A spirit of cooperation traditionally prevails in the neighboring towns of Aquinnah and Chilmark, but there has been disagreement lately over an Army Corps of Engineers project to dredge the Menemsha basin and channel. The two towns share the body of water that includes the channel and Menemsha Pond.
The dredging project was announced last year as part of the federal government’s fifty-million dollar relief package for coastal repairs following Hurricane Sandy, which caused shoaling in the channel and damaged the Menemsha jetty. In a separate project due to start sometime this year, the jetty is also slated for repairs by the Army Corps, also using funds from the Sandy relief bill.
But the Menemsha channel dredging project ran into some political shoals this winter when the Chilmark selectmen, after hearing reports from shellfish biologists and harbor managers, said they did not want the channel dredged. There is concern for protecting shellfish beds in Menemsha Pond and also for keeping large boats out of the pond. In a recent letter to the Corps that was published in this paper, Chilmark harbor master Dennis Jason said dredging the channel would open the way for big boats seeking overnight moorings, creating the need for more enforcement and putting shellfish beds at increased risk from scouring and oil spills.
In Aquinnah, leaders for the town and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head support the dredging, believing it will improve circulation in the pond and that shellfish beds can be protected from harm. The town and tribe also would like to use the sand from the project to rebuild the dunes at Lobsterville Beach, which were flattened by Sandy.
In a letter this week, the Corps said they intend to go ahead with the dredging, citing the need for improvements to navigation. The letter is mostly boilerplate and does not appear to take into account any of the clearly-stated concerns of Chilmark officials. A public comment period is now required. Chilmark selectman Bill Rossi said this week he hopes the Corps holds a public hearing on the Vineyard to air the matter.
We hope so, too.
With due respect to Aquinnah and others who support the project, we’re concerned about the federal government making this decision without consensus among local stakeholders. And Chilmark has a very large stake in whether this saltwater channel is dredged.