Can’t support Land Bank fence

1

To the Editor:

I feel obliged to state the following before entering my objections to The MV Times Letter to the Editor submitted by Priscilla Sylvia, chairman of the M.V. Land Bank Commission, on June 27: I hold a degree in natural resource conservation and consider myself a conscientious environmentalist. I have long supported the Land Bank’s mission, and did not mind paying thousands of dollars to it when we bought our house in 2000. I do not want to broach the subject of whether the Land Bank should modify its direction or keep to its original mission. I do not hate the Land Bank. I do, however, object to the way in which Tradewinds issue has been handled, and how the ardent users of the area have been treated.

Now, to Ms. Sylvia’s letter, and the three points she makes. First, while she states that the Land Bank did not acquire Tradewinds for recreational purposes, but only states why the town of Oak Bluffs wanted to acquire the property through eminent domain (to protect it from development); she fails to explain what the Land Bank’s reasons were. Perhaps I can help by quoting the Land Bank about recreational use of its properties:

  1. Two citations from the Land Bank map: “The Land Bank is a rare breed. Neither a sanctuary program nor a park system …”

“Farmers, beachcombers, birders, hunters, and many, many others are all constituents of the Land Bank, and all deserve to have some land set aside for their special needs.”

  1. From the preamble to public use of Land Bank properties adopted by vote of the Land Bank

Commission on July 23, 2012, amended through May 16, 2016: “Landscape reflects the lives of the people who live in it. Although the American landscape is thoroughly variegated, three primary elements can be isolated: commerce, personality, and respite.

“Every town witnesses the first two. Trade and enterprise have created business districts and transportation networks, while houses and other forms of public art spotlight personality. Respite is to be found in open spaces, most particularly those less tamed conservation reservations that have been set aside in their natural state.

“The Land Bank hews to the idea that commingling these elements dilutes them. As a result, the Land Bank seeks always to refine the ability of its properties to offer respite. This means that they need to be deaf to the call of commerce. They need to be immune to the thrust of personality. Instead, they are to offer individuals and families the opportunity to experience the outdoors — for nature study, hiking, picnicking, mountain-biking, horseback-riding, dog-walking, hunting, fishing, kayaking, swimming, and all of the other types of passive recreation — in personal and/or unpaced ways.”

Indeed, in the executive summary of the Land Bank management plan for Tradewinds, dog-walking is the first use mentioned in paragraph one on the uses of the property. Further down the page it reads, “Trade Wind Fields Preserve will provide public access for birding, hiking, bicycling, airplane landing, and takeoff and other uses.”

Second, Ms. Sylvia avers that the town advisory board (TAB) has “complete veto authority over the management plans for properties within its borders.” This is correct, as seen in section 3 of the Land Bank law. Further, section 6 clearly states that the town advisory boards must approve of any proposed changes to the property, the first of which is “construction or placing of building, roads, signs, billboards, or other advertising utilities of other structures on or above the surface,” which seems to cover the issue of a fence. However, in an Oak Bluffs TAB meeting this spring, James Lengyel informed a surprised TAB that their vote did not hold up, and that once the management plan had been approved, that was it.

Third, Ms. Sylvia states that the Oak Bluffs TAB voted for the fence in June 2017. Well, that seems contrary to what Mr. Lengyel said. But even if, as Ms. Sylvia thinks, that vote was valid, then the subsequent votes, which she failed to mention, should also hold water:

October 2017, the Oak Bluffs TAB asked for public input on the fence, and the board voted to put the management plan on the next agenda.

November 2017, the Oak Bluffs TAB, with three members absent, voted 3 to 3 to rescind the June vote. The motion was not passed.

December 2017, the Oak Bluffs TAB voted 5 to 1 to delay the installation of the fence in order to see what happens and consider other options.

Confused? Angry? You are not alone. Despite our efforts to work with the Land Bank to honor the flora and fauna of the area while still being able to enjoy the open land, we have been told many conflicting, seemingly self-serving things in order to reach a goal that, in Ms. Sylvia’s own words, the Land Bank has been “trying to do for 15 years.” I suspect that goal had little to do with protecting some grasses and a beetle, and more to do with squeezing dog-walkers out of the area.

One final word: The Land Bank repeatedly turns to the management plan of 2003, saying it was always the plan to fence the area. If one looks at that plan, one will find fences mentioned once under the goal of “provide helpful and interesting information about the property for visitors.” The fourth strategy for meeting that goal is “install gates or fencing as needed.” It is hard to imagine that the Oak Bluffs TAB realized that their vote for this management plan would mean the fencing off of the entire field. I urge all towns to take a careful look at the Land Bank management plans for similar vagueness, and beware of the leeway they have given to the Land Bank.

Jane Hawkes
Vineyard Haven