With bacteria levels in Sengekontacket Pond lower than anticipated this summer, Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall is advocating that parts of the pond reopen to shellfishing as soon as next summer.
“I am pushing for the reopening of certain areas of the pond,” Mr. Bagnall told the Friends of Sengekontacket at their annual meeting this week. “And I don’t anticipate opposition.”
High bacteria counts caused the state Division of Marine Fisheries to close Sengekontacket Pond twice in the summer of 2007 — once for two weeks in June and again in July for the remainder of the summer. The summer closures at Sengekontacket are now mandatory — the pond closed this summer on June 1 and will reopen in October. The Friends of Sengekontacket, a nonprofit organization formed 20 years ago to protect water quality in Sengekontacket, have been dogged in their efforts to promote the health of the pond so it can reopen permanently.
The group does educational and community outreach and is responsible for the Save Senge signs which dot lawns from Edgartown to Oak Bluffs; its also raises funds to support the Massachusetts Estuaries Project, a state study of nitrogen loading in 89 southeastern Massachusetts estuaries. Among the estuaries being studied are Edgartown Great Pond, Sengekontacket, the Lagoon and Tisbury Great Pond. The group also helps restore the natural habitat of Sengekontacket, organizes a cleanup of the nearby State Beach each spring and co-sponsors the barrier beach task force with the Dukes County Commission.
On three dates this summer, Mr. Bagnall collected water samples from Sengekontacket Pond, Trapps Pond and Eel Pond. The University of New Hampshire’s Jackson Estuarine Laboratory analyzed the bacteria levels of the samples. “The bacteria level is lower than anticipated,” Mr. Bagnall told the board. The Wampanoag Environmental Laboratory and the Division of Marine Fisheries also analyzed additional samples. The results indicated lower levels of bacteria as well, Mr. Bagnall reported.
“We are doing two types of testing,” explained William Wilcox, water resource planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and a member of the Friends advisory board. “The first is bacterial to determine what kinds of bacteria are polluting the ponds. Storm water? Goose droppings? Then we can address the causes.” The second type of testing samples nutrient levels in the pond. The results will be included in the forthcoming estuaries project report. As for when that report will be issued, Mr. Wilcox said: “I’ve stopped predicting.”
Despite positive results, bacterial testing on the pond will continue, Mr. Bagnall said, and will carry a heftier price tag than in the past. “The next step is expensive. Analyzing the DNA of the bacteria to trace where it came from costs $1,000 a bottle,” he explained. The Friends will help to fund the study.
Mr. Bagnall said it is time to ask the state to reevaluate the summer closure of Sengekontacket. He expects appropriate areas to reopen next season. And he said the group needs to find more private homeowners on the pond to open up their septic tanks for testing. He promised all results would remain anonymous.
Before excusing himself for another meeting, Mr. Bagnall reported on other summer activity and future projects. He planted 250,000 scallop seed and just over 1,000 quahaug seed from the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group hatchery in the pond this summer. The Edgartown dredge is undergoing repairs, he reported, and has a scheduled launch date of Sept. 16. Mr. Bagnall also announced an upcoming project which will permit a channel from the big bridge to Crab Creek. The Woods Hole Group is currently preparing an Environmental Impact Report on the area in order to issue the permits, which Mr. Bagnall said can be expected in 2009.
In business news, the Friends reported that income and contributions were both up this year. Income for fiscal year 2008 was $42,500, up $8,600 from last year. Contributions accounted for more than half of the annual income. A total of 173 contributors gave to the Friends this year, not including a matching grant from Waterview Farms, and the average donation was $135. In fiscal year 2007, 107 contributors gave an average of $132. “The increased public awareness helped,” president Jeremiah McCarthy said.
The Friends this year used a $2,500 grant from the Farm Neck Foundation for water testing and a $1,500 Edey Grant for beach grass restoration. They received a $5,000 grant from Waterview Farms plus a $5,000 matching gift.
Mr. McCarthy announced the purchase of two dog stations which will be installed near the pond. The stations have scented bags for dog owners to use when picking up after their pets and bins for waste deposit. Two similar stations are already in place in Edgartown.
Mr. McCarthy lauded the work of board member Deborah Lewis who organizes the Carry-In Carry-Out program with the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown elementary schools. The program includes a poster competition; winning entries encouraging removal of trash and litter are hung around the pond and State Beach. After the praise, conversation turned to staples and stapling practices: how best to keep those informative posters from flapping in the wind? One member of the audience noted it might be time to wrap up the meeting.
Before doing so, the group:
• Encouraged Mr. McCarthy to contact the Edgartown selectmen who do not send a representative to the joint committee on Sengekontacket, which includes officials from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. “We are very upset over this, that Edgartown doesn’t have more of a voice in this, that they aren’t more concerned,” said board member Albert Hamel. Edgartown selectman Michael Donaroma was appointed to the committee, but has only attended one meeting.
• Reported on the Around the Pond Survey conducted this summer. With help from Felix Neck, the entire pond was analyzed by foot and by kayak and certain areas flagged for inspection. The last survey of this kind was done seven years ago.
• Announced the completion of a beach management plan for Joseph A. Sylvia State Beach by the Woods Hole Group. The next meeting of the barrier beach task force, the group which worked on the plan, is Oct. 9.
• Asked members to take down their Save Senge signs by Oct. 1, save them and put them back up next season.
• Announced an audit has been requested for the organization.
• Voted to reappoint Charles Carlson, Kate Hancock and Susan Shea to three-year terms on the board, accepted the resignation of longtime member Malcolm Reed, Jr., but welcomed him to the advisory board, and voted to appoint Robin Bray of Edgartown to the board.
The Friends meet next on Oct. 8 at 9:30 a.m. at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary.