Many problems, few solutions emerge from joint Round Hill meeting

By Douglas McCulloch | Sep 12, 2017
Courtesy of: Town of Dartmouth A map showing the affected areas of the beach.

With funding deadlines and Town Meeting approaching, the fate of a salt marsh restoration project at Round Hill Beach remains uncertain.

Amid confusion and contradictory information, the Parks Board, Conservation Commission, and Finance Committee held a joint meeting to try and sort out the controversial proposal, which would restore a former salt marsh at Round Hill which was converted into an airport by the wealthy Ned Green in 1928.

The meeting comes about a month before Town Meeting voters could decide on splitting ownership of Round Hill Beach between the Parks Board and Conservation Commission. The idea was supposed to alleviate one of the Parks Board’s biggest concerns about the project – that accepting $5.1 million in federal and state monies to fund the project could open the beach’s current residents-only parking lot to the general public.

During the meeting, Parks Director Tim Lancaster said despite letters from funding agencies and town legal counsel stating the parking arrangement will not change, it still remains unclear if the project could change that.

“We haven’t been able to get a solid answer, and I think it’s just because its unknown really,” Lancaster said.

Even the Select Board, which originally voted to move the permitting process forward in July after the Parks Board voted the project down, is now unsure about the issue. At its September 11 meeting, members decided to delay recommending the passage of the Town Meeting article after member Stanley Mickelson said he was told by State Representative Chris Markey (D-Dartmouth) that a guarantee is not possible.

“[Markey's] opinion is that there is no governmental agency that can guarantee the parking portion,” Mickelson said at the September 11 Select Board meeting. “There’s no clear answers. I know there’s a lot of money involved, but there is a beach involved also. At this point I can’t vote in favor of this.”

During the meeting, Lancaster listed off a number of concerns the board has with the project, including safety issues with a proposed new culvert under Ray Peck Drives he worries could attract young children.

Conservation and Finance members brainstormed ideas, including finding alternate ways to make the culvert safer, to hiring additional staff to monitor the area and keep children out of the culvert – which could cost the Parks Department anywhere from $16,000 to $30,000 annually.

Lancaster also listed a required beach management as a concern. Although already legally required, Dartmouth does not currently have one, and instead relies on an informal arrangement with Mass Audubon to assist in protecting piping plover nests on the beach, Environmental Affairs Coordinator Michael O'Reilly explained.

“The problem is there are a lot of beach management plans and some are extremely restrictive plans,” Lancaster said.

O'Reilly noted the project could provide the board an opportunity to collaboratively work with the state to produce one.

Lancaster said the future of the beach’s septic system is also a concern, as grant monies will not be able to fund needed upgrades or electrification if the split ownership idea goes through.

The joint meeting did not yield any major solutions to problems. Boards will discuss the meeting and decide how to proceed. Finance Committee Chair David Tatelbaum said after the meeting he intends to work with the boards to have a final plan in time for the town meeting preview meeting.

Ideas floated during the meeting include pulling the Town Meeting article and having Parks and Conservation work cooperatively to continue the project. O'Reilly said that given the permitting timetable, permitting would need to begin by October to expend part of the funding by May 2019 .

Conservation Commission Chair Michael Kehoe and Parks Board member Jim Vieira both said the meeting went well. Vieira added that the issues brought up were nothing new.

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