The unveiling of plans for a bridge to Gooseberry Island drew a full house of opponents to the Mashpee Conservation Commission meeting last Thursday evening.
By the end of the night, though, there were more questions than answers about the proposed project, most notably who owns the property on which the bridge would be constructed from the mainland.
Jack Vaccaro of Sandwich-based Vacarro Environmental Consulting presented plans to the commission, which call for an 11-foot-wide, single lane steel grid bridge that would be built out progressively from the end of Punkhorn Point Road. Utility lines would be carried to the island beneath the bridge, and there would be a five-foot clearance underneath the bridge, which would eliminate all but rowboats and kayaks from traveling through the 80-foot channel.
Brian J. Wall, an attorney representing the Gooseberry Island Trust and SN Trust, the applicants for the bridge, was also in attendance and addressed the commission.
Opponents of the bridge, including residents of Punkhorn Point Road, were out in force, as were leaders of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
The tribe operates a 4.6-acre shellfish acre grant that surrounds the island, which is located off Punkhorn Point between the main body of Popponesset Bay and the mouth of the Mashpee River.
Mashpee Conservation Agent Andrew R. McManus immediately expressed concern about the ownership of the property at the base of Punkhorn Point Road from where the applicants would like to build the bridge.
In an interview after the meeting, he said that he had been presented with some very old property deed documents from the applicants, but that further interpretation of the documents by town counsel would be necessary.
“There is also a question of taxes being paid on the property. The assessor’s office has not been receiving tax payments for this property, which leads me to believe that there is confusion here and that the property may be part of the town-owned Punkhorn Point conservation area,” Mr. McManus said.
On several occasions during the two-hour hearing, the proposed structure was referred to as a “bridge to nowhere” as the commission and the audience were not shown any plans for any type of building development on the island. Mr. McManus said that he agreed with that moniker, and that because there are no building plans, the bridge project will trigger a Cape Cod Commission development of regional impact review.
“Unless there is a stated plan for less than three homes, construction of a bridge would require the Cape Cod Commission to conduct a DRI review. The applicants have given us no idea of how many homes they plan to build on the island, so the commission will need to be engaged,” he said.
Mr. McManus has also asked for the applicants to obtain a report from a coastal geologist to determine how well the bridge would stand up in a velocity zone, and offer additional mitigation concessions for roads that would be built on the pristine island.
Given the questions, concerns, and additional information requests that were brought forth by Mr. McManus, the commission agreed to continue the hearing.
The next public hearing on the project has been scheduled for Thursday, May 8, allowing the applicants and their counsel ample time to obtain additional information.
While a steady parade of opponents took to the microphone to express objections to the bridge construction, the most poignant address to the commission by far was from Vernon N. (Chief Silent Drum) Lopez, the 91-year-old chief of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
“I can remember when our people used to hunt that land, and we would have picnics there after the last day of school in the spring. It is a sacred place for our tribe that brings back a lot of memories to me. I feel very sentimental. This is our homeland, and it would be an awful shame to see the island developed,” Chief Silent Drum said.