Just before the Labor Day holiday, a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge allowed the Nantucket Conservation Commission to move one step closer to causing what the Town's expert calls dramatic shoreline realignment on the Island's eastern shore. What the expert calls shoreline realignment you and I would call a good piece of the Island falling into the ocean.
The Judge didn't doubt this potential effect of his decision but correctly concluded he didn't have much of a choice.
At issue is a "soft" bank stabilization project sponsored by property owners on a steep eroding coastal bank. In exchange for permission from the Nantucket Conservation Commission to construct the "soft solution", the property owners agreed to conditions established by the Conservation Commission, including having to do with the amount of sand that would be imported by the property owners to the beach annually to make up for the sand that theoretically wouldn't erode from the stabilized bank. The property owners didn't comply with that condition and the Conservation Commission now says the "soft solution" has to go.
The Judge says that if the Conservation Commission's conditions aren't arbitrary and capricious (and he found these weren't), then the Court can't step on the Conservation Commission's toes, and neither can anyone else.
This is the latest chapter in a pitched battle between the Conservation Commission, the Board of Selectmen that appoints the Conservation Commission, and the property owners who have spent millions to protect their properties (and the public way and utilities that go past them) from the dramatic effects of climate change.
Putting aside what the property owners, the Conservation Commission, and the Department of Environmental Protection could have done differently here, this sad story is yet another example of how it is way too hard to implement ecologically sensitive solutions to the devastation our Green House Gas supercharged climate has done and will do to our coastlines. Massachusetts legislation is past due to address this continuing harm.
In the meantime we'll see whether the Conservation Commission actually pulls the pin on its hand grenade now that the Court has given it permission to do so.
Arcadis, the town of Nantucket's consultant on coastal resiliency and the possible relocation of Baxter Road in response to ongoing erosion, had previously urged caution in removing the geotubes without a strategic plan in place for the retreat of utilities, roadways, and private property. The consultant said removal of the geotubes has the potential for "rapid and dramatic" shoreline realignment. Judge Gildea acknowledged those concerns in his decision, but emphasized that he was limited to considering whether the Conservation Commission had a legitimate and legal basis for its enforcement order to remove the geotubes.