Editorial : Due diligence
Several troublesome issues threaten to delay or defeat the effort to dredge 57,000 cubic yards of accumulated sand from Sengekontacket Pond.
Among them is an unfocused concern with the possibility that the dredging might inadvertently disturb ground that is of archaeological value to members of the Wampanoag tribe and to the keepers of the tribe's history. There is also the brief time window during which dredging might be permitted, a window that is open till January 15 only. Then there is the matter of cost, which may be higher than the town is prepared to pay by perhaps $127,000, or about 20 percent more than the town agreed to spend. And, finally federal fisheries officials want more time to comment on the project.
Still, everyone agrees that the dredging, to be done in the channel between Big Bridge and Little Bridge, must be done to refresh the pond, whose waters are shared by Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and to revive the pond's historic importance for shellfishing. The state has closed the pond to shellfishing annually in the summer since July 2007.
But, there's hope. The town will attempt to negotiate a better price for the dredging with its neighbor Edgartown, whose town dredge is to do the work. The federal fisheries officials say their comments will not result in a project-defeating delay. And, if the price can be nibbled down and the delays limited, the dredging may yet be done, though perhaps not completed by the January 15 drop-dead date.
That leaves the concerns of the Wampanoag tribe to be managed. There are several issues here. What are loosely referred to as artifacts or relics, thrown up during a previous dredging in the pond - on the Edgartown part of the pond - appear to underlie the tribe's interest. But these have not been scientifically examined or authenticated by independent experts, or experts associated with the tribe.
Federal law obligates the Army Corps to take such historical concerns into account and consider permitting conditions that prevent or mitigate damage to historically valuable materials. The Corps has not yet had a letter from the tribe detailing its concerns, nor have Corps representatives met with tribe officers. Indeed, efforts by Corps officials to make such a meeting have been unavailing. The Corps must consider such concerns as the tribe may raise but, as a Corps spokesman said last week, "...we don't know what the tribe's concerns are. They've been talking directly to the town." The Corps knows Oak Bluffs has agreed to conduct an underwater archeological survey, priced at $24,900, but such an effort is not now part of the Corps permit requirements, and may not be, depending on what the Corps ultimately learns.
The town has agreed, preemptively one supposes, to pay for the survey without having seen the relics, without having had them authenticated, without having asked the tribe to proffer a report on their authenticity, and without asking for a statement from the tribe describing the link between the relics discovered in an earlier dredging in another part of the pond and the dredging planned for the bridge-to-bridge channel.
Oak Bluffs has committed insufficient forces to the pursuit of the dredging permit, and as a consequence timely and aggressive due diligence has been compromised. Certainly, if the dredge site is an authentic locus of archaeological concern, it must be protected and the planned dredging must be conducted with every possible care. But, the likelihood that this is the case ought to be realistically considered, and that consideration ought to have occurred in a timely manner. If the town must spend $24,900 dollars - about a fifth of the current anticipated shortfall in funding for the project as a whole - the money mustn't be wasted. If there will be archaeological conditions applied to the dredging permit, the town must see to it that they are set out and underwritten in time to get the project underway. Otherwise, the work will be delayed and maybe deferred, given the town's persistent financial misery, and Sengekontacket will go unimproved another year, or perhaps longer. A happy outcome calls for an energetic effort right now.