ORLEANS — There’s disagreement about the medicine to make Uncle Harvey better.
The marine and fresh water quality committee met last week with consultants to review a proposed timeline for treatment of the pond, which is subject to blooms of cyanobacteria, as soon as June. The committee has endorsed an application of alum to bind with the culprit substance, phosphorus, and drop it out of the water column; money for some form of treatment was approved by town meeting in 2018.
The board of selectmen has yet to vote to approve an alum treatment, a necessary step before a Notice of Intent for the project can be filed with the conservation commission and the state Department of Environmental Protection. Although alum is the treatment recommended by consultants from the UMass Dartmouth SMAST program, who say it has been used with success in 40 Cape water bodies, some townspeople, including direct abutters, prefer alternatives such as aeration. The Orleans Pond Coalition has supported an aeration treatment of Sarah’s Pond, with results pending. In an email, OPC’s former president Jim McCauley noted that the organization offered to pay for an aeration treatment of Uncle Harvey’s three years ago.
While the debate continues, “residents on the pond are very frustrated that nothing has been done,” marine and fresh water quality committee member Judy Scanlon said at the group’s Jan. 27 meeting. Seasonal blue-green algae blooms have continued to grow and “inaction is unacceptable.”
Scott Fisher of SWCA Environmental Consultants told the committee algae “will be produced early on” this year due to milder weather. “Unfortunately for residents, there’s not enough time for us to get a permit in hand for May 1,” he said. “We’ve anticipated two (conservation commission) hearings to potentially get closure on an issuance of order. If it goes beyond that, the timeline will be significantly impacted and go into July and August, (which are) massive algae bloom months. Our goal is to help meet residents’ concerns and get an application this year.”
“Uncle Harvey’s, I believe, is the only pond in Orleans closed due to a health hazard, cyanobacteria,” Scanlon said. “It was number one” on the committee’s list for remediation. She called for more education efforts. “I think a lot of people still don’t understand the application of alum,” she said. “There are a lot of comments about toxicity. There’s a lack of education about what’s fact and not fact.”
“We use too many chemicals on Cape Cod and we don’t really know their long term effect,” McCauley wrote in an email. “We need an affordable solution and we’re not going to get it with alum… Cape Cod needs to be more willing to try non-traditional solutions...”
Betsy Furtney, an abutter and former committee member, has been asking for help for the pond for more than a decade. She said only a few of her neighbors, specifically those on the shallow side of the pond, have not signed petitions for alum treatment, and said they should be approached individually by scientists who can answer their questions. She noted that the Orleans Conservation Trust, which owns land on the pond, has not signed the petitions; according to an OCT source, the organization has not discouraged its members from doing so.
“Town counsel has already given an opinion that we can move forward without all the signatures,” Furtney said. “Appeals will be happening. Work them into your timeline.” Given that reality, she said, “I had assumed we were targeting spring 2021” for an alum application, not this year. Fisher said he could pursue permitting this year and plan on a treatment next spring given that permits are good for three years.
Another way to address abutter objections was raised by Scanlon, who said she’d heard that “a curtain can be hung to partition off a section of the pond and still implement the management strategy.”
“It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do,” Fisher said. “It’s not a bad safety net to consider including a barrier as sort of an olive branch. I think the (conservation) commission would recognize an effort... to make everyone happy.” In his experience, he said, “I have never seen any impact on wildlife” from such a barrier. “I don’t think a curtain will be up that long… I think a week would be beyond what’s necessary.” Furtney noted that the alum treatment is recommend for the deeper end of the pond, away from the dissenting abutters on the shallow side.
The marine and fresh water quality committee’s next meeting is Monday, Feb. 10, at 10 a.m.