Decaying barge threatens Lagoon Pond

O.B. officials say ‘compromised deck’ could sink vessel and pollute pond.

Vineyard Marine's corroded barge and push tug off Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs. Town officials fear the barge is in imminent danger of sinking and subsequently polluting Lagoon Pond with hydraulic fluid. — Stacey Rupolo

A corroded barge moored close to Sailing Camp Park in the Oak Bluffs portion of Lagoon Pond triggered worried discussion at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting. Vineyard Marine owner Steve Scannell, the person presumed responsible for the barge, was not present at the meeting.

“It’s kind of half-sinking, I guess,” selectman Brian Packish informed the board. “The deck is compromised.”

Mr. Packish said he met with harbormaster Todd Alexander, who said he was working with Vineyard Haven and the Massachusetts Environmental Police to address the possible hazard.

“I’ve been talking to Gene [De Costa], who built it, and the problem with it is there’s no way to pump it because there’s no hatches,” shellfish committee member Bill Alwardt told the selectmen. If somebody isn’t hired to cut a hole in the top to feed in a pump-out hose, it will take on too much water and go to the bottom, he said. He added that the barge contains a good amount of hydraulic fluid.

“I couldn’t believe it didn’t go in this storm. I’ve been keeping an eye on it because when it does go, it’s gonna close the pond, and it’s probably going to happen during the scallop season, and it’s going to affect Oak Bluffs and Tisbury and put a lot of people out of business,” he said. “I’ve also heard rumors that it’s been repossessed. I couldn’t believe somebody would repossess it because it’s in such bad shape.”

The harbormaster has been sending Mr. Scannell certified letters, Mr. Packish said. He added that Mr. Alexander has been “very proactive over the last couple of months,” but told Mr. Alwardt, “You are right, it’s now reaching that tipping point.”

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s pretty scary,” Mr. Alwardt said.

Mr. Scannell did not respond to messages left at Vineyard Marine.

“We’ve sent him official notifications to remove the barge,” Mr. Alexander told The Times, “and have gotten zero response.” The barge is moored with a small push tug in about 15 feet of water, Mr. Alexander said. He added that it’s vulnerable from the top.

Should water breach the deck, it would flood the barge’s four compartments and sink it, he said. Mr. Alexander said he’s expecting a report from Lt. Matt Bass of the Massachusetts Environmental Police that will outline what the next steps should be, based upon an evaluation of the barge’s current condition. He also said size-wise that the R.M. Packer Co. barge Innovative is fully capable of hauling the Vineyard Marine barge from the Lagoon if need be.

“I’m concerned about it,” Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker told The Times. “We share that body of water — it’s a sensitive environmental area.” Mr. Crocker said he received word that the Coast Guard may also be investigating the barge.

In other business, the selectmen unanimously approved Cottage City Oyster co-owner Dan Martino’s request to place a seed oyster upweller in Lagoon Pond. The selectmen stipulated that the upweller may only be in the pond between spring and the start of scallop season, but that the exact dates are to be selected by the shellfish committee.

Prior to the vote, Mr. Martino gave the selectmen a rough description of what an upweller is. “When we get the baby oysters from the hatchery, they spend the first summer of their lives in an upweller,” he said, “which is a raft, and they’re contained in the raft — in the water underneath. We raise them in that upweller until they reach about the size of a quarter, and then we’re able to put them into our cages and grow them out at the farm.”

Mr. Martino also told the selectmen that business was booming. “We can’t grow enough oysters now to meet demand, which is awesome,” he said.