Governor Patrick braves weather, questions on Vineyard visit

Governor Deval Patrick fielded questions during a visit to Eliakim's Way in West Tisbury Saturday. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Governor Deval Patrick was beginning to answer a question about educational resources for poor and disadvantaged students when the first raindrops began to fall. Over a background of grumbling thunder, he continued to respond to the questioner as most of the 50 people gathered under a spreading oak tree on the center green at the Eliakim’s Way affordable housing project in West Tisbury scrambled for the safety of their cars or nearby houses.

Within a minute, the rain became a driving curtain too thick to see through, and a flash and simultaneous crash of lightning signaled unmistakably that it was not smart to continue standing under a tree. Ten minutes later, when he reached the porch at Alley’s Store, the next stop on his “summer conversations tour,” the smiling governor was game but completely soaked.

The Saturday noon meeting began on a sweltering hot and humid day. Emily Galligan, president of the Eliakim’s Way homeowners association, welcomed Governor Patrick. The Eliakim’s Way project, eight green and affordable two- and three-bedroom homes, was a project of the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, South Mountain Company, Town of West Tisbury, Cape Light Compact, Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard, and the Island Housing Trust.

State Representative Tim Madden introduced the governor and noted that Department of Fish and Game (DFG) commissioner Mary Griffin was also present.

Preserving habitat

Her presence was fortunate, as the longest discussion involved conflicts between land use and the enforcement of state regulations designed to protect several species of moth found on Martha’s Vineyard. Peter Goodale complained that in order to expand his family’s sand and gravel mining operation, he must permanently set aside as moth habitat two acres of land for every one new acre he mines, although his is private land and he needs no new permit to operate his business.

Neighbors upset with the expansion had appealed to the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, an agency within the DFG charged with enforcing the state’s endangered species act.

Gisele Gauthier of the Housing Assistance Corporation, based in Hyannis, supported Mr. Goodale’s complaint. She had come to the meeting on the Vineyard to complain that in order to develop a nine-acre affordable housing project on Nantucket, she must find someone willing to set aside 18 acres for moth habitat. Finding 18 acres on Nantucket, she said, is a nearly impossible task.

Ms. Griffin noted that the set-aside has recently been lowered to 1.5 acres, but Mr. Goodale replied that the Vineyard already has hundreds of acres for conservation of habitats in Land Bank and Sheriff’s Meadow holdings, as well as 5,100 acres in the State Forest, which abuts his property.

Governor Patrick commented that towns or counties might be able to find a regional solution for the problem. “Maybe towns can say, ‘We’ve got enough habitat,'” he said, and he instructed Ms. Griffin and his assistants to explore this avenue.

Solar panel installations

John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company and a leader in affordable housing initiatives on Martha’s Vineyard, complained that in October, the Massachusetts Board of State Examiners of Electricians ruled that solar installations must be accomplished by a licensed electrician. Mr. Abrams’ asserted that electricians know little about solar installations. Photo-voltaic (PV) panels are an essential part of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction at Eliakim’s Way and South Mountain projects elsewhere on the Vineyard. In the past year, two of the eight all-electric houses at Eliakim’s Way used less energy than they generated from solar panels on their roofs, and two others were close to zero net energy use. The home with the least energy-conserving history generated more than half of its energy use from PV panels. Mr. Abrams also asked about new funding for LEED housing projects.

More questions

Several questioners complained about the closing of the Vineyard’s Social Security office, which inconveniences seniors and others who must now travel to Falmouth or Hyannis. Governor Patrick responded that it might be possible for the federal agency to share office space for a few hours a week with state agencies on the Vineyard, and he instructed his assistants to find out if that would be possible.

Scout leader Daniel Nelson complained that although there is a free hunter-safety course on the Vineyard for teenagers, there is no free boater-safety course. A free course is offered in Falmouth, but it runs two hours a day over four days, a costly time and transportation problem. The scouts, alternately, could pay $500 for a course to be offered on-Island. The governor’s staff will look into it.

Attorney John Amabile was concerned that the United States in general and Massachusetts in particular is overusing prison sentencing. According to Mr. Amabile, two million Americans are incarcerated, which he said is 25 percent of the world’s prison population. He wondered about reforming minimum sentencing laws, and asked if the governor could use pardons or clemency to reduce the problem in Massachusetts. Governor Patrick replied that he agreed that this is a problem and said that he is concerned about recidivism, that prisons do little to rehabilitate prisoners. “They come out worse than when they went in,” he said.

Governor Patrick said that he has sponsored sentencing reform legislation, especially for drug offenders, “people who haven’t hurt anyone but themselves.” He did not agree with Mr. Amabile that pardons are a reasonable solution, commenting that he has had only one pardon recommendation from the Pardons Board, which he denied.

Not a candidate

Although Governor Patrick has announced that he will not seek a third term, his introductory remarks to the assembled citizens and public officials had some of the characteristics of a stump speech. He praised Massachusetts’s financial recovery from the recent recession, which he said leads the nation, particularly in “green” jobs. He said that 57 percent of the country’s new green jobs in June were in Massachusetts. He asserted that Massachusetts leads the nation in education and also took pride that 98 percent of Massachusetts residents have health insurance, including 99.8 percent of children. “But it still costs too much,” he added.

Governor Patrick said that Massachusetts is “investing” in infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges. He praised the on-schedule accelerated repair to 14 bridges on Interstate 93 north of Boston, which has so far demolished and replaced nine bridges, one per weekend. He contrasted that pace with the years it is taking to replace the drawbridge over the entrance to the Lagoon.

The problem, he said, which is now his greatest concern, is the increase in urban violence.

Throughout the meeting, Governor Patrick spoke candidly and, at times, firmly. He showed that he was listening carefully, asking questions and assigning follow-up to his assistants. When he felt that he understood the questioner’s problem, he nodded emphatically, saying, “I got it.” If questioners persisted, he repeated “I got it” with emphasis, a not-so-subtle sign that it was time to move on to the next question.