Menemsha dredge project deserves support


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to dredge the channel that leads from Vineyard Sound through the jetties at the entrance to Menemsha Creek and on to Menemsha Pond is a carefully and comprehensively researched and completely financed project endorsed by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and by the town of  Aquinnah itself. The Chilmark selectmen, professing concern at what they imagine may be the effects on the pond’s scallop fishery and the possibility that more and larger pleasure craft will use the deepened federally designated channel to enter the pond, have refused to endorse the plan. The project does not need Chilmark’s approval to advance, but local support would be helpful. A final decision on the $2 million project and a companion $1.5 million effort to repair the Menemsha jetties has yet to be made. Chilmark officials would do Menemsha, the scallop industry, and their town as a whole a good turn to get behind the plan.

The selectmen’s misguided resistance is incomprehensible, especially given the findings of an independent review of the dredge plan by the Woods Hole Group. Mitchell Buck, a coastal engineer, wrote the report, dated January 24, 2014 titled, “Menemsha Pond System, Modeling and Risks to Resources.” A critical reading of that study reveals no significant threat to the scallop fishery or to water quality in the pond, and not even at the southern end of the federal channel that would be the target of the dredging. Mr. Buck also notes both the value of the availability of funds to do the work and value of the dredge spoil to nourish Chilmark beaches. The channel was last dredged four decades ago. The likelihood that the chance to make use of nourishing sand for Chilmark beaches will occur again anytime soon is doubtful.

As to how the pond will be used, apart from its federally recognized use as a harbor of refuge, is actually up to the town. If the town finds that pleasure boat traffic into the pond increases when the snakey, shifting channel is uniformly deepened to six or eight feet over its length, the town and its harbormaster can take steps to control such increases. Allowing visitors to stop using moorings only, prohibiting anchoring in the vicinity of scallop rich areas, sealing heads in visiting vessels, scaled fees for mooring use — these and other tools are available to the town. The dredging would not begin till fall, so there is adequate time to set a schedule of pond use rules in place before the spring and summer of 2015.

Menemsha, its harbor, the creek, and the pond are unusual and priceless attributes of the towns of Chilmark and Aquinnah. It is reasonable to be cautious about change. It is not reasonable to stand in the way of valuable and improving changes. Chilmark officials must distinguish between saying no because it seems wise and feels good to do so and saying yes when an opportunity presents itself to enhance what already exists. The need and the science endorse this project. Chilmark ought to do the same.