Land Bank counters
The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank - and by extension, every one of us - has been badly used by the state's Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) and some private abutters to the small shorefront property the Land Bank bought at Ice House Pond.
The abutters, furious that the Land Bank acquisition would open the way to public visits to what has been their hidden, privately-owned Vineyard treasure, and unable to outright undue the purchase, worked assiduously through sympathetic contacts in EOEA offices to defeat the perfectly reasonable management plan the Land Bank proposed. EOEA, careless of its obligation to deal fairly with the Land Bank and the public, as well as with the environmental challenges presented by public access, imposed a sham management plan that disadvantages the public and, embarrassingly, ignores years of indifferent treatment of the pond environment by private owners who piously leapt to the defend against the public's onslaught.
Now, the Land Bank has moved to redress this wrong in letters to Ian Bowles, the new secretary of EOEA, asking that the environmental ecologist in the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) who disparaged the Land Bank's record of environmental management be prohibited from reviewing or commenting on Land Bank management plans. The Land Bank has also asked Mr. Bowles to investigate "inappropriate influence" by abutters on the state's review of the Land Bank's management plan and to accept changes to the plan that would permit public access to the property this summer.
In 2005, Ellen Roy Herzfelder, then the EOEA secretary, rejected a management plan for Ice House Pond (Manaquayak Preserve), the first time in the public land conservation agency's history that the state failed to approve a proposed management plan. In April 2006, the Land Bank submitted a revised plan. In July, a new EOEA secretary, Stephen Pritchard, approved the plan but, for the first time in 20 years, imposed an especially detailed set of conditions.
The Land Bank commissioners, the West Tisbury town advisory board members, and the Land Bank's professional management staff have been scrupulous conservators of hundreds of acres of property acquired on behalf of Islanders and visitors over the Land Bank's 20-year history. The Land Bank's plan for its Ice House property is a responsible tool with which to care for the new Manaquayak Preserve. 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, have, till now, gotten the short end of the stick. The effort now underway attempts to correct this unfairness. State environmental officials, who have acceded to the demands of private interests, have compromised the interests of Islanders and other Massachusetts residents to whom they are responsible. Islanders must hope that the Land Bank's efforts, along with an encouraging change at the top of EOEA - after all, Islanders know and like Ian Bowles, and he, a part-time Falmouth resident, knows us - will succeed.