Tashmoo threat is stormwater and fertilizer runoff


To the Editor:

In 2018 when residents made a push to hold the Steamship accountable for over 500 mechanical breakdowns the Times published a photo of myself on the front page, arm raised addressing the board of directors with the quote, “You should be scared, all of you. I’m not threatening you.” Menacing from a glance, but if journalistic integrity was honored, the Times would have included the whole quote: “You guys should be scared, all of you, especially you (as I motion to the general manager). I’m not threatening you but this is a public service and you guys need to be held accountable.” In such a small social ecosystem, accuracy and full quotes are very important.

With my comments on Tashmoo cleanup in this past issue, the Times again leans more towards exaggeration than accuracy. To clarify and put my abbreviated quote in context: There are 40 drains starting at the bottom of the Tisbury School that run along West Spring Street and discharge directly into the salt marsh at the southern end of Tashmoo. I swim off the Lake Street dock and off my boat all the time, but as Tashmoo takes 3.2 days to fully empty out, I do not swim in the southern half of the pond in the days after a heavy rain, instead I anchor by the mouth to swim. This year, stormwater needs to be addressed with urgency as school demolition and construction occurs. The runoff from construction materials, including asbestos and lead, will be emptied directly into the back of Tashmoo.

Before a targeted watershed plan has been presented to the public, the ‘first step’ is a public hearing on an anchoring moratorium. However, surveys show the most immediate solutions toward promoting eelgrass growth, decreasing bacterial contamination, reducing nitrogen loading and increasing water quality in Tashmoo can be addressed through stormwater and fertilizer use. To target anchoring as a first step in the management plan shows that this isn’t just an environmental issue but a political one as well.

The waterfront neighbors in line of sight of the anchoring zone have long complained of anchored boats and the town administrator who advocated for the public hearing said it’s a ‘quality of life issue.’ According to the Massachusetts Environmental Protection, stormwater accounts for 8 percent of the controllable nitrogen load in Tashmoo and fertilizer runoff from homes on the pond account for 5 percent. To many it seems the town is attempting to put a butterfly stitch over a gaping wound by targeting anchoring as a first step in its management plan.

Tashmoo is the gem of Tisbury and while anchoring needs to be discussed, better marked and managed, enacting a moratorium on anchorage is essentially eliminating a town resource. As a Tisbury resident who grew up here we can’t go to Lucy Vincent, Lambert’s Cove or other up-Island beaches in the summer, Tashmoo anchoring is a town recreational resource. With the most immediate water quality causes not being addressed first, taking away this public resource under the pretext of cleaning up Tashmoo would be disingenuous to say the least.

On March 8, I urge the select board to send this issue to the Waterways Committee to create a management plan for anchoring on all of Tisbury’s waterways and to prioritize stormwater and fertilizer runoff as first steps of any management plan. Regarding anchoring, Jay Grande, the town administrator, said, “Lake Tashmoo hasn’t degraded to the level Lagoon Pond has and we talk and we talk and we talk. We’ve been talking my whole tenure here … until we absolutely know we should not be risking the health of that pond any further.” During that tenure, with a plethora of water testing data, surveys, reports and studies dating back to 1998, the town has not meaningfully addressed the most immediately impactful and cost effective issues threatening water quality in Tashmoo; stormwater and fertilizer runoff. I agree that we should not be risking the health of that pond any further and the town must take meaningful action towards that end based on data.

MacAleer Schilcher
Vineyard Haven