While Board Debates Bog Policy With ConCom
HARWICH — Selectmen have approved a one-year extension on the lease of the town-owned Main Street cranberry bogs to provide the current lease holder time to wind down operations.
The leasing of town-owned cranberry bogs has become somewhat of a contentious issue, with selectmen and the conservation commission at odds over how the bogs should be used. Selectmen were not happy with the commission's Bell’s Neck Management Plan, which supported a gradual naturalization management plan for bogs near the Herring River flume in the West Harwich conservation area.
Commission members said it was no longer cost effective to lease the bogs, but selectmen felt loss of active bogs further diminishes the town’s agricultural heritage. The issue came up at the board's meeting Monday regarding the renewal of the town’s 20-year lease of the 33-acre Main Street bogs property in North Harwich, which is scheduled to expire in November.
“I’m extremely frustrated,” Selectman Donald Howell said. He said he informed the commission in December of the need to take action on the lease, and sent a reminder a few weeks ago.
“It’s the last leased bog we have left, and I’ll be damned if we let another pump house go out and we have another field of brown,” Howell said.
It will take time for the present leaseholder, Leo Cakounes, to remove his equipment, if he does not wish to pursue another lease, he said.
By the time the town put out a request for proposals and issued a new lease, it would be too late in the season to get a crop going for the fall harvest, Selectman Ed McManus said.
Howell offered a motion to have the selectmen extend the present lease for another year, to Nov. 12, 2022.
Selectmen Chairman Larry Ballantine asked whether the board has the ability to make that decision, given the way the lease is written. He said the commission has been given care and custody of the bogs.
“It’s our lease, we signed it,” Howell said. Town Administrator Joseph Powers said after reviewing the initial lease agreement it is clear selectmen have the authority to issue the Main Street bogs lease.
Selectman Michael MacAskill agreed it would not be fair to ask the leaseholder, who has worked the bogs for a long time, to start growing the crop and then tell him to get out. He said that Cakounes has said he would like to explore the use of the bog as an educational facility, seeking an agreement with Cape Tech to expand agricultural learning opportunities. Providing the additional year would buy time to harvest the bogs and provide selectmen with time to consider what should happen there moving forward, MacAskill said.
Conservation Administer Amy Usowski said a one-year extension is not a big deal; agreeing it will take some time for the leaseholder to clear out of there. As for the timing, Usowski said of Howell’s comments, the commission has been extremely busy with four and five hour meetings, but they have scheduled a special meeting to address the Main Street bogs lease. That session was scheduled for Wednesday, March 31. The commission also plans to discuss management issues related to the Bell’s Neck Management Plan on that evening.
The Bell’s Neck bogs are completely different than the Main Street bogs, Usowski said, adding there are a lot of environmental factors. But, she added, the commission members aren’t against leasing the Bell’s Neck bogs again.
Selectmen voted 4-0 to extend the lease for another year.