The Pissing Off of Summer Lawns

Way to go Falmouth. The Cape Cod town that is home to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, one-third of Cape’s estuaries, and the state’s Alternative Septic System Test Center  wants to restrict lawn fertilizer in an attempt to cut back on the amount of nitrogen flowing into its estuaries; those coastal ponds and embayments that tragically have a tradition of turning colors and killing fish.

Guess who doesn’t like the idea?

In this morning’s Cape Cod Times, Sean Teehan reports the town is working on a bylaw that:

“…would prohibit nitrogen-containing fertilizer applications between Oct. 16 and April 14 each year. It would ban applications during heavy rain or within 100 feet of water resources and bar applications to turf of more than one pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each year.”

Yes, most  of the nitrogen polluting the harbors, bays, coves, coastal rivers and streams of Cape Cod comes from urine, aka wastewater. It also comes from dogs who take dumps during their beach walks, Canada Geese who deposit their green cigar turds, and, most maddeningly, those big ChemLawn trucks with their sloshing tanks that trundle down streets with names like Oceanview and Seaview and then spray their chemical contents all over the lawn of some CEO’s starter castle so it will look all lush and green like the back nine at Augusta when Courtney gets married to Alistair this summer.

Opposed to Falmouth’s bylaw are:

  • The Massachusetts Association of Lawn Care Professionals
  • The Retailers Association of Massachusetts
  • Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.
  • Assorted local landscapers

They are arguing to the Massachusetts Attorney General that Falmouth’s proposed bylaw conflicts with a pending regulation that would let the State Department of Agricultural Resources regulate the stuff. Seems logical to categorize lawn grass as agriculture. I  enjoy tucking into a nice bowl of mower clippings myself.

Unfortunately, it appears Falmouth is pushing for the fertilizer limits so it can discharge some of its effluent from its wastewater treatment plant, a request the state has said no to because the town is already exceeding its nitrogen limits:

“DEP officials granted a discharge permit for Falmouth’s wastewater treatment plant on the condition that the town eliminate other sources of nitrogen in the groundwater, Town Counsel Frank Duffy said. They ordered the town to look into controlling fertilizers.”

The Cape Cod Commission and every other town on the Cape needs to get a copy of Falmouth’s bylaw and enact it from the Sagamore Bridge to the Pilgrim Monument in P-town.  Cleaning up dying harbors and bays seems more important than lush lawns or a green golf courses overlooking floating mats of brown slime and algae.  Wastewater treatment solutions, sewers, composting toilets, and the like may take decades to happen, but banning or cutting back on fertilizer can happen now and make a bit of a dent as well as a strong statement that the Cape can be mended and not written off like Long Island or South Florida.

Last July Falmouth’s Little Pond suffered a fish kill when warm weather and eutrophication depleted the oxygen in the salt pond and left a lot of dead striped bass on its shores.  Another fish kill happened in North Falmouth the year before.

Lawn lovers of the Cape, think twice this spring before you load up the SUV with a couple bags of TurfBuilder and spread it over your grass. Embrace the Brown and let it die this summer. Save on your water bills, your back, and your future and just say no to the ChemLawn.

If you want to take care of your lawn, then do it organically. There’s a lot of free advice, I’d start with which has an interesting history of the lawn, and how in America, it is a relatively modern phenomenon with roots in Levittown on Long Island:

“In the middle of the 20th century, three overlapping developments helped promote the lawn across North America. The first was Levittown, one of the first cookie-cutter affordable-dwelling suburbs, built between 1948 and 1952 by Abraham Levitt and his sons William and Alfred on Long Island. This was the first American suburb to include lawns already in place when the first tenants took possession (see Levittown: Documents of an Ideal American Suburb).

“The Levitts, who also build subdivisions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Cape Cod [emphasis mine, ed] , and Puerto Rico (several of them also called Levittown), pioneered the established lawn, which residents were required to keep up but forbidden to fence in. The importance of a neat, weed-free, closely-shorn lawn was promoted intensely in the newsletters that went out to all homeowners in these subdivisions, along with lawn-care advice on how to reach this ideal.”


Some resources on the topic of limiting fertilizer runoff:

Town of Nantucket Regulations: these are proof local municipalities can take some steps to limit landscaping fertilizer impacts.

The Buzzards Bay Coalition has a ton of stuff on the topic: 

Google is Fickle and Unfaithful but I Keep Crawling Back

In this day and age of “ecosystem” commitments, when a consumer needs to declare their allegiance to a platform such as Apple’s, Microsoft’s or Google’s in order to get the promised impact and benefits of an integrated world of synchronized accounts, content and media across the screens that dominate their lives — their phones, tablets, PCs and televisions — it’s a bit like getting engaged and married in the hope their betrothed partner will be faithful and keep their promises.

