Public use of public land
With a new management plan that severely limits public access and use of publicly owned property abutting Ice House Pond in West Tisbury, the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank will try for a second time to convince state environmental officials that its new protocol for public access adequately protects the environmental quality of the pond and surrounding property.
The Land Bank commissioners, the town advisory board members, and the Land Bank's professional management staff - all scrupulous conservators of 20 years worth of property acquired on behalf of Islanders and visitors - believe this management plan is a responsible tool with which to care for the new Manaquayak Preserve, as indeed the earlier, more generous plan was. But that plan was rejected by state environmental affairs officials, the first such management plan written by the Land Bank to receive such treatment. It was rejected in part because of the effective lobbying of state officials by private abutters who object to public use of the land the public owns.
As Times news editor Nelson Sigelman explains this week,
"The revised management plan reduces parking to four spaces plus one handicap space and eliminates fishing completely. The preserve hours would be reduced so the property would be open in season from 6 am to sunset, rather than a half hour before and after respectively....
"Dogs would be permitted on a leash but not be allowed a dip in the pond. Human swimmers, no more than 20 at one time, would only be allowed to enter the water by means of a wooden swimming perch built out over the water in order to avoid stirring up sediment and protect the shoreline vegetation from swimmers who must keep off the sandy beach previously used by property visitors. Launching of canoes and kayaks would not be allowed and a full-time Land Bank attendant would be assigned to keep watch over property use."
Pam Goff, the Chilmark Land Bank commissioner and former town selectman whose conservationist credentials are impeccable, says the Land Bank plan allows very limited use of the property. The critics talk science, but their real agenda is excluding the public.
"Their criticisms are all academic, but the real crux of the matter is they don't want any public use of the pond," she said. "It is NIMBY [not in my backyard] with a big vocabulary," she said.
And Tom Robinson, the Tisbury Land Bank commissioner, described the objections by abutters as unfair, particularly compared with how the private riparian owners, their families, guests, and tenants use the pond and its shore.
"I think it is unfortunate that with these changes," he told Mr. Sigelman, "which we felt we had to make to even get the property open for some minimal level of use, the public is not going to have the use of the pond that the rest of the riparian owners and renters have," said Mr. Robinson. "So the public can sit and watch the other people fish, boat, make noise, and I wouldn't be surprised if they see some dog swimming around in there."
Ice House Pond is getting better treatment from the Land Bank than it ever got from private riparian owners. The Land Bank and the general public which funds the Land Bank's important work are the ones getting the short end of the stick. State environmental officials have acceded to the demands of private interests and, in doing so, they have compromised the interests of Islanders and other Massachusetts residents to whom they are responsible. That needs to change, and a positive move in that direction would be the approval of the Land Bank's revised management plan for Manaquayak Preserve.