What’s with the Mill Pond


To the Editor:

On April 13, voters will be making many important decisions. One item, Article 31, on the Annual Town Warrant, deals with the future of the Mill Pond, a man-made pond created by at least the mid-1800s. It is not known when the first gristmill was built on the Old Mill River, but it was central to the lives of the earliest settlers of what would become West Tisbury. According to Banks, “the location of the mill was on the Josiah Standish home lot,” and after several transfers, came into the possession of Edward Cottle in 1688. After many more transfers, the current mill building, purchased by the Garden Club in 1942, was built by Captain Thomas Bradley in 1845, to produce a strong and popular woven wool cloth called “Vineyard Satinet”.

Donald R. Campbell gave the Mill Pond to the town in 1948. When the town voted to accept the gift, it was with an agreement it would restore and maintain the pond and its dam. Funds, both private and public, were used to remove 12 to18 inches of silt using a dragline and bucket. We have pictures of West Tisbury citizens working in the muck to remove the excess vegetation that was threatening the life of the pond. Harold Rogers rebuilt the spillway in 1949. The Grange purchased swans to continue eating the parrot weed that had been overtaking the pond, and it was returned to its previous health and beauty.

In 1970, another project to remove excess silt was undertaken. The west bank of the pond was built with the silt from that project, and a nice pathway along the pond was created. A memorial site was designated on the west bank for Allen Look, a former selectman. Trees were planted in memory of William Rotch, Nelson S. Bryant, Daniel Manter and George C. Gifford, on the east bank near the current Police Station. The Mill Pond was designated by the town’s historic commission and district as one of 14 places of historic significance in West Tisbury, and the town seal pictures a mill and dam.

The Mill Pond has not received any significant improvements for 40 years. During a dry spell in 2002, citizens became alarmed at the state of the pond when excess vegetation and algae blooms appeared. The conservation commission and the selectmen commissioned Aquatic Control Technology, Inc. (ACT) of Sutton, pond and lake management specialists, to study the pond and suggest a management plan. The study was completed December 2006, for a total cost of $4,000. A copy of the 30-plus page report is available at the Town Hall or on the Town’s website: www.westtisbury-ma.gov/

According to the study, the Mill Pond is in a eutrophic state, meaning it is full of nutrient rich sediment that will continue to encourage the growth of vegetation. The average depth of sedimentation is 2.8 feet and the average water depth of the pond is 1.7 feet. This is too shallow and warm for optimal breeding habitat for alewives (river herring), if they were able to reach the pond via the herring run the late Tom Osmers was attempting to re-establish. Stocked trout and other fish and wildlife would also benefit from the removal of some of the mud and would be better able to survive the hot summer months. Eventually, if that sediment and the excess vegetation are not removed, the weeds will begin to overtake the majority of the pond, as they have in the past. We will be left with a marsh, which over time will become a shrub swamp with a brook running through it, similar to the swamp to the west of the Mill Pond. Photos of the Mill Pond from 1948 show this process well under way, prior to restoration efforts at that time.

Beyond its historical significance, beauty and wildlife habitat, the Mill Pond acts as a filter for some of the nitrogen that would otherwise be added directly into the Tisbury Great Pond.

The Mill Pond Committee, which was appointed by the selectmen after the 2008 town meeting turned down a request for funds for the environmental studies and engineering plans needed for the permitting process to restore the pond, has been focusing on this situation. The committee is recommending a three-phase approach to restoration of the Mill Pond. Phase I, (Article 31 on the April 13, 2010 Town Meeting Warrant) calls for appropriation of $25,000 from the available Community Preservation Act funds, for engineering and environmental studies. Engineering plans will determine the optimal amount of sedimentation that needs to be removed. Then the actual cost of the project can be figured. Phase II will ask for funding for permits required, estimated to be $25,000. Phase III would provide funding for the actual restoration work. The ACT study suggested dredging about five feet of sediment over the 2.5 acres of the pond and estimated the cost could be $400,000 to $600,000. The committee thinks that may be an excessive amount of sediment removal, and the cost should be closer to $200,000. Until the engineering and environmental studies are completed, the actual cost, and feasible amount of sediment to be removed, cannot be determined.

The Mill Pond Committee will host a discussion on the pond on April 7, at 7 pm at the Howes House. We hope as many voters as possible will attend, so they will be fully informed about this subject prior to the town meeting.

Anna Alley

For the Mill Pond Study Committee

West Tisbury