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Mill Pond

West Tisbury's Mill Pond. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The West Tisbury Mill Brook watershed management planning committee will hold a public forum at 5:30 pm, Tuesday, March 24, in the West Tisbury public library to provide an update on the committee’s study of the watershed, describe the next steps in the study, and hear what people have to say about the watershed.

The study was commissioned to look at the entire Mill Brook watershed ecosystem, including all streams and ponds, and to establish baseline readings for determining the water quality and general health of the Mill Brook watershed and its impact on Tisbury Great Pond. The Mill Brook watershed drains approximately 3,400 acres of land — 3,000 in West Tisbury, 400 in Chilmark. Mill Brook passes through five ponds of two or more acres before entering Tisbury Great Pond at Town Cove.

The watershed study concept has played a role in the struggle over differing visions of Mill Pond, a scenic, manmade pond on Edgartown Road. Some would like to see the pond dredged to maintain its historic scenic appeal, and others would like to see the watershed area returned to its natural pre-pond state, to the benefit of native water species that include brook trout, eels, herring, and white perch.

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With dredging Mill Pond off the table for now, the town will take a look at the big picture.

The new West Tisbury town flag will soon hang in the Massachusetts State House. — Courtesy West Tisbury

West Tisbury selectmen once again dove into the contentious issue of the Mill Pond. With dredging the Mill Pond sidelined by a vote at annual town meeting on April 8, on April 16 selectmen voted, 2-0 with one abstention, to form a seven-member Mill Brook Watershed Management Planning Committee to oversee a watershed study and to draft a watershed management plan by the 2016 annual town meeting.

Voters at town meeting narrowly defeated an article to fund design and permitting in preparation for dredging Mill Pond and agreed instead to add $15,000 to the $15,000 appropriated in 2012 to study the watershed.

The issue has been divisive. Advocates of maintaining the scenic pond, which has accumulated a deep layer of silt, want to increase the average depth of the shallow, murky artificial water body from 1.7 feet to four feet.

Advocates of removing the dam and allowing the stream to revert to its natural state point point to the health of the complex ecosystem and several native species, that include wild brook trout, thatare at risk due to high water temperaturesand the harmful effects of numerous impoundments.

Last Wednesday night, selectman Cynthia Mitchell proposed that a committee be created to study the watershed. Selectman Richard Knabel, a supporter of the effort to dredge the pond, questioned the propriety of the selectmen not consulting with the members of the long standing Mill Pond committee, before it created a new committee.

Ms. Mitchell said she had reviewed meeting minutes and town meeting votes on Mill Pond over the last six years. Every annual town meeting warrant during that period has included an article pertaining to the study and/or dredging, she said.

“Taken together, the minutes’ excerpts and the town meeting votes clearly reflect the piecemeal, very politically charged approach on the part of the board of selectmen that really hasn’t gotten us any closer to settling the question or completing the watershed study,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The discussion grew as heated as the pond in July when Mr. Knabel asked Ms. Mitchell if the new committee meant the elimination of the long standing Mill Pond committee. “More or less,” she answered.

Newly appointed selectman chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter opened the discussion to the dozen or so members of the public in attendance. He suggested that the research done by the Mill Pond committee could be a valuable source of information for the new committee and that they could coexist.

“We have not handled the watershed study well and could use help,” Mr. Manter said. He compared the situation to that the town hall building committee faced when it faltered in its first attempt to build town support to renovate the town hall, but ultimately achieved success in 2008 after more than ten years.

“I see this evolving,” he said. “The pond committee has done a good job, but we need a new approach. They could share their knowledge with the new committee. It is the only way we will get anything done.”

Mill Pond committee member Barbara Day, a supporter of dredging the pond, said it would be important to appoint unbiased people to the committee.

Committee member and civil engineer Kent Healy, who has studied the pond and the watershed and is opposed to dredging, offered his view. “The pond and the brook are uniquely connected,” he said. “You must pay attention to the watershed.”

Prudy Burt, a vigorous supporter of removing the Mill Pond dam and allowing the brook to revert to its natural course, said the unanimous vote to conduct the study at the town meeting reflected the unequivocal support of voters for the study.

Mr. Knabel said a study would not change the condition of the pond now.

When the vote was called Mr. Knabel abstained.

The new committee will include one selectman, a member of the conservation commission, the emergency management director, three at large members with professional grounding in the subject area or record of participation in similar work groups, and an abutter to the watershed.

Raise the flag

In other business Wednesday, selectmen voted to advertise to fill the position of treasurer following approval at town meeting to move from an elected to an appointed treasurer. The ad will state that there is a strong in-house candidate, meaning current town treasurer Kathy Logue.

The town now has its own flag. Selectmen approved a design that has the town seal in the middle of a green background with “West Tisbury” above and “Massachusetts” below.

The flag will be presented at the State House in June where it will hang with flags of the other towns of the Commonwealth.

Selectmen signed an agreement with NSTAR to purchase the 47 street lights in town for $1. Town ownership will allow the town to put in cost-saving bulbs.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said specifications for bids to rebuild the town cemetery fence will be posted on Tuesday. The town voted to spend $75,000 for the project at town meeting.

To the Editor:

The Friends of the Mill Pond thank the West Tisbury selectmen’s Committee on the Mill Pond for their hard work over the past six years on behalf of the maintenance and care of the town owned Mill Pond. The committee members, Bob Woodruff (chairman), Anna Alley, Barbara Day, Kent Healy, Rez Williams, and Craig Saunders have volunteered countless hours and effort studying the two town consultant reports concerning the state and future of the Mill Pond, conducting in situ testing, deliberating, and advocating.

Regretfully, their efforts to date were not supported by West Tisbury voters at town meeting which narrowly defeated the Community Preservation Act committee’s request for funding the next step toward restoring the Mill Pond. Nonetheless, their dedication and commitment deserve to be recognized and praised.

On behalf of the Friends of the Mill Pond,

Barbara de Braganca

Margo and Tony McClellan

Beatrice Nessen

West Tisbury

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To the Editor:

Much has been said and written about the West Tisbury Mill Pond in the last decade, as a small group of residents has relentlessly sought money to dredge the pond. The matter will come up again on the town meeting warrant and I hope town voters will not be swayed by an emotional appeal. This project is a boondoggle seeking to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix a problem that does not exist and it should be rejected.

For West Tisbury voters, briefly, here is what you need to know about the Mill Pond:

1. The pond is not presently threatened in any way. There is no reason to proceed with a dredging project at this time.

2. Studies over the past 10 years show that the pond is not getting shallower. In fact, in some places it has deepened.

3. Numerous scientists from state agencies and private conservation groups have said that dredging the pond will not improve its water quality or make it a more hospitable environment for native species.

4. Our town engineer, who has studied the pond and maintained the dam for decades, agrees that dredging is not needed.

5. The impact of dredging on the environment of the upstream Mill Brook watershed or the downstream Tisbury Great Pond has never been studied.

What is needed is more study of the Mill Brook watershed to better understand the brook hydrology, temperature changes, habitats for native species and impacts from diversions on upstream and downstream environments. Listen to the experts who have studied the pond. Make your decision based on sound science. Don’t throw away money on an unneeded project.

Please vote no on Article 32, funding for preparation for dredging. Please vote yes on Article 16, funding for the watershed study.

Ebba R. Hierta

West Tisbury