Turtle Garden Violation Deemed Unintentional

Debra Ewing of Jenney Street, on behalf of residents at The Cove who have been overseeing the turtle habitat protection project on Town-owned land, came before the Marion Conservation Commission on December 27 to address a violation of mowing beyond the boundaries allowed in the Order of Conditions.

The matter was continued from December 13 so the commission could get some answers before turning its attention to The Cove’s request for an extension of its permit to maintain the landscaping of the turtle nesting habitat restoration project near Hammetts Cove off Jenney Lane.

The problem was that mowing had been performed that far exceeded the boundaries set by the commission back in 2015. Before issuing a three-year extension, which the commission still held off on for now, the commission members needed some information, particularly about the benefits of mowing the coastal property when it came to not just the diamondback terrapins, but also the eastern box turtles.

First, Ewing said the work that was done by the new landscaping company the residents hired was completely contrary to the instructions she gave them. She said she gave explicit directions to the landscaper, but the worker who did the actual work while Ewing was not at home ignored the posted boundaries.

“They were way out to the water and I told them immediately to stop, but I was not aware that it was going to be happening that day,” said Ewing. “It was not supposed to happen.”

Ewing said she finds the boundary posts to be obvious, but commission member Shaun Walsh added, “The posts are very obvious, but to the uninitiated it’s not very clear what they’re demarcating, so they look almost a little bit random.”

Walsh later suggested that The Cove residents purchase small circular signs announcing the presence of wetlands and number the posts accordingly with the numbers expressed on the plan and accompanying Order of Conditions.

And in the future, Walsh added, a copy of the Order of Conditions should be physically handed to the landscaper before any future work is completed.

“It’s vitally important that whoever does that activity in the future has a copy of this order,” said Walsh.

As for the eastern box turtles, although they enjoy the mowed areas for passage, the wetter regions closer to the shoreline are not where the box turtle prefers to nest.

“Our question…” Chairman Cynthia Callow asked, “…is the mowing of that area vital to the habitat of the box turtle? Is that a place where they go? Is that a place where they play?

Commission member Jeffrey Doubrava said that he recalled from prior hearings in 2015 that the mowing had something to do with box turtles, and Walsh, who had reviewed meeting minutes, concurred.

The commission determined that Don “Turtle Man” Lewis, the one who spearheaded the project and has since moved to Florida, did state that the mowing would benefit the eastern box turtle in some way. However, Ewing said she was unaware of how the mowing would benefit them.

“That was the only controversial part of the project – the mowing,” Doubrava recalled, saying that Lewis had initially requested a 30,000 square-foot sandy area to be cleared, but the commission only granted a 2,000 square-foot area.

“Mowing was definitely limited,” Callow said. “There was a big discussion about that.”

Landis Major, president of The Cove Homeowner’s Association, said he has seen box turtles in the mowed area. “Not a great number, but I have seen them.”

But they do not nest there, unlike the terrapins, which benefit from the mowing because they need the sandy area to lay their eggs.

Some Cove residents actually question whether expanding the sandy nesting habitat would ensure even more success of the project in the future.

Before the rescue project was established, it was determined that there were roughly 50 diamondback terrapins in Hammetts Cove, almost driven to extinction because none of the hatchlings survived.

Doubrava reminded Ewing that the maintenance permit was good until April 2018. In the meantime, the residents should get confirmation from a biologist that continued mowing is still essential to the project and also find a viable solution for improving the boundary post markers so that future landscapers would not repeat the mistake of over-mowing the area.

“The mowing part,” said Major, “I don’t see as a problem, now that we’ve experienced one disaster that was not our choosing. We can either put out more [small-sized] posts or we could rope it.”

As long as the enhanced markings are consistent with the Order of Conditions, said Walsh.

“Without any kind of information, even a small little circle sign … it’s just a bunch of random posts,” Walsh said.

The residents of The Cove do not need to return before the commission, but they will need to submit the information the commission requested before the permit expires in April.

Also during the meeting, a Request for Certificate of Compliance for Warren and Lee Williamson of 121 Converse Road was issued. The commission reviewed the history of the Order of Conditions and prior Enforcement Order and found no further issues or concerns at the present time.

The Request for Certificate of Compliance for Theresa Fitzpatrick for 14 Doran Way was issued contingent upon (and issued upon) the new property owners furnishing the commission with proof that a permanent split-rail fence or line of boulders has been installed. The house was slated for closing on January 10, and Fitzpatrick claimed she was unaware that a permanent wetlands marker was required.

The public hearing for the Town of Marion’s Notice of Intent for the construction of the County Road water main and meter vault installation to extend a 12-inch water main to provide an emergency water supply to Wareham in case of fire or other emergency (at the expense of the Town of Wareham pending a Town Meeting vote) was continued until January 10 in order to allow for time to properly notify one last abutter who was otherwise unreachable before the hearing.

In other matters, the commission will hold off before issuing a Restoration Completion request for 99 Perry Lane until it can review work completed at the sight in the spring.

The next meeting of the Marion Conservation Commission is January 10 at 7:00 pm at the Marion Town House.

Marion Conservation Commission

By Jean Perry


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