Some thoughts on waterways regulations

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To the Editor:

This is a copy of a letter sent to the Tisbury board of selectmen, town administrator, harbor management committee, and harbormaster.

Re: Proposed Changes to the Tisbury Waterway Regulations. First of all, we would like to acknowledge that the harbor committee has worked for several months on the proposed changes to the Waterway Regulations, and we commend the committee on putting together both thoughtful and practical changes to those regulations. After much consideration and discussion, the Lagoon Pond Association (LPA), on behalf of its board and its members, would like to provide the following input regarding the proposed changes:

  • As we’re sure you appreciate, Lagoon Pond, like Lake Tashmoo, is a very diverse and sensitive ecosystem with very different uses, concerns, and aquaculture from Vineyard Haven Harbor. The ponds, unlike the harbor, do not easily flush to the open ocean, creating water quality that is easily compromised. The quality of the water and the excessive amounts of nitrogen have caused the MassDEP via the Massachusetts Estuaries Project to designate both Lagoon Pond and Tashmoo Pond water quality to be compromised, and in need of cleanup. This excessive nitrogen affects the pond’s ecology and its’ natural inhabitants, such as our shellfish stock, causing constant concern for our shellfish departments and citizens. Intensive use of the ponds in the summers adds to the depletion of water quality at a time of year when the ponds are their warmest, overloaded with nitrogen, and threatened by algae blooms and harmful bacteria. As you know, the ponds are home to burgeoning shellfish populations and provide habitat for waterfowl, fish, and other species that use the ponds as their nursery. Eelgrass beds and shellfish restoration areas have been designated within the ponds. Shellfishing and its preservation, boating, watersports, and the sailing camp create additional concerns. In addition to the foregoing, Lagoon Pond is located within two towns with differing regulations and resources.

In light of these factors, we believe separate regulations for the ponds are appropriate. Please consider two sets of regulations, one for the harbor and one for the ponds. Alternatively, a subset of regulations for the ponds within the regulations (as, for example, now exist for the piers) could also be workable.

  • Since the use of Lagoon Pond is shared by two towns, we are concerned that the regulations need to be consistent between them. As just one example, we note that the towns have differing boating regulations, such as the use of Jet Skis within Lagoon Pond: Tisbury allows Jet Kki use at headway speed, while Oak Bluffs prohibits Jet Skis from the pond. Provision for a joint effort to review and manage enforcement of the rules on a more consistent basis is critical.
  • The Tisbury and Oak Bluffs shellfish departments spend lots of time and money to propagate scallop seed and other shellfish in the ponds (and to a lesser extent in the harbor). With all their time and efforts to promote better habitat (including similar regulations, whose purpose is to promote the same), our ponds are environmentally challenged, putting pressure on the survival of the scallop seed. Although both shellfish departments have worked cooperatively with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to review all present water quality regulations, there still remains a challenge for both towns to propose new similar regulations to help clean our ponds, since the ponds are natural nurseries for shellfish and finfish.

  • Anchoring needs to be location-specific in the ponds (for example, to avoid eelgrass beds and regeneration areas), and needs to be strictly enforced. The “no anchoring” buoys are a good visual tool, but without enforcement, boaters may ignore the warning.

  • We don’t see the need to change the three-day anchoring rules to seven days in Lagoon Pond. It doesn’t make sense to relax the existing rules to accommodate longer stays for anchored boats, plus expand them to accommodate live-aboard boats, in a pond that is already environmentally strained through the present use; especially in the busy summer months. This again is an area that differs from what is permitted by the town of Oak Bluffs (which now allows three days). What is the plan for registration and enforcement of this regulation, and how will the inconsistent rules between Oak Bluffs and Tisbury be dealt with? Does Tisbury want/expect more anchorage on their side, given the lighter restrictions?

  • One solution to help with compliance by boats that require the opening of the Lagoon Pond drawbridge is a registration system with the bridgekeeper as they enter the pond. Registration here could include the boat’s name, registration number, boater contact information, and cell numbers, as is done in many other waterway areas. This approach could help enforce compliance with the regulations and make boaters aware that they also need to register with the harbormaster.

  • Our board and our members are also concerned about the complete reversal on live-aboards with respect to the ponds. We are very concerned about having people living on their boats year-round or seasonally on Lagoon Pond. This is because of the accompanying problems of waste disposal and other garbage, and chemical cleaners, etc., that are used for washing dishes, clothes, personal hygiene, and the interior and exterior of the boat. Again, the ponds are a much more fragile ecosystem than the harbor, and protection of water quality is of paramount concern. Presently one cannot live aboard in Lagoon Pond at all. Both towns work to enforce this rule, along with trying to enforce the existing three-day anchor policy. Although both harbormasters have increased their presence in Lagoon Pond, compliance has not been achieved. A prime example is the boat fire that happened a couple of years ago involving two rafted boats at anchor … no one knew who the boats belonged to. It seems to us that before creating new regulations that expand the present policy, we should be working on how to achieve compliance with the regulations we already have. Should the town be looking into a registration system with the harbormaster, where the boater can be notified of the Waterway Regulations? Does it not make sense to have a system of management in place before expanding the rules of use?

  • The proposed regulations state no more houseboats in the inner Harbor. This regulation should state no houseboats in Lagoon Pond as well.

Finally, we believe that no changes to the regulations will have much, if any, effect without both education and enforcement. If users of the ponds do not know the rules, how can we expect them to be adhered to? This is of particular importance to the ponds, in that the town harbormasters and their assistants already have their hands full in the harbors during the busy summer months. We can’t expect them to worry about informing people of the new regulations, registering boats and monitoring stays, dumping, anchoring, and the like in the ponds, in addition to the jobs they are already tasked with, in any kind of effective manner. A comprehensive and consistent plan needs to be put in place to ensure that regulations in the ponds are both known and being adhered to.

In Lagoon Pond, coordination between the two towns is also warranted. This kind of coordination, instead of being an added burden, could if thoughtfully organized and implemented, reduce each harbormaster’s compliance monitoring in the Lagoon by up to half! Prominent signage in the ponds could be helpful in educating the public. In addition, perhaps summer officers could be enlisted to help with enforcement duties, much like those hired by each town’s police departments. Without an education and enforcement component, we believe adherence to the regulations will be spotty at best.

LPA stands ready and willing to help in any manner that it can with respect to developing, implementing, and enforcing the regulations. Additionally, the LPA is ready to help with monetary assistance for signage, education, a summer intern, and the like.

 

Doug Reece, president
Lagoon Pond Association