Ap, not artifacts, stays Senge dredging
This week, representatives of the town of Oak Bluffs, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said they were optimistic that a dredging project scheduled for Sengekontacket Pond would proceed on schedule this winter.
Published reports linking a possible delay to a letter sent by the Tribe to the Corps were not substantiated by the facts. Comments made at last week's Oak Bluffs selectmen's meeting, indicating that a historical review could delay the project for a year, proved unfounded.
A legal requirement to consult with federally recognized tribes over projects in potentially sensitive areas, the discovery of wooden fragments during the last dredging project, confusion over the permitting process, bureaucratic complexity, and a tight project calendar contributed to fears last week that the dredging project could be delayed. All stakeholders are now talking to clear up any confusion.
The project involves removing 57,000 cubic yards of sand from the channel between big bridge and little bridge. Deepening the channel is expected to increase water circulation and improve shellfish habitat in the popular saltwater pond. Sengekontacket Pond was closed to shellfishing over the past two summers, because of elevated levels of coliform bacteria.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers, which issues federal permits for dredging projects, says that an incomplete permit application, not a review of Wampanoag artifacts, is currently holding up the project.
Town officials from Edgartown and Oak Bluffs are scheduled to meet with the Army Corps on September 24 in Concord, to clarify issues surrounding the project. At that meeting, Oak Bluffs officials will ask to expedite the Sengekontacket dredging project, which is currently tied to a more complex 10-year comprehensive dredging permit sought by Edgartown.
Separately, Oak Bluffs officials will meet with the Wampanoag Tribe soon to talk about a potential historical review. "I'm sure we'll be able to work cooperatively together," Oak Bluffs shellfish constable David Grunden said. "We need to go through and ensure that we're not taking out any historical artifacts, significant artifacts. It's not only the Tribal history, it's the history of the Island we want to protect. That's an important and wonderful thing to do."
In a telephone call Monday, Karen Adams, chief of the Army Corps permits and enforcement branch, clarified the process that led to the Tribe's involvement in the Sengekontacket dredging project.
Under the National Historic Preservation Act, the Corps is required to consult with federally recognized tribes and work towards avoiding, minimizing, and mitigating any impacts to either historic or culturally significant resources
Ms. Adams said that with existing structures it is very easy to identify which are the historic resources. "When it comes to the culturally historic properties of a Tribe that becomes a little more difficult," she said. "We do not have any real good definition for those things so we do have to consult on a case-by-case basis and try to understand what it is that is of significance to them and how we can avoid and minimize those impacts."
Ms. Adams said she was on Martha's Vineyard with other federal officials this summer to hear the Tribe's concerns regarding the Cape Wind's project to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound. During that visit Bettina Washington, Wampanoag historic preservation officer, described the Tribe's history in and around Sengekontacket Pond.
"One of the things that she mentioned," said Ms. Adams, "was that the last time there had been some dredging done, they [members of the Tribe] had noticed that there were pieces of timber that had come up in the dredge material and come up on the beach." Ms. Washington said that if future dredging were to take place the Tribe would have an interest.
Asked what criteria or expertise the Tribe had relied on to determine that the old wood might have come from a weir as opposed to any decayed former waterside structure, Ms. Adams said the Corps was required by law to follow up.
At this point, that will take the form of discussions, Ms. Adams said. The talks are not holding up the dredging project and there is no special review.
Ms. Adams said the published report that the Tribe sent a letter to the Army Corps and upon receipt of that letter it granted the Tribe 180 days to review the artifact placing the project on hold for 180 days is untrue. "I have no idea where that came from," she said. "I am not aware of any letter and 180 days is kind of an odd number. We do not use 180 days for anything. And there are no set time frames for consultation with the Tribe. Once we issue a public notice there will be a 30-day comment period for everybody."
Ms. Adams said that knowing there is an issue, the Army Corps would start the consultation soon. "But we do not even have a completed application yet," she said.
In a phone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times on Tuesday, Ms. Washington said she anticipates the Tribe and the Army Corps will meet soon. "We have a working relationship with them. If we say we have a concern, then they try and do their job. We need to sit down and look at the application, what they're planning, and work out an agreement that will be monitoring, most likely."
Ms. Washington said the Tribe is sometimes unfairly blamed for holding up local projects. "That's unfortunately common," she said. "The fact is, the federal agency is doing their job. They are mandated to work with the tribes and help protect our interest. That's what they're doing. If the general public doesn't understand that, it looks like we're stepping in at the last minute."
The Sengekontacket Pond area is a significant location in Tribal history, Ms. Washington said, and a significant resource for Wampanoag people today. She said that the required historical review would come down to balancing those two factors. "We have tribal members who live in Oak Bluffs," she said. "They can't get sustenance, because the pond is so polluted."
"There is potential that the project will be delayed," Mr. Grunden said. "I don't think it's going to stop the project. The Tribe itself is committed to protecting the water quality of the pond."
One of the areas expected to be clarified when town officials meet with the Army Corps next week is a disagreement about whether the federal agency has received all the information it needs to proceed with the permit review. The regulatory process, always complex, was made more complex when the Army Corps decided to consider the Sengekontacket channel dredging project as part of a 10-year comprehensive dredging permit sought by Edgartown. Sengekontacket Pond straddles the town line between Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. The 10-year permit would simplify dredge work for Edgartown, allowing dredging in specific areas, and transfer of the sand and dredge material to various beach nourishment projects without individual permits.
Lynne Fraker, who handles the dredging permit process as a consultant for both towns, said it makes sense in the long term to include the Sengekontacket channel dredging in the comprehensive permit. There is concern, however, that the channel dredging, considered a priority by both towns according to Ms. Fraker, could be delayed.
"We want them to review this separately," Ms. Fraker said. "We have all the information for the Sengekontacket channel project. They have what they need now to start the review. It's very bureaucratic - just a lot of bureaucratic craziness."
Adding to the time pressure are federal regulations that require dredging projects to be completed by January 15, in order to protect winter fish habitat.