M.V. Land Bank delays lease decision

2021 report coming soon; cleanup at James Pond Preserve.

The Martha's Vineyard Land Bank delayed making a decision on a lease with the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish Group. — Stacey Rupolo

On Monday, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission delayed a decision on a lease with the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group for a beach house on Chappy Point Beach in Edgartown. 

This is an annual review of whether the Shellfish Group’s activities at the beach house align with the Land Bank’s goals, and are serving the public interest. The property has been leased to the Shellfish Group since April 1, 1995.

“I approve of what they do. I think keeping the shellfish life healthy helps the health of the ponds,” Land Bank land superintendent Harrison Kisiel said. He recommended the commissioners continue the lease. 

An issue that was brought up was whether the Shellfish Group should get flood insurance. The Chappy Point Beach facility is in an area that can potentially face being washed away during a storm flood. 

Land Bank executive director James Lengyel said the Shellfish Group was responsible for maintenance and repairs to the building. The flood insurance would be like renters’ insurance, and help the Shellfish Group recuperate from losses. Lengyel said the decision to get flood insurance would come down to the Shellfish Group’s “business judgment.” In the event the building was “to be washed away or damaged,” it would be “their [Shellfish Group] peril and their loss” unless the commissioners voted to rebuild the property. Kisiel said the last time he inspected the building in 2019, everything was in “sound condition.” He said minor upkeep was done on the building, and it was still in usable condition. 

Edgartown commissioner Steve Ewing commented on the Shellfish Group’s need for the property, which he learned about during a discussion with them six months ago. “At one point, when the hatchery at the Lagoon had some issues, they were transferring a lot of stuff over to Chappaquiddick,” he said. “So, that was quite handy that they had that facility.” 

Commission chair Pamela Goff pointed out that a list of repairs and improvements the Land Bank would like to see was also given to the Shellfish Group. Lengyel said Kisiel had not gone over the list yet. 

“So, without that, are we willing to vote for that?” Goff asked the commission. 

“I think it’s got to be pretty well stated when there is a property right out on the water,” Aquinnah commissioner Sarah Thulin said, who said she wouldn’t want to allow the building to be rebuilt if it were to be washed away by flooding: “One, it does not behoove us to rebuild it for environmental reasons, and two, a storm could wipe it out even if it were rebuilt, and three, we have the hatchery up here in Aquinnah, and I do think what they need to decide is the equipment — which can be very pricey — that’s probably something that they should insure if they’re worried about flood damage to the equipment.”

Ewing pushed back, saying hatcheries need to be next to the water. In particular, he said, Edgartown’s seawater is very clean. 

Goff said the Shellfish Group “has a lot of hatcheries already,” and Thulin said conservation commissions do not like rebuilding on vulnerable locations. 

Oak Bluffs commissioner Kristen Reimann asked whether a member of the Shellfish Group should be present for this discussion, or if they should continue talking through Ewing. Lengyel said if the decision was delayed, Ewing could return with an answer for the commission. 

Goff also wanted time for Kisiel to look over whether the Shellfish Group had done what the Land Bank had asked them to do in the list. 

Shellfish Group executive director Emma Green-Beach told the Times the Chappy Point Beach facility is primarily used to grow quahogs. She said the building was important for the Shellfish Group’s work. In particular, there are times Lagoon Pond experiences algae blooms, which can kill the juvenile shellfish. The juvenile shellfish can be moved to the Chappaquiddick facility during these situations. “It’s very important for the propagation of shellfish,” she said. 

Green-Beach said the Shellfish Group always had flood insurance, per the lease agreement. She said the primary interest of the Shellfish Group was whether the building could be rebuilt if it were to be swept away in a storm flood, or were severely damaged. Green-Beach said from what she heard about the meeting, it seemed uncertain whether the building would be allowed to be rebuilt. Green-Beach said the Shellfish Group will need to look over the lease in further detail. “We’re in partnership with all of the towns. What we do impacts all of the shellfish departments,” she said. 

Green-Beach was also aware of the list Goff mentioned, and said the Shellfish Group was working on the tasks, such as roof and window replacement: “It’s quite an investment for the Shellfish Group.” 

The commission decided to put the lease issue on a future agenda, with no further action. 

Meanwhile, the commissioners decided to accept the conflict of interest law and Land Bank executive session policy as it has been. A vote was not needed to keep the law and policy as is. 

The commissioners unanimously approved the draft of the 2021 annual report as amended, based on corrections Thulin noticed. 

The commissioners unanimously approved hiring Jay’s Septic Service for pumping what might be in the septic system and Banner Environmental Services for asbestos removal at James Pond Preserve in West Tisbury. These services will cost $147,749.

At the end of the meeting, the commissioners went into executive session to discuss the purchase value of real property. Commissioner Goff said this discussion was taken to executive discussion because “an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the Land Bank Commission.”