The Nantucket Land & Water Council has long advocated for an alternative approach to addressing erosion in ’Sconset. Today it submitted a formal petition, calling on the Select Board to approach the problem from a new perspective and to submit a warrant article at Town Meeting to discontinue Baxter Road. We are all aware that the coastline on Nantucket is eroding, a process that has been going on since the glaciers first melted and deposited the moraine that became Nantucket. But in recent years, with climate change, the process has accelerated, especially on the eastern bluffs in ’Sconset, threatening Baxter Road, the Sankaty lighthouse, and several private homes lining the eroding bluff.
For decades, the Town of Nantucket has been mired in legal and political controversy over what to do about Baxter Road. One side, primarily composed of private homeowners, says to hold the line, do what is needed to control erosion, and stay atop the bluff, whatever the cost. Others say the seas are rising; storms are becoming more frequent. It is long past time to relocate the road and allow the bluff to do what it has always done- erode. The Nantucket Select Board, Conservation Commission, and Town at large have been caught in between. The Town has allocated resources for years, investing tax money and scarce administrative resources into both hard-armoring projects AND slow-moving plans to relocate the road. The headlines are reminiscent of the situation almost a decade ago, where relocation was promised so long as the bluff was protected. That relocation never got beyond the concept stage, and our community finds itself asked to sign on again in 2022 to the largest erosion control project ever attempted on Nantucket, even though the existing “pilot” project has been out of compliance with its permit for years. At a proposed 3,440 feet long, the latest geotube expansion project is akin to laying nearly three empire state buildings down end to end on our beautiful and fragile public beach.
To avoid the animosity, extraordinary maintenance costs, staff time, and inevitable legal battles that await geotube expansion, the NLC has presented a different approach for the Town to accomplish its coastal resilience goals while rationally allocating scarce tax dollars and municipal resources: discontinuance of northern Baxter Road, from Bayberry Lane to Sankaty lighthouse, and creating what is known as a Statutory Private Way in its place. This strategy is in-line with a Town Counsel opinion from 2012.
Lucy Dillon, Land Council President, said: “We are calling on the Select Board to implement a more cost-effective, rational alternative than trying to stop natural erosion processes. We cannot bail the ocean. Unfortunately, but inevitably, retreat is the key to coastal resilience.”
By creating a statutory private way, several community goals can be accomplished at once, including:
1. No longer placing the legal burden and cost of protecting the road and infrastructure on the Town,
2. Preserving public access to the historic Sankaty Lighthouse and Baxter Road,
3. Allowing SBPF and Baxter Road residents to continue pursuing coastal protection projects such as geotubes if they so choose,
4. Allow the Conservation Commission to perform its statutorily mandated duties without politicizing the project.
5. Allowing the Town to move ahead on road relocation has always been the logical solution, agreed upon by all sides.
The Nantucket Land & Water Council looks forward to presenting this strategy in detail at the next public meeting of the Nantucket Select Board and then, hopefully with the Board’s support, as a warrant article at the next town meeting.
Said Emily Molden, Land Council Executive Director, “We are thrilled to present an alternative that benefits the Town and the entire community, saves taxpayers millions of dollars, furthers Nantucket’s resilience goals, and preserves public access to Baxter Road and historic Sankaty Lighthouse.”
Copies of our petitions, research and planning are below for downloading.
Nantucket Land & Water Council – RJ Turcotte
Office: (508) 228-2818 Cell: (508) 981-7908