The historic Mill Pond will be studied but not dredged, West Tisbury voters decided at their annual town meeting Tuesday night.
“The Mill Brook is largest stream on the Island . . . This is a very complex system. We can’t dive in with backhoes before we really take a look at what’s going on,” said Ebba Hierta.
“The Mill Pond is an Island gem . . . please vote yes to preserve our pond,” said Anna Alley.
The comments came during an hourlong discussion on the key issue of the night: environmental management of the dammed freshwater pond that dates to the 1600s. There were two articles on the warrant: one seeking $30,000 to pay for design and engineering work to dredge the pond, and another to add $15,000 to the same amount appropriated last year for a complete watershed study of the pond and Mill Brook river system. Opinions have been heated on both sides of the issue.
The meeting saw a large turnout of 221 voters. Moderator F. Patrick Gregory presided over the 43-article warrant, and the evening began with town poet laureate Justen Ahren reading his poem, Thaw, dedicated to town resident Jonathan Revere who died this year.
Discussion on the Mill Pond began at the doors of the West Tisbury School where advocates for and against dredging welcomed voters with Save the Mill Pond buttons and pamphlets. Voters have taken up the topic at town meetings for the past two years with no clear outcome.
But after more debate on Tuesday night, a majority of voters concluded that the watershed study is needed before dredging.
“We don’t have enough information and it’s irresponsible to spend money for dredging when we need to understand the climate we have and what kind of environmental threats and changes are going on,” said Sue Hruby.
“Dredging is unnecessary to preserve the pond. It would be a messy, risky and expensive proposition,” said Kent Healy.
“I know it’s an emotional issue,” said Tim Boland. “I think it’s radical to propose dredging without the study.”
Others took a different view.
“If nothing is done to control the growth situation it will accelerate and the pond will eventually become a wetland,” said Mrs. Alley, a member of the Mill Pond committee.
Committee chairman Bob Woodruff agreed. “You stick a canoe paddle and it’s like chocolate pudding,” he said.
“What became of all of that depth? It’s gone. Plus now you have the vegetation and emergent plants that are adapted to living in one foot of water.”
Even the three town selectmen split on the issue, with Richard Knabel and Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter 3rd voting in favor of dredging, while Cynthia Mitchell voted against it.
In the end the study money was approved and the dredging question failed 119-100. The next step for the watershed study will be a request for proposals from the town selectmen.
Voters approved a $15.8 million operating budget, up $1 million or seven per cent over last year, largely due to school spending, debt retirement and the new West Tisbury Library. Voters also later approved a $40,000 article for costs associated with completing construction of the library. The new $6 million building opened last month.
“Although we’ve moved into the completed library, there are a lot of small punch list items that come up,” said building committee chairman Leah Smith. “I know we’re all working toward enjoying this beautiful building for many years to come.”
In a series of Community Preservation Act questions, voters readily agreed to put $81,000 toward the relocation and restoration of the Gay Head Light and approved $30,000 for repairs to the Old Mill building. They stopped briefly on a $75,000 request for a new picket fence at the town cemetery on State Road.
“I have three grandparents, a pending father and a sister in the graveyard against the fence and I don’t think any of them would be keen on spending $75,000,” Prudy Burt said.
But Katherine Long, an abutter to the cemetery who raises chickens for eggs, said the fence helps protect her livestock.
“I like the fence because it keeps people who are wandering in the cemetery from bothering my chickens with their dogs,” she said.
In the end, voters approved the fence 108 to 102.
Two affordable housing projects, one in West Tisbury and one in Vineyard Haven, will receive funding after voters approved $50,000 for predevelopment costs for a pair of rental duplexes behind the fire station on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, and $65,000 to help buy and renovate six apartment units on Village Court in Tisbury. The second question saw some dissent. “It’s my understanding that people currently living there will be displaced by this vote,” said Brian Smith. “We are essentially spending taxpayers dollars in putting people out of their homes and I think that’s reason enough not to support this.”
But David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority which is overseeing the project, said the housing authority is working to find new housing for the residents. Preference for one of the six apartments will be given to residents who either live in or work for the town of West Tisbury. A similar allocation was approved at the Edgartown annual town meeting.
Voters agreed to back two regional initiatives by approving $13,500 to help fund administrative costs for ACE MV, the Island’s continuing education program, and by endorsing a new set of rules to control fertilizer use Islandwide. “This sends the right message of this community’s determination of protecting our waters,” Vineyard Conservation Society director Brendan O’Neill told the town meeting.
A new bylaw was approved to regulate solar arrays in residential neighborhoods, with an amendment allowing arrays by special permit on rural roads.
A series of zoning bylaw amendments were approved. One involved language changes for frontage and setback requirements. Another will limit detached bedrooms to 400 square feet, the same as in Chilmark and Edgartown. The change came at the request of the building inspector.
“The problem is that detached bedrooms are getting out of control,” inspector Ernest Mendenhall said. “We really need some guidance from our zoning bylaw.”
Finally, voters agreed to adopt a nonbinding resolution urging Gov. Deval Patrick to close the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth.
The annual town election was Thursday with no contested races on the ballot.