West Tisbury selectmen will interview chief candidates
West Tisbury selectmen last week heard from a group of residents, upset with the use of the Nip 'n Tuck farm by dirt bike enthusiasts, who pressed town officials to take action to stop it. Selectmen also moved the search for a new police chief another step closer to completion when they met last Wednesday.
There is no question that dirt bikers are allowed to ride on a track on the farm property that borders State Road. On Wednesday, riders who insist that the activity is well-regulated and violates no town bylaws and opposing property owners squared off.
For the second week in a row, Wayne Greenwell of 11 Yellow Brick Road attended the meeting and asked the selectmen and town building and zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall to take steps to halt the organized dirt bike activity. Mr. Greenwell said that dirt bike riding creates noise and vibrations that invade neighboring properties even when windows are closed.
He cited three sections of the town by-laws that restrict noise to support his view that the activity should be stopped.
Reading from a prepared statement, Mr. Greenwell said, "There is no question that these dirt bikes create toxic noise pollution. This is not a tractor mowing a field, a sound I haven't heard from Nip 'n Tuck Farm by the way. This is raw engine noise that is unhealthy and invasive. It enters houses as far away as beyond Old County Road. This is a huge radius and a multitude of homes are affected."
Eight neighbors attended the meeting. Mr. Greenwell also presented the selectmen with a petition signed by 24 residents of neighboring homes.
Steve Maxner, of 4 Lily Farm, said, "The noise associated with the track at the Fisher Farm to me is tremendously offensive."
Mr. Maxner asked the selectmen, "Are zoning laws being enforced? Am I as a community member protected by the noise ordinance? And If I am not protected from this noise I need to know what recourse I have to change the ordinance. "
Louisa Williams and Chris Brooks, of 251 State Road, submitted a statement that Mr. Greenwell also read aloud. In part it said, "We are hoping to rent our house for a portion of next summer, and to do so with the persistent dirt bike noise would be difficult. Were we unable to rent, we would incur a considerable financial hardship."
Drew Kinsman of 250 State Road, said, "I do not think anybody knows how loud it is unless they pull over on State Road and listen. It's loud ... if there are no bylaws to ban this then we have to explore as a community how it is written because it is inappropriate. It is not something you can have in the community."
Not everyone agreed with that view. J.J. Mendez of West Tisbury, said that he has used the track since 2006 and the track is only used from 2-4:30 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Mr. Mendez, an Oak Bluffs police officer, said the operation is strictly regulated, fencing and trees were installed along State Road to curtail the noise, and that he accommodated the requests of abutting neighbors when they want him to change the hours of operation to allow for their outdoor parties.
Mr. Mendez said that 2010 was the first year neighbors complained. "They don't get noise all the time, it depends on the direction of the wind," he said.
Two neighbors spoke in favor of the track. Nathan Viera said, "I feel it is a great idea and gives people a place to go to ride versus traveling down the bike paths which would then interfere with people on the bike paths with bikes, jogging, and walking dogs."
Julia Humphreys said, "It is much better if we are going to have this to have it on a track, in an organized way, where it is safe. I am not saying that the noise is not very irritating, it is. But I still think it is a better option than having them ride through the woods on the ancient ways."
Opponents were not swayed.
"Is your hobby, which is very offensive to a large part of the community, okay?" Mr. Maxner asked Mr. Mendez. "Do we just have to bite the bullet and say because you want to ride your dirt bikes for two hours on Saturday and Sunday that is our burden that we have to bear?"
Selectman Richard Knabel acknowledged the issue but said it was not one the selectmen had the authority to resolve. "I understand you have a problem that is very annoying and difficult, and there is a mechanism for addressing it," Mr. Knabel said.
Mr. Knabel said that Mr. Mendenhall is conducting an investigation to determine if the operation is in violation of town bylaws and when the investigation is concluded he would make his ruling public.
Mr. Knabel said, "If he says it is not a zoning violation you folks will want to go to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and make an appeal and then go through their process. If he says that it is then he prescribes the remedy. If you do not agree with his remedy then again you have recourse to the ZBA."
Mr. Mendenhall did not attend the meeting.
Police chief interviews
Also Wednesday, selectman moved ahead with the process of selecting a new police chief in the wake of Jeffrey ("Skipper") Manter's announcement that evening that he would withdraw his name from consideration. Mr. Manter, a selectman, is also a sergeant on the town police force.
The three finalists under consideration are Acting Police Chief, Sergeant Dan Rossi, Donald B. Hull, the acting police chief in Canton, Conn., and Christian Pedoty, a police lieutenant with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City.
Selectmen had scheduled a community forum for Friday, October 29, followed by selectmen interviews on Saturday, October 30. Last night, selectmen cancelled both sessions, because Cynthia Mitchell is unavailable due to a family emergency.
The interview sessions are now scheduled for November 12 and 13.
Mr. Manter said that he would continue to recuse himself from the discussion of the police chief search process.
In a brief interview with The Times following last week's selectmen's meeting, Mr. Manter said that he was aware when he applied for the position that eight officers in the department had signed a letter of support for Sergeant Rossi. Asked why he applied for the position, knowing that his fellow officers supported Mr. Rossi's candidacy, Mr. Manter said, "I wanted to be police chief."
In other town business, John Christensen, town emergency management director, requested that a legal opinion be sought from Town Counsel Ron Rappaport on the power of the Board of Selectmen (BOS) or emergency manager to order traffic off the roads in an emergency situation.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell and Richard Knabel agreed with the request. Mr. Manter did not.
Mrs. Mitchell said the issue was discussed at the All-Island Selectmen's meeting and there was some consensus among the town officials present that it would be good to have town counsel render an opinion because there is some question regarding the authority of selectmen to order road closures.
Mr. Knabel said that the cost of the legal opinion would be shared by all of the island towns. Mr. Rappaport also serves as town counsel for the Island towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and West Tisbury.
Mr. Manter said, "I am just not in favor of paying for a legal opinion. I find it hard to believe that there is not someone in our state bureaucracy that can't tell us what the authority is of the BOS or anybody to act in an emergency."
Mrs. Mitchell said that while the authority of the BOS is written out, the different towns interpreted the language differently prior to Hurricane Earl. "I think it is more a matter of a trusted attorney, Ron, interpreting it for the five towns and then having everyone at the table agree," she said.
Mr. Knabel said, "It is time we posed the question and have a clear idea of what authority selectmen have under emergency situations and what they don't. There is a local consensus that the only authority that can close roads is the governor. And if that is the case, and it probably is, then we should have that so that we do not get into the situation like we did this last time which was extremely confusing and not helpful."
The selectmen approved the motion to ask town counsel for a legal opinion. Mr. Knabel and Mrs. Mitchell voted yes, Mr. Manter voted no.
The town holiday party is scheduled for Thursday, December 9th at the Ag Hall.