OpEd: Gay Head Light’s salvation needs help of all towns


The history of the Gay Head Light is long and rich. As sentinel for one of the most significant shipping lanes on the East Coast for over two centuries, its first order Fresnel Lens has alerted scores to the dangers of Devil’s Bridge. From the time it was built in 1856, it has drawn people to it, with New Bedford steamers bringing weekend tourists to Pilot’s Landing where oxcarts took them up the hill to the famous Light. The lighthouse remains a welcome and important part of our Island heritage and history. There are few things as amazing as a sunset climb up to the light room and a look ahead across the cliffs to the Sound, and then a look back over this amazing island we call home.

As chairman of the Aquinnah CPC, I want to report that we have consistently been a strong supporter of the Gay Head Light, even though the town owns neither the Light nor the land beneath it (yet). Over the years we have spent significantly for emergency restoration, and this year we are committing over $120,000 of our $170,000 CPA budget to the Light. Equally important is that I want to tell you that the town has assembled an impressively talented committee to oversee planning and fundraising for the move and the restoration. Despite the urgency of the move, a very sober and intensive period of planning and analysis has taken place. Let me tell you, this move will happen, and it will happen in an efficient, timely and thoughtful way.

Aquinnah is not inclined toward unnecessary frills or luxuries. Nothing about this project is over the top. We are committed to doing the highest quality restoration, with the least possible impact on the ecosystem and the most thorough re-vegetation of affected areas. That’s it.  Our fundraising has successfully reached out to a variety of sources, but a critical part is support from other Island towns. We cannot do this alone, we need Island-wide support. This is a big budget project in a very small town.

When the Community Preservation Act (CPA) legislation was passed in 2001, it was the culmination of a 20-year statewide effort by conservationists, preservationists, and housing advocates. A prime mover was Bob Kuehn, a seasonal Vineyard resident with a heart the size of Cape Poge. I remember a meeting with housing advocates strategizing about potential funding sources. Bob, as usual, waited for us to exhaust our ideas, and then offered a new idea: the Community Preservation Act. It was the first we’d heard of it. Soon after, Chilmark and Aquinnah became two of the first towns in the state to adopt the act, with the four other Island towns following a few years later.

The CPA raises money for open space protection, affordable housing, and historic preservation through a three percent property tax surcharge. Key to understanding the Community Preservation Act is the fact that CPA monies are separate from each town’s general budget and come out of a reserve fund composed of the three percent surcharge plus significant matching generated by registry fees statewide. The CPA is really a savings account, not a credit card. To approve or not approve a CPA expenditure does not affect a town’s tax rate in any way. Though the size of the match varies by size of the town, the current range is 67 to 100 percent. This is a pretty good return on our investment. This year, Aquinnah received a check from the state for $81,590, Chilmark for $198,425, Edgartown for $423,953, Oak Bluffs for $335,818, Tisbury for $322,037, and West Tisbury for $279,558. Not bad, don’t you think?

One of the hallmarks of the CPA is that any town can spend money in any other town in the Commonwealth. This is important for us here on M.V. The Vineyard has already utilized the CPA to pool its resources for the preservation of historic collections at the M.V. Museum, the replacement of windows at the county courthouse with energy-efficient, historically accurate windows, and the creation of rental housing opportunities Island-wide through the Regional Housing Authority. Through common sense decisions, we have found ourselves at the vanguard of creative and effective funding strategies state-wide. This year, we have the opportunity to add support for the effort to relocate the Gay Head Light to that list.

Each town’s Community Preservation Act committee (CPC) is charged with reviewing proposals and making recommendations to town meeting on the wise use of CPA funds. It is gratifying for all of us in Aquinnah to have heard such strong support for the Gay Head Light move from all five CPCs. Clearly, each town’s support will send a clear message to other potential funders that the light is a resource worth committing to. The town of Aquinnah and the Save the Gay Head Light Committee are committed to doing what it takes to keep the light on solid ground. I cannot say enough about how much the town of Aquinnah appreciates the support of each of our sister towns in this effort. As we have seen so many times, we can do much more pulling together than pushing on our own, and, being so bold as to speak for Aquinnah, I want to thank you all in advance. Your support at town meetings will be deeply, deeply appreciated.

Now, here’s a visualization exercise to try. I’m sure everyone reading this has been to or seen the Gay Head Light. Call an image of the light to mind. Look toward the base and notice that the clay cliffs are only 46 feet away.  Watch as the cliff gets closer and closer until the Light starts to lean a bit, then lean further, then, whoa, over the edge she goes. Kind of hard to imagine, isn’t it? It doesn’t have to happen. Together, let’s save it.

Derrill Bazzy


Aquinnah Community Preservation Act Committee

Derrill Bazzy adds this note: “Reference info taken from CP Coalition website:  FY 2014 matches received:  Aquinnah for $81,590 (100% match), Chilmark for $198,425 (100% match), Edgartown for $423,953 (67% match), Oak Bluffs for $335,818 (72.3% match), Tisbury for $322,037 (73.5% match), and West Tisbury for $279,558 (84.4% match).