Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Recently I read David Hearn’s letter regarding the denial of his request to install a pier from his property on the Vineyard Haven side of Lagoon Pond. The conservation commission denied his application yet again, based on the town bylaw. Generally, local bylaws are put in place by communities to compliment the Wetlands Protection Act and one of the stated interests in the act is to “protect land containing shellfish,” in this case the shellfish beds in Lagoon Pond.
The purpose of the Wetlands Protection Act and local bylaws are to protect natural resources while allowing projects to go forward in or near these same resources. Typically projects like installing a pier in coastal waters in the state of Massachusetts are “conditioned” by the local conservation commissions, and very few are actually denied when there is a fair and objective review of the application.
I am familiar with Mr. Hearn’s request for a pier in front of his property. The pier would benefit not only Mr. Hearn but also protect the shellfishery. Each time Mr. Hearn or any other boater for that matter brings a vessel close to shore, the prop wash scours the bottom, negatively impacting the habitat. His request for the pier was intended to assure that his vessel would remain in deeper water to avoid damaging the shellfish beds. A review of his application reveals many mitigation measures that protected the fishery well beyond the avoidance of prop wash. Relocation of shellfish in the footprint of the pier, seeding the pond with young shellfish, single pile construction to minimize impact on the bottom, shellfish surveys, etc. All intended to improve the shellfishery for everyone which would set the standard higher for future reviews of pier applications in the pond for both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs.
The basis for denying the project was that the area was an active shellfish area. I believe this statement could apply to just about any section of the pond. Further, I don’t believe a commission’s role is to deny legitimate coastal projects that meet the intended purpose of the Wetlands Protection Act and local bylaws. They denied the project because they could, and not because an approval would damage the natural resources. Piers are located throughout the state’s coastal waters where shellfish beds are naturally occurring. It is the order of conditions that each conservation commission includes in its approval of an application for a pier that would protect the natural resources of their community.
I recently resigned from a conservation commission in a coastal community. In my 30 years on the commission, it was rare to deny any project. The prime reason for a denial was because an applicant was not willing to make adjustments to their project to satisfy the state’s regulations or a local bylaw. Mr. Hearn did offer many accommodations and still the Tisbury conservation commission denied his legitimate request. In my opinion this was an abuse of their authority and it needs to be exposed. They are an embarrassment to legitimate folks that try to protect our natural resources for the right reasons.
John P. Gurney