Chilmark assesses stance on Nomans Land

Officials approve election warrant, and sign off on shellfishing season.

Chilmark selectmen were asked to weigh in on Nomans Land Tuesday. — Courtesy Libby Herland

One concerned Chilmarker had selectmen consider what role the town might play in the ongoing mitigation of unexploded ordnances (UXOs) at Nomans Land.

Nomans Land is technically part of Chilmark, but the island south of Martha’s Vineyard is owned by the federal government. It was used as a practice bombing range by the United States Navy for many years, then was transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for use as an unstaffed wildlife refuge. 

Ever since the beginning of a public comment period sought by the U.S. Navy that offered stakeholders an opportunity to weigh in on the mitigation plan, there have been differing opinions as to how to deal with cleanup of the site. 

At a Tuesday board of selectmen meeting, Chilmark resident Anne Cook brought to the attention of selectmen the question of whether the town has any “skin in the game” on the matter, and whether selectmen could take an official stance.

“Since Nomans Land technically belongs to Chilmark, I wasn’t sure what the town’s role or particular investment was,” Cook said. 

Board of selectmen chairman Bill Rossi clarified that the land belongs to the federal government, and it is up to them what they want to do.

“I don’t see Chilmark playing an active role in that island in the near future,” Rossi said.

Selectman Warren Doty said the town has played a conservation role at Nomans in the past, and in that respect “is doing very well.”

“The key is whether or not there is any public access. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Navy have said there will be no public access,” Doty said.

Cook said she is concerned about the UXOs washing up on Vineyard shores, and selectmen shared that concern.

“The Navy has said that if they [ordnances] wash up in Edgartown or anywhere else, they will be dealt with at that point,” Cook said. “My concern is, who are the actual stakeholders who could be working with the Navy?”

Selectman Jim Malkin said the town has not yet taken an official position on this, and he believes there is a legitimate reason to leave the land untouched by the public. 

“There is a very good reason to actually leave this entirely undisturbed without public access as a wildlife sanctuary and preserved habitat, where wildlife can flourish without development,” Malkin said. Cook noted that she is not suggesting developing the land — only that the land be able to be accessed, possibly with a permit from Fish and Wildlife.

Cook asked the selectmen whether it may be prudent for townspeople to draft a petition requesting that the town take an official stance on the matter. Malkin said the townspeople could draft a petition and take the issue up at town meeting, but that won’t be until April.

Rossi thanked Cook for putting the issue on the town’s radar, and said he would be supportive of any stakeholder group that would advocate for further mitigation efforts and increased public access.

Shellfishing season approaches

Dates for the start of the commercial and recreational shellfishing seasons in Chilmark were approved by selectmen, after shellfish constable Isaiah Scheffer gave a status update. The commercial harvest of bay scallops for all waters of Chilmark begins Nov. 30. Commercial fishing days for scallops are Monday through Friday, 7 am to 4 pm, with a commercial limit of two struck bushels per day. The Muddy Cove area is restricted from scallop draggers due to eelgrass rehabilitation initiatives. Check in at Menemsha Harbor or Quitsa Bridge is no later than 4:10 pm.

The recreational and family harvest of bay scallops in Chilmark begins on Oct. 26, with a limit of one half-bushel per week. 

The commercial oyster season in Tisbury Great Pond begins Nov. 2, with a limit of 800 oysters per day.

Commercial fishermen may harvest oysters only three days out of each week, Monday through Friday, from 7 am to 4 pm. Anyone interested should communicate to the shellfish constable via text or call to share days they plan on fishing. Check in at the Old Coast Guard Station no later than 4:10 pm.

The recreational oyster season in Tisbury Great Pond begins on Nov. 2, with a limit of one half-bushel per week. 

Scheffer also gave a report on the blue-green algae in Chilmark Pond, and said that, based on the University of New Hampshire (UNH) water sampling program, there are a number of different types of cyanobacteria all around Vineyard waters.

“Some of them can be pretty toxic. This type of algae can, at times, release toxins from their cells, usually when the cells start to die. We don’t really know when that is going to happen,” Scheffer said.

Scheffer said Sheri Caseau of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has been conducting water sampling and sending the samples to UNH. “I am not trying to approach this from an alarmist standpoint. I have personally seen this blue-green algae in the pond for the past 10 years,” Scheffer said. 

Scheffer said it is difficult to determine what brings on these major blooming events, but he suspects it could have to do with the heat and dryness of this past summer. 

“It really comes down to nutrient loading and climate change,” he said.

And if there is a high enough bacterial load, Scheffer said, cyanobacteria could bioaccumulate in shellfish or finfish, although more research is needed to determine that.