Google is maddeningly unfaithful and indecisive. Let me count the ways.

  • Perpetual Beta: How long did Google News carry a “beta” tag, four years? At least it still lives. newsbeta
  • Quick to bail: Remember Google Wave? The overhyped something or other that no one could figure out what to do with except it felt kind of brilliant and got the SMDB’s* all worked up? Gone in less than a couple years. googlewave
  • iGoogle personalized home pages? Those throwbacks to the day when personalization was the killer app and you could create this awesome start page for your browser which could be customized with widgets …. terminal and going to die in November 2013. igoogle
  • Google Notes: I like the idea of a notepad I can scribble random crap on and then access through my browser on multiple machines. The Google note pad did this. And then it didn’t. Killed off for reasons unknown. googlenotebook
  • Google Health: park your medical records in the cloud and the next time you get whacked by a tuk-tuk in Bangalore the doctors can log in and pull up your last cholesterol test results and see what prescription drugs you’ve been taking. Gone.googlehealth
  • Google Reader: the RSS news feed aggregator that was simply awesome in its elegance, its ability to share (wait, they are killing that off too), and its sheer greatness for aggregating the hundreds of feeds I subscribe to into one great interface. Soon to die……well, at least I can wait for Google Glass or a Prius that drives itself.

David Pogue writes in this morning’s New York Times about Google’s latest addition to its wonderful world of seamlessly synchronized stuff across browsers, android tablets and phones: Google Keep.  Google fanboi that I am, I dutifully installed it on my phone, my Nexus 7. and will eventually find a way to get it on the desktop of my PC. It’s Google’s answer to Evernote — the note taking, reminder, to-do list thing I occasionally use and also have installed across my devices.  Why Pogue gave up an entire column on this little utility is beyond me, but he does brilliantly voice some suspicion over Google’s fickle ways (and inspired me to rant in agreement):

“In time, Keep could become a pinboard — a — for your entire life.

“Unfortunately, the last thing to remember isn’t quite as cheery: Google has a habit not only of creating great things, but also of killing them off. The timing of the Keep announcement was chilling, coming only a few days after the announcement that, in July, Google will shut down its popular Google Reader site. It’s a smooth, attractive RSS feed reader — something like a customizable, constantly updated magazine of articles you might like.

“Google has killed off notepad apps before, too. In 2009, it shut down Notebook, its first Evernote-type program. How will you feel if you entrust your life’s data to Keep — and then learn that Google chooses not to keep Keep?”


Applications, websites, grandparents and puppies all die eventually. I miss XyWrite, the first word processor I mastered back in the pre-Windows days of DOS but I’ve since moved on and don’t try to keep it alive like some Stephen King pet in the evil magical woodlot of eternal zombie life. Other people miss Twinkies. But when I start banking my personal crap, my photos, my music, my writing, my notes, my phone numbers and all the other digital ephemera that is me on someone’s cloud, and then they pull the plug on it …..well, pardon me while I call a private investigator to check their cheating, fickle heart.

And let’s not go down the path of knowing Google’s SkyNet is reading my email and sticking ads against it. I like to whistle past the graveyard of privacy.


*=Social Media Douche Bags

Burning Brush and Seeing the First Osprey

Through the thickets of Norway maples, budding forsythia and dormant lilacs I can occasionally catch a silver-grey glimpse of Cotuit Bay from my office windows. A waterview, or at least the hint of one, is one of the few benefits of a Cotuit winter, but thankfully it disappears when the trees leaf in May, reducing my property taxes four-fold when it vanishes from the view of the town assessor.  This near-coastal perch does give me a nice front row seat to view the flocks of ospreys that glide high above the water’s edge. cruising for herring and menhaden to dive bomb and drag back to their nests on the chimneys, flying bridges, and man-made aeries along the shore.

On Sunday I heard a loud commotion between a colony of herring gulls and a murder of crows, the kind of scuffle that means there’s an avian dogfight going down over Cotuit Bay. Usually these battles are between two opponents, but as I looked up into the blue sky above Hooper’s Landing, rake in hand, I saw a third bird, wings stretched out and never flapping, just serenely cruising in a circular gyre; the first osprey of 2013. I would not want to mess with an osprey. They are serious birds of prey, the Stukas of the harbor, with a set of talons that would shred any gull or crow stupid enough to call one out.

I never saw a single osprey when I was a kid.  I never knew they even existed. These were the birds that inspired Rachel Carson to kick off the environmental movement with Silent Spring, the birds who sat atop the food chain and ingested the DDT that made the shells of their eggs too thin to support their weight, condemning the nesting birds to crush their own futures beneath them. By the 1990s they were back, urged on by volunteers who erected crosses in the salt marshes and along the shores of the coves to incite them to nest. Now there are so many it seems improbable they can find enough food, the skies above the bays ringing with their strange high pitched keening peeping calls.

