Aquinnah may close Wampanoag oyster project
Aquinnah selectmen agreed Tuesday to seek advice from town counsel about legal options available to force clean-up of a failed oyster aquaculture project on Menemsha Pond.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, Aquinnah began the project in 2001. In March of this year, following a public hearing, Aquinnah selectmen voted not to renew the tribe's ground lease and gave the tribe 60 days to clean up its sprawling oyster farm, or return with a viable plan to continue the project. In May, selectmen extended the deadline another 30 days, after tribe leaders informally outlined a plan to scale back the operation significantly, but maintain a presence on the pond as an educational and cultural resource.
On Tuesday, selectmen Spencer Booker and Camille Rose said that according to their recent observations the clean-up work is not adequate. A work barge with machinery aboard remains moored just offshore.
"The final date for the clean-up is approaching," Ms. Rose said. "The next logical step is to involve Ron (Rappaport, town counsel). I don't think we have the ability to single-handedly appropriate property."
Selectman Jim Newman suggested a different approach. "Don't you think the next step would be to do an inspection, before we go to our attorney?" he asked.
"To my knowledge, they have not cleaned up the beach," Ms. Rose said.
"What about trying to enter into a dialogue?" Mr. Newman asked.
"This is 90 days, and it hasn't been done," Ms. Rose said. "I'm not saying it won't get done before the deadline, but I think it's highly unlikely. I think we should have involved Ron from the beginning, considering it was a legal lease issue."
"We've got to find out what our options are," chairman Spencer Booker said.
Mr. Booker is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe, and was once oversaw the oyster operation.
Tribe administrator Tobias Vanderhoop attended the selectmen's meeting, but he declined to make a report on the project's status. He said he was not authorized to speak for the Wampanoag Aquinnah Shellfish Hatchery (WASH), which is controlled by its own board of directors.