Protection for Pond Shorelines


Amid a proliferation of applications for permanent piers, a new district of critical planning concern (DCPC) has now been proposed for the shorelines of two shellfish-rich ponds in the town of Chilmark.

Last week the Martha's Vineyard Commission voted to nominate the Menemsha and Nashaquitsa Ponds as a DCPC on the Chilmark side.

"Shellfishing, commercially or just for family use is a valued way of life that depends on these ponds remaining relatively uncluttered and the bottom healthy," the nomination says in part.

The nomination was made by the Chilmark planning board and the town conservation commission.

The boundaries of the proposed DCPC include a 200-foot zone from mean high water out, all around Nashaquitsa Pond on the Chilmark side of Menemsha Pond. The proposed DCPC excludes Menemsha basin and the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Pond.

The central purpose of the special planning district is to develop regulations for piers to protect the shellfish and finfish habitats.

"The conservation commission received three applications for new fixed piers in September, and we realized that if this is a trend that we were going to need some help," said Pamela Goff, the acting chairman of the Chilmark conservation commission, this week.

Menemsha Pond and Nashaquitsa Pond are the two primary resources for bay scallops up-Island.

Mrs. Goff said the town planning board and conservation commission agreed that a DCPC might be the best tool to use for developing pier regulations. "We both think it's a good idea - our master plan names shellfishing as a high priority as a non-tourist based industry - and we've put a lot of money into developing the resource," she said.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries has opposed the use of piers in shellfish and finfish-rich ponds, because piers and boating activity can affect the health of eelgrass beds, which are an important component of the pond ecosystem.

Late last year DMF director Paul Diodati outlined this concern in a letter to the Department of Environmental Protection over a proposed pier project in Nashaquitsa Pond. "Nashaquitsa Pond is classified by the Division as significant juvenile finfish and shellfish habitat . . . . Eelgrass provides important cover and forage habitat for the juveniles of many finfish species and bay scallops. It is still our concern that pier construction and increased boating activity will ultimately result in the permanent loss of habitat . . . ." Mr. Diodati wrote.

"There is a genuine debate about whether docks harm the habitat, and I'm sure we'll have some of that in the weeks ahead," Mrs. Goff said.

The DCPC nomination triggers an automatic moratorium on new structures within the boundaries of the proposed district. A public hearing is now set for June 7, when the commission will consider whether to designate the DCPC. If the district is designated, the yearlong ban on structures will remain in effect while regulations are developed. Any new regulations must be approved by voters at a town meeting. The nomination also states that if the town of Aquinnah decides later to join the proposed DCPC, the town of Chilmark will welcome the participation.

The vote by the commission to nominate the district last week was 15-1. Voting in favor of the nomination were: James Athearn, Christina Brown, John Best, Marcia Cini, Michael Donaroma, Dan Flynn, Tristan Israel, Megan Ottens-Sargent, Ken Rusczyk, Linda Sibley, Richard Toole, Jim Vercruysse, Kate Warner, Andrew Woodruff and Robert Zeltzer. Voting against the nomination was Jennie Greene, an appointed member of the commission from Chilmark.

This marks the third DCPC nomination by the commission in the last several months. Early this year the commission voted to designate a long stretch of the North Shore as a DCPC. Also sparked by concern about pier applications, the North Shore DCPC spans the three towns of Tisbury, West Tisbury and Aquinnah. Two weeks ago the commission voted to nominate the entire island of Chappaquiddick as a DCPC.