My ancestors knew better than to live on the water. The old family, the Handy’s, lived on the far side of Little River since the 1700s when they migrated from Mattapoisett to build ships on the shores of the inner harbor near the site of the present Cotuit Oyster Company. My great-great grandfather, Thomas Chatfield, married Florence Handy in Centerville in 1853, and after conceiving their first daughter, promptly sailed for the Pacific to hunt whales, returning a few years later to start another daughter before sailing on the September tides from Edgartown for another trip to the Okhotsk Sea.

“Being fixed for future employment I spent the interval here in Cotuit, which I had come to consider as my home, going two or three trips coasting more for recreation than for anything else. It was then that I became acquainted with your mother, and being much together during the summer we became interested in each other, and when I sailed again in September there was a tacit understanding between us that we would be married when I returned, which usually meant at the end of three years. But it turned out differently, for we were very successful in taking whales, and I was home again eighteen months after we sailed. That is, in March 1853. I think your mother was not at all ready to marry so soon. She had looked forward to three years more girlhood. But I was not to put off another voyage, which mean three years extra, so the day was set for April 19, 1853, when were were married in Centerville by Ferdinand G. Kelley, then Town Clerk, also Justice of the Peace. It was the usual way. Very few of our people were married by ministers in those days.”

After one voyage he sailed home from Edgartown, home port of his ship — the Massachusetts — and stepped ashore to return to the home he left on Handy’s Point only to find a strange family living there. He hopped a ride into the village on a horse-drawn cart, and after a bit of searching rediscovered his wife and daughters living in the center of the village. Florrie had sold the place, fed up by the isolation of living on the wrong side of Little River alone with young children, far from the church, the general store and what society there was in Cotuitport.

“When I left home, and the last time I heard from home, the family lived at Little River, and when we reached the road leading to that part of the village William Jones drove past. It was the first time I ever saw him. I called his attention to that fact, but he only laughed and said he knew what he was about, that my family did not live at Little River. When he stopped at the gate (right here) it was the first time I knew that we had abandoned the old home for all time. I was not any too well pleased with the change. I liked Little River, and I felt strange up here.”

On Sunday my son and I cleared out some brush and dead branches thrown around the yard by the winter storms. I phoned the fire department to let the desk lieutenant know we wanted to burn our branches and sticks, an annual conflagration that seems to always kick off my spring cleaning impulses. Burning season runs until May 1st, so now is the time of year to light the bonfire, but my three-year old brush pile was too close to the big boat on its stands to risk sending it up in flames, so we dragged everything out from behind the boat sheds to a big divot in the driveway, buried the brown remains of the Christmas tree under an old rotten church pew, a stack of dead tree limbs, decrepit lawn furniture and rose bush clippings and sprinkled some bad motorboat gas over the heap to really get things going.

Having learned the hard way that the time to set up a garden hose is before lighting the blaze, not after it’s gotten out of control, I turned out the outside spigots, feeling semi-confident the pipes won’t freeze, ran out a hose, noted the leaky nozzle, and whoomp, up it went in a big ball of orange flame. The first bonfire back in 1992 was the biggest and worst of them all, consuming about five decades of Churbuckian trash and crap next to the lean-to where the skiffs are stored. That lit the shed on fire, peeled the paint off of the side of the car garage, and made my children, then 4 and 5 years old cry with panic as I ran around like a crazy person with buckets of water, eyebrows singed and eyes red as a stoner’s from the smoke.

At the end of that day, when the flames were gone and the embers were smoldering, I was poking around in the ashes with a pitch fork, opening things up so the oxygen could get in  and finish off the job.  As I rooted around I heard a distinctive metallic, hollow ping! Digging deeper I saw some buried steel, then the unmistakable shape of an abandoned propane tank. Uh-oh. I asked my wife to escort the children into the house, followed close behind, and phoned my brother, the pyromaniac former Green Beret demolitions instructor.

Tom? Question. What would you do if you found a propane tank buried under a burning brush pile?”

He laughed and replied, “That depends if it was full or not. If it was full then I wouldn’t be on the phone asking questions, I’d be sitting in a shallow crater wondering who dropped the nuke.”

Obviously I dodged a big one that day, hitting an empty tank left over from the old Sears Roebuck grill my brother used to light by letting it fill with gas before flicking a match at its pilot hole. A successful ignition would blow the lid open. Thankfully it didn’t blow down the old captain’s second home.

