In the aftermath of a drawn-out cleanup project for a failed oyster hatchery on Menemsha Pond, selectmen have asked the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to develop a detailed plan for future use of the site before they will consider a new lease on the pond.

At a special meeting last Thursday night, the board voted to give the tribe until Nov. 17 to develop a business and maintenance plan and space requirements for the site. “We need a proposal,” said selectman Camille Rose following the meeting. “I personally need to know that it’s an efficient, functioning operation.”

At the meeting, tribal chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais gave an update on the status of the pond cleanup, which she said was complete except for a 50-foot oyster raft that still needs to be removed. She said the tribe would contact the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard to complete the removal within two weeks.

The tribe has been granted several deadline extensions for the cleanup project, which began in June of 2008. It was ordered to clear the pond of the plastic oyster breeding bags and oyster rafts which have littered the shoreline since the hatchery was abandoned more than two years ago. The mess has cost the town money in lost tax revenue; earlier this year, the town assessors granted some $50,000 in tax abatements to residents around the pond to compensate for the problems.

The tribe was granted yet another cleanup extension in May, this time for an additional 30 days. At the Thursday meeting, Ms. Andrews-Maltais said the majority of the cleanup was completed over the summer, with the exception of the raft removal. “Part of the problem was that we’re the last people in the pecking order,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of money. The marinas and the shipyard have to take care of their other clients before they can get to us.”

Selectman Spencer Booker visited the pond prior to the meeting to see firsthand what progress had been made. “I will say I went down there and took a look at it and the bags are in nice neat rows,” he said.

Ms. Rose said she thought the cleanup was incomplete. “I personally was not going to be happy with just neatening things up . . . [I] never personally understood that the cleanup was going to stop short of removal of everything from the pond,” she said later.

The tribe no longer holds a lease on the pond. “So there [are] no defined boundaries, there is no limit,” Ms. Rose said at the meeting. “We need to look very closely in the future on the conditions of a lease like this . . . For [the cleanup project] to be ongoing like this without any controlling rules is not in the best interest of the town.”

Despite their different opinions, the selectmen agreed to consider granting the tribe a new lease if they can meet certain requirements and develop a comprehensive plan for the area. According to Ms. Andrews-Maltais, the tribe hopes to maintain oyster production on a more manageable level during the summer season. She also said that the tribe has been approached by several educational entities interested in using the hatchery for learning projects, and the tribe is considering that op tion.

Mr. Booker and selectman Jim Newman agreed that the boilerplate lease agreement currently used needs to be adjusted. “I think that we need to come up with a new lease,” said Mr. Newman. “We need to define the size. We can’t put the onus on [the tribe] to come up with a lease.” He added that the town and tribe need to develop “a working relationship where everything goes smoothly.” He suggested that they try to minimize the size of any future projects on the site as much as possible, to make it more manageable for the tribe.
Ms. Rose agreed that all future lease agreements should be carefully developed. “I think the next time, if there is a next time, it needs to be very, very well thought out so there can be no more disasters like we had,” she said.

with permission, MV Gazette

By MEGAN DOOLEY