Sengekontacket, never pristine again
To the Editor:
I am seasonal resident of the Ocean Heights section of Edgartown and have been an activist within the Martha's Vineyard environmental community for more than 40 years. I was a former officer and continue as a director of the Friends of Sengekontacket Inc. I am a member of the Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, a sport and shell fisherman, kayaker, sailor, and boater. All my comments are my own.
My seasonal home overlooks Sengekontacket Pond and I have an everyday contact with the pond. During my 40 years in Edgartown, I have seen Sengekontacket Pond die from a thousand cuts. Bay scallops are challenged to reproduce naturally, and I seldom see a blue crab or an eel. All of those species were once abundant. The eel grass that sheltered small fish that fed the big fish has all but disappeared, and algae growth no longer permits me to easily enjoy fly fishing on the pond. The demise of our pond that was once an environmental joy has been well documented in the Massachusetts Estuaries Project report.
What to do.
• Thoughtful Watershed Management. In spite of the outstanding efforts of both the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown shellfish constables, no single person or governmental organization is responsible for the health of the pond. As a result, pond health has floundered and has already passed the so-called tipping point. The pond will never be pristine again. The best candidate for this role of watershed management is the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and Sengekontacket Pond should be designated as a district of critical planning concern (DCPC). The MVC has and can provide the necessary expertise and watershed management needed for preservation. I am sure that authority criteria can be established that would be acceptable to both towns. It is important that all aspects of watershed management be coordinated and approached as a research project. The two shellfish constables and Rick Karney are a great resource and are available to provide additional support.
• Acceptable Fertilizer Programs. The use of nitrogen-based fertilizer has to be brought under control, and this can be done through both legislation and cooperation. Certainly, the big users, such as golf courses in the watershed, are prime targets.
• Natural Means of Nitrogen Mitigation. Perhaps the easiest and an effective program of nitrogen mitigation is the seeding of both clams and oysters. Successful shellfish mitigation programs have been used effectively throughout the East and West Coasts. New York Harbor and Long Island Sound are very good examples. It is my understanding that the Oak Bluffs Shellfish Department had requested a Community Preservation Act grant for an oyster nitrogen mitigation pilot project that was denied. These are low cost and potentially successful programs, and I urge the towns to finance new shellfish mitigation projects. It is important that projects of this type should be long-term, results oriented, and be subject to an overall management plan.
• Flushing the Pond. The boat channel dredging program should continue and not be allowed to once again fall between the cracks. Dredging the boat channels has an important side benefit of flushing the pond. Dredging of the channel to the Little Bridge is especially important. The replacement of the Beach Road culvert draining the Trapps Pond area should be programmed.
• Septic Waste. The building of a sewer system in the Major's Cove area by both towns is both achievable and is beneficial. Due to pollution in Major's Cove, sewers should be a priority. The existing Title 5 and cesspool systems do little to prevent septic-based nitrogen reaching the pond. The construction of a sewer system in Ocean Heights is a relatively low priority and of minor benefit. Sewers in Cow Bay are expensive and should eventually be part of the overall plan. And, all replacement and new septic systems in the watershed should incorporate nitrogen reduction.
I believe my plan is effective, and I trust that government will rise to the challenge.
Charles Edward Carlson
The writer is a professional engineer.