Second class swimmers
Islanders who are not riparian owners around Ice House Pond may have happily imagined that this summer might be the summer when we get to take a dip in that hidden kettle pond. After all, the publicly funded Martha's Vineyard Land Bank bought a bit of the shore for us - that is, for the public conservation lands account.
But, alas, the news is discouraging. Islanders - thanks to extraordinary rules imposed by state environmental regulators and inspired by the meritless objections of private owners, including those who sold land to the Land Bank - may visit the pond shore this summer, but not swim.
For whatever small consolation it may be, we will be able to watch the private owners around the pond and their paying summer tenants swim and canoe in the 11.6-acre pond. Hooray.
Last summer, the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) approved a revised Land Bank management plan that would have allowed swimming by no more than 20 visitors to the Land Bank property, but they added conditions that hold the Land Bank responsible for maintaining the pond's water quality within limits set by the state, including limits for nitrates and phosphorus.
As Times news editor Nelson Sigelman reports this week, Land Bank ecologist Julie Schaeffer has found that the phosphorous level, in tests done while the Land Bank property was closed to the public, already exceeds state levels, and the nitrogen level is close to the maximum set by the state.
Maybe the private owners haven't been fastidious custodians of the pond's health, as they've claimed.
Now, possibly faced with a state-required study of the pond's health, Ms. Schaeffer puzzles, "I do not know how to proceed with a big study to look at swimming when we don't have swimming yet. Really, what we would be doing is a study to see who is polluting the pond."
This week, Tom Robinson of Tisbury, Land Bank commission chairman, called the state-imposed conditions, unprecedented in the Land Bank's history, "a poison pill." He's right, of course. Private owners around the pond, hostile to public access, and the state, susceptible to these private interests, have together frustrated the lawful and carefully limited public use and enjoyment of public property.
Longtime Land Bank commissioner Priscilla Sylvia of Oak Bluffs says, correctly, that the state conditions are unfair to the public.
"The protection of the pond only occurred after the public was going to be able to use it in a very small way," Ms. Sylvia told The Times this week.
The Land Bank commissioners and their staff must study the next step to take in this effort to secure for the public its right to its Ice House Pond property, and incidentally to require the private riparian owners to take steps to remediate the sad effects of their long, unregulated use of the pond. Islanders must be patient, but determined. We must encourage the Land Bank to take whatever steps may be necessary, including legal action against the private owners and the state, to make available to the public the full value of its investment.