Oak Bluffs lifeguard lauded by town officials

Midsummer night’s selectmen’s meeting highlights heroic action at town beach and delves into downtown disputes.

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Lifeguard extraordinaire Olivia Paolano, flanked by (from left) Mike Santoro, Marc Rivers and Robert Whritenour. — Stacey Rupolo

Oak Bluffs recreation director Marc Rivers got Tuesday night’s selectmen’s meeting off to a rousing start when he described the heroics of lifeguard Olivia Paolano, who last week took part in three rescues off Inkwell and Pay Beach, on the same day, in the same hour.

“We have a lot of activity on our beaches this summer, and on this particular day, we only had three lifeguards on duty,” Mr. Rivers said. “One of our lifeguards was dealing with another incident, another had gone to the restroom at the Steamship Authority. During that time, Olivia saw two people in trouble at the end of jetties. She responded to get them, with the help of some people on the beach. Once she had them [onshore], she had to make another rescue, right away. It was a team effort, from the public and Olivia.”

“Unbelievable,” chairman Kathy Burton said after a long standing ovation for Ms. Paolano.

“It keeps things interesting,” Ms. Paolano joked, after receiving a framed commendation from Mr. Rivers.

Mr. Rivers said the occasion was a good opportunity to remind people that Oak Bluffs beaches aren’t as benign as they may appear. “Because of all the sand that has built up, you can walk out 30, 40 yards and be up to your knees,” he said. “You get a false sense of security, then suddenly it drops off, and you’re in a deep, fast current. Most people don’t know to ride it out and swim with the current. It’s a lot more dangerous out there than it looks. Which is why we’re so lucky to have someone like Olivia looking out for people at our beaches.”

 

Dockside dustup settled, for now

After a long and at times pointed discussion, selectmen granted a temporary business license, with several conditions, to tour company Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Co., but not before taking owners John Tiernan and Caleb Caldwell to task for past transgressions.

“You both came in front of us with goodwill in January, and you’ve lost a lot of that in my eyes,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “I felt duped by you, and I think most of the board did as well. That’s a scar that’s not going to go away anytime soon.”

“You owe an apology to your competitors,” selectman Mike Santoro said. “My phone was ringing off the hook. It got way out of hand. I don’t know how many calls I got.”

“I think it was intentional. I was misled,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “If we do approve it, there need to be conditions on the license.”

“I apologize. it was not my intent to deceive you in any way,” Mr. Tiernan said. “We have a long history in Oak Bluffs. I apologize for missteps, and there have been quite a few of them. I was not trying to embarrass you in any way.”

Selectmen approved a street license in January when Mr. Tiernan, co-owner of the Dockside Inn, pitched the tour company as a low-key operation with four 15-seat vans, driven by uniformed guides, staged on hotel property, primarily serving hotel guests, for three tours a day.

In June, the Land and Wharf Co. came under fire for tour hawking, monopolizing downtown parking spaces, and fielding lobster-costumed drivers. Town administrator Robert Whritenour said his office had received repeated complaints about the operation.

Police Chief Erik Blake told selectmen that he had to eject Land and Wharf hawkers in sandwich boards from public parking spaces and send them onto the deck of the Dockside Inn, and that Land and Wharf tour vehicles were crowding available spaces near incoming ferries, and causing other tour drivers to park in places like crosswalks out of desperation.

Mr. Caldwell went before the board in June to make a mea culpa. He said only serving hotel guests was not a viable business model for the company.

At Tuesday’s meeting, selectman Brian Packish said he viewed the business as a potential asset for Oak Bluffs. “It’s about getting it right. My struggle with the whole thing is the letter from the MVC that says you’re out of compliance.”

According to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) original development of regional impact permit issued in 1988, the Dockside Inn is required to have nine parking spaces. “You’re deficient four parking spaces. I’m worried about the precedent of granting a license to a business that is out of compliance with the DRI that exists on the property.”

Mr. Caldwell said the Dockside Inn is applying to the commission for a DRI modification.

Selectmen approved a 90-day business license, contingent on MVC approval of the DRI modification. Mr. Tiernan will park the vans at his residence, and they will be screened from the view of his neighbors.

Scott Dario, owner of Island Transportation, a tour-excursion rival of the Land and Wharf Co., told selectmen he thought it was time to bury the hatchet. “I do wish them good luck. I think you should put them on a short leash,” he said.

Selectmen also decided to crack down on the growing number of sandwich boards and merchandise displays on town sidewalks.

“They’re violating town and state bylaw and obstructing a public way,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.

“People hanging things outside of their shops is out of control,” Ms. Burton said. “If we don’t do anything about it, it’s not fair to the businesses who play by the rules. The current bylaws are really old; things have changed.”

Several decisions about parking were made by the board on Tuesday night.

Citing a problem of cars parked on public ways for long stretches of time, selectmen unanimously voted to enforce Massachusetts state law, which states that any car left on a public way for more than 72 hours will be considered abandoned, and subsequently towed away.

Selectmen unanimously voted to create a handful of new downtown parking spaces next to the Strand Theater, in front of King’s Moped Rentals, for use after 6 pm.

Highway department supervisor Richie Combra said a handful of new downtown parking spots will be available behind Giordano’s Restaurant, on Kennebec Avenue, by the end of next week.

Pursuant to a meeting of the Affordable Housing Trust, selectmen unanimously voted to appropriate $17,000 for title research, surveying, and percolation tests of 17 town-owned lots which the Affordable Housing Committee wants to evaluate for potential affordable housing construction.

Parks commissioner Amy Billings asked that people not put down tarps at Ocean Park to claim space for this year’s annual fireworks on August 18 until after 4 pm. “Last year, people were putting tarps down all over Ocean Park, and it did a lot of damage,” she said.

The selectmen’s next meeting is the annual taxpayers meeting on August 8, where town department heads will be available for one-on-one discussions.