Oak Bluffs selectmen thank Wampanoag tribe for storm runoff project

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairwoman of the Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head (center) views the plaque, held by Brett Stearns, Director of Natural Resources for the Tribe, presented by selectmen (from left) Walter Vail, Michael Santoro, Greg Coogan, and Gail Barmakian. — Photo by Barry Stringfellow

The Oak Bluffs board of selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday presented a certificate of appreciation to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head for the tribe’s assistance in a water quality project. The certificate, and a bronze plaque to be placed on New York Ave, reads, “In recognition of your efforts to preserve the water quality of Oak Bluffs harbor, through financial assistance for the stormwater treatment system on New York Avenue.”

“The tribe is involved in a lot of projects Island-wide to support the sustainability of the Island long-term,” said Bret Stearns, tribe natural resources department director, who was on hand to receive the award along with Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the outgoing chairman of the tribe “Going back to 2003, David Grunden brought up his concern about New York Avenue [runoff] and how it was affecting the shellfish in the harbor. We had the opportunity as a tribe to get some money from the Environmental Protection Agency under the ‘nonpoint source pollution prevention program,’ which specifically targets storm water runoff.”

The original funding award was for $144,000.

Mr. Stearns said the tribe has been using a similar system in Aquinnah for the past 12 years that’s worked extremely well. “It’s prevented hundreds and hundreds of pounds of sludge from entering Menemsha and Squibnocket ponds,” he said.

According to Oak Bluffs Shellfish Constable David Grunden, a half-inch of rain washes about 35 pounds of sludge and oil into the harbor.

The town of Oak Bluffs will be responsible for maintenance, which Mr. Stearns estimates will only require two cleanings a year.

“We’re very happy to be part of this project and we feel confident that it’s a great long-term, low-maintenance solution,” said Mr. Stearns. “You have an amazing group of people in Oak Bluffs. Richie Combra [highway department supervisor] was a big help. I think he’s on every committee you have.”

Selectman Greg Coogan also gave plaudits to Mr. Grunden. “It also points out that David is much more than a shellfish constable. He’s been looking out for our water quality all over town for many years.”

“There’s a large contingency of tribal members in Oak Bluffs, it’s wonderful we could help out the town,” said Mr. Stearns.