Water Resources panel protests being bypassed by Fishermen

Upper Westport River. Upper Westport River.

The push to repair failed systems is driven in part by concerns over elevated nitrogen levels in the Westport River.

The push to repair failed systems is driven in part by concerns over elevated nitrogen levels in the Westport River.

The Westport Fishermen’s Association’s effort to assist a study into nitrogen pollination in the river has prompted objections from the town’s Water Resources Management Committee.

The Fishermen’s Association announced recently that is giving $10,000 to assist  the Westport Community Preservation Committee in completing the final phase of the Estuaries Report on nitrogen pollution of town waterways.

In granting the money, the Fishermen said that work done on the study, which is two-thirds complete, “had a limited shelf life and that if Phase 2 is not completed this year, the report would lose its currency.”

But a majority on the Water Resources Management Committee, which is chaired by Robert Rebello,  said they are bothered by the fact that they were left out of the loop.

Meeting last week, the committee approved a series of motions, the last of which asks the Board of Selectmen to put a hold on the $10,000 CPC grant and instead send the funding request to the Water Resources Management Committee.

Water Resources Vice Chairman Bill Burns, who made the motion, said he and others were disturbed that the committee was left out of a decision “that involves protecting Westport waters, which is what this committee was established by the Selectmen to do.” He said he does not understand why non-governmental entities in Westport seem to be “making many of the important decisions without consulting those who were appointed by elected town officials.”

Other motions made by Mr. Burns and approved by the committee after considerable discussion stipulated that:

•  The Board of Selectmen be asked to amend the July 2012 Bread and Cheese Brook study to have the Westport Water Resources Management Committee be included as the recipient of all data for the town, and that the committee be the town’s designee to administer contract finances.

•  The Board of Selectmen be asked to instruct UMASS Dartmouth – School for Marine Science and Technology (UMD-SMAST) “that all information and data from the July 2012 Bread and Cheese Brook study contract, either generated from Westport River Watershed Alliance (WRWA) to UMD-SMAST, or UMD-SMAST to the Town of Westport, or WRWA, also be provided to the Westport Water Resources Management Committee as the town’s appointed committee/designee on water related issues and (also to) the Westport Board of Health.” The Water Resources Committee also asked for “copies of all data collection related to this study with the data package to include; the way collection was done, lab notes, field notes, analytical data process, and interpretations.”

Tom Schmitt, a member of both the Fishermen’s Association and Water Resources Management Committee, said he was not supportive of the vote to put a hold on the $10,000 CPC grant.

“I don’t think that the committee has been left out of the loop,” he said. Actually the Water Resources committee had talked of applying to the CPC for the same thing.

“It doesn’t really matter to me who makes the application to CPC — the goal is the same either way,” he said, adding that CPC actions normally wind up before Town Meeting for final approval anyway.

“We all want the same thing,” he said — a clean river that is vibrant and supports the local economy, fishing and recreation.

“We weren’t working behind anyone’s back,” replied Westport Fishermen’s Association President Jack Reynolds. “Actually I thought we have been pretty out front about it.”

“My reaction is that all we were trying to do was make sure that the town finishes a study that is already two-thirds complete … We thought money was an issue and we wanted to help.”

Mr. Reynolds said the Fishermen are not involving themselves in setting policy or regulations, just helping finish a study that is meant to “tell us what is going on here with our river. We thought that’s what everybody was interested in.”

“We are not going to get into a war about something like this,” he added. “If people don’t want the project completed and don’t want the nitrogen in the river looked into then that is their decision.”

In announcing their decision to support the study with $10,000, the Fishermen’s board of directors said, “The WFA felt it was important to complete the report so that the town can start addressing nitrogen loading problems.

The Westport Estuary Project, Bread and Cheese Study is an effort to find the most effective and cost efficient solutions to the nitrogen issue that will also be acceptable to and supported by the community,” Mr. Reynolds said.

The directors added that, “The Estuaries Project through phase 1 has already defended the nitrogen problem in the river and will now, through the results of phase 2, focus on working with the communities of the watershed to identify and implement solutions aimed at restoring the river to sustainable good health.”

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