Before and After Pictures of the Strand
In what could be described as a callous response to citizen complaints about the destruction of the town's Strand coastline at a Town Meeting Tuesday, December 12, Town Manager Cheryl Lewis defended the current work and project priority decisions in the town. As she answered questions of why the Strand was being turned into what looks like a strip mine, she concluded her defense of the indefensible with a statement implying that citizens should just "get used to" how the iconic Oxford Strand will look going forward like they got "used to" the similar work at the Oxford Town Park beach. For those unfamiliar with what is happening on Oxford's iconic, once scenic Shoreline, here are links to other articles regarding the project:
Oxford's Town Park, which once had a nice little beach is now a mass of sea grasses, cement and very little shore access. Many who grew up in Oxford stated they learned to swim at the Oxford Town Park beach. That can't happen now.
Once again, the meeting room at the Oxford Town Office was filled to capacity with residents of the town. The first order of business was the creation of a town finance advisory committee which was passed 2-1. Appointed Commissioner Botkin was the only dissenting vote.
During the Town Manager's Report, Cheryl Lewis stated that the Oxford Strand Beach Project's Basic infrastructure was complete and the contractor Underwood and Associates would be back to continue their work in April after the shore changes "weathered." She stated that the Strand beach and roadway would require further work and the planting of "grasses" to create what are often called "living islands." The beach would not be finished for one to possibly two years.
When it was pointed out how destructive the work was on the Strand and the question was asked why this area, which is not an area that floods often, was chosen to be completed first when many other parts of town flood more often and seriously, Lewis took off on a laundry list of "reasons."
The tirade was defensive, arrogant and dismissive of citizen concerns. Her recitation of why the project was chosen and the details of every other project that has occurred since she has been town manager was in a rapid-fire, well-rehearsed rant more suitable to that of a snake oil salesman and filled with just as many half-truths and exaggerations. She also used faulty reasoning.
In supporting the decision for this project now, Lewis stated that this was the only grant from the State that was available when the town applied so they had to go for it. One wonders if there could have been private grants available. Logic tells us that just because there is money available to do something, it doesn't mean we should do it. Was this a solution looking for a problem?
She also said that the State "wanted" the "living islands" approach to restoration so that is what they would fund. When did doing what the State wants override what the citizens want? Sadly, it's becoming a recurrent theme in many places, including Oxford.
Lewis stated that flood mitigation in certain parts of town were working. As a resident in those areas, it's my observation that they are not. In fact, they are causing other areas to flood as well. Lewis once again brought up the idea that residents could apply for grants to have their homes "lifted," an option that is not only too expensive but impossible for many older homeowners.
She's been in this defensive posture before. She does like not her authority or decisions questioned.
She also contradicted herself. When a citizen asked if the beach would be larger than it was prior to the project, Lewis said "no." Then she responded minutes later that it would be bigger. Residents of the Strand say that the beach work already extends farther than it did before, obliterating grassy walking areas.
Many questioned her statement about "critical underground infrastructure" on the Strand that would be destroyed in the case of a devastating storm and could cause power and other outages. Is the underground infrastructure of the Strand more important than that in other areas?
Lewis also seems to forget that many residents have already lived through a devastating storm, Isabel, in the early 2000's. They know what can happen regardless of where the infrastructure is located. However, Lewis's main concern was "sea rise."
Lewis was also asked about the large boulders present on the "living islands" and whether they would remain. She initially said "no" but then said they were there to anchor the materials. Seems counter-intuitive.
One person asked about the upkeep of the "grasses" that would be planted on the new shoreline and "living islands" as many times they die and need to be replaced. Neither Lewis nor Commissioners had an answer.
After the Strand was compared to the Oxford Town Park shoreline where the Beach no longer exists because of plantings, Lewis said that initially people didn't like the Park restoration but that they "got used to it" and implied they would get used to this one too.
The last statement was the one most telling. It is the same callous, uncaring attitude that bureaucrats in the local, state and national government have when it comes to discussing the effects of their decisions on the people in their jurisdictions. It's an attitude that shows they are more concerned about having their names attached to large projects that get accolades from people who don't live in the area or have to deal with the loss of beloved landmarks of their community. I don't think she realizes that she works for US!
It's the same attitude that allows one to bend the rules, defy ethics, and disrupt people's lives to get what they want. They expect impunity and avoid accountability.
Oxford didn't used to be this way. The Commissioners and town managers of the past would never let them drastically alter the beloved areas of our Strand, Town Park, and Little League Park. At the very least, they would have made sure that the plans they implemented fit the needs and desires of the citizens they represent and not their agenda for personal gain.
To see the work that Underwood and Associates has done in other communities, here is a link:
The pictures on their landing page and their projects page give you an idea of the drastic change that will happen to Oxford's shoreline. And, by the way, there were other bids on the project, some more expensive than this one, some less. We wonder what those projects looked like. Were they just as intrusive or less?
Yeah, it's ugly. But you'll get used to it.
Sorry. Even when you get used to ugly, it is still ugly.
Maybe it's time we got used to a change in our town leadership.
SPECIAL NOTES: The Town Office claims that the citizens had plenty of chances to see and comment on this project. Important to note:
COVERAGE IN THE STAR DEMOCRAT:
As usual, the Star Democrat sent a reporter who is more of a "press release" writer who covered the Town Meeting but was seemingly unable to hear negative comments about the project or talk to the people who made them. Instead, she interviewed a resident who lives at the end of the Strand and whose property is being improved by the work at no cost to him. He has also told people in town that he is working with the town in order to get a pool for his property, something he couldn't get the town to allow previously. (He has a "zoning pending" sign on his property. He is in the historic district. What is that for?)
The other resident she interviewed walks the Strand daily and likes the project and thinks it will be "nice."
Not one of the five people who spoke against the project were interviewed.
Investigative reporting at the most basic levels is dead.
Some have said that this publication and my voice is not the right "messenger" for opposition to town actions on the Strand. When I ask others to step up, they say they can't because of business interests or permit applications they have for the town. They are actually intimidated by the "Town Manager" and the town "planner." I have been the victim of attempted intimidation, called awful names, and been accused of having bad ulterior motives in the most vitriolic way. It's okay, I can take it. It's to be expected. Those in power and their flunkies HATE when you question them. I'm not anonymous. I don't hide my opinions. It's time for others to share their questions as well.