Opinions on the future of Mill Pond and the future of Mill Brook were more varied than the options at a Saturday afternoon forum held at the West Tisbury Library. The townspeople and others who packed the meeting room kept coming back to a central point: The pond and the brook that feeds it are among the town’s most valued resources and worthy of concern and some kind of action.
Without any action, experts say the pond will continue to choke as more and more sediment and organic materials continue to arrive and fill it.
They came to hear Michael Hopper talk about a controversial option to remove the current dam and take Mill Pond back to a rambling brook. Mr. Hopper, president of the Sea Run Brook Trout Coalition who has had experience with dam removal, said it was the most affordable and environmentally friendly choice as a way to give back to nature, and help native brown trout remain connected to their historical waters and the sea.
Much of the impetus for the public forum was driven by Prudy Burt, a long-time resident amateur naturalist, who’s charge was to encourage members of the community to look at all options before locking into the most expensive which for now calls for dredging the pond.
A large contingent of residents came who sought to leave the shallow pond alone, but dredge it to a depth to help restore aquatic life to the pond. The most outspoken included members of the town’s own Mill Pond Committee, including chairman Robert Woodruff, Craig Saunders and Rick Karney.
Mr. Woodruff supported the notion of removing dams across the northeast as a way to help anadromous fish. “They have done it successfully in Maine,” he said. However, Mr.Woodruff said that fish ladders can also be successful. “I don’t think returning Mill Pond to a brook will receive enthusiasm in the town,” he said.
Mr. Karney, the Island’s top shellfish biologist, spoke of his own concerns about Tisbury Great Pond and the threat the pond may suffer from rising levels of nitrogen in the water should there be so dramatic a change. “The biggest threat to ponds on Martha’s Vineyard is nutrient overloading.” Mr. Karney said, adding that towns down-Island are looking at the options of building additional wastewater treatment systems to deal with the issues around Lagoon Pond.
Mr. Saunders, an environmental consultant, added his doubts. Mr. Saunders said changing the pond to a stream would de-water the wetlands, and the nutrient rich waters would end up in the great pond, instead of being treated naturally. He said converting the pond to a stream would be a detriment farther down stream.
But David Thompson, of Edgartown, said leaving Mill Pond as a static pond was a flawed way to treat nutrient-rich water. Mr. Thompson described himself as an avid recreational fly-fisherman who had fished 30 years in the freshwater streams of the Island. Mr. Thompson said there are native brown trout on the Island and they are worth saving. “You have indications of good water quality when there is brown trout.” He suggested looking at returning the pond to a stream not only to protect the fragile trout population but to improve water quality.
Mr. Thompson said the best way to treat nitrogen-enriched water is to keep it moving, introducing oxygen, just as in a stream.
Mr. Thompson, who said he is the plant operator at the Edgartown wastewater treatment plant, said and a that bubbling stream is far preferable to stagnant waters left standing in wetlands.
Virginia Jones of West Tisbury asked whether there really was much of a native population of trout on the Island. She was quickly informed that a freshwater survey inventory done in the past year by the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife reported a substantial trout population. But it was also reported that trout cannot handle warm water in Mill Pond, where the temperature can get to 85 degrees. Dam-removal proponents said that a brook, fed by waters upstream and pooling springs is considerably cooler and friendly to aquatic life.
David Steere, an abutter to the brook, said he liked the pond and it was worth preserving. “I don’t want to lose the pond,” he said.
A draft report in October by ESS Group, of East Providence and commissioned by the Mill Pond committee, proponents of dredging, recommended dredging as a solution. A dredging project would have a price of between $215,000 and $250,000 and most likely would have to be borne by the town.
Mr. Hopper said dredging did not have to be the only option. In communities where he had seen successful stream restoration, the work was funded primarily through federal, state and some private sources.
Nelson Bryant, 88, has memories of recreational fishing in Mill Brook as a kid with a cane fishing rod and a can of worms. He said he thought Mr. Hopper’s idea as clearly the best option. “My feeling is that if we are going to do something to the pond, this concept is a good one.
“I love the pond. But it wouldn’t trouble me to see a brook meandering through there.”
Ms. Burt, who with friends hosted the afternoon talk with other townspeople, said she favored the idea of making the pond a stream as a serious option. She said that while there is no immediate plan to do anything to the troubled pond, she wants to continue to hold forums to raise public awareness about the options ahead. “I want people to have the opportunity to hear more ideas,” she said. “I want people to have an open mind.”
For Mr. Woodruff, dredging keeps the appearance and the system the same. “The pond is a visual resource. It has interesting wildlife, such as otters, and unusual migrant waterfowl, such as the American wigeon and the ring-necked duck. These birds stop to refuel in Mill Pond annually,” Mr. Woodruff said.
A video copy of the presentation is now available at the library, as well as on MVTV.