West Tisbury selectmen reject lone Mill Brook watershed study proposal

The Mill Pond in West Tisbury. — File Photo by Ralph Stewart

A West Tisbury request for proposals to study the Mill Brook watershed got only one taker. Firms capable of doing the work said the town wanted too much work for too little money, according to one town official.

West Tisbury selectmen rejected the one proposal at their meeting on Wednesday, October 2. The Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group submitted the only proposal.

Selectman Richard Knabel, also a member of the watershed RFP review committee, reported that the committee had unanimously rejected the proposal. He said, “The committee agreed the proposal was not responsive to the RFP.”

It only addressed one of the nine tasks in the RFP, according to Mr. Knabel, and included only three of the six monitoring stations specified in the RFP.

The RFP review committee included Maria MacFarland of the West Tisbury conservation commission and Sheri Caseau, water resources planner with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, in addition to Mr. Knabel.

In a conversation with the Times, Ms. MacFarland said she contacted two firms that do watershed studies to find out why they hadn’t submitted proposals. “They basically said it was a bigger job than the money allocated for the job would cover,” she said.

She said she was told that some of the RFP language was unclear, with imprecise requirements. Ms. MacFarland worked with the committee that created the RFP.

“We pretty much knew the study would cost more than the $15,000 that was allocated,” she said. “It will be up to the selectmen to decide if a new RFP will be written.”

The watershed study concept has played a role in the a struggle between groups in West Tisbury that have differing visions of the Mill Pond, the man-made water body next to the town police station. One group would like to see the dam maintained and the pond dredged to maintain its historic scenic appeal. Another would like to see the watershed area returned to its natural pre-pond state which they say would allow for the free passage of native water species that include herring, trout, eels, and white perch.

The selectmen and representatives of both groups say that a watershed study would not have an effect on the dredging-no dredging issue, but discussions of the water study have been used to postpone dredging discussions at previous selectmen’s meetings.

In October 2012 West Tisbury selectmen and the specially appointed Mill Pond Committee agreed to hold off on a controversial plan to dredge Mill Pond and pursue a comprehensive watershed study that would include Mill Pond, Mill Brook, Fisher Pond, Crocker Pond, Priester’s Pond and several tributaries.

The decision was the result of a determined push by Prudy Burt, a member of the conservation commission but acting on her own, to enlist town support to remove the historic dam that created the pond and restore the waterway to its natural course.

“We are back to square one,” said Mr. Knabel, referring to the study.

“We have obviously lost more time trying to get done what we want to do at the Mill Pond,” selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said, without saying what it is that he would like to see done.

Mr. Knabel said the town should investigate whether there is state money available for water quality testing that could be used to fund part of the watershed study before allocating more money for the project. “We should re-write the RFP to clear up what is not clear, and make more precise what is imprecise to garner more submissions,” he said.