Lots of life on, and in, the Great Salt Pond

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 4:30pm
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Harbormaster Steve Land had some spectacular views of the Great Salt Pond taken during a drone flight over the island.

He was showing the images to members of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond and other assorted guests at the CGSP’s annual meeting on Sunday, Sept. 8. The theme of the meeting was “A Day In The Life Of The Pond,” and it was designed to detail the various activities, both recreational and protective, that take place in and around the pond each day. The meeting was hosted by CGSP President Sven Risom. About two dozen speakers talked for a few minutes each.

Land was explaining that the drone flights served a purpose: to get a better count on just how many boats filled the pond on any given weekend during the peak season. Land said that 14 flights took place throughout the summer and provided the following statistics: On Memorial Day Weekend there were between 260 and 300 boats on the pond. By late June, there were 800 boats. On July 3 and July 4 there were about 1,200 boats and 1,346 boats respectively; and by July 7 that number dropped to about 802. Land said the numbers continued to fluctuate: 900 boats at the end of July; 1,200 boats during the Victory Day Weekend; and between 950 and 1,100 boats over the Labor Day Weekend.

Land said they calculate there are 2.5 passengers on each boat, which he believed was “underestimated,” but was an indication of how many people the pond brings to the island. He said his staff of 22 seasonal workers “hits the water at 7:30 a.m.” The staff spends the day attending to 90 transient moorings and 50 private moorings. “We take off all the sewage off all the boats in the pond,” said Land. “It’s quite a feat.” Pat Evans has been working on the pump-out boat for the past 21 seasons. “Calls come in instantly and we are running all day long,” he said. The pump-out service, which prevents boaters from dumping their waste into the pond, has had a demonstrably positive impact on water quality, said Evans. “We hear all day long how clear the water is,” Evans said. From both harbors, he said they hauled 103,000 gallons of sewage this past summer.

This is all part of the infrastructure needs to keep things running smoothly, said Town Manager Ed Roberge, who spoke just before Land. He said the land and water traffic generated by seasonal visitors “creates a bit of stress” on the island’s infrastructure, “but it’s what we do.”

Roberge displayed an overhead shot of New Harbor taken on July 4 showing car and marine traffic, all of which would require support by the town’s “water, sewer, telecomm, internet, sidewalks, parking, and solid waste collection, trash pickup, and dinghy dock services.” Then Roberge added, “parking, parking, parking. With all of this infrastructure comes maintenance.”

CGSP member Bob Greenlee spoke on the regular tests done on water quality at various locations on the pond and in its estuaries, with member Carl Kaufmann adding: “It’s safe to swim in the Pond on the Fourth of July.”

Clair Stover, Executive Director of the Block Island Conservancy, spoke on the network of agencies that work together to protect the pond, including the BIC, The Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and the Block Island Maritime Institute. Henry duPont spoke of the newly formed Block Island Community Sailing program, and Cameron Greenlee and Alex Donohue spoke on the sailing programs at the Block Island Club. Chris Willi, owner of BIFishworks, talked about the variety of fish that can be found in the pond, adding that mackerel have made a noticeable return.

It was Ocean Adventures paddle board business owner Jeffrey Smith, while acknowledging how busy and beautiful the pond is, who added a cautionary note. He said while the pond being busy is a good thing, it puts constant stress on the environment. “I’m really concerned about the watershed,” Smith said.