07 Apr 2015

Sinkhole On Nantucket

Photo Courtesy of Nicole Harnishfeger of The Inquirer & Mirror

In the 1960’s TV series Batman, the superhero’s sidekick Robin cleverly expressed his shock and amazement toward any given situation by inserting the word “holy” before the subject matter of the day. From “holy jailbreak!” to “holy fork in the road!” we knew that when Robin uttered one of his catchphrases it meant he was duly impressed. Robin…and even Batman himself…likely would have been as awestruck as the rest of us at the sight of the 3 X 5 foot sinkhole that opened up on Main Street last week.

The “sinkhole” actually revealed the creativity our forefathers used in maximizing the storage space on the island. The cobblestones fell into an old fire department cistern that was built in the 1800’s after the Great Fire tore through downtown. The Inquirer and Mirror reported that there are many of these underground cisterns throughout the island, primarily located in the downtown area and most which have been filled in. It’s speculated, this recent unearthed cistern on Main Street is the largest at 30 feet long,18 feet wide and 13 feet deep, holding close to 80,000 gallons of water. The DPW was able to quickly fill the hole by days end.

What’s truly fascinating, is not that these cisterns exist, but that our ancestors (the “superhero’s” of Nantucket!) had the ingenuity and courage to think outside the box and maximize the space we have on a tiny island (even if it meant digging deep) to create systems and services necessary to care for the island and its people. With so many “hot topics” at the forefront this year…from a new school, to a new hospital, to the critical need for year round housing…our modern day “superhero’s” – the leaders and citizens of Nantucket – have an opportunity to be as equally creative in providing sustainable solutions for the island.

One can imagine that it wasn’t popular or convenient to dig giant holes in the Nantucket earth in the 1800’s to install cisterns intended to save lives and property…and yet our leaders did it anyway. Pursuing avant-garde initiatives, particularly when they require unconventional methodologies, will never be popular. On an island that prides itself in historical preservation (and rightfully so!), it’s even harder to reach consensus on contemporary solutions that work well in the rest of the country, but that threaten to “taint” the allure of our unique island.

As we wrestle through the issues, it’s good to be reminded that we are the forefathers of tomorrow. What unconventional and creative solutions can we implement today that will leave our great-grandchildren awestruck as they unearth them 200 years from now? In the 1800’s, the underground cisterns afforded an innovative and immediate solution to protect the island from major fire damage. Let’s work with the same fervor to quickly resolve the pressing needs of healthcare, education and housing needs facing Nantucket today.

Dig deep.

Shellie Dunlap

Shellie Dunlap - A Nantucket Experience

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