Sampson’s Island/Dead Neck Dredge Update: March 19

Some news coming out of the Barnstable Conservation Commission’s hearing on the plan to dredge 800 feet or 11 acres off of the western end of Sampson’s Island last night:

  • The Commission is still in fact-finding mode and did not make a decision last night. Whenever they do vote, they are not the last word.
  • Dozens of letters were received by the Commission from local residents for and against the application. Forces are mobilizing on both sides of the debate.
  • Three Bays Preservation and Massachusetts Audubon amended their three-year plan to a four-year/four-phase project with public review after each phase is completed
  • The town Shellfish Commission and the town’s marine biologist have written letters stating there is no significant shellfish impact but they are concerned about impacts on shellfish elsewhere in the three-bay system
  • Conservation Commission administrator Rob Gatewood confirmed in January with the Cape Cod Commission that the ConCom is free to proceed with hearings and that the project, while the Cape Cod Commission is aware of it, is not within their jurisdiction as a project with regional impact
  • The law firm of Nutter, McClellen & Fish has been retained by Cotuit waterfront property owners and has hired the Woods Hole Group to perform a peer review of the project, particularly the coastal engineering studies performed by Applied Coastal Engineering of Mashpee.

I did not stay for the complete conclusion of the hearing, so I can’t report on the next steps, other than to assume the commission will continue to gather facts and make its ruling for or against, or with recommendations of modifications. The application does have a somewhat torturous journey through the bureaucratic system, including a review by the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program. With several members of the public urging an “independent review” of the application, and with the news that any citizen can request that the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Agency review the project, I would not bet on a quick approval of what is admitted by both opponents and proponents as a significant project affecting 800 feet of spit and a total of 11 acres of sand, mud and grass.



[The March 2013 Dead Neck/Sampson’s Island Coastal Processes and Flooding Study by Applied Coastal Engineering was, in my opinion, the highlight of the hearing. It can be downloaded from Three Bays website here]

I thought the applicants and their engineers were well prepared prepared last night,  obviously modifying their presentation a bit based on the feedback they’ve received from their experiences before local civic associations, the initial January 8 ConCom hearing, and reviews by the town’s shellfish and waterways committees. Some points to note from the presentation and summary of the project:

  • Lindsay Counsell, the executive director of Three Bays Preservation, reminded the commission that this application is a continuance of a “maintenance dredging” permit issued to the previous owners of Sampsons Island in the 1930s. “Maintenance” raised some eyebrows as 11 acres is hardly a trim and a shave, but more of a decapitation, but technically it means removing sand from a defined area and not the net new removal of material.
  • Counsell reiterated that the island is private property, not a public beach, but that 3-Bays and Audubon have no intentions of restricting public access in the future. This was an obvious response to opponents who decry the loss of beachfront for summer recreation.
  • John Ramsey, the coastal engineer from Applied Coastal Engineering, made a strong presentation based on historical aerial photos about the state of Sampson’s over the last 125 years and the erosion impacts the spit’s growth is having on the Cotuit shoreline, especially in the area of Riley’s Beach. He emphasized that the gradual constriction of the Cotuit channel and the fact that the ebb (falling) tide is strongest in Cotuit, is causing the current to accelerate over time and scour the channel and adjacent beaches, “winnowing” away the sand and leaving behind gravel and stones.
  • The “do-nothing” option raised the dire prediction by the applicants that Dead Neck would eventually breach and the eastern end of the island would join Oyster Harbors while the Cotuit spit could join the mainland. Audubon said such a situation would be a disaster for nesting terns and plovers as it would open the island up to predators from the mainland.
  • The project is now being proposed for four years based on a reduction in the available window for winter work based on concerns by the shellfish committee and the state’s department of Marine Fisheries which has expressed concerns about impacts on the winter flounder population (I would personally love to see a healthy winter flounder population return to Cotuit Bay as I have tried several times to catch one and have never succeeded). Work would commence in mid-January and have to conclude before the spring season.
  • The bad guy in all of this are the Wianno Cut jetties (more on that in a future post) and the groins along the Cotuit and Mashpee shore. Only one person, David Rickel of Cotuit, raised the point that nowhere is anyone discussing the cause of this situation which seems to consign us to a major dredging every ten years to fix the impacts of the Osterville jetties on the natural flow of sand from east to west.
  • Opponents expressed concern about losing an important barrier beach to protect Bluff Point and Cotuit Bay from the impact of significant storms. Ramsey showed a photograph taken during Irene in 2011 when the spit was overwashed and flooded, and argued that the shoals south of the island and off of Oregon are natural wave barriers. Brad Wheelwright of Cotuit made a strong case for not dredging in anticipation of forecasted rises in sea level, a rise which is already obvious along some bayside beaches and which the ConComm chairman said could rise as high as nine three feet in this century.
  • It was depressing to learn that the last time Three Bays dredged and reinforced the eastern end of Dead Neck was in 2000 when the same amount of material (approximately 180,000 cubic yards)  was taken from the internal channels of Cotuit, Seapuit and West Bay that is being proposed by this application.  Add that to the crazy helicopter project and other minor dredging and reinforcement attempts and it is obvious that the protection of the east end of Dead Neck from breaching is a veritable Sisyphean exercise.
  • The funky mud bank that has emerged south of the spit over the past few years will be removed, taken to Loop Beach, where it will be “de-watered” and trucked away. Why? Because it appears the mud may not be “naturally deposited” — giving credence to the rumors that someone dumped it there. Apparently “boat hooks” and other debris have been pulled out of the strange mess.

