Chilark selectmen reluctently agree to put pond study on warrant

Chilmark on a summer day. — File photo by Susan Safford

Chilmark selectmen met on January 18 and reluctantly agreed to place a pair of requests on the warrant of the April annual town meeting to appropriate a total of $86,267 to enroll both the Chilmark Pond and Squibnocket/Menemsha Ponds in the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP).

Selectmen agreed to put the questions to voters at town meeting at the request of the Squibnocket Pond District Advisory Committee, despite their own concerns about the lackluster performance of the MEP in the past in its evaluation of the Tisbury Great Pond.

A joint collaboration between the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the Massachusetts Estuaries Project (MEP) uses scientific analysis of plant life, water quality, and the amount of nitrogen flowing from septic systems and other sources to gauge the overall health of coastal saltponds and estuaries of southeastern Massachusetts. The project requires the state and the municipality to share the cost of the studies evenly.

Chilmark agreed to enroll Tisbury Great Pond in the MEP five years ago at a cost of $40,000. But due to a number of bureaucratic snafus, including a feud between the state and the University of Massachusetts over the rights to research, the town has yet to see a final report for Tisbury Great Pond. The west side of Tisbury Great Pond is in Chilmark, the east side in West Tisbury.

In June 2001, the Squibnocket/Menemsha Pond system, which includes Stonewall and Nashaquitsa Ponds, was designated a District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC), which added a layer of regulation vested in the permitting authority of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).

The Squibnocket Pond District Advisory Committee is responsible for overseeing continued study of the pond system, informing town boards of changes by natural and human activities and recommending changes to protect the pond and its watershed.

On January 9, Wendy Weldon, the chairman of the Squibnocket advisory committee, sent a letter to selectmen asking them to support the appropriation of $54,500 to enroll Squibnocket/Menemsha pond, and also Chilmark Pond, in the MEP program.

Ms. Weldon said the study will provide the town with valuable information regarding the ponds.

“Do we reinstate the old herring run from Squibnocket beach into the east end of the pond? Would this help slow down the rapid growth of the phragmites? Do we open up the barrier beach once a year (it used to breach naturally almost yearly) to help regulate the saline content?” she wrote.

“So many questions and no answers. We need this study to help determine our course in managing our fragile ecosystem in Squibnocket Pond. The results from the MEP study will give us information to make the necessary changes to improve the health of our ponds.”

But Selectmen Warren Doty noted the spotty track record of the MEP in his consideration of the funding request. “The MEP has not shown themselves to be well administered; it has been a slow bureaucratic process that has been mired in foolish debate between UMass and the state with no consideration of the towns,” he said.

“We authorized them [for funding] three years in a row and it took them five years before they even came to get their money,” Mr. Doty added. “They are an example of bureaucratic craziness.”

Selectmen also corrected the figures cited in Ms. Weldon’s letter, and said the town needed to appropriate $54,500 to enroll Chilmark Pond in the MEP and another $31,767 to enroll Squibnocket/Menemsha Ponds in the program

Mr. Doty said he supported placing two separate articles on the warrant, one asking for funding for each of the ponds. “That way voters have a choice about what they want to do with the two ponds,” he said.

But Mr. Doty said he still had doubts about enrolling the ponds in the MEP. “I am voting yes because all the planners want to do it, all the commissions want to do it, but this group has not been an excellent group..,” he said. “We’re talking $86,267, and in this climate we are in, that’s a big number.”

In a telephone conversation with The Times following last week’s meeting, Roland Samimy, UMass MEP technical coordinator, said the Tisbury Pond study is on the list of reports to be completed for DEP by June 30, 2012.

“I understand the frustration the towns may feel with the speed with which they are getting results in some instances,” Mr. Samimy said. “However, the project has always been focused on how to assist the towns with sound and unified nutrient management and we continue to overcome hurdles in the interest of completing the project in keeping with our committment at the outset.”