Conservation Commission Rebuffs Select Board On Sconset Erosion Project Vote

In a tense virtual meeting, the Nantucket Conservation Commission on Wednesday rejected the Select Board’s request to reconsider its decision to order the removal of the erosion control geotube from the base of the Sconset Bluff. 

The 900-foot sand-filled geotube has been installed at the bottom of the bluff on the east end of Nantucket for nearly eight years. The $10 million project is the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund’s (SBPF) most recent bid to protect the homes perched precariously along Baxter Road at the edge of the bluff from erosion.  

The language of the final enforcement order on removal of the geotube will be considered at a future meeting, and could include an option for the commission to consider a remediation plan to bring the project into compliance, rather than removal. Once it is written and approved, the SBPF would have 21 days to appeal, which it has vowed to do if the Conservation Commission moves forward with the removal order rather than remediation. 

New Conservation Commission member Linda Williams made a formal motion to reconsider the regulatory commission’s June 30 vote to remove the geotube installation. But her motion died for lack of a second, an indication of the other commissioners’ resolve in the matter. 

Back in June, the Conservation Commission determined that the SBPF had failed to comply with its permit for the project, specifically the requirement for a certain amount of sand that should have been dumped annually over the geotube to replenish the area, and that the erosion control installation must be removed. 

While the Conservation Commission is forging ahead with its enforcement action against the SBPF, the Select Board – which appoints the members of the commission – had asked it to reconsider its decision in light of the ongoing work being done by the consultant Arcadis, which is developing a set of recommendations for the town to address the myriad issues presented by the ongoing erosion along the Sconset Bluff. With that gulf between the two boards, the Conservation Commission had sought independent counsel to represent it in the expected litigation, a request which the Select Board denied. 

Much of Wednesday’s meeting centered around the role of town counsel George Pucci, of KP Law, who was present for the meeting and was peppered with questions and comments by Conservation Commission members.

“As it says in the New Testament: you cannot serve two masters,” Conservation Commission member Ian Golding said to Pucci. “With the Select Board taking the part of SBPF and ignoring what we have come to as a regulatory, environmental decision, that they’re asking us to walk back. How do you not have a conflict of interest?”

Pucci responded: “I’m here to give unbiased advice pursuant to the Select Board’s vote and policy to advance its general goals and priorities. You can take it or leave it, is what I’m telling you today. And you can take or leave what the Select Board is asking you to do.”

Conservation Commission member Maureen Phillips offered perhaps the most pointed criticism of the Select Board and the predicament the commission found itself in with respect to SBPF and the town’s lead policymaking body, calling it “unprecedented.”

“I find it quite unbelievable,” Phillips said. “I find it really sad. The Sconset people had other choices, the Select Board had other choices, they’re busy, why not let us do our job? I’m just really stunned and I think it’s very sad. We ddin’t need to be here today worrying about whether you (Pucci) can represent us while still representing the Select Board.”

But SBPF attorney Steven Cohen asserted that what was truly unprecedented was the Conservation Commission’s insistence on removal rather than remediation. 

“It’s not the commission’s job to enact Draconian measures, it’s the commission’s job to bring things into compliance,” SBPF attorney Steve Cohen said.

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