I didn’t speak up last night, but continue to favor the project based on my recollection of the 1968 dredging and how a diminished Sampson’s is more the norm than the exception. I also believe something has to be done about the narrow Cotuit channel for navigation reasons, to reduce the appeal of swimmers stupid enough to attempt the crossing from Riley’s, and to reduce the velocity of the current and its impacts on the Cotuit shoreline. I hope it will have some positive impact on water quality in lower Cotuit Bay but share some opponent’s concerns that the disruption of the environment could negatively impact what little life is left on the bottom of the harbor. A Dead Neck breach and the impact on Seapuit would be disastrous in my opinion.

I am more of the opinion that Conservation and Three Bays need to start talking about the removal of the groins  and jetties that “armor” the coast. Until that happens, this insanity is going to repeat itself forever.



I’ve never seen this chart of the region, dating back to the 1890s before the construction of the Cut and its jetties as well as the “armoring” of the coast by waterfront property owners over the last 100 years. Click the image for a full view and note what the natural configuration of the shoreline was — and how some former features such as the Popponesset Spit, Rushy Marsh, and the channel between Sampsons and Dead Neck have been lost due to some bad decisions made in the early 1900s.

I close with this quote by Ernest R. Matthews from his work Coast Erosion and Protection (1934):

“The marine engineer has no greater problem to deal with than this. The construction of harbors upon a sandy coast is always risky, resulting in no end of trouble and expense … The interference with the natural sand-travel upon a coast cannot but be injurious: the breaking of any of Nature’s laws has a detrimental effect.

Five Days in New Orleans

by Daphne Churbuck

I just returned from five days in New Orleans — my first visit to the city — and wanted to share some random experiences and photos from a very condensed and exhausting introduction to one of the coolest places I’ve been anywhere. Period.

I stayed with my wife in the French Quarter in a nice three-star hotel on Royal Street — the Andrew Jackson. Immediately upon arriving she dragged me out into the Vieux Carre (it being her second visit) and introduced me the Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and beignets covered with powdered sugar, so covered with powdered sugar that I left the place looking like Tony Montana. Then to Antoine’s Hermes Bar for a Sazerac (rye whiskey, sugar, Peychaud bitters chilled in a glass rinsed with Herbsaint and garnished with a twist), Arnaud’s for gumbo, shrimp and grits, and a table-side serenade of “I Only Have Eyes For You” by a banjo, trumpet and bass trio who talked about playing My Father’s Moustache on Cape Cod and the late Dave McKenna of Yarmouth, arguably the peninsula’s most famous jazz musician.

Then down Bourbon Street and its crazed chaos of Giant Ass Beers, Larry Flynt’s Underaged Strippers, the cloying miasma of upchucked stomach contents, and a louche doorman who told me, as I walked hand-in-hand with my wife of 30 years that he could show me “Lots of Ho’s in No Clothes”

That was night one.

Day two — more beignets and coffee and then a cab ride out to the Garden District and Commander’s Palace, the foodie mecca that lists Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme among its ranks of alumni chefs. I cannot argue with $0.25 lunch time martinis (and a perfectly made Ramos Fizz, the drink that always eluded me as a bartender), and some of the most exquisite cooking I’ve ever tasted. A poky, langorous street car ride back down St. Charles to the city center, a walk back through the French Quarter, teeming with pre-St. Patrick’s day revelers, then a brief rest before an evening at the Rock N’Bowl — a combination bowling alley/hamburger joint/bar/music venue off of Carrolton Avenue where we saw (or is it “heard?)  Bonearama, a wild jazz-funk bank fronted by three trombone players who killed the best cover of the Beatles’ Hey Bulldog I’ve ever heard.

Day Three was mostly spent on the banks of the Mississippi, sitting on a park bench watching the barges and tankers and jazz boats go by while eating a muffaletta from Central Grocery and washing it down with a Barq’s and a bag of Zapp’s potato chips.  Bluebird skies, clement breezes and the amazing spectacle of humanity that marched before us on the riverside Moon Walk (named after former New Orleans mayor “Moon” Landrieu). Between the bells of the St. Louis cathedral (the oldest continuous church in the USA), the cartoonish sounding calliope on the decks of the sternwheeler Natchez, and snatches of buskers’ music floating over the levee from Jackson Square came the sound of a Second Line, that wonderful New Orleans tradition of a brass band marching along, followed by a dancing and jiving mob of umbrella-pumping, hanky-waving fans. As it got louder and crossed the street car tracks, it became apparent it would proceed down the promenade past our bench. This is what we saw:

I managed to completely fry my face sitting in the sun all day, and spent the rest of the trip looking like a suppurating lemur with bright red cheeks and forehead and pale Cape Cod white eyes. That didn’t deter me from doing my best to damage my liver and fail my pending cholesterol test with too many Abita Ambers and boatloads of steamed shrimp.

Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, I attended the 9 am Mass at St. Louis cathedral in an attempt to revive my somewhat moribund “52 Churches” project of 2008-09.  Other than looking like I was suffering from an incipient case of lupus, with my blistered cheeks and nose, I sat through the service marking the fifth Sunday in Lent, listened to the deacon’s reading and interpretation of the story of Lazarus, and as always, slipped out the back  during Communion due to the first rule of 52 Churches which is not to participate in any rites or reading foreign to my non-denominational, ecumenical, atheistic beliefs. Nice church, packed with tourists and locals, again the oldest continuously used church in the country, declared a “minor basilica” by the Pope during his visit in 1987. At night, from Bourbon street, an immense shadow of Christ is projected onto the back of the nave by a spotlight silhouetting a statue of Jesus, arms outstretched. The incongruity of sinner/saint is, I suppose, quintessentially New Orleans.

Later that morning we headed out to Central City and the A.L. Davis Park for Super Sunday — the annual gathering of the Mardi Gras Indians on the Sunday nearest St. Joseph’s Day. This was mind blowing to say the least. As a fan of the HBO series Treme, I’ve been fascinated by the Indian culture through the great portrayal of a “tribal Chief” by Clarke Peters as Big Chief Lambreaux. Sunday I got to experience about twenty of the tribes as they marched with their contingent of be-feathered warriors around the streets of the Central City.

IMG_2495 - Version 3 IMG_2499_2IMG_2497_3IMG_2491_2

Indians were followed by Po’ Boys at the Parkway Bakery and Tavern. I did my level best to kill myself with a large “surf & turf” which combined roast beef and gravy with fried shrimp. This was frightening and will drive all pentinence post-trip.

St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans puts St. Patrick’s Day in Boston to shame. The city has a big Irish immigrant population, but the degree to which a holiday centered around alcohol is taken by Bourbon Street is beyond crazy. From bodypainted 60-year old ladies to frat boys shouting at their shoes on the side streets, it was a scene out of out of some demented painting of post-apocalyptic hell. So we took refuge in the oh-so-classy French 75 bar, and wheezed back a couple Sazeracs before calling it a night.

All in all, an amazing place that I had to experience to get beyond the usual cliches of mardi gras beads, masks, and gumbo.

Dead Neck/Sampson’s Dredging Hearing Tonight

The Barnstable Conservation Commission will return to the application by Massachusetts Audubon and Three Bays Preservation to dredge 800 feet off of the west end of Sampson’s tonight at the hearing room at town hall beginning at 6:30 pm.

I’ve heard some interesting rumors about the project over the past few weeks, so tonight’s meeting is probably going to be as lively as the last one was in terms of participation by foes and proponents. I’m planning on attending and may speak my mind on the project. I’ll post any remarks if I make them.

To that end I’ve been asked to post the following statements from a proponent and opponent to the project:

In favor is Andrew “Oggie” Pesek,  an officer of Three Bays and director of the Wianno Yacht Club, who forwarded this letter asking the membership of the Wianno Yacht Club in Osterville  for their support for the project. (disclosure: my family were briefly members of the WYC in the 1970s): DNSI_WYC_Letter

Opposed is Brad Wheelwright, a Cotuit resident, member of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club (more disclosure, I am a lifelong member of the CMYC and former president of its association), and ace Cotuit Skiff racer. Brad sent the following:

“I am writing to express my views on the proposed Sampson’s Island dredging project.

I am strongly opposed to the project, mainly because I’m convinced that it would constitute inappropriate use of public funds and resources. An undertaking of this magnitude and expense should be easily justified from every perspective, not widely controversial and based upon questionable assumptions, as this proposal is proving to be.

However, even if dislodging, moving, and placing 11 acres of land wasn’t going to cost a great deal of money and require great quantities of labor, fuel, and machinery, I would still be firmly opposed to this project. First of all, moving that much sediment will cause dirty, disrupted water conditions for quite some time, undoubtedly harming the ecosystem of Cotuit Bay and West Bay. Shellfishing is a longstanding source of recreation, subsistence, and commerce for the residents of the count and should not be compromised without clear justification.

