Select Board OKs dredging plan to fight Stockbridge Bowl weeds
STOCKBRIDGE — The Select Board has approved a plan for limited dredging of Stockbridge Bowl in summer 2020 to fight a weed infestation that is threatening the lake.
The board, with support from the Conservation Commission and the Board of Health, acted on Wednesday following an impassioned appeal from Michael Nathan, a lakefront homeowner speaking as a private citizen, though he is on the Stockbridge Bowl Association's executive committee.
The Select Board vote was 2-0, with Chairman Donald Chabon abstaining because he is a shorefront resident.
An herbicide treatment proposed by the Stockbridge Bowl Association but rejected by the Conservation Commission remains tangled in legal limbo for now.
A decadeslong silt buildup needs hydro-dredging to preserve the health of the lake, Nathan said. "We have the funding to do this, and that is huge. We need the town to do its part," he said, referring to $1.5 million raised by volunteers from the association of lake-area residents with contributions from the town's other taxpayers.
"If we keep waiting, the funds will dissipate," he said. "We will be losing funds from individual investors who have given $25,000 or more and have become disillusioned that it's not being done. The citizens did their part, now we are asking the town leaders to do their part."
Selectman Terry Flynn suggested a series of target dates for the board to avoid any further delays.
Nathan warned that if nothing is done, the town's long-term financial health could be affected. "There's a potential that south of the lake [island] and down the outlet, if the silt keeps building up, has the possibility of becoming a bog, perhaps even wetlands, and the property values of that whole area are going to diminish substantially," he said.
The town receives about $1.5 million in property taxes from homeowners in the Bowl area and "this is something we have to maintain," Nathan said, describing the lake as "the crown jewel of our tax base. There's no other area in Stockbridge that comes close to giving us that kind of income, for the whole town."
"The craziness is that 75 to 100 percent of the funds are there," Nathan said. "How can we turn our back on helping to keep this lake healthy for future financial reasons?"
He also suggested that a cooler, healthier, freely flowing lake possibly might help prevent future toxic cyanobacteria algae blooms like the one late last summer that shut down the Bowl to water recreation for two weeks and forced the Josh Billings RunAground triathlon to move its canoe and kayak races to Richmond Pond.
"We are the protectors of wildlife in Stockbridge Bowl," Nathan told the selectmen. "An unhealthy Bowl is a huge detriment to the habitat of the lake. If we allow the outlet and behind the island to become a bog, there will be no fishing in that area. And that's a huge part of the beauty of our Bowl."
'No second chance'
He pointed to Conservation Commission Chairwoman Sally Underwood-Miller, who was in the audience, as "a champion for the dredging." She told The Eagle later that she is all-in on the project.
"We should not be fighting against doing the dredging," Nathan said. "We should be rejoicing in doing this project. If it becomes a wetlands, there is no second chance to bring it back. It's a restoration project."
Dr. Charles Kenny, Board of Health chairman, said there have been multiple studies that have supported dredging in parts of the lake. "I do think the dredging is a very important aspect of the health of the lake," he said. "There's a lot of politics that sometimes can take away from the science. If we're going to have a long-term solution to this lake, we have to realize what a complex scientific problem it is."
Nathan detailed state support for the hydraulic dredging effort, including MassWildlife's Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP), which signaled a potential long-term permit eight months ago for future work, including any necessary hydro-dredging near the town beach and the Hawthorne Road causeway.
Last summer, in order to protect a rare snail inhabiting the shoreline, NHESP rejected a plan supported by The Bowl Association and the town for a deep mechanical dredging project that would allow a 5.5-foot winter drawdown of the lake to remove the silt buildup, freeze the invasive weeds and stunt their warm-weather growth.
But the MassWildlife program offered potential approval for a limited, shallow hydraulic dredging approach, along with hydro-raking and a twice-annual harvesting of the weeds.
"They're still waiting for us, we haven't gotten back to them," Nathan said. "We will be remembered years from now as those that saved the Bowl or those that let it die."
On Nathan's recommendation, the Select Board named Gregg Wellenkamp, president of Well-Kamp Enterprises in Great Barrington, as project manager and point person, with authority to contact multiple engineering companies and recommend to the board how best to proceed.
He will have no authority to sign contracts or approve financial arrangements, leaving that authority to the Select Board. Wellenkamp, a Bowl Association board member, has been involved with the potential project since September 2017.
"We're giving him the go-ahead to move this forward, but he cannot make formal legal decisions," Town Administrator Danielle Fillio said.
"This is giving you more power than you had last time," Fillio told Wellenkamp, who's an unpaid, designated special municipal employee. "We want you to take the lead and tell us the best way for the town to move forward. You will be the point person to nag everybody to make sure deadlines are met."
After the meeting, Stockbridge Bowl Association President Richard Seltzer said he supported the dredging plan and was pleased that the Select Board had agreed to move forward with it.
Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.