West Tisbury selectmen receive bomb cleanup, fair update

A representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appeared at last week’s meeting of the West Tisbury selectmen to describe a project to locate and identify World War II era practice munitions still buried along the shoreline of Tisbury Great Pond.

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ project manager Carol Charette told selectmen Wednesday that as part of the same project the Army Corps would survey Cape Poge and South Beach in Edgartown. The five-month investigation begins in October and runs through February 2011 to avoid the busy tourist seasons. The three projects have a total budget of $5.2 million.

In recent years, the Corps has begun cleaning up what are termed Formerly Used Defense Sites, properties that the Department of Defense once owned or used, but no longer controls. Martha’s Vineyard is on that list because Tisbury Great Pond, as well as Cape Pogue and South Beach were used as bombing and strafing ranges during military training sessions that continued until 1947.

Last summer, in a collaborative effort with state, county, and local officials, the Army Corps conducted an emergency clean-up of rockets and practice bombs at Little Neck, South Beach, and Norton Point Beach, up to 100 feet from the shoreline. Those efforts resulted in the discovery and disposal of 127 MK-23 and MK-5 practice bombs from Little Neck and 617 aerial rocket motors, practice bombs, and warheads from Norton Point and South Beach.

West Tisbury resident Tom Rancich, a former Navy SEAL and a partner in VRHabilis, a subcontractor, assisted in the search and disposal effort and will be at it again. An ordnance specialist, he will be in charge of all in-water surveys of the Great Pond, according to Ms. Charette.

The survey sites will include ocean side beaches as well as the great pond. Researchers will conduct geophysical surveys to determine if there are any metallic objects buried beneath the surface.

The object is to determine if the debris poses a threat to public safety. Depending on the results, the Corps may decide to do nothing and monitor the area for several years, Ms. Charette said.

Ms. Charette showed the selectmen a picture of a 100-pound bomb measuring 10 inches wide, 38 inches long that washed up on Wasque Point on Chappaquiddick in March 2009. She said the researchers expect to find similar bombs in the Great Pond during the study. The military most often dropped practice bombs on the island “but even a practice bomb has a starting charge on it,” Ms. Charette said.

Signs will be posted at the Great Pond to inform the public of the history of the site and steps to be taken should they find what appears to be an ordnance, known as the three R’s: Recognize the item as potentially hazardous, retreat from the area without touching or moving the item, and immediately report the item to police.

In other business, the selectmen named Bob Schwartz, Melissa Breese, and Hermine Hull to the newly formed Town Hall Art Committee to select and oversee the displaying of donated artwork.

The selectmen also signed a contract with the Boston-based law firm of Rubin & Rudman to serve as special counsel to the Conservation Commission (ConCom) as it prepares to answer a two-count appeal filed in Superior Court by Wesley Edens, chairman of the board of Newcastle Investment and chief executive of Fortress Investment Corporation, the owner of 234 Middle Point Road.

Mr. Edens was denied a permit to install a 170-foot concrete erosion barrier or revetment along the eastern shoreline of the Great Pond after hearings before the ConCom. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has yet to act on a requested order under the state wetland protection act regulations.

The ConComm administrator Maria McFarland told the selectmen that if the DEP denies the state permit it is not expected that the property owners will pursue a local permit. However, if the state approves the application the town may incur legal expenses in defending its denial.

Selectman Richard Knabel asked the ConComm representatives if they had any idea how much the legal fees may be and were told “we have never gone down this road before,” by Mrs. McFarland and “this is the first time we are going to appeal,” by ConComm chairman Prudence Burt.

And, Acting Police Chief Dan Rossi presented his post-Agricultural Fair report stating that 113 lost items were turned into the police booth and that “all items of significant value were returned to the owners” including sets of keys, credit cards, wallets (one with over $500 in cash), cell phones, a video camera, and watches. The parents of fourteen lost children were found quickly. Police officers responded to one assault and battery, one instance of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and three medical emergencies.