Secondly, I do not think there is a valid boating safety concern, as some proponents have indicated. I use those waters frequently and there is plenty of room for safe navigation as the geography stands. I believe my point of view on this matter is supported by a lack of any alarming history of accidents at the site. In fact the only fatality (or injury, for that matter) that I know of occurred nearly thirty years ago, when the distance from Reilly’s Beach to Sampson’s Island was much greater.

In addition, careful study (conducted by those in the hire of the project’s proponents) has demonstrated that widening the entrance will not in any significant way increase the Bay system’s tidal flushing or lead to cleaner water in the more inland connected waterways. The root of that problem clearly lies with septic inputs and fertilizer pressure, and it is of some concern to me that members of the public seem not to know how thoroughly the coastal engineering studies prove that dredging will not begin to address the issue.
The part of Sampson’s Island that is proposed to be removed is a heavily used recreational resource. Crowding is already a problem, and the destruction of many hundreds of yards of beach will only compound it (and perhaps also lead to unanticipated and unwelcome water safety concerns).

While it has been pointed out that several vacation houses on Grand Island and the navigability of the Seapuit River are at risk without the addition of sediment at the eastern end of Dead Neck, I do not think this justifies the proposed dredging project. Neither protection for the private residences or the easy availability of a Seapuit channel are publicly necessary; private funding could and should secure the former, and there are two very reliable alternative water routes between West Bay and Cotuit Bay, one of which is entirely protected.

Finally, I would like to bring attention to the worst case scenario associated with such intensive dredging of a protective barrier island. Typically, the failure of a coastal engineering project is marked by a return to the status quo (witness the Rushy Marsh Pond debacle). However, the dynamics of a bay entrance are beyond complex, and I believe there is potential for catastrophe here that very few people have considered. It is possible that this project could lead to dramatic, unanticipated changes to the area. Bluff Point, without protection, could be destroyed. The Cotuit entrance channel could become too shallow for conventional navigation. The balance that has allowed for a viable Bay entrance could be upset beyond all hope of repair.

Why do I think this could happen? Strikingly, the sea level has risen approximately four inches in the last sixty years, and according to some science, may rise twelve inches or more in the next sixty. There is reason to think that coastal storms will become stronger and more frequent. In so many ways, our climate is not the climate of the mid 20th century.

Some proponents believe that because the dredging will return the outline of Sampson’s to a former state, it is inherently a good thing. First of all, with the sea level four inches higher, and a catastrophic worst-case scenario accordingly possible, there is absolutely no reason to think that such an outline is sustainable now. Furthermore, this argument represents a flawed method of consideration; the historical proportions of Cotuit Bay once included a shipping channel where Cupid’s Cove now exists. Should we engineer THIS alteration, simply because it once was? (It’s really no more outlandish than the present proposal, in terms of scope and the amount of sediment that would need to be moved.)

Finally, I would like to point out that Three Bays Preservation has continually implied that dredging projects in the system improve water quality significantly, something that is not backed up by any of the data. Just as one example, their website mentions improvement and prospects for improvement, but on the very same website one can find evidence that eel grass existed within the three bays in 1995 but not in 2002, a timeframe that spans their first two dredging projects. Furthermore, the anticipated improvement in water quality (as estimated by their own engineers) is minimal enough that it doesn’t even appear within proposal documents as part of the list of expected benefits.”

I am “cautiously” in favor of the project with some modifications. I’ll post my points for and against later.


Cape Cod has a unique geological feature known as a “Pamet.” Like archipelago, peninsula, tombolo or isthmus, a pamet is a specific geological landform, in the case of Cape Cod, one defined as a dry stream valley on a glacial outwash plain.

The term was first coined in 1934 by Woodworth and Wigglesworth as a “long depression in a thick deposit of stratified gravel and sand … resembles a valley formed by running water but its sides and bottom has the forms of mounds and hollows produced by irregularities in the deposition of glacial drift, either ice-laid or water-laid.”

The word “pamet” is derived from the name of a Wampanoag tribe that lived in present-day Truro near the northernmost extremity of Cape Cod along the Pamet River, a beautiful valley that bisects the finger-like extremity from east-to-west, spanning Cape Cod Bay near the site of Corn Hill (where the Pilgrims discovered, and plundered, a cache of corn buried in the sand in baskets by the Pamets) eastwards to Ballston Beach on the Atlantic Ocean.

There are other pamets on the Cape, particularly in East Falmouth — visible from Route 28 between Waquoit and Teaticket — marked by streams such as the Coonamesset, Quashnet, and Mashpee Rivers and in some cases, developed in the 19th century into cranberry bogs which rely on the fresh water streams for irrigation.

 On Friday of the past week, during the most recent northeaster of this terrible winter of 2013, the storm surge and relentless surf punched through the dunes at Ballston Beach and poured into the Pamet River, making North Truro and Provincetown technically an island unto themselves.

