HALIFAX– On Tuesday, May 3, Halifax selectmen met after a long break, and discussed two major issues in Halifax: the horse shows at Fieldstone Farms and modifications to the legal agreement that governs them, and a presentation from the Monponsett Watershed Association regarding the potential dangers of cyanobacteria in Monponsett Lake.
Scott Clawson, proprietor of Fieldstone Farms, accompanied by his son Shawn, came before the board for a public hearing regarding changes that he would like to make to the more than 20-year-old legal agreement between the farm and the town that governs the horse shows he puts on throughout the summer.
Clawson, who set off red-flags among town officials by advertising more shows than were allowed in the agreement this year, managed to turn the verbal chastising he got from the board for that transgression into a full-blown discussion about changing the contract.
This was the latest of several meetings where Clawson, his attorney and the board tried to painstakingly work out the details of changes that Clawson would like to see. Clawson was not accompanied by his attorney on Tuesday, claiming that both were not aware of the date.
Clawson was present at the meeting, as was his attorney, when the date for this public hearing was set, and several neighbors of the property were there to express concerns and ask questions.
Some of the many topics debated were the definition of a “warm-up day” for the horses, increasing the maximum number of show days, raising the maximum number of horses allowed for various shows, provisions for signage and shrubbery, allowing more RVs to house security staff on-premises, whether radios and open fires could be used, and changes to the type and number of vendors. Alcohol, and previous violations were also part of the discussion.
None of these issues
While Selectmen Troy Garron and Tom Millias observed most of the hearing, Selectmen Chairman Kim Roy presided over the hearing, and Town Administrator Charlie Seelig was quite vocal, frequently speaking back and forth with Clawson.
Neighbors were not shy with their suspicions of changes to the agreement because of their concerns regarding traffic, noise, and litter.
Roy wrapped things up after more than an hour of discussion, telling Clawson to come back with a new draft agreement, that addresses the concerns, and they can then pass them along to town counsel– again.
The original agreement came into being when the Halifax Building Inspector took action against Fieldstone Farms 23 years ago. Following litigation, a settlement was reached with the town.
The agreement, signed by Clawson, the Board of Selectmen, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Building Inspector, has been in force since then, and changes, if the board agrees to them, will have to be agreed to by the courts.
Paul Collis, president of the Monponsett Watershed Association (MWA), presented scientific information that his organization had discovered to the board. The research shows a correlation between cyanobacteria (also referred to as blue-green algae) toxins, which are found in the lake and may become airborne– to ALS and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The research, conducted by Dartmouth University and the University of New Hampshire, and reported in various news outlets prompted the MWA to release a statement regarding the perceived threat, which Collis read to the board:
“Previously public health authorities warned that physical contact with water containing high levels of cyanobacteria could cause skin rashes, gastric distress and/or respiratory problems.
Now research is showing that the cyanobacteria toxins can become airborne and can afflict people who have no physical contact with the water. Moreover, this research shows a correlation between these toxins and devastating afflictions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s.
The cyanobacteria toxin research has shown that people can be afflicted by the toxins even if they do not live near the water bodies. One study suggests that the toxins have a range of 18 miles. Additionally, studies have shown that crops (lettuce, blueberries) irrigated with algae laden water contain the toxins.
According to the Collis, cyanobacteria thrive in conditions where there are nutrients, warm temperatures and stagnant water.
He faults a cranberry bog on West Monponsett Pond that has the right to take and discharge water from and into the lake, as well as septic systems and storm-drain runoff for these nutrients. This all increases phosphorous in the lake, which helps cyanobacteria to thrive.
“We don’t want to be
alarmist, but this
research is alarming.”
They also, as Selectmen appear to, blame the City of Brockton for part of the water quality problems. Brockton has the right under a 1964 law, under certain conditions, to divert water from Monponsett Lake via Silver Lake into their drinking-water supply.
The MWA blames Brockton as well for artificially manipulating the water levels in the lake in order to meet the requirements for diversion laid out in the law.
Every summer since 2008 one or both of the Monponsett Pond basins has been under a public health advisory from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). In 2015, MDPH tested West Monponsett Pond for 175 consecutive days, June-November, and a public health advisory was issued for 133 of those days,” said Collis.
The MWA has six demands, he went on:
“1) Regular, state funded testing at Monponsett Pond year ‘round;
2) No diversion of water from Monponsett Pond if testing shows an algae bloom above the MDPH guidelines;
3) No diversion of water from Monponsett Pond after May 1 and fully open all gates in the Stump Brook Dam to promote natural water flow and combat stagnant water;
4) Require the coordination of discharges from the Winebrook Bog on West Monponsett Pond and the opening of the gates of the Stump Brook Dam throughout the year. Reports on coordinated discharges must be submitted to the DEP and/or the Central Plymouth Water District Commission
5) Eliminate the use of phosphorus in fertilizer at the Winebrook Bog and upstream bogs that flow into West Monponsett Pond because phosphorus is the prime nutrient in blue green algae growth and is banned from residential fertilizer in Massachusetts; and
6) State funded aluminum sulfate treatments in Monponsett Pond to combat cyanobacteria that exists in the Pond.”
Halifax Health Agent Cathy Drinan has noted in the past that regular testing is done to determine if toxins produced by cyanobacteria are in the air around the lake, and states that they have not been found in the air.
She was also quick to highlight that the preliminary links to disease found in the research cited by the MWA did not necessarily prove causality between airborne toxins produced by cyanobacteria and the diseases mentioned, just a possible correlation.
While the research is certainly cause for concern, the issues surrounding the water quality at the Monponsett Lake are multifaceted, and the public should follow guidelines issued by state and local officials as they are issued.
At this time there is no known danger in breathing the air around the lake, according to Drinan.
Collis ended by saying, “We don’t want to be alarmist, but this research is alarming.”
• The Halifax Annual Town Meeting and Special Town Meeting will be held Monday, May 9, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the Halifax Elementary School, 464 Plymouth St., Route 106.