YOUR TURN: Time to close the circle on Nantucket Sound
January 16, 2022
Marty Bruemmel, guest columnist
Part of the charm of Cape Cod for residents and visitors alike is that each of the 15 towns on our peninsula are unique and fiercely independent of one another. And, of course, we have our villages, each with its own character and vibe.
But town boundaries aside, what ties all of us together is a shared ecosystem of bays, rivers, ponds, lakes, and ocean that flow one into another and define our culture and our economy. More than 70 percent of our population is employed in fishing, tourism and real estate and relies heavily on what we have come to call our Blue Economy. A healthy ecosystem sustains our economy, with “blue business” payrolls of more than $1.2 billion and nearly 30,000 employees.
In the middle of this environmental and economic ecosystem is Nantucket Sound, a vast 750-acre treasure that connects our Sound-facing communities on the Cape and on the Islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Ringing the federal waters that sit in the middle of the Sound are state coastal waters that extend three miles from every land point, state waters that are protected under the Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuaries Act.
The arbitrary boundary between the federal waters and state waters has left the middle of Nantucket Sound without the protections afforded our state waters. It is time to close the circle for Nantucket Sound and designate the entirety of the Sound as a National Historic Landmark. As our communities tackle the difficult threats of degraded water quality, wastewater treatment and nitrogen infiltration, it is more urgent than ever before that we protect the environment and the economy of Nantucket Sound.
Chambers of commerce on Cape Cod and the Islands, including the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, are among the more than 80 cultural, environmental, fishing, and municipal organizations that support federal legislation to designate the entirety of Nantucket Sound as a National Historic Landmark.
We have protected numerous other public lands and coastal areas on Cape Cod and the Islands throughout our shared history. It is time to finish the job and do the same for Nantucket Sound.
Historically, our approach to environmental and cultural protection has been piecemeal at best. Buzzards Bay is protected under the National Estuary Program under the EPA. Vineyard Sound is protected under the Massachusetts Ocean Sanctuary Act, as is Cape Cod Bay. Various other water bodies are protected as Marine Sanctuaries, Essential Fish Habitats, National Parks or Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.
It was a bold idea 60 years ago when Congress passed legislation — signed into law by President John F. Kennedy — creating the Cape Cod National Seashore, a preserve of some 43,000 acres of oceanfront, ponds, lakes, and forests. It maintains its natural beauty and character because President Kennedy and the Massachusetts Congressional delegation fought for its preservation before there even was a preservation movement.
We know far more today than what was understood in 1959 when President Kennedy originally filed the Cape Cod National Seashore legislation. We know now that Cape Cod has a single aquifer that supplies all of the Cape’s drinking water; we also know that contamination that reaches that aquifer in one town can show up in another town miles away.
Federal legislation would increase consistency between state and federal law and provide many significant environmental benefits to address not only diminished water quality, but also coastal erosion, habitat degradation and other effects of climate change. This legislation also would preserve and promote traditional uses in the Sound, such as commercial and recreational fishing, and would allow for renewable energy, such as tidal power, that is supported by our Cape and Island residents.
Preserving our lands and waters protects our way of life. Designation of Nantucket Sound as a National Historic Landmark is just common sense. To do otherwise ignores the real threat to our environment, our shared culture, and our economy.
Marty Bruemmel is president and CEO of the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, and submitted this commentary on behalf of the chamber’s board of directors.