Tuesday’s public meeting of the Oak Bluffs Land Bank Advisory Board to discuss the controversial post-and-wire fence proposed for Trade Wind Fields Preserve was a rollercoaster affair, with opponents frequently interrupting deliberations with impassioned pleas to reject the Land Bank’s plan.
Oak Bluffs resident Phil Cordella presented the board with a petition, “Do not allow MV Land Bank to desecrate Tradewinds!” with 295 online signatures.
Oak Bluffs resident Mark Jenkins presented a letter, signed by 20 opponents of the fence, which stated, “It is incomprehensible to our town and Island community that the Land Bank should undertake this aggressively retrograde measure when such dramatic improvements have been seen at Tradewinds in this short span of time.”
But technically, the fight was over before it started.
Apparently, none of the 30 opponents shoehorned into conservation agent Liz Durkee’s office were aware that the day’s vote was essentially a ceremonial one to endorse the memo of Land Bank biologist Julie Russell, in response to the Oct. 18 public hearing, as to the necessity of the fence.
The final decision to install the 1.4-mile, four-foot-tall fence had already been made on June 6, when the eight-member advisory board approved the fence with a 3-0 vote by members Chris Alley, Melanie Bilodeau, and Richard Toole. Chairman Tom Zinno abstained, stating he felt the vote should be postponed until more board members could be present, according to the meeting minutes.
Many of the attendees said they felt bamboozled by the Land Bank process. They had no idea such an important vote was being taken in June.
Board member Chris Alley said all agendas are posted on the town website, and have been for some time.
Board member Rob Hammett was quick to make a motion to endorse Ms. Russell’s memo. Mr. Alley seconded the motion.
Then, the public meeting essentially became an hourlong public hearing.
Fence opponents contended the fence violated the Land Bank’s own management plan, and that it would desecrate the 71.8-acre sandplain parcel.
Concerns were also raised that the fence would be a hazard to children, cyclists, dogs, and wildlife.
As they did at the Oct. 18 public hearing, fence opponents asked Land Bank staff and board members to consider the dramatic improvement of the property in recent years, which they said is due in part to 95 percent compliance of Land Bank rules.
In her Oct. 25 memorandum, as she has on numerous previous occasions, Ms. Russell has stated the fence became necessary after years of unsuccessful efforts to keep people off the runway and taxiway at Trade Wind, which is home to rare flora and fauna — the New England blazing star, sandplain blue-eyed grass, and purple tiger beetle — which are designated as species of “special concern” by the National Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP), and also to purple needlegrass, which is classified as “threatened.” The New England blazing star was just discovered this summer by Ms. Russell.
“While I believe that all habitat deserves due attention and care, rare habitats call for special measures to safeguard them … I have grappled for many years with the Trade Wind dilemma. Additionally I tried to support a protocol where dogs but not their owners could use the grassland. I have come to think that even that use threatens the health of the field. It is simply not a resource that we should take chances with … Public access is important but subservient to Land Bank’s environmental goals.”
Board member Richard Coutinho, who did not vote on June 6, steadfastly opposed the fence. Mr. Toole, who voted for the fence, albeit reluctantly, on June 6, said the fence should be put on hold until an assessment of voluntary cooperation could be made in the spring. “We should give the users a chance to show they can honor the trails,” he said.
Mr. Alley said that chance has already been given.
“There’s a use issue and an aesthetic issue,” Mr. Alley said. “The use issue is moot; every trail available today will be available tomorrow. I don’t see that the fence detracts from the aesthetics.”
“This type of fence has been used at many other Land Bank properties,” Ms. Durkee said. “It will make the landscape itself more attractive.”
At one point, it appeared that a last-minute reprieve was in the offing, when Mr. Toole made a motion to rescind the June 6 vote.
Mr. Coutinho seconded the motion. After a long pause of pin-drop silence, Mr. Zinno voted to rescind the June vote. However, Ms. Durkee, Mr. Hammett, and Mr. Alley voted against the motion, and it was defeated.
The final fence decision now rests with the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, which has yet to decide on a permit for the fence, which is estimated to cost about $25,000.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Toole explained his reversal from his June 6 vote.
“I appreciate Julie’s mandate, but I think people need to be part of the equation too,” he said. “I was out there this morning, thinking about what a fence will look like. I think it’s overkill.”
Responding to complaints that the Land Bank failed to include the public in the process, Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said, “These discussions go back more than 10 years. The Land Bank has a long tenure of having publicly discussed this property and its management.”