The Mill Pond questions is not yet ripe for resolution


Notwithstanding selectman Richard Knabel’s disgruntlement [Muddying the Mill Pond Issue, January 31 Letters to the Editor] at the prospect of yet another discussion of what to do with the Mill Pond, his fellow selectmen were wise to endorse the forum. Mr. Knabel seems to believe that the Mill Pond decision has been made by voters, but of course it hasn’t. There is still information to be gathered, advice to be considered, and opinions to be formed, most of them difficult for West Tisbury residents — who tend to be fiercely partial to their town and its unique, lovely, and familiar embellishments — to quantify.

As Bea Phear wrote in a Letter to the Editor published this morning, “people want more time to think about the subject and to gather more information.” Indeed they do.

And it may be that time, as much as additional information, will be the key to an eventual decision. Like so many questions one confronts in this whirling, headlong world, there are virtues that adhere to the several choices that confront town voters. The preservation of a much-loved miniature pondscape that is perfectly harmonious, perfectly distinctive, and perfectly West Tisbury is by itself a perfectly defensible position to take on the question.

The notion that significant ecological benefit might be gained by unharnessing Mill Brook and destroying the dam that creates the Mill Pond and later other dams along the brook’s way, reshaping the landscape through which the brook flows to Tisbury Great Pond and reclaiming its natural ability to support a variety of freshwater and anadromous species is, for altogether different reasons, compelling too.

Sometimes the reason to discuss further, to debate some more, to gather more information, and to delay a decision means that the issue has not ripened sufficiently. In light of the competing attractions of the several possible actions, it is clear that a decision on the Mill Pond is not yet ready to harvest.

Leaving aside for the moment the metrics of water flow, stream depths, aeration, species, and general environmental health — all of them important but none conclusive — a crucial missing ingredient in the discussion so far may be an authentically imagined rendering of what Mill Brook and what is now the Mill Pond and its immediate neighborhood would look like if the pond were abandoned. Would there be a marsh where the pond is today? Would the brook rush clamorously through a narrowed streambed bordered on each side by grassland where people fish and picnic? If the pond, so pleasing to the eye, is lost, what will we see instead?

West Tisbury voters have not yet decided what to do about the Mill Pond. The opinions, facts, examples of other similar initiatives, and cost estimates that have been featured in the discussions so far have not put the matter to rest. Perhaps, because what they have now is so rewarding and pleasant to townsfolk, the ultimate decision of what to do next will benefit from a realistic glimpse of what the future will look like.