FCW Lauds Founding Member Martha Stone

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Groundwater protection , Conservation , Waterways

Martha Stone (center) received the Captain's Award from the Friends of Chatham Waterways' Barbara Cotnam and Frank Messina. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM When it comes to improving water quality along Chatham's shoreline, Martha Stone has never been afraid to wade right in to the reeds. Literally, sometimes.

For her work developing septic regulations and planning documents, and for her efforts as a volunteer water quality monitor, Stone received the Captain's Award from the Friends of Chatham Waterways Monday evening. It's a fitting tribute from the group she helped establish in 1983.

According to the group's history, written by Robert Carlisle and Gordon Zellner, Stone had previous experience influencing environmental policy. Living in Wellesley at the time, Stone argued for the need for a municipal recycling program in 1970, long before recycling was the norm. She became the first woman elected to the town's board of public works, and the program she championed became a model for the rest of the nation.

Having vacationed with her family in Stage Harbor since 1964, Stone was among a group of people concerned about pollution, shorefront development and harbor management issues that organized as the Friends of Stage Harbor Waterways in 1983.

Over the years, Stone said the group profited from a dedicated cadre of volunteers, “but also we had really remarkable cooperation from the town.” It was working with the board of health that the newly renamed Friends of Chatham Waterways lobbied for regulations requiring cesspools and septic systems to be inspected each time a property is sold. Chatham was one of the first communities to adopt such a regulation, which acknowledged the link between residential septic systems and water quality.

Stone was also a prime force behind the creation of another revolutionary document: the Stage Harbor Management Plan.

“It took us nine years to get the harbor plan organized, and it was Margaret Swanson, the town planner, who worked with this group called the Friends of Chatham Waterways,” she said. When it was adopted, the plan was heralded as “visionary,” and caught the attention of environmental policymakers in Boston and in Washington.

It was clear that, to influence policies, the plan would need sound water quality data. To that end, Stone and fellow Friends board member George Olmsted organized the Chatham Water Watchers in 1999.

“Martha asked everyone she knew with a boat to volunteer for the water watcher program,” board vice president Frank Messina said, reading comments written by fellow vice president Tom King. The water quality data, collected with cooperation from the town's water quality lab, formed the underpinning for the town's current wastewater management plan.

Friends of Chatham Waterways President Barbara Cotnam thanked Stone, who is concluding her 34 years with the organization, calling her a “determined mover and shaker.” Stone was given a framed photograph and a ship's clock to accompany her Captain's Award.

Stone wished the organization luck in its efforts.

“It's been a great, interesting time and a great group of people,” she said.