Push Comes To Shove Over Wing Island Boardwalk

By: Bronwen Walsh

Topics: Conservation , beach access

Carl Ahlstrom IV and Liz Perry delivered a 700-signature citizens’ petition for a special election about Wing Island to the Brewster Town Clerk’s office, Town Manager Peter Lombardi and the select board last Thursday. [PHOTO COURTESY OF FRIENDS OF WING ISLAND]

Petitioners Force Special Town Meeting, Trust Loses Donation

BREWSTER A group of adamant residents, many of them Friends of Wing Island members, has petitioned for a special town meeting well ahead of the May 1 spring town meeting to settle the fate of the proposed Wing Island boardwalk.

Liz Perry and Carl Ahlstrom IV, whom the group asked to deliver the petition to town hall last Thursday, also are asking the select board to cease spending any more money on design or developing plans for a raised boardwalk.

Because, despite the November Town Meeting, the Select Board is forging ahead with its plans for a substantial boardwalk(s) to Wing Island, we decided to call a Special Town Meeting,” the petition reads. “The results were overwhelming! We needed 200 registered voters, and over 700 signed our petition.

The select board on Monday postponed a public forum about Wing Island scheduled for Jan. 26 until mid-February at a date and time to be determined, and scheduled the special town meeting for Monday, March 6, at 6 p.m.

At the same time, the California couple who anonymously donated $1 million to the Brewster Conservation Trust toward building the boardwalk rescinded their donation to avoid further divisiveness.

“They said they did not intend for their donation to be controversial,” said Town Manager Peter Lombardi. “They remain open to providing financial assistance to the town in the future once a consensus solution is identified.”

Just two weeks ago, in effort to appease boardwalk critics, the select board voted to place the Wing Island access on the spring town meeting warrant and draft a conservation restriction for the island. The citizens’ petition would supersede that date by forcing a special town meeting within 45 days.

“We are doing what the town should be doing – trying to preserve a sensitive habitat and one of the last remaining unspoiled places on Cape Cod,” resident Brenda Locke said.

The former Cape Cod Sea Camps property is “where we should be spending our money – which we don’t have – on recreational opportunities,” said Locke, who called the boardwalk plans “a horrible example of a town gone wrong and ignoring its residents.”

“We don’t know what’s going to be on the spring town meeting warrant,” said resident Mary O’Neil, also a supporter of the Friends of Wing Island, a coalition of residents who incorporated last summer in opposition to the boardwalk. “We feel like they just haven’t been listening. Even in their select board meeting, they continue to talk about Wing Island ‘access’ and a boardwalk. It all comes down to conservation, not recreation.”

O’Neil cited a study by Sue Finnegan, manager of Wing Island Banding Station at Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, whose environmental studies call Wing Island a critical migration flyway and nesting home to more than 237 documented bird species, 20 percent of which are considered threatened or ‘of concern’ if they lose any more habitat.

“Once their habitat is gone, they stop breeding completely,” O’Neil said.

“More foot traffic would have a major detrimental impact on the birds there,” she said. “We feel like that’s going in the wrong direction. We are so blessed with so many other ways to enjoy the ocean. We have beaches, we have Nickerson State Park, we have ponds.

“We also have an obligation to protect what we have, protect the environmental integrity of Wing Island and the marsh surrounding this coastal barrier island. We’re asking for time out before we pave paradise and put up a parking lot. We do not need another paved walkway,” she said.

Comprised of three articles, the petition calls for the town to stop spending any more money or staff time on designing boardwalk plans; to memorialize Wing Island for its existing natural use, redirect its purpose toward conservation and place the island under the custody and control of the conservation commission; and to rescind the select board’s 2021 approval of the Drummer Boy Park Master Plan, “that the select board is using as a justification to pave the park and build the boardwalk.”

“We’ve just increasingly become frustrated. They’re not listening,” O’Neil said of the select board. Even in organizing the Jan. 26 Wing Island public forum, “they are always using language like ‘improving access.’ They just seem to still be going in that direction.

“And 700 people agree with us,” she added.

A link to the town’s Wing Island project page is on the town’s homepage at: www.brewster-ma.gov/wing-island-boardwalk-project. Lombardi shared initial results of a new carrying capacity analysis by Horsley Witten, the Sandwich environmental engineering firm consulting with the town, and cost estimates for several possible scenarios for future access to the island, at the Jan. 23 select board meeting.

Perry said Friends of Wing Island has the option of withdrawing their petition if they can reach a better understanding with the town. That group next meets on Thursday, Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. at the Museum of Natural History.