Conservation, public access are priorities

1

To the editor:

Your recent editorial on the Trade Wind Fields Preserve missed a number of facts about the property and its history.  As the current elected Land Bank commissioner from Oak Bluffs, and a person involved with the Land Bank since its establishment in 1986, I would like to clarify the record.

First, Trade Wind Fields was not acquired for recreational purposes.  As many long-time residents of Oak Bluffs will remember, in 1987 the Oak Bluffs town meeting voted overwhelmingly to purchase Trade Wind via eminent domain. There were three reasons the town wanted to acquire the 72-acre property: (1) to protect the abutting town well from pollution; (2) to protect the rare grassland habitat found on the property; and (3) to retain the grass-strip airport for continuing aviation use. Eventually, the town instead asked the Land Bank to buy Trade Wind, to spare Oak Bluffs taxpayers the expense of the purchase. The price was set by three commissioners appointed by the court under the eminent domain statute and it — $2,750,000 — was both the exact price approved by town meeting and the highest price ever paid by the Land Bank up to that time.

Second, the town has always been directly involved in the management plan for the property.  In fact, the town has complete veto authority over Land Bank commission management plans for properties within its borders. This authority is exercised via the town’s Land Bank advisory board, which comprises representatives from the following Oak Bluffs boards:  conservation commission, planning board, board of assessors, board of health, park and recreation and commission, board of selectmen and water commission. The Oak Bluffs Land Bank board, in 2003, fully approved the management plan for Trade Wind, which authorized the installation of the fence. The management plan was later approved by the Massachusetts secretary of environmental affairs as being in the interests of conservation.

Third, the Oak Bluffs Land Bank advisory board specifically voted, in June of 2017, to approve the fence installation.

The decision to erect the fence at the Trade Wind Fields Preserve was not an easy one or one made quickly.  Since 2014 this matter has been discussed at 41 posted meetings of the Land Bank commission and Oak Bluffs land bank advisory board. All of those meetings were open to the public; minutes of the 41 meetings can be found at the land bank’s website:  www.mvlandbank.com. Prior to erecting the fence the Land Bank tried various alternatives, including educational signage, public outreach and assigning a staff member to be present on the property to educate visitors of the need to stay off its fragile areas. None of these efforts was successful, so finally the decision was made to put up a physical barrier to protect the rare species found on the property.

The perimeter of the property, encompassing some 50 acres, is still available for use by the public. The fence simply protects the field from unrestricted use.

As a public entity, the Land Bank has always considered public access to its properties to be a priority. It is not always easy to meet the conservation requirements of our holdings, a requirement for which we are held accountable by the commonwealth, and also allow public use. We have consistently tried to meet both needs, however, and will continue trying at Trade Wind Fields and elsewhere. We are committed to keeping Trade Wind open for recreational use and we hope that visitors will enjoy its extensive trail system.

Priscilla Sylvia
Oak Bluffs

Priscilla Sylvia is a member of the Land Bank Commission.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ms. Sylvia’s letter to the editor is filled with distortions and untruths. I will only bother to address one of her points. Ms. Sylvia writes that the OB Land Bank Advisory Board voted to approve the fence in June of 2017. That is correct. However, when the Advisory Board learned in December 2017 that the Land Bank was planning to build the fence in a completely different location than where they had been told it was going to be built (not to mention that despite what the Land Bank was telling them, the health of the Preserve had improved dramatically due to improved user compliance), it voted 5-1 to postpone construction of the fence. It is helpful to note at this point that while Ms. Sylvia sits on the Advisory Board, she was absent at both these meetings. In any case, a week following the Advisory Board’s 5-1 vote to postpone construction of the fence, the Land Bank Commissioners chose to ignore that vote and voted unanimously to proceed with fence construction. It is reflective of the Commissioners’ desperation to build the fence that, despite one Commissioner suggesting during that meeting that all the Commissioners make a site visit to Tradewinds before they vote to dismiss the OB Advisory Board’s vote, the Commissioners chose not to make a site visit and to proceed anyway with building the fence. The rest of Ms. Sylvia’s letter follows the same pattern of truth-twisting.

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