West Tisbury selectmen committee will study Mill Brook watershed

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.