Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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Youth Task Force Coalition Coordinator Theresa Manning attributes the decline in underage drinking to a cultural shift on the Island.

In a recent interview with The Times, an Islander and recovering addict in his mid-20s summed up the drug culture on the Vineyard during his school years. “Everyone I knew started drinking in middle school and moved on to other substances in high school. We called it Martha’s Vineyard Reasonably High School,” he said.

While drugs and alcohol still are present in Island schools, preliminary results from the 2014 Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) give reason to be optimistic that historically high substance-use rates in Island schools are on the wane.

According to the 2014 YRBS, 35 percent of the 554 Island high school students polled reported using alcohol in the past 30 days. While that number might seem high to some, it is the first time since the YRBS was first administered in 2000 that the Vineyard talley was not above the state average, now 35.7 percent.

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“In one of our federal grants, we said our goal was reducing alcohol use by 10 percent in five years,” Theresa Manning, coalition coordinator for the Youth Task Force (YTF), told The Times. “We just hit our five-year mark for that funding, and we’ve reduced it by 16 percent. In 2007, 55 percent of MVRHS students reported drinking alcohol at least once in the past 30 days.”

Survey results also show that 39 percent of Island high school students reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, an 11 percentage-point drop over the past two years.
Tobacco use — 8 percent — is a 4 percentage-point drop from 2012, and 2 percentage points below the state average.

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Not all the numbers are positive, however. Although marijuana use has dropped, it remains 3 percentage points higher than the state average. Prescription drug abuse