ORLEANS — On Nov. 4, the select board hopes to clear up a somewhat murky situation regarding polluted Uncle Harvey’s Pond. After hearing clarifications of a couple of points, they may be ready to have Town Administrator John Kelly file a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the conservation commission to review a remediation project to use an aluminum sulfate treatment that will reduce phosphorous in the pond.
Although the proposal is recommended by the marine and fresh water quality committee based on a study by UMass Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) that compared the alum treatment to other options, and has been embraced by most of the pond’s abutters, resistance to its use continues in some circles.
One of the points the board wanted resolved was whether the commission could accept and hear the NOI if all surrounding property owners were not in support. At least one owner, Lou Morongell, has been opposed to using alum for years.
“Once you put it in there, we’re stuck with it,” he said in 2018, “short of dredging it out. With all the newer technologies on the horizon or already here, we waited this long, why can’t we evaluate some of those that show promise and give them a chance? We don’t know what the long range repercussions may be 20, 30, 40 years from now of putting this into the pond.” At the same 2018 meeting of the committee, SMAST scientist Ed Eichner, who conducted the study, said “alum has been an application for 40 years” in management of lakes, including some water bodies on Cape Cod.
Two years ago, the committee found that use of alum would be less expensive than aeration of the pond or dredging and would provide better performance and lower maintenance than aeration. There, largely, matters sat until some residents expressed concern about the lack of progress to the select board this summer. The board gave conditional approval in September for Kelly to file the NOI with the commission.
On Oct. 14, Kelly reviewed the board’s concerns. “One was that the town not be the sole funding agent,” he said, given that only one parcel on the pond is municipally owned. “However, communications that have taken place with abutting property owners, and funding in the (town meeting) warrant article for a freshwater ponds management program, all point to the fact that Uncle Harvey’s Pond was always intended to be a town project. There are explicit references to why it became a town project different than some other ponds.”
Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey met with the marine and fresh water quality committee Oct. 19 and shared reasons why such action by the town would not set a precedent for other local ponds.
“Uncle Harvey’s Pond is the only freshwater pond I’m aware of in Orleans that has been closed to human contact as a result of cyanobacteria blooms,” he said. “They’re almost annual right now. This is the only freshwater pond on the state DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) so-called 303(d) list of impaired waters. Since it’s on that list, a TMDL (total minimum daily load of pollutants number) is required to address the pollutant problems causing cyanobacteria. If we address the water quality, there’s no need for a TMDL to be set on the town. It gives the town self-determination and (doesn’t) put it in the hands of state agencies.”
Also, Uncle Harvey’s “is one of only three ponds in which the town is an abutting owner,” Meservey said (the others are Twining’s and Boland). “The public has the right and can access and go on all the waters of that pond because the town owns property on it.”
As far as setting precedent for the kinds of treatment to be used, several committee members agreed that each of the town’s impaired water bodies is unique and must be evaluated separately to find the best solution.
In a related matter, Town Counsel Michael Ford met recently with the conservation commission to tell members that they can receive the NOI and hold a hearing even if some abutters do not agree on the actions proposed.
“The conservation commission is not charged to arbitrate property rights,” Meservey told the marine and fresh water quality committee this week. “Those go through the court system.”