WELLFLEET — She pulled up to the gas pump at the Mobil station on Route 6, but I knew she wasn’t there to fill up her tank. She was a diamondback terrapin, cruising around at the head of Duck Creek in search of the perfect spot to lay her eggs.
Wellfleet Conservation Trust
From wellfleet-ma.gov, hover your mouse over a date on the calendar on the right of the screen, and click on the meeting you’re interested in to open its agenda. That document will provide information about how to view and take part remotely.
Thursday, Aug. 13
- Housing Authority and Housing Partnership, 10 a.m.
- Nauset School Committee, 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 14
- High Toss View Development-Proprietors, 6 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 17
- Energy and Climate Action Committee, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Aug. 18
- Emergency Management Team and Select Board Community Update Calls, 10 a.m.
- Open Space Committee, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, Aug. 19
- Conservation Commission, 4 p.m.
As of Aug. 9, Wellfleet had four active cases, seven cleared cases, and one death as a result of the coronavirus.
Beach Crowd Control
The select board extended the required date for beach stickers to Sept. 27 in a unanimous vote on Tuesday. “The intent is primarily to help control potential crowds,” said board member Ryan Curley, who first pitched the idea of extending the date at the Aug. 4 emergency management team meeting. Hurley said the rental agency We Need a Vacation told him they are seeing a 25-percent increase in fall rentals compared to last year. He added, “We know that September is one of the busiest months in terms of shark safety; in terms of public safety, it’s really beneficial to have lifeguards on beaches in the month of September.” Beach Administrator Suzanne Grout Thomas supported the idea, saying the extension is worth it just to keep lifeguards on the beach. She added that the move is unlikely to yield the town any additional revenue.
New Committee in Town
The Rights to Public Access Committee is Wellfleet’s newest regulatory committee. The select board voted unanimously to establish the group at Tuesday’s meeting. The task of the committee will be to maintain, establish, and improve public access to town landings. The group’s primary focus will be on re-opening access to shellfish tidelands, according to select board member Ryan Curley, who proposed the committee’s formation to the board. “We just need a dedicated body to take on this responsibility,” he said.
Chair Mike DeVasto supported the idea, explaining that shellfishing is allowed on private tidal flats, but some can be accessed only by trespassing on private property. Former member Kathleen Bacon opposed the new committee. “We have committees in place to deal with these issues,” she said. “They may need more help or more members, but I’m kind of against forming another committee.” Shellfish Constable Nancy Civetta disagreed, saying, “A lot of committees work on this, but we need one committee working on this so it’s all in one place. My department cannot do it; we do not have the resources,” Civetta added.
Play Structure Dismantled
The wooden structure at the Wellfleet Elementary School playground has been deemed unsafe after a child was recently injured on it, according to select board member Ryan Curley. The Dept. of Public Works is in the process of dismantling the structure. Curley added that the cleared space will be used for outdoor learning when classes start again on Sept. 16.
A Major Land Gift
The Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT) received a gift on Aug. 5 of 18.5 acres overlooking the Herring River on the east side of Chequessett Neck Road. The land is the major portion of a 20-acre parcel purchased by the donor, Jacqualyn Fouse, from the Chequessett Yacht and Country Club Trust last week for $6.7 million.
“We really love the land, and we are grateful to get it,” said Dennis O’Connell, president of the trust. It is the largest gift of land the WCT has ever received.
The property had been part of the club’s plans to renovate its golf course, according to a statement from the trust. Most of the land could have been built on, said O’Connell.
“WCT will keep the area in its natural state, preserving the habitat and natural functions of the land,” said the trust’s statement. “The Trust will create limited walking trails to scenic views across the Herring River valley.”
Fouse owns a house adjacent to the new conservation land. She also donated 30,000 square feet of undeveloped land on Chequessett Neck Road, worth about $40,000, to the trust in 2015. She has been the CEO of Agios Pharmaceuticals, a Cambridge-based developer of anti-cancer drug therapies, since February 2019. —Devin Sean Martin
WELLFLEET — The conservation commission has struggled in recent months to do its work with fewer than a full complement of seven members. According to interviews with several current commissioners, with some being out of town for extended periods and some members having to recuse themselves because of potential conflicts it has been difficult to assemble a quorum. The commission needs four people in order to meet. And decisions require a majority of four.
Commissioners Barbara Brennessel and John Portnoy have both taken long out-of-town trips this winter. Commissioner Michael Fisher and former Commissioner Lauren McKean have had to recuse themselves from some cases, Fisher because he is on the board of the Wellfleet Conservation Trust and McKean because she works for the Cape Cod National Seashore; both organizations control properties that have been subjects of commission action.
“If someone has to recuse because of a conflict, we can’t move projects forward or deny them,” said Brennessel. “That has happened on a number of occasions.”
The conservation commission’s inability to maintain a full roster has a variety of causes.
McKean’s conflicts were so extensive that she ultimately had to resign from the group, according to her colleague John Cumbler. Trudy Vermehren, who served on the commission while running her own landscaping business, stepped down in June 2018 after opening a cafe in town, the Fox and Crow. The work load of being on the commission while running a restaurant was just too much, she said.
This winter, with the cafe business at a slower pace, Vermehren agreed to accept a two-month appointment to the commission to help it plow through a backlog of cases.
She named another reason why recruiting new members is hard.
“It’s a controversial board to be on,” Vermehren said. “You get a lot of pushback from people. Not everybody understands the reason the conservation commission is even there. It’s a difficult position to be in when you have to argue for the environment versus the market value of a home. As Americans, we have property rights. If you own property, people think you can do whatever you want with it.”
“A lot of people don’t like what we say,” Cumbler said. “You have to be willing to have people really dislike you. It doesn’t bother me at all.”
Barbara Brennessel pointed out that younger townspeople may be reluctant to serve on the commission because of the need for both evening meetings and daytime site visits. “It’s hard if you have a job and family to go to site visits in the daytime,” she said. “We might want to think about doing site visits on the weekend.”
Cumbler noted that questions of conflict and recusal would likely arise when permitting for the Herring River Restoration Project comes before the group.
“There are lots of issues,” he said. “Two members of the commission are on the Friends of Herring River board, one is a consultant to the project, I’m technically an abutter to phase two of the project, and the Conservation Trust is an abutter. Only one person is not in some way involved.”
Last year’s annual town meeting approved a charter revision adding two alternate members to the conservation commission to help avoid these problems. But no alternates have been appointed.
“There are no alternate members on these boards,” wrote administrative clerk Jeanne Maclaughlan in an email, “because there are no volunteers.”