ConCom mulls conditions on Ice House Pond access
After two years of review, last spring it appeared that the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank might soon be able to provide public access to Ice House Pond in West Tisbury. Although this summer will end without a swimmer's ripple, the Land Bank's long regulatory slog may end in time to allow for public ice-skating this winter.
Next Tuesday, the West Tisbury conservation commission (ConCom) will meet to decide what conditions it will apply to the Land Bank's Manaquayak Preserve that fronts on the water body also known as Old House Pond.
The ConCom has held three meetings and conducted two site reviews of the 12-acre property in the past two and a half months. The preserve is located off Lambert's Cove Road. The scrutiny comes in response to unrelenting pressure from the owners of private properties in the neighborhood who have opposed Land Bank plans to open the property to the public.
A canoe and kayak lie next to a private deck used by riparian owners to access the pond. Photos by Nelson Sigelman
ConCom approval is the last hurdle in a lengthy permitting process that has already involved extensive review by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (later renamed the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs) under two administrations and three different agency heads.
Following an appeal by the Land Bank, in May Secretary Ian A. Bowles removed conditions related to water quality, parking, and recreation use set by his predecessor in the Romney administration.
The Land Bank argued successfully that the restrictions would prevent the public from swimming in the pond at the same time that riparian owners and seasonal renters of three pond shore cottages enjoy unrestricted swimming and boating access.
A key component of the state's response was a Land Bank plan to have the West Tisbury board of health and the Martha's Vineyard Commission monitor water quality.
As part of the final steps in the regulatory process, in July the Land Bank filed a notice with the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program describing the measures it would take in the construction of trails and a swim perch in order to protect rare species, including box turtles and the New England bluet damselfly.
The Land Bank property includes a sandy beach previously used by visitors but which will now be off limits.
In a letter dated Aug. 2, Natural Heritage approved the Land Bank plans with conditions designed to keep visitors off the shoreline in order to protect the bluet and box turtles.
The ConCom approved those plans at a meeting on Sept. 11. It now has 21 days from the date of that meeting to issue an order of conditions that is the subject of the Tuesday meeting.
If the Land Bank commissioners decide those conditions are unacceptable, they would have 10 days to appeal the order to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The Land Bank would also need to file an appeal of the ConCom order in Superior Court.
The Land Bank purchased the building lots in November 2004, using a straw buyer to mask its interest from multiple sellers who, the Land Bank said, would likely not have sold to the public agency. The total purchase price was $2 million, and the sellers were Judith Lane at $1,250,000 and Nancy Schwenkter and Mary-Robin Ravitch at $750,000.
Pond abutters, many well schooled in environmental science, have attended the ConCom public hearings and sent letters and e-mails to highlight their concerns about what they claim is the pond's declining water quality and how that would be affected by Land Bank visitors.
Although there are no structures or septic systems on the Land Bank property, the abutters would place primary responsibility for water quality with the Land Bank.
In a letter dated Sept. 11, John Scherlis of Washington, D.C. said that he had spent 40 summers on the pond and urged the ConCom "to do everything within its power as guardian of the town's wetlands" to help the pond.
In an e-mail dated Sept. 11 Judith Lane, one of the sellers and a vociferous Land Bank opponent, warned that too many people could love the pond to death. She asked that water quality monitoring be conducted by qualified consultants and said the sources of nutrients coming into the pond must be identified.
In a six-page letter dated July 24, Katharine P. Sterling and Benjamin Reeve asked the ConCom to require the Land Bank to conduct extensive water testing and monitoring, whose results could lead to permit revocation. The couple wrote that the "largest known source of harmful nutrient inputs to the pond" enters the pond from Land Bank property.
The couple said the Land Bank insists on contaminating the water and has treated neighbors with "magnificent contempt." The couple wrote that the experience "is a bit like having asked the guy you didn't exactly invite to sit next to you on the bus to kindly stop puking in your lunchbox, then to be told that, not only can he not help himself, but, supposedly because he knows the French word for legume, you can't help him either."
In a letter and at a meeting, Bill Wilcox, MVC water resource planner, described pond water quality and the expense and difficulty involved in efforts to further identify groundwater flow.
Yesterday, Mr. Wilcox told The Times that in the current situation any study of nutrient loading would need to focus on septic systems in the watershed and acid rain.
Land Bank ecologist Julie Schaeffer said she is baffled by the conservation commission's questions about water quality and the pond watershed, which is out of the Land Bank's control. Especially since the secretary of environmental affairs approved a plan for water quality oversight by the West Tisbury board of health and the MVC.
Quiet and peaceful
On Tuesday, with a hint of fall in the air, Ice House Pond was still. A row around the pond in a small tin boat revealed several eroded pathways, four sets of wooden stairs and two decks around the shoreline that provide access for neighboring private property owners.
The ConCom has issued no permits for any of the stairways or decks, according to existing town records.
As part of the approved Land Bank management plan, 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 to protect the shoreline vegetation from swimmers, who must keep off the sandy beach previously used by visitors to the property when it was privately owned. Launching of canoes and kayaks is not allowed.
Bill Haynes, West Tisbury Land Bank advisory board member, said he swam in the pond when he was a teenager, as did many Island kids when there were no houses around it. "I think the Land Bank bought the property and we should be allowed to use it," he said. "The fact that the riparian owners around there are unhappy is unfortunate, but we are also riparian owners, the rest of the community."
Mr. Haynes said that the process has taken too long, and it is time to open a property he expects will see limited use. "Between all the regulations and having to go off that swim perch, I don't think there is going to be much going on," he said.
For Land Bank executive director James Lengyel, the process seems very familiar. "The Manaquayak management plan's voyage through the approval process is exactly reminiscent of the voyage the Land Bank took at Chilmark Pond and Sepiessa Point and Edgartown Great Pond Beach. And at Katama Point and Hillmans Point and North Neck Highlands and all the rest," he wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "All of those properties today are beautiful natural refuges permanently protected from development, and also well-loved and enjoyed by the Island public."