Vol. I No. 04 9/15/2020
Why the Delay of Treatment of Stockbridge Bowl?
by Roxanne McCaffrey
After reading a recent letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle it seems there is a lack of understanding regarding the management of the Stockbridge Bowl, the role of jurisdictional agencies and the recent history of events.
1957: The Massachusetts Conservation Commission Act was enacted, giving communities the option to establish conservation commissions to act as advocates for the natural environment, prepare appropriate conservation plans, and manage conservation lands. (Later legislation amended the Act to broaden those powers.)
2019 Stockbridge Bowl Association (SBA) appeals Conservation Commission denial of two wetlands permits:
- One appeal under the state Wetlands Protection Act to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
- The denial is upheld by the DEP
- One appeal under the Stockbridge Wetlands Bylaw to Superior Court
- Judge Agostini ordered the Conservation Commission to approve a test application of herbicide to a portion of the Stockbridge Bowl.
- The SBA asked that the Conservation Commission hold off on issuing approval while negotiations were undertaken with DEP.
The stated goal of MassDEP Wetlands File # 296-0483 (Stockbridge Bowl Association herbicide application):
"The "Project Goal" is the substantial and ecologically significant control of Myriophyllum spicatum L., to effectuate the return of an indigenous and appropriately diverse aquatic plant community in the areas in which M. spicatum is effectively removed. The several Special Conditions of this Order shall be employed by the Department to gauge whether the Project Goal has been achieved."
The Conservation Commission is not "flouting the court".
As a result of negotiations, The Stockbridge Conservation Commission and the SBA signed an agreement allowing for a four-year program as defined by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding the use of herbicides in Stockbridge Bowl.
This agreement was signed by the Town of Stockbridge on July 1, 2020 and filed, together with a proposed Final Order of Conditions (FOOC) agreed to by all parties, with the DEP Office of Appeals and Dispute Resolution (OADR) presiding officer on July 2, 2020. The Stockbridge Conservation Commission granted a permit for the herbicide application issued on August 19, 2020 under the wetlands bylaw pursuant to Judge Agostini's order.
Under this permit, the SBA may apply the herbicide to test plots within the Bowl in 2021 following a 2020 vegetation survey in test and control plots (in accordance with the plan required by the DEP).
While the settlement agreement filed on July 2, 2020, was awaiting approval by the presiding officer and the DEP Commissioner, an aquatic vegetation and snail survey was undertaken July 27-28, 2020 at Town expense in support of the Town's mechanical harvesting program by Dr. Thomas Coote of Otter Environmental and Bard College at Simon's Rock.
Dr. Coote found that "…extensive beds of milfoil were not found in the lake or the channel …Most of the milfoil found was not reaching the surface of the lake, but were sparse and relatively short."
The proposed FOOC regarding the herbicide three-year program includes Special Conditions as demanded by the DEP and is contingent upon a relative abundance of Eurasian water milfoil of at least 50% in the test and control plots.
Subsequently, the Stockbridge Bowl Association has chosen not to move forward with the required plant stem count in the control and test zones of the lake this year and instead has asked the Town of Stockbridge and the DEP to modify the settlement agreement, extending it to next year without showing a current, significant population of invasive Eurasian water milfoil.
The Coote survey also has significance for both the Town's weed harvesting permit and the proposed dredging of the lake. The Town was being held to similar conditions by the DEP under our permit to harvest; i.e. relative abundance of Eurasian water milfoil of at least 50%, resulting in the inability to run the weed harvesters this year.
The Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Commission (SBSC) was appointed by the Select Board in February, 2020 bringing stakeholders together to work cooperatively for the future health of the Stockbridge Bowl, its watershed and the lake ecosystem. The SBSC is comprised of a representative from each of the following: Select Board, SBA, Conservation Commission, Board of Health, Water & Sewer Commission, Water Department, and the Sportsmen's Club. Additionally, the Harbormaster and Tri-Town Health are non-voting participants.
The Town of Stockbridge has initiated a monthly lake monitoring program in conjunction with GZA and Dr. Robert Kortmann, a prominent limnologist and expert in cyanobacteria. In 2020, the Stockbridge Water Department has been collecting data and test samples monthly from ice out and will continue to do so through September. Monitoring to date has shown no evidence of a cyanobacterial bloom and water clarity has been very good throughout the spring and summer months. It was noted in June that little Eurasian water milfoil was present; that condition has persisted.
The SBSC has undertaken the task of defining the goals and scope of a comprehensive Lake Management Plan. Any such plan must be reevaluated on a regular basis to take current conditions into account since the lake ecosystem is a dynamic environment as evidenced this year.
The Town of Stockbridge, the SBSC and the Conservation Commission are currently addressing the presence of water chestnut in one area of the outlet. This is an invasive species that can spread rapidly and action is being taken by the Town of Stockbridge to obtain the proper permission to remove these invasive plants.
Prior to the herbicide debate, the SBA and the Town historically worked together on various lake management projects.
It is imperative that we return to that spirit of cooperation so we can tackle the challenges we face in Stockbridge Bowl, preserving it for future generations.
Roxanne McCaffrey serves on the Select Board and the Stockbridge Bowl Stewardship Commission.
Fishing on the Stockbridge Bowl.