In what conservation commission leaders are calling the worst violation they have seen in decades, a West Chop homeowner has been cited for dredging a pond and filling a wetland without permission.
The property is owned by Mary Howell of Arlingon, Va., and Vineyard Haven.
On Feb. 11, Tisbury conservation agent Jane Varkonda made a site visit to the property where she saw and took photographs of excavating equipment owned by contractor Steve Handy that had filled wetlands and dredged the Mink Meadows Pond in an apparent effort to eradicate phragmites near the Howell property. Mrs. Varkonda also observed a large pile of excavated fill at the edge of the pond.
The conservation commission issued a cease and desist order on the same day and on Feb. 22 it issued another letter to Ms. Howell requesting remediation and survey work.
“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said conservation commission chairman Tom Robinson this week. “We’ve seen some people fill things in to make their beach bigger but nothing of this scope. It’s really a direct alteration of a pretty critical resource.”
At a meeting Tuesday the conservation commission discussed the violations. The Feb. 22 letter to Ms. Howell orders a siltation barrier to be placed between the pile of excavated fill and the pond in the short term. The commission also requested a comprehensive survey of Ms. Howell’s lot, soundings of the pond, an estimate of the cubic yardage of material removed from the pond and the location of the proposed disposal site.
The commission asked that Mr. Handy, the contractor, be present at Tuesday’s conservation commission meeting. On Tuesday Mr. Handy notified Mrs. Varkonda that he was in Orlando, Fla. Ms. Howell also did not attend the meeting.
At the meeting commission members discussed ways to get the attention of the contractor and landowner.
“Our fining ability is limited,” Mrs. Varkonda said. The conservation commission can fine up to $300 a day for violations but Mrs. Varkonda said the cost of the work to ameliorate the situation will suffice.
“Spending money on a survey or a restoration plan or a bond, is more money than I could ever possibly fine her,” she said.
Commission members were particularly troubled to learn that Ms. Howell had investigated the requirements for dredging beforehand with a consultant and then had gone ahead with the work without obtaining permits.
Mrs. Varkonda said she spoke this week with wetlands consultant Bob Woodruff who, along with Craig Saunders had consulted with Ms. Howell about the necessary permits required to dredge. Mrs. Varkonda said Mr. Woodruff was “very upset” about the situation.
“She had to have known what she was getting herself into,” Mrs. Varkonda said.
In preliminary reviews of town assessors maps, commission members also judged that the dredging work was done on land not owned by Ms. Howell.
“The surveyors still have to stake the lot lines but we don’t think she dredged on her property,” Mrs. Varkonda said.
The commission then turned its attention to Mr. Handy, the contractor.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” said commission member Diane Nicholls, an abutter to the Howell property who originally reported the violations. “He is the person who for some years has been doing the dredging of the cut at Mink Meadows,” she added.
“We could fine him; it’s a stretch because he’s not the property owner but I’ve done it before,” offered Mrs. Varkonda.
In the letter to Ms. Howell, the commission underscored Mr. Handy’s role in the violations.
“Prior to commencing a project of that nature the person performing the work has to have the permit issued by this office for the project in hand and on the job site at all times,” the letter reads. “A dredging project would never be permitted to commence without a meeting on site with the commission’s agent to review staging and transport routes.”
Mrs. Varkonda said the commission had the backing of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in addressing the violations.
“They told me they’d be there to help if we come up against any resistance,” she said.
At this point it is unclear what form the restoration of the pond will take.
“That’s what we have to find out,” Mrs. Varkonda said on Tuesday. “She filled wetlands in between her lawn and the pond so that would have to be restored, but she’s going to have to hire someone who has done this type of work and they’re going to have to make a presentation to the commission.”
Mrs. Varkonda reported that in a telephone conversation Ms. Howell had asked her if she could move the excavated pile elsewhere in the meantime.
“I said no. She’s not moving it anywhere,” Mrs. Varkonda said.
Ms. Howell has until March 24 to submit the information requested by the commission. The commission meets again on March 15 and expects Mr. Handy and Ms. Howell to be represented.