Here, courtesy of the Cape Cod Times’ CapeCast (hosted by the inimitable Eric Williams) is some great video showing nature in her full fury:



Corporate Journalism Revisited

Bob Page emailed me a link to this Harvard Business Review blog post about how advertisers need to act more like newsrooms.

Written by Newsweek/Daily Beast CEO Baba Shetty and Wharton Professor Jerry Wind, the post cites some marketing trends where companies are:

  • Advertising in real time by tweeting or pushing out content in response to events or public feedback. Examples would include Old Spice’s successful YouTube “Smell Like a Man, Man” project where 200 short videos were shot in response to social media interaction; and brand’s tweeting opportunistic messages during the Super Bowl blackout
  • Creating advertorial media and content factories on their own or  in partnership with media brands: they cite Intel and Vice’s Creator’s Project and the Redbull Media House
  • Becoming more agile. Instead of planning advertising campaigns around 30-second television and meticulously planned media buys, the modern marketer is more reactive and opportunistic.

Nice sentiments, but in my experience, the reality of putting such sentiments into action is a lot more frustrating. Getting big organizations to be faster and more open is always going to be an exercise in frustration and patience. Bob wrote: “This “marketers as newsrooms” stuff from Intel, Red Bull, Liberty Mutual looks an awful lot like the kind of team you got started at Lenovo.”

I’ll take the compliment for trying to push the company to be more agile on its communications and media, but the frustrations occurred when two traditional conservative corporate communications edicts were invoked: risk and quality.

Risk is what a corporate communications department is designed to minimize. They plan the message, craft it, practice it, push it across the organization and limit the points where the media can engage. Rank and file employees can’t, and shouldn’t, talk to the press or randomly respond to social media. Even the CEO is given a speech written for him, carefully crafted down to every ad hoc joke and quip. External PR agencies and internal staff work together across product introductions, corporate messaging and investor relations, focused on cutting down the risk of leaks, illegal financial disclosure and embarrassing moments.

Risk aversion in corporate communications means slowing things down, stone walling, taking time to consider responses and reactions before blurting out something that isn’t signed off. This doesn’t work when a lynch party is forming over Christmas shipping delays and the CEO’s home phone number is being shared along with form letters for submission to the Better Business Bureau. The realities of modern crisis communications is that minutes, not hours, are crucial, and when a customer service team needs to wait 24 hours for corporate communications to reply with a sanitized, bland statement opportunities are lost and tempers inflamed.

Quality is what gets invoked when a digital marketing team tries to get a video onto the company’s YouTube channel.  Suddenly the brand team and the advertising creative people turn into critics, and cry foul when a cell-phone video of an engineer explaining how he revved up boot times for a new PC is put out there on the same day of a product announcement claiming the new laptops are faster to start up than the competitions. The official announcement may make the claim, but the customers want to know how and why, so pointing a video camera at the engineer and putting up a 60 second answer suddenly makes the purists invoke HD quality standards.

Here’s a video I challenged the team to shoot and post in a single day when I felt a product announcement lacked any substance or answers. This bummed some people out because of its low quality, but 80,000 views later, I’d declare it a success. It simply Kevin Beck interview Howard Locker on what he did to rev up boot times.

I maintain that if you’re in a complex business and have opened the doors to questions through corporate blogs, customer service forums, Facebook pages, etc.. you better be prepared to get something up in a matter of hours, not days.


One thing will never change and that is that corporate content is ultimately advertorial and as such, inferior to independently/  objectively produced journalism.

I’m going to take credit for coining the term “corporate journalism” back in 2000 when I was at McKinsey working on the  firm’s knowledge management system. My friend and colleague Rob O’Regan and I realized our purpose in life was to leverage our experience as business and technology reporters in prying out of taciturn consultants conditioned to maintain client confidentiality some meaningful insights that could be developed into “content” for the benefit of other consultants and their clients.

The act of interviewing — not media training where a PR person coaches a senior executive on how to spin a story — but actually probing an expert in the reporter’s equivalent of the Socratic method, produced some strong results: it forced the experts to clarify their jargon, realize when their points were obtuse, and understand what they considered interesting or important wasn’t necessarily so. But the public result of this process — a story in the McKinsey Quarterly, or a video series for client development — is still content with an inherent proprietary bias.

Yes, brands need to be more agile, corporate communications needs to be faster and more authentic, and old strictures of spinning messages and planning ad campaigns deserve to die.  But beware of flaks bearing the next new thing, it usually turns out to be unbearably bogus and contrived and designed to serve the best interests of the organization and its shareholders, not the public and its customers.

Dead Neck Dredging Hearing: March 19

Just a reminder the Conservation Commission will continue its hearing on the application of Mass Audubon and Three Bays Preservation to dredge off the western end of Sampson’s Island to restore the beach at the eastern, Osterville end.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 19th and begins at 6:30 pm.

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