Sengekontacket cleanup will cost
The Joint Committee on Sengekontacket, formed last year by selectmen from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown to address declining water quality in the towns' shared Sengekontacket Pond, approved an action plan last week to address the problem. The price tag is estimated at $553,210.
Leaders of the effort, which includes members of The Friends of Sengekontacket (FOS), a private nonprofit citizens organization, expect the cost of the multifaceted cleanup effort to exceed that amount. As a result they will rely on private donations and grant funding for the bulk of the funding in addition to any contributions from the towns.
"The reality of it is that there is not a lot of money out there if you look at the town budgets this year," FOS vice-chairman and towns committee member Duncan Ross said of the need of private donations and grants. "We have to look for alternative sources of money because of that shortage of funding. We plan on getting much or all of the money need for this project from the community and grants."
The decline in water quality has affected shellfishing in the pond. In 2007 the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries designated Sengekontacket Pond a "conditionally approved area." As a result shellfishing is prohibited from June 1 to September 30.
The cause of the designation was high levels of coliform bacteria and nitrogen contaminates in the water.
That closure led Edgartown and Oak Bluffs selectmen to create the Sengekontacket joint committee for the purpose of overseeing efforts to improve water quality and keep the pond open to shellfishing. The members include town officials, environmental activists and local experts.
At a meeting on May 30 the committee approved a six point action plan for 2008. The plan includes water testing at eight sites to identify sources of bacteria and water chemistry; field observations of the waterfront for sources of pollutants; the creation of pet waste stations; education; and dredging of little bridge inlet, the channel between the bridges and crab creek.
"The testing that closed us down last years was done by the state," said Mr. Ross in a telephone conversation yesterday. "What the state did was change the status of the pond from having it be automatically open this time of year to be automatically closed this time of year. What we hope to do with this round of our own independent testing is to identify the source of contaminates, deal with them and get the pond back to being automatically open."
Photo by Jim Frasier
The main sources of contamination are thought to include waterfowl, pets, septic systems, and run off from lawns, roads and farms located near the watershed that feeds into pond. The committee will conduct DNA sampling to assess the impact from each of those sources for the high coliform levels in the pond.
Local experts think that a major source of contamination is the large population of Double-Crested Cormorants that nest on Sarson's Island located in the middle of the pond. The Cormorants are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be culled or removed without federal approval. Mr. Ross said the cormorants that feed in and around Island waters return nightly to Sarson's Island to roost.
"What we are doing is putting up signs with our web address so people will visit and see what they can do," said Mr. Ross. "Not only will they learn that they can donate money to The Joint Committee and FOS but also there are things they can do individually, like establishing a border between their lawns and the pond to keep contaminates out. What we are attempting to do is educate everyone about what the problems are and what they can do to eliminate these problems."
Jim Fraser of Oak Bluffs, a marine engineer and devoted shellfisherman, is one of many Islanders disappointed by the extended closure.
He points directly to the abundance of geese and cormorants as the source of the problem. In a recent email to The Times Mr. Fraser suggested the small islands the birds use to nest be removed or the birds be scared away.
One method, also used at the Aquinnah herring run to scare off cormorants, he said is a propane cannon set on a timer. The cannon emits a loud boom.
He said, "It is a shame it has gotten to the point that the pond has to be closed to shell fishing during the summer months. If this is not addressed it is just a matter of time before it will closed all year."