West Tisbury selectmen pick members of Mill Brook watershed committee

From its headwaters alongside North Road in Chilmark, the Mill Brook drains a significant portion of West Tisbury. — File photo by Tony Omer

West Tisbury selectmen waded back into the muddy waters of the Mill Pond debate last Wednesday and appointed all but one of the applicants to a new Mill Brook watershed study committee at their meeting on May 29.

With dredging the Mill Pond sidelined by a vote at annual town meeting on April 8, on April 16 selectmen agreed to form a seven-member committee to oversee a watershed study and to draft a watershed management plan by the 2016 annual town meeting.

Voters at town meeting agreed to add $15,000 to $15,000 appropriated in 2012 to study the watershed.

“The new committee will finalize the scope of a new RFP to study the watershed and will draft a watershed management plan based on the study,” selectman and selectmen’s representative Cynthia Mitchell told The Times on Wednesday. “I expect this to be a two-year process.”

Ms. Mitchell was appointed committee chairman pro-tem.

Also appointed were conservation commission member Prudy Burt; emergency management director John Christensen; Tim Boland, executive director of the Polly Hill Arboretum; Chuck Hodgkinson, a West Tisbury resident who is the Chilmark conservation agent; Sue Hruby, a member of the town’s capital improvement and energy committees; former conservation commission and Mill Pond committee member Rez Williams; and watershed riparian landowners Selena Roman and Nancy Huntington.

Bill Wilcox, retired Martha’s Vineyard Commission water resources planner was the only applicant not appointed. A proposal he and West Tisbury engineer and watershed researcher Kent Healy submitted to the selectmen to conduct their own watershed study was cited as the reason. That proposal is expected to be addressed by the new committee, according to selectman Richard Knabel.

The question of whether to dredge the Mill Pond, and the cost associated with that project, has roiled the town’s political waters for several years. There are those who want to maintain the man-made pond and its placid vista. Others want to remove the dam used to create the pond and allow the stream to return to its natural state, a change they say would enhance the spawning habitat of native fish, including herring, white perch, and eels, and allow free passage of brook trout.

A Mill Pond Committee was formed to pursue the dredging issue in 2009, and a group called the Friends of the Mill Pond, closely aligned with the committee, raised $20,000 in pledges this year from private donors for dredging. That committee is now on hiatus pending the results of the new committee’s work, according to Ms. Mitchell.

The new committee will meet for the first time at 5 pm on Tuesday, June, 10, at the West Tisbury library.