For the most part, the Vineyard faired far better than many of our coastal neighbors this winter in terms of damage to life and property. However visitors to our shores this summer will be startled to see how the high winds and “astronomical” high tides battered some of our most coveted Vineyard landscapes. Beginning in Vineyard Haven with the on-going flooding of State Road and Five corners along to East Chop Drive which was washed out and closed for weeks. While not a new occurrence in their area, homeowners on the tip of Wasque Point on Chappy watched as their multi-million dollar investment teetered on the brink of falling into the sea and are now faced with the enormous, expensive and controversial task of remedying the situation.
While to the delight of the South Beach devotees who will see very little change in their beloved beach, sadly such is not the case for our friends up on the South Shore in Chilmark. While those on the water on the south shore expect anywhere from a minimum of 1’ – 5’ of erosion in any one year, this year in some areas they have seen as many as 10 feet from one storm threatening waterfront property and in some cases requiring owner’s to tear down their homes.
When visiting Lucy Vincent, visitors will see huge swaths of cliffs gone with some sadly pared down to display layers of clay that should have been protected from the elements for decades to come. This altered landscape will forever alter the shoreline thus leaving less room for sunbathing and beach walkers might find they need to now take circuitous routes in and out of the water to get around the newly transformed shoreline.
As a community this startling change in the weather patterns (and their impact on our coastlines) has brought to the forefront issues that some environmentalists here have been monitoring and warning us about for years. However the extent to which this problem has escalated this past winter now involves a lot more than just the conservationists and engineers working in a bubble taking measurements and coming up with systems to slow the erosion. Now there is collateral damage. People’s homes and thus investments are being devoured by the sea, tide and winds.
We are not only faced with the task of attempting to maintain our beautiful beaches and shorelines but our leaders must also play God and decide which houses can stay and which must go. They have to assess the dangers to our fragile eco-system and decide just how much of a compromise will be acceptable to allow homeowners to over-ride our existing conservation restrictions pertaining to freshwater wetlands to reposition and move their homes to alternate sites on their lots. This is not an enviable position to be in and as a community we must do what we can to support the conservation groups working on our behalf and hope that they are making the right decisions. An error in judgment could result in irreversible damage to our treasured coastline and ecosystem and could ultimately have economic ramifications here as well. Unlike any other challenge this island has faced in recent years, this is clearly among the most critical because we have the most to lose.