Solons tell town leaders to act now on surface water cleanup
The stakes for Island efforts to improve water quality have increased dramatically, state legislators warned at a meeting of the All Island selectmen last week.
Senator Rob O'Leary (D-Cape and Islands) and newly elected state Rep. Tim Madden met at the Katharine Cornell Theatre Wednesday with officials and members of the public to deliver the news that Vineyard towns must clean up their water resources soon or face expensive environmental legal challenges. Mr. O'Leary said the money is there to do the work, including $300 million in state funds already set aside and potential funding from the federal stimulus packages now being debated in Congress.
Unhealthy nitrogen levels in ponds and groundwater mean that the towns could face action from state environmental agencies similar to those faced by Boston Harbor communities 25 years ago, Mr. O'Leary said. He urged down-Island towns to take advantage of more than $300 million from available state funding that has been reserved for the work for more than a year.
Mr. O'Leary's comments followed a presentation by the Martha's' Vineyard Water Alliance on research that contends that 80 per cent of Island ponds, bays and harbors test poorly for nitrogen loading and that the nitrogen overload has largely resulted from human-generated nitrogen seeping into the watersheds.
Only Menemsha Pond, Cape Pogue Bay, and Katama Bay waters are rated as "good," the alliance representatives said, based on three years of studies by the Martha's Vineyard Commission. Results from 12 other water bodies are poor.
Noting that the cleanup funds are "secure, they are not subject to local aid cuts being planned by the state," Mr. O'Leary emphasized that the problem is regional in nature, not Island-specific, and the water quality issues affect all of the southeastern portion of the state and draw heightened attention from state environmentalists.
"Work cooperatively, get organized, get your projects up and running," Mr. O'Leary said. Noting that Massachusetts communities have filed more than 4,000 requests with the state for federal economic stimulus project funding, Mr. Madden said, "There is a race for these funds, and they won't go as far as we think."
Mr. O'Leary compared current regional water issues to the clean-up of Boston Harbor that began in 1986, following a successful lawsuit that forced the city and state to comply with the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. The cleanup call led to the formation of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) and has cost MWRA regional taxpayers $3.9 billion.
Other meeting topics included legislation filed by Matt Patrick (D-Falmouth) this month that would prohibit commercial striped bass fishing in Massachusetts. That drew the attendance - and ire - of a half dozen Island fisherman at the meeting last week.
The fishermen and legislators said the legislation targets the innocent, rather than commercial seine trawlers they described as the real villains in overfishing striped bass.
The proposed legislation would also reduce the one-day catch limit for recreational fishermen from two fish at least 28 inches in length to one fish between 20 and 26 inches or more than 40 inches.
Mr. Patrick filed the legislation on behalf of Stripers Forever, a recreational fishermen's organization. A self-described fisherman, Mr. Patrick said he filed the bill out of concern for the striped bass population and noted similar legislation has been enacted in Maine, New York, and New Jersey to protect both young fish and those of spawning age.
Buddy Vanderhoop of Aquinnah, a charter boat captain, told the audience and lawmakers that mid-water trawlers, not commercial fisherman, should be regulated. "I've been out there when literally miles of dead stripers and other fish lay on the water," he said. "Mid-water trawlers are fishing for herring, the diet staple for bass. Until we get those people under control, the bass population will be threatened."
Jonathan Mayhew and Lev Wlodyka of Chilmark joined other fishermen present in decrying what they termed misguided attempts to protect the striped bass fishery.
Mr. Mayhew noted that commercial fisherman account for only 20 percent of the catch compared with 80 percent caught by recreational fishermen.
Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel branded the bill a "ridiculous and selfish" effort on the part of recreational fishing interests. Chilmark selectman Warren Doty feared that the decline in small harbor economies if commercial fishing is restricted. "Consolidation of the fishing fleets helps large harbors such as Gloucester and New Bedford. Small harbors, such as we have, are perfect for striped bass fishing," he said.
Mr. O'Leary and Mr. Madden said they declined to co-sponsor the bill. The legislation had not been assigned a docket number as of yesterday.
"I refused to sign a proposal that limits commercial striper fishing, and I don't believe the population is endangered," Mr. O'Leary said. In response to a fisherman's complaint that fishermen from neighboring states fish Massachusetts waters, but those states do not allow Massachusetts fishermen to fish in their waters, he told the fishermen present, "You ought to get organized with the Cape fishermen."