Marion Board of Selectmen on August 18 witnessed firsthand how divided residents and interested parties are over the root cause and future remediation of Sprague’s Cove, which resulted in a vote to take more time to digest the information before deciding on who should have control over the site. Until then, selectmen are holding onto their authority over the property.
The board and about 50 residents alike heard two conflicting presentations by the Marion Conservation Commission and the Marion Open Spaces Acquisition Commission (MOSAC). They also heard advice from phragmite expert Dr. John Teal of Rochester, who also serves on the Rochester Conservation Commission.
By now, most Marionites know what a phragmite is. The invasive and non-native species of wetlands vegetation is increasingly invading and occupying wetlands all over the Southcoast, choking out indigenous species of wetlands vegetation and wreaking havoc on the biodiversity of sensitive wetlands habitats.
Efforts to thwart the spread of the unwelcome invaders have been a losing battle thus far across affected areas and, as Teal pointed out during his presentation to familiarize selectmen with the Tao of the phragmite, there is only one way to eradicate them: diligent repeated applications of herbicide, and even that can sometimes fail to defeat the phrags’ assault on ponds, swamps, marshes, and beaches.
In its own attempt to spare Sprague’s Cove from succumbing to phragmites, a wetland was constructed in 1995 to counteract fecal bacteria contamination of Silvershell Beach from storm water runoff, and the ConCom back in 2012 authorized an outside agency to mow down much of the phragmites at the site, causing some outrage from concerned residents in the vicinity because of the aesthetic alteration to the area.
Norman Mills, on behalf on the ConCom, gave a slideshow presentation on the past, present, and proposed future of Sprague’s Cove.
Mills said the phragmites are restricting the water flow of the natural filtration system, reducing the biodiversity of the cove, and they have “destroyed what was put down there originally in 1995.”
“MOSAC is well-equipped to control maintenance of invasive species,” said Mills after emphasizing that Town Meeting this year struck down an article that would fund the ConCom’s effort to control the phragmites. “MOSAC has done nothing to control invasive species…”
The ConCom’s recommendation for the future of Sprague’s Cove, as presented by Mills, is “to continue the way it is right now,” enlisting the help of volunteers in order to restore the wetlands to “the way people remember way back when it started,” eliciting a quiet chuckle from MOSAC Chairman John Rockwell seated in the audience, awaiting his turn to address selectmen and residents. Mills admitted that the ConCom “probably overstepped its boundaries” when it had the phrags mowed.
“We went in too quickly,” said Mills, and without the input of the community. “Whatever the selectmen decide is fine.” Mills said the ConCom prefers to “be proactive, but passive and leave it alone.”
Rockwell, also a wetlands specialist, contends that the problem with the drainage of Sprague’s Cove stems not with the phragmites, but with a clogged six-inch drainage pipe that has diminished 40% of the system’s capacity to filter through water, and what needs to be done is to snake the clogged pipe to open it up again and devise a maintenance plan, involving several interested parties who will agree upon the plan. He added that there has been a history of issues with the drainage throughout the years.
Phragmites, he said, have been used in the past as a preferred soil erosion inhibitor and what is happening here in Marion is the result of aesthetic concerns.
“They don’t like the way it looks,” said Rockwell. He said, although phrags are one of his concerns overall, he limits that concern to the more pristine areas of Marion that phragmites have yet to invade. Otherwise, the futile battle to remove phragmites is not the best way the town can spend its money, according to Rockwell.
Toward the end of the public discussion, despite Board of Selectmen Chairman Jonathan Henry’s statement that the time would not be used to pin blame on either side of the issue, there was a bit of mudslinging nonetheless.
Some wondered that if Rockwell knew of the drainage issue in the past, why he did not bring it up. Rockwell maintained that he had informed someone, but no action was taken. He said MOSAC would not undertake the remediation of Sprague’s Cove unless the selectmen voted to hand the authority over to MOSAC.
“And now the selectmen hold the bag, and it’s probably a bag they don’t really want to hold,” said Rockwell.
ConCom member Stephen Gonsalves had a hard time wrapping his head around the drainage pipe, rather than the phragmites, being the main problem with the functioning of Sprague’s Cove.
Accompanying MOSAC was the engineer of the original plan for Sprague’s Cove, Bernadette Taber, who stated that phragmites would do “just as good of a job” of filtering water as the native species that were originally planted at the site.
“It doesn’t affect how this system right now is functioning,” said Taber.
“I’m no lover of phragmites … I’ve killed plenty,” said Rockwell. “It just shouldn’t be done under the guise of making the basin work.”
Selectman Jody Dickerson said he heard a lot of information that night and needed more time to process, do more research, and preferred to table the matter until the next meeting.
“At this point, I’m not certain how that should come out,” said Henry. He said he heard both arguments and “it could go both ways.”
Resident Annie Rockwell interrupted a vote to introduce a petition of 162 signatures in favor of handing authority of Sprague’s Cove to MOSAC.
Another resident, Sandra Parsons, addressed the selectmen and asked to have her signature stricken from the petition. She said after learning more about the situation that evening, she was no longer sure if she preferred MOSAC to manage the site.
“The jury is out for me,” said Parsons, “because I have new things to think about.”
Rockwell interjected one final time to suggest that funding phragmite removal at Sprague’s Cove was not the wisest way to use Town funds.
“It’s not a good use of town money,” said Rockwell, emphasizing that his opinion had nothing to do with how he personally felt about phragmites.
By Jean Perry