On the afternoon of July 12, 2010, a raging blaze destroyed the historic Coast Guard boathouse, Coast Guard and town docks, and nearby boats and slips, and threatened the entire village of Menemsha.
One year to the day, against a backdrop of blue skies and blue water, about 80 local officials and residents gathered Tuesday for a simple ceremony to officially reopen the town’s reconstructed drive-on dock.
Selectmen had in hand small medals created for the occasion to award to representatives of some of those who responded that calamitous day, including Aquinnah police Chief Randhi Belain and Peter Martell, who arrived at the scene with the Oak Bluffs fire boat.
In brief remarks, Chilmark selectmen described proudly the municipal effort to rebuild the harbor and thanked the many Islanders, emergency responders, state and federal officials, contractors, and engineers who helped at a time of need.
Selectman Frank Fenner, owner of the Galley Restaurant, told the story of moving his boat away from the burning dock in thick, black, blinding smoke, and then the effort to rebuild, completed in one year.
“We are very proud, especially as a municipality, to get anything done in one year,” Mr. Fenner said,
Selectmen Warren Doty described the fire’s aftermath, when the waterfront “just had charred remains.”
He said it took concentrated effort by the town of Chilmark to complete the dock. Mr. Doty singled out civil engineer Kent Healy of West Tisbury and surveyor Bill Austin of West Tisbury for their efforts to design the new dock and oversee its construction.
“This new pier was designed by Kent and Bill to make sure that it is straight, that it is strong, that it will last beyond any of our lifetimes, and that it will never burn again,” Mr. Doty said.
Mr. Doty also praised the efforts of town executive secretary Tim Carroll.
“The person who really spearheaded the project was Tim Carroll,” he said to a round of applause.
Mr. Doty described how Mr. Carroll, a volunteer firefighter, left a meeting in town hall and was first on the scene with a fire truck, pouring water on the blaze. “From that moment on, Tim has been extremely involved with the project,” he said.
Selectman Jonathan Mayhew highlighted the help of the Island’s state and federal representatives, including state Rep. Tim Madden, state Sen. Dan Wolf, Congressman Bill Keating, and Senator Scott Brown. He said the help the town received was quite amazing.
The ceremony ended with a citizen rendition of “God Bless America” and a ribbon cutting.
Boathouse design begins
In the aftermath of the fire, town officials repeatedly expressed concern that the design process for a new Coast Guard boathouse include local residents. Chilmarkers felt the loss of the iconic red roof and wanted a new boathouse that fit.
On July 7, selectmen met with Chief Petty Officer Jason Olsen, the officer in charge of Station Menemsha, and two members of the Coast Guard’s design team. near the site of the old boathouse “to discuss the importance of capturing the historical and cultural spirit of Martha’s Vineyard,” according to a Coast Guard press release.
“We want to build it thoroughly and what we put together will be consistent with the old boathouse,” Farancisco Brito, the director of the project, said.
Although appearances may differ only slightly, the operational capabilities of the new boathouse may upgrade dramatically. Based on the current plan, crews could have the capability to pull response boats from the water to conduct maintenance and vessel exchanges without having to drive 30 minutes around the harbor to a boat launch, according to the release.
“It’s very good that we’re moving forward and making great progress with the rebuild of the boathouse in Menemsha,” Chief Olsen said. “We’re working as hard as we can with the community and town officials to address their concerns.”
Money for a new boathouse has yet to be budgeted. Chief Olsen told The Times Wednesday that despite the challenges the Coast Guard wants to be ready when it gets the green light to proceed.
In the meantime, the station’s 47-foot motor life boat, workhorse of the Coast Guard’s rescue fleet, and the 25-foot rescue boat and their crews remain at the ready.
Back in their place
In May, the Coast Guard’s 25-footer and its 47-foot motor life boat returned to the adjacent and newly reconstructed floating dock and pier that extend from the lot where the Coast Guard Station Menemsha boathouse once stood.
On February 15, 2011, the Coast Guard released the results of an investigation by federal, state, and local authorities, begun right after the fire was extinguished. The investigation concluded that the roaring fire that destroyed the Coast Guard Station Menemsha boathouse, docks and boats, and very nearly spread to the surrounding village, did not start inside the boathouse.
The fire may have been the result of a discarded cigarette on the pier, or faulty electrical wiring to the boathouse, or faulty electrical wiring to the town’s pier. There was insufficient evidence to determine a more precise ignition source, the report’s authors concluded.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal, and the Coast Guard Investigative Service, with assistance from the Chilmark Police and Chilmark Fire Departments, conducted the probe.
Chilmark provided The Times with the following list of medal recipents:
Menemsha Harbor Department
Aquinnah Harbor & Shellfish Department
US Coast Guard – Station Menemsha 47 foot Motor Life Boat
Dukes County Sheriff’s Dispatch Center
Responding Fire Departments
West Tisbury Fire
Oak Bluffs Fire & Fire Boat
Falmouth Fire Boat
Responding Police Departments
West Tisbury Police
Oak Bluffs Police
Massachusetts State Police
Tri Town Ambulance
Tisbury Police Ambulance
Oak Bluffs Ambulance
Edgartown Fire Ambulance
Kent Healy, PE
Bill Austin, Vineyard Land Surveying
A. G. M. Marine Contractors
C. White Marine
Gregory Marcella, Martha’s Vineyard Surveyors
Cole Powers, Powers Electric
Keith Fenner, Fenner Construction
Charlie Day, Day Plumbing
town hall staff, Dilly DeBlase, Tim Carroll, Chuck Hodgkinson
US Army Corps of Engineers.