Shellfish Beds Closed After Deluge
By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL
The state temporarily shut down shellfish beds on the Vineyard and across Cape Cod Wednesday as a severe northeaster swept across the region, bringing torrential rains and wind gusts of more than 45 miles per hour.
On the Island, more than five inches of rain fell in a span of 12 hours, flooding parks and roadways and bringing traffic to a virtual standstill. A wind gust of 49 miles per hour was recorded at the Martha's Vineyard Airport. The storm felled many branches and small trees, a number of boats swamped or washed ashore and Steamship Authority service to the Oak Bluffs wharf was rerouted.
Mike Syslo, a senior marine fisheries biologist with the state Division of Marine Fisheries, said the noontime shellfish closure came when state officials recognized that four inches or more of rain had fallen. State officials were concerned about bacteria contaminants entering the ponds as runoff. The closures are routine following such a heavy and sustained rainfall.
Shellfishermen who pursue quahaugs, softshell clams, blue mussels and cultured oysters are affected by the closure, which covers beds from Provincetown to Plymouth and includes all of Buzzards Bay.
"We wait five days. On Monday I will start sampling the water in certain selected ponds, and depending on the results we could open the ponds up in a couple of days," said Mr. Syslo, who is also the director of the State Lobster Hatchery and research station in Oak Bluffs.
On Wednesday, the National Weather Service Cooperative Weather Station in Edgartown recorded 5.03 inches of rain. There were times during the storm when visibility dropped to just a few feet, forcing cars to slow to a crawl. Roads and sidewalks became ponds.
At 11 a.m. the U.S. Coast Guard was called in to assist a 34-foot sailboat called Sunshine that was taking on water off Squash Meadow, near the number two buoy, which is in Nantucket Sound and far from Oak Bluffs. A Coast Guard helicopter responded, along with the Oak Bluffs fire and police departments, which deployed their 36-foot aluminum emergency response boat. The boat escorted the fishing boat into the safety of Oak Bluffs harbor.
Police officer George Fisher said the seas were so high that the operator of the boat could not see the entrance to the harbor.
The Oak Bluffs SSA wharf was surrounded by high foaming waves. The ferries that normally are scheduled to dock at the highly exposed wharf were diverted to Vineyard Haven instead. Only one ferry trip in the afternoon, the Governor, was canceled.
Mr. Fisher estimated that seas outside Oak Bluffs harbor were around six feet in size. "Winds were around 30 knots or better," he added.
That afternoon, the Oak Bluffs emergency response boat went out again to do a lengthy search for a 28-foot cabin cruiser reported overdue. The boat was found safely moored elsewhere.
A sailboat named Valhalla, over 20 feet long, came ashore outside Vineyard Haven harbor. It landed onto soft beach sand just west of the outer harbor breakwater. Another motorboat was reported on the beach on Lake Tashmoo, in the pond opposite the Lake street boat landing.
The 32-foot pilot gig named Cassie sank at its mooring in front of the Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven.
"This was similar to a northeaster in February," said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Taunton. "But instead of snow there was so much rain."
Mr. Dunham added that Falmouth and New Bedford received anywhere from four to six inches of rainfall from the storm. East Falmouth got six inches.
This has been an unusually wet period for the Vineyard - a rainfall of four inches in a 24-hour period is a rarity. The total rainfall this June, 6.22 inches so far, is already more than double the average.
It also has been a wet spring, in general. Rainfall in May was 7.36 inches, far ahead of the average of 4.25 inches.