State approves Ice House pond access plan, with conditions
More than two years after the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank purchased property abutting Ice House Pond in West Tisbury, the public may finally get the opportunity to enjoy a cool dip in the water and take a walk in the woods, but likely not this year.
In a three-page letter dated July 24 Stephen Pritchard, Secretary of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA), approved the conservation agency's property management plan. The plan was a reworked and down-scaled version of an earlier one that was submitted last year and rejected.
In 2005, Ellen Roy Herzfelder, former EOEA secretary, rejected the conservation agency's plan for the 11.1-acre property off Lambert's Cove Road. It was the first time in the public land conservation agency's then 19-year history that the state had failed to approve a submitted management plan.
But the Land Bank's hard-won EOEA approval came with several strings attached.
Mary Etherington of Tisbury, a friend of an abutting property owner, enjoyed a cooling dip yesterday in Ice House Pond. Photo by Ben Scott
Secretary Pritchard added four conditions that could significantly affect future public enjoyment and use of the property, now named Manaquayak Preserve. It was the first time EOEA approval of a Land Bank management plan came with conditions.
Secretary Pritchard said that any proposal to expand parking beyond four spaces or allow swimming for more than 20 people at one time would require his approval. The Land Bank must also submit an annual summary and analysis of water quality monitoring data, recreational use data, and rare plant and animal monitoring data, something it does not now do for any other properties.
The most significant condition places all responsibility with the Land Bank for maintaining the pond's current water quality within limits set by the state. That includes measurements for nitrates and phosphorus, chemicals normally associated with septic systems and fertilizer.
Although several houses, including four rental properties capable of sleeping 36 people, and a religious camp sit in close proximity to Ice House Pond, EOEA wrote that should state levels be exceeded, the Land Bank must suspend swimming from its property "until a comprehensive pond watershed analysis is completed to determine the sources and levels of nutrient inputs and an action plan is developed to address these sources."
Bruce Keep, West Tisbury Land Bank advisory board chairman, said it is unfair to put the whole burden of maintaining water quality on the Land Bank, given that there are septic systems in the area. "The abutters all wanted to be part of the program so I am surprised that it would suddenly be the Land Bank that is responsible for maintaining water quality," he said.
Land Bank ecologist Julie Schaeffer, who has borne the brunt of criticism from abutters regarding the science used to formulate the various versions of the management plan, said she welcomed the EOEA approval but questioned the notion that the Land Bank bore sole responsibility for water quality.
She said a Land Bank watershed study showed that there were nutrients entering the pond from ground water sources all around the pond. She explained that septic systems, fertilizers, and farms are all sources of nutrients that enter the soil and get into the groundwater.
Ms. Schaeffer said that considering the extraordinary efforts the Land Bank has made to limit use by restricting the number of vehicles and people using the Land Bank property, Land Bank usage of the pond is not likely to be the cause of degraded water quality, but one of the outside sources could.
She said a larger governing body like the town needs to get involved because it is not just the Land Bank's property. "And we can't go tell this neighbor or that neighbor what they can and can't do," said Ms. Schaeffer. "But the town, the board of health, has more jurisdiction."
She said it would be unfair of EOEA to hold the public and the Land Bank responsible for something that they haven't done when in reality the sources are off premises.
"It is unfortunate the public is not going to be able to swim there if we exceed those limits," said Ms. Schaeffer. "And even if we find a nutrient source, what are we going to do about it?"
The Land Bank must now seek approval from the West Tisbury conservation commission for permission to construct trails and a swim platform detailed in the management plan. Matthew Dix, Land Bank property superintendent, said that it would likely be spring before the property is opened to the public.
That assumes that the property abutters, who now enjoy pond access and have been vociferous in their objections to the Land Bank, take no further action to block the plan. In numerous letters sent to Mr. Pritchard on the heels of the latest management plan, opponents well versed in environmental issues argued that public access would negatively affect the ecology of the pond.
Rules and restrictions
In his letter addressed to Ms. Schaeffer, Secretary Pritchard said that many of the concerns expressed by review committee members last year had been addressed in the revised management plan.
The letter also referenced input and comments from numerous departments that reviewed the management plan.
For example, the Office of Water Resources recommended that the Land Bank hire a qualified individual or firm with expertise in limnology and groundwater hydrology to assist with the ongoing collection and interpretation of limnology and hydrology data, and to assist in the continued development of water quality and pond ecology management goals.
That issue was a sticking point for one of the opponents of the plan, Mark Mattson, a limnologist in the state Department of Environmental Protection and the husband of Judith Lane, a former owner of 5.9 acres on the pond that was purchased by the Land Bank through a straw buyer.
Water Resources also recommended that the Land Bank provide "mutt mitts" and post "Pick up after your pet" signs on the property to protect the pond from nutrient loading.
The secretary encouraged the Land Bank to work closely with the Old House Pond Association, the Longview Road Association, and other members of the community "to protect the ecological integrity of the Manaquayak Preserve."
He added, "The Land Bank Commission has a long tradition of high-quality stewardship on the Vineyard, and I trust that you take on the task of managing this new preserve with no less effort, determination, or dedication."
Commenting on the Secretary's approval in an e-mail to The Times, Pam Goff, Chilmark Land Bank commissioner, said, "The proposed use is so modest that it would have been a travesty to delay the plan's implementation further. I think his last paragraph, which recognizes the quality of the Land Bank's care for its properties is key."
Referencing the criticism directed at the Land Bank staff throughout the public hearings, Ms. Goff said, "The commissioners are very proud of our bright and dedicated staff and thank them for enduring the extra hearings. I wouldn't have been able to accept the insults with such grace."
The plan rejected last year called for an initial six-vehicle trailhead and allowed limited fishing. The approved management plan reduced parking to four spaces plus one handicap space and eliminated fishing completely.
The preserve will only be open in season from 6 am to sunset. Dogs are permitted on a leash but are not allowed a dip in the pond. Human swimmers may enter the water only 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 is not allowed.
The Ice House Pond purchase was accomplished through the use of a straw, an attorney acting as a buyer's agent. Land Bank commission and board members decided to mask the identity of the public land agency after they determined that the property was worth acquiring but a purchase would not be possible if their identity were known.
The Ice House Pond purchase in November 2004 involved multiple sellers of three lots for a total purchase price of $2 million. The sellers were Judith Lane at $1,250,000 and Nancy Schwenkter and Mary-Robin Ravitch at $750,000.
The Land Bank intended to open the property last summer. Instead, an attendant was hired to keep people out and monitor pond activity, much of it by abutters, their guests and visitors, according to a 2005 summer monitoring report included in the revised plan.
Although the pleasure of canoeing or kayaking are denied Land Bank visitors, it is one of the selling points on a web site, oldhousepond.com, maintained by members of the Ravitch-Schwentker family. The site describes the various amenities of "four charming, spacious, and well-kept homes scattered in a forest setting on two shores of a secluded, freshwater pond."