josh Posner, the president of the SBPF, acknowledged the deficit, but said that the level of sand replenishment required in the permit was arbitrary and unnecessary. Project consultants told the Conversation Commission Monday that the geotubes were working as designed, and that erosion of the bluff had stabilized in the project area.

“We recognize we are short on the permit,” Posner said. “We have made that clear for quite a few years. We also made it clear at the beginning of the permitting process that 22 cubic yards was not something that was sustainable.”

Conservation Commission chair Ashley Erisman interjected after hearing Posner’s comment: “You didn’t have to sign the permit if you didn’t think it was sustainable,” she said.

Posner continued “You’re right, we didn’t have to sign the permit, but there was an expectation the issue would be revisited in a reasonable period of time. We’ve made it clear that we cannot maintain the existing project unless we have an expansion of to protect the rest of the homes. That is under appeal and tied up in court. We entered into a settlement effort last summer and that we would be turning the project over to the town to maintain if we could not reach a settlement.”

A hearing on the pending Superior Court case – an appeal of the Conservation Commission’s denial of SBPF’s bid to expand the geotube installation – was recently continued to a later date after a motion by the SBPF was granted. That prompted the Nantucket Land Council, the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy and other neighbors to take the “unusual step” of writing a letter to Judge Douglas Wilkins to express dismay and opposition to the potential for further delay in a case filed back in July 2019.

“This legal matter is of enormous public importance to the residents of Nantucket, who were given ownership of the relevant beach by the Proprietors who established Nantucket,” wrote Emily Molden, executive director of the Nantucket Land Council, D. Anne Atherton, of the Nantucket Coastal Conservancy, and Robert F. Greenhill. “The underlying issues relating to the use and destruction of publicly owned beaches for the purpose of erosion control and protection of the private property of powerful individuals has been a source of tremendous community tension. The community of Nantucket awaits the long-delayed decision of the Superior Court in this matter.”

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