Concerns raised about the quality of water in the back cove in Otter Creek, while far from requiring emergency action, are worth further exploration. Suspicions that there is a serious problem need to be resolved.
When the original bridges across the cove were built, advantage was taken of the natural peninsula that extended about three quarters of the way across the cove. The final construction of the current road and bridge in the late 1930s may have restricted water flow somewhat. But the truth remains that there never was much of a surge of water from the changing tides, except for the channel on the far western side.
Installation of additional drainage capacity, without careful study, might actually tip the environmental balance too far in the opposite direction.
Prior to construction of the bridge, questions of traditional navigation and access between the back cove and open ocean were explored during public hearings held in 1936. A report issued at the time states:
“Following a hearing held at the Bar Harbor Assessor’s office in July, the War Department granted permission for the structure to be built. A department spokesperson stated ‘navigation is negligible and is confined to rowboats and small power boats. A masonry arch provides openings with clearings adequate to accommodate such craft.’”
Research done in advance of that hearing noted that an earlier swing bridge, built to allow taller vessels, including sailing schooners that 50 years earlier hauled granite from the village, had fallen into disrepair and was little used.
In fact, one of the more robust debates at the time the current causeway was constructed was whether or not to install a dam instead of a bridge so that the daily inflow of sea water could be contained and allowed to warm up. No less than noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the creation of a swimming “pool” in the upper cove at Otter Creek.
Studies of the current bridge show that when it was built, grooves were included in the three archways to allow placement of boards to artificially raise the water level. No record can be found that they were ever used.
A 2000 environmental threat report prepared for the park indentified the entire inner cove as being at risk as a result of the treatment plant. In 2002, officials in Mount Desert decided to close the town’s sewage treatment plant in Otter Creek and pump all waste to a processing facility in Seal Harbor. The eventual closure eliminated the discharge of thousands of gallons of treated effluent a day into Otter Cove. Without question, water quality in the cove today is much improved.
Any construction to increase water flow into and out of Otter Cove would undoubtedly be very expensive. But the cost of undertaking a modest study of the water quality and general environment in the area would go a long way to providing answers as to whether or not additional action is warranted.