West Tisbury looks to place markers at dangerous intersection


West Tisbury appears likely to get state permission to install lane delineators — collapsible brightly colored posts — on the centerline of State Road approaching its intersection with Old County Road.

The goal is to encourage drivers traveling up-Island, who plan to turn left onto Old County Road across the oncoming traffic bound down-Island, to slow and do so safely.

At their June 15 meeting, West Tisbury selectmen thanked the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for requesting and coordinating a road safety audit of the intersection of State Road and Old County Road conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) the week before. During a visit to the site by DOT representatives, Island officials demonstrated that by placing cones along State Road, drivers planning to make a left turn onto Old County slowed and behaved more deliberately. A request to the DOT for installing delineators was rejected by DOT in June, but the demonstration may have led to reconsideration.

DOT officials told the selectmen that the intersection’s crash data does not indicate frequency or severity of accidents there to qualify for the DOT Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) reconstruction funding. However, the selectmen learned that the town could apply to the state for a permit to install the delineators at town expense. The selectmen expect a final report in three weeks, with state recommendations for a short, mid- and long-term plan to improve the intersection.

In other business, selectmen voted unanimously to hire Pamela Thors of Edgartown to be the town’s first administrative assistant, a newly created position that town officials said has been discussed several times over the past decade. There were 21 applicants for the position.

Ms. Thors was an administrative assistant to the assessors for 18 years before that position was eliminated.

Based on the recommendation of town administrator Jennifer Rand, selectmen quickly agreed to hire Ms. Thors, but there was a lengthy discussion over her salary.

Voters at town meeting in April approved creating the position and a salary of up to $36,000. The eight-step pay scale for the position ranges from $19.15 an hour at step 1 to $27.15 an hour at Step 8.

At the time the assessors eliminated Ms. Thors position, she was at Step 8 and earned $35,365 annually. Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter said, “Step one is where the personnel bylaws say she should be. Step two or three at the most would be appropriate. Any higher than that would fly in the face of the other people we have hired across the town.”

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell acknowledged that it is a new position but said that Ms. Thors’ previous experience working for the town should be a part of the discussion.

Ms. Mitchell, a former assessor, said, “I completely disagree that she should be anywhere near the bottom of the scale. I would argue that it is most fair to take her at her current rate.”

Mr. Manter, a town police sergeant, said, “in this community where I have worked for a few years, I do not recall anybody being hired at the top spot.”

Ms. Mitchell said that the town personnel bylaws do allow for starting an employee in a new position at the top step in the pay scale. “If the employee has exceptional qualifications, and I would argue that 18 years of experience in town hall describes that,” she said.

The discussion ended on a motion to pay Ms. Thors at Step 3 or $27,770 annually, with Mr. Knabel and Mr. Manter in favor, Ms. Mitchell opposed. The recommendation goes to the personnel board for approval at its August 9 meeting. The personnel board may not raise the pay above that recommended by the selectmen.

At the request of the Mill Pond Committee, the selectmen gave Ms. Rand permission to advertise a request for proposals (RFP) for an engineering study to determine the most appropriate steps for preserving and protecting Mill Pond.

The selectmen chose not to take a formal vote but approve by consensus. Mr. Manter said, “I do not want us to get in the habit of having a committee appointed by the selectmen having to come in here to get their RFP voted by us. That is their charge.”

Mr. Knabel disagreed. He said, “If the board of selectmen appoints the committee members the selectmen should approve the RFP.” Ms. Mitchell suggested the consensus compromise and Mr. Knabel agreed.

Mr. Knabel reluctantly agreed to serve as the town’s contact person for the OpenCape Project but said that he was not sure to what extent he would be comfortable serving on a working group that the project is trying to create with representatives from each Island town.

In March, the nonprofit OpenCape Corporation received $32 million in federal stimulus funds and $8 million in local and state matching funds to construct a 350-mile fiber optic network, wireless microwave network, and regional data center. OpenCape is based at Cape Cod Community College in Barnstable.

On Martha’s Vineyard, a microwave network will use line-of-sight radio transmitters or antennas to be located at three locations. Originally, OpenCape planned to put transmitters atop the West Tisbury School, because it serves as an Island emergency shelter, on the state fire tower, and also on high ground somewhere on Chappaquiddick.

However, in a letter to the selectmen dated July 1, OpenCape said that new engineering studies and discussions with Island officials have caused the project to rethink those locations.

Mr. Knabel also said that town accountant Bruce Stone received a letter from OpenCape that refuted an engineering study conducted by GCPS of Vineyard Haven, the firm building a fiber optic transmission system between the Island and Woods Hole; the study states the OpenCape Project system cannot work.

Mr. Knabel said that the OpenCape project “is two years late in trying to establish communications with the town.” Mr. Manter also criticized the project’s use of taxpayer money saying, “I do not see any real benefit from the project for the taxpayers of West Tisbury.”

Finally, the selectmen asked that officials representing NSTAR be invited to attend a meeting to update them on the status of the whip antennae on State Road. Mr. Manter met with the utility company about two months ago, seeking to have the antenna moved to a less obvious location, and had been told that the company was looking for an alternative location.