A Chilmark homeowner and his landscaper could face fines for illegally digging a trench and removing vegetation in a wetland at 6 Eddy Farm Road.
Paul Slavin, the property owner, acknowledged the violation, apologized for it, and told the Chilmark conservation commission he will comply with their enforcement order to fill in the trench and come up with a plan by the commission’s May 3 meeting to restore the vegetation and to meet conditions imposed when the house was built — namely installing rocks along the border of the wetland.
Kara Shemeth, the conservation administrator, opened up Tuesday morning’s meeting by saying that work was stopped immediately at the property on March 22, and that Slavin has been cooperative.
“We came to Chilmark for what Chilmark is, and we violated that unintentionally,” Slavin said after the commission took separate unanimous votes on two separate violations. “We want Chilmark to be the way Chilmark is … We totally respect what you guys are doing. Again, I apologize that you even have to deal with this issue.”
Earlier in the meeting, Slavin said the trench was dug by his landscaper, Josie’s Landscaping, who misunderstood his email to look at a culvert to see if it was blocked. When Slavin returned to the property, the trench was dug. “We didn’t approve it. We never would have approved it,” he said. “I know that is absolutely against regulations.”
As for the vegetation that was removed, Slavin said it was done to deal with a significant tick problem on the property. “We kept spraying the property with nontoxic materials. It’s helped, but it hasn’t helped enough,” he said. “I made the decision to push the bramble back.” His idea was to plant a meadow similar to Allen Farm. “That was the intent,” Slavin said. “The intent was not to drain the wetland, or impact it in any way.”
While Slavin attempted to take full responsibility, commissioner Joan Malkin said the landscaper should also be fined. “I would say he bears his own responsibility for not doing anything to wetlands without being confident there is an order in place,” she said. “I’m not quite sure he is off the hook.”
Malkin described being “shocked and appalled” at what she saw during a site visit on Monday, and was initially ready to hit the homeowner with hefty fines before hearing his side. “I believe [Slavin]. I believe that he misunderstood, that he had some intentions that were not followed through on, that he didn’t really get it. That he stopped immediately when he was apprised of it,” Malkin said. “I’d like to think — I believe that he’s learned his lesson.”
Commission chair Chris Murphy pointed out that the Slavins did not follow the original order of conditions. “I think this is a case where there should be a fine and it should be serious — both the owner and landscaper should be fined,” Murphy said.
Slavin didn’t balk at the idea of a fine. “I think a fine is an important component in controlling these things,” he said. Slavin asked for a grace period on the fines to give him time to come into compliance.
Murphy told Slavin that his request would be taken under advisement: “In the meantime, you’ve got a job to do to get this project at least put back.”
“Agreed,” Slavin said.
Murphy suggested there was some urgency to filling in the trench. “If that trench remains open, it will continue to drain that whole wetland area, and be very problematic for the plants that are there.”
A representative of the conservation department will have to be on site for the work.
Reid Silva, an engineer with Vineyard Land Surveying & Engineering, will work on a restoration and remediation plan to present to the conservation commission by its May 3 meeting. The commission will take up the topic of fines at that time.
Meanwhile, the board took up another enforcement issue in the same neighborhood. Bill Eddy and the Vineyard Open Land Foundation (VOLF) were ordered to remove debris from work that was done to replace a utility pole on Eddy Road. Bill Eddy’s mother gave the property to VOLF 16 years ago, with the understanding that the Eddys would maintain an easement over the road, with the agreement for the association to maintain it.
Shemeth told commissioners “liberties were taken” during the utility pole installation.
Bill Eddy acknowledged “more of a mess was made” in the area where trucks were staged for the utility pole installation.
Ultimately, the commission asked Eddy to remove debris, and Phil Wallis, executive director for VOLF, will work with an engineer to file a notice of intent to maintain the areas around the utility poles, as well as road turnoffs.
Wallis is expected to work with an engineer and return with the notice of intent at the commission’s first meeting in June.