On our behalf
Unsurprisingly, a more extensive examination of the Land Bank's efforts to open its Ice House Pond property to the public, according to a reasonable and environmentally conservative management plan, confirms that the public land conservation agency's approach was considered, exhaustive, thoughtful, and determined.
In a news report published March 30, the Vineyard Gazette raised questions about letters that the Land Bank sent the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) earlier in the year. In the letters, the Land Bank proposed modifications to the unusually restrictive and demanding management plan approved by EOEA. The letters also criticized some EOEA staff for allowing themselves to be unduly influenced by Land Bank abutters hostile to the notion of public access.
The Gazette story suggested that, in deciding to write the EOEA about its dissatisfaction with the EOEA review of the Ice House plan, the Land Bank had ignored the recommendations of a consultant hired last fall to advise the Land Bank on how it might move to get EOEA to reconsider the conditions it imposed on the Land Bank management plan.
In September of 2006, the Land Bank asked Kelly Durfee Cardoza of Avalon Consulting Group to examine documents, including letters and newspaper articles, associated with Ice House Pond. When The Times published a news story on March 15 about the Land Bank letters, we were unaware of the work done for the Land Bank by Ms. Cardoza.
The Gazette story reported that the Land Bank commission's decision to write EOEA secretary Ian Bowles was out of step with Ms. Cardoza's recommendations, and the story charged that the Land Bank had ignored the recommendation spelled out in memos sent from Ms. Cardoza to Land Bank ecologist Julie Schaeffer.
After a further examination of the Land Bank's decision making, leading up to the letters sent to Mr. Bowles, we report today that there is no question that Ms. Cardoza's recommendations were considered and acted on by the Land Bank and that the letters sent to Mr. Bowles were only two elements in a multi-part effort to get EOEA to reconsider its restrictions on the Land Bank management plan. About the Land Bank's use of her consulting work, Ms. Cardoza told The Times this week, "What they asked for was another person to look at what they were looking at and give them feedback on it. I did not say to them, if you do A, B, and C, you will get D. I offered some insights and strategies to select from. I do not think it would be fair to say that they did not follow my advice."
And Ms. Cardoza had a view of the attitudes toward the Land Bank of some of those in and outside EOEA who commented on the Land Bank's proposed management plans.
"After reading the letters," Ms. Cardoza wrote, "I can only come to the conclusion that the commenters are attempting to discredit the work conducted by the Land Bank at every turn." The Land Bank's reaction to this effort to discredit it is at the heart of the agency's determined effort to get its Ice House Pond plan recast in reasonable terms.
And, about the approved management plan, the one which included the unusual and crippling conditions that would certainly exclude even sharply limited public use of the Land Bank property, Ms. Cardoza said that based on current data, even without public use, the water quality limits adopted by the Secretary are "unattainable." She said the degradation of water quality, already begun in the pond, is due to the abutters and not the Land Bank.
The Ice House Pond affair is in some ways typical of what the Land Bank faces with many of its acquisitions. In general, abutters are worried about and critical of the public access called for in Land Bank management plans. The Land Bank, because of its public constituency and specially defined purpose, must act on behalf of the public as well as the environment. These obligations are varied and extensive, but rarely incompatible. They are not incompatible at Ice House Pond.
And, above all, the Land Bank, and more remotely EOEA, act on behalf of all of us. Not only abutters, not just interested parties, but us.