Neighbors and Residents Lambaste Draft Plan for Old House Pond
By IAN FEIN
Martha's Vineyard Land Bank officials came under fire this week for their draft plan for Ice House Pond Preserve and the methods by which they obtained the property.
About 30 residents turned out for a public hearing on Monday, and not one person spoke in favor of the level of public access the land bank has proposed for the 11-acre property on Old House Pond, also known as Ice House Pond. The draft management plan currently calls for a six-vehicle trailhead, and would limit the number of people allowed on the property at any one time to 20.
Person after person - mostly from West Tisbury and many neighbors to the pondfront property - told the land bank that protecting the fragile pond was far more important than public use. Some criticized what they thought was faulty science in the draft plan, and many pleaded with the land bank to do more study before opening the pond to the public.
Some residents also said they had been land bank supporters until they learned of the public agency's deceptive methods in purchasing the property. The meeting at times grew combative between land bank officials and members of the public.
The land bank bought the property in January of 2003 using a blind trust as cover. Old House Pond is a freshwater glacial kettle pond hidden in the woods off Lambert's Cove Road.
"It's sad but it's true that the land bank has lost our trust by its arrogant and heedless acts, by its science-be-damned attitude . . . . by its patronizing tell-them-anything manipulative methods and practices," West Tisbury resident Benjamin Reeve told land bank commissioners and town advisory board members at the hearing Monday.
"Your enabling act says that you can acquire ocean and pond frontage to protect their natural and science resources," he continued. "Which says that you're required to protect this property. You can't just exploit it."
"That's not true," replied town advisory board member Michael Colaneri, one of the most vocal supporters of increased public access. "We're not exploiting this property."
The land bank cloaked its identity when it purchased two lots on the pond through a straw agent representing a blind trust. The public agency did not reveal its land acquisition until last November, when it defended its deceptive methods - used again in a later purchase of four beach lots off Tisbury Great Pond - under the belief that the owners would have refused to sell the parcels to the land bank.
Island residents have historically enjoyed casual use of Old House Pond, but the land bank purchase will for the first time open formal public access.
West Tisbury resident Sandy Fisher reminded town advisory board members that her family, which has owned Nip'n'Tuck Farm for the last half-century, always allowed pond access through their property to respectful town residents - including the board members and their families.
Ms. Fisher read into the record a letter she wrote that referred to her late father, Fred Fisher, a dairy farmer, town icon and longtime selectman.
"I truly believe that if he were still alive, and still a West Tisbury selectman, that we would not be here today having this discussion," Ms. Fisher said, holding back tears. "Not because he would've wanted to keep people off the pond, but because of the highly unethical procedures used in the procurement of the property."
Many pondfront neighbors mentioned possible legal action they might take against the land bank - either because of rights to access roads, or whether the public agency's plan violates deed covenants or its own enabling legislation.
Oakham resident Judith Lane owned property on Old House Pond for 34 years before she sold it unknowingly to the land bank. Mrs. Lane and her husband Mark Mattson - both of whom happen to be freshwater pond scientists - wrote letters to the land bank last week criticizing its draft management for their former property.
"The land bank may not be an entity on the Island forever, but the pond will be," Ms. Lane said in her letter. "It is disheartening to see that so much of their [land bank commissioners'] emphasis . . . . is spent in discussions of what recreation is going to be present on the preserve rather than how to manage the property to protect and enhance the rare natural resources and habitat that are present."
In his letter, Mr. Mattson said the land bank erroneously refers to the pond as Ice House Pond when its official name is well documented as Old House Pond. One longtime riparian owner at the hearing on Monday had crossed out "Ice" on the cover of the land bank's draft plan and rewritten "Old."
Both Mr. Mattson and Ms. Lane, as well as a number of other freshwater pond scientists familiar with Old House Pond, submitted technical comments to the land bank that identified factual errors, omissions and inadequacies in the draft management plan. The scientists, some of whom are considered experts on glacial kettle ponds, described Old House Pond as a statewide environmentally significant and fragile site that merits special attention and extensive study.
In a presentation to land bank officials using graphs and other visual aids, Mr. Reeve also identified errors in the draft plan and suggested that the land bank did not know how big nor how deep Old House Pond actually is. His calculations found the pond a full acre smaller than land bank estimate.
"Like many other numbers in the management plan, I don't think it's right," Mr. Reeve said. "I ask that you send the management plan back to staff. I think it's faulted to the point that it's the only thing to do."
"There are things your management plan does not reflect any awareness of, and I think it's important for the people who live around the pond that you take the time to figure them out," he added later. "The thing that most annoys some of us abutters is the utter unwillingness of the land bank to engage in any kind of science regarding water quality. If you were wiling to study the pond and see what it really could support and then make a decision about swimming, we would be more than appreciative."
More than one person asked how the land bank would deal with excess cars and people beyond what the plan allows. Land bank officials admitted that it posed a challenge, and did not have a direct answer. Access roads were another issue debated on Monday, and one resident recommended the land bank purchase a small piece of land on Lambert's Cove Road for parking, and make people walk in to the pond from there.
West Tisbury resident Harriet Bernstein suggested the land bank might consider prohibiting cars altogether.
"I've always heard of this Ice House Pond, and I've always wanted to go but have never been able to. And it's okay if for the rest of my life I'm not able to go there so easily," she said. "It's a pristine property and it should be preserved. If not everybody in the whole world can get to it, that's okay. I think the land bank has a great responsibility to maintain that property and I'm glad that they own it. But I don't think it has to have cars."
Most of the comments were about access or protecting the pond, but some nearby property owners expressed concern about privacy.
"I don't think I should have to encounter tourists or other people. I like my privacy," said Wintergreen Lane resident Julie Sierputoski, whose home is directly across from the proposed land bank trailhead. "I don't want to see strangers when I'm gardening or having a cup of coffee on my property."
The land bank will accept written public comments on the draft management plan until noon on Monday. Central commissioners and town advisory board members will then hold a joint meeting Monday at 5 p.m. in the Howes House to work toward a final management plan, which still must be sent to the state for approval before the property can be opened to the public.