Sustainability and Resilience On-Island: Town by Town

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Members of Island conservation organizations, climate committees, and other environmental groups are working together to nourish beaches, protect vulnerable plant and animal species from habitat loss, and maintain the natural beauty and biodiversity of the Vineyard. But each town faces different challenges, and is implementing different strategies to deal with current and future threats to our environment. Here’s a town-by-town update highlighting important projects.

Oak Bluffs

The Oak Bluffs Tree Stewards, a newly established community group looking to beautify town parks, held its second tree planting recently. More than twenty volunteers gathered on a brisk weekend morning to plant ten new trees across three parks in town — Niantic, Nashawena, and Viera. A similar tree-planting initiative in November of 2023 kicked off the long-term plan to fill all Oak Bluffs parks with native trees. Because mature trees with root balls can be inordinately expensive, and often require heavy machinery or a professional landscaping crew, the Oak Bluffs Tree Stewards have opted to plant bare-root trees. These trees are lightweight and significantly more affordable, so the entire community can be involved, and many trees can be planted. To volunteer, or donate, email [email protected]

Edgartown

After a series of devastating storms, Edgartown officials are looking to replenish the dunes at South Beach and plant beach grass in time for seasonal visitors to enjoy. So far, 3,700 cubic yards of sand has been sourced to shore up the left fork. Snow fencing will also be installed along South Beach, and the Edgartown parks commission is looking to relocate its headquarters, which also served as a base for lifeguards and a storage area for beach management equipment, after the building was damaged by a major storm. Officials are considering more long-term solutions to erosion and storm damage, but for now the only fixes in the town’s tool belt are temporary.

Tisbury

Rising sea levels and increased frequency and intensity of seasonal storms have caused Vineyard Haven’s working waterfront district to be regularly inundated. A new plan presented to Tisbury officials by the University of New Hampshire’s Stormwater Center would combine three outfall pipes at Beach Street Extension into one structure that could be more easily maintained and quickly cleared of sediment buildup. The new system would also create an emergency flood outlet that would divert water away from Five Corners. This project, which the town anticipates will cost no more than $400,000, was spurred by frustration around a lack of progress from MassDOT, which has been working to reduce flooding in the area.

aerial view of homes with solar panels
Scott's Grove Housing sports solar panels in West Tisbury, Mass. – Photo by Randi Baird

West Tisbury

The West Tisbury Complete Streets Committee, a subcommittee of the West Tisbury Planning Board, is working with Martha’s Vineyard’s state highway division to ensure that the town’s shared use paths are fully integrated into our town (and state) roads. Non-vehicular ways are traversed in many different ways — horses, bikes, pedestrians, and more — all with the goal of getting from point A to point B without significant impasses. Along with a number of important projects that were recently completed, such as improving the Lambert’s Cove parking area to encourage more seasonal visitors to enjoy the beach, and putting in crosswalks at a number of busy intersections (like the one near the Ag Hall), the Complete Streets Committee is working on improving the segment of the shared use path that runs from Mill Pond to the West Tisbury library. Another major project the committee is working on is improving safety at the North Tisbury bridge, just past Polly Hill Arboretum. With West Tisbury (and other Island towns) looking to go fossil fuel-free by 2040, the Complete Streets Committee aims to reduce vehicular transportation and encourage islanders and visitors to get out and walk, ride their bikes, and mitigate carbon emissions.

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Chilmark

The town of Chilmark is in the process of installing two Direct-Current fast charging stations for EVs, in addition to the two moderate-speed chargers already installed at the Chilmark School. Another notch on Chilmark’s climate and energy belt is the recently completed conversion of the Chilmark School to fully electric HVAC, making Chilmark the first town to have a fully-electric heated and cooled school. Along with that, the project ensured that the school’s building envelope was secure, and addressed a number of other energy efficiency-oriented projects. Now that the new firehouse and EMS buildings in Chilmark have been completed, town officials are looking to install solar panels on the roofs of both facilities, and could potentially install panels on the town hall. The town has gained access to a federal government program to conduct technical scoping work for the ambitious resilience project at town center. Chilmark has teamed up with Aquinnah to be a part of this program, and Aquinnah is following similar steps toward resilience. During the planning process, officials will consider distributed battery storage to work in conjunction with solar panels. The town is exploring the possibility of using microgrid technology to enable town facilities to be cut off from the central energy grid and run independently for a short period of time.

Aquinnah

With federal assistance, Aquinnah is working to design a microgrid for its town buildings — a combination of a solar array and battery that will enable town functions, including a warming shelter, to keep going if a storm or other disaster knocks out the grid.  (Chilmark has a parallel project.)  The Wampanoag Tribe, with town support, has applied for a state Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant to return the iconic Aquinnah Shop restaurant to Indigenous ownership and restore it.  The restaurant last operated in 2022, and saw its first non-Wampanoag ownership in 2016.  It would be purchased by the Aquinnah Land Initiative, a land conservation group run by local Wampanoag women.  Working to preserve Aquinnah's renowned natural wonder, the Gay Head Cliffs, town officials and climate experts are preparing to apply for a similar grant to study erosion of the Cliffs and test anti-erosion methods. 

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Lucas Thors
Lucas Thors
Lucas Thors is an associate editor for Bluedot Living and program director for the Bluedot Institute. He lives on Martha's Vineyard with his English springer spaniel, Arlo, and enjoys writing about environmental initiatives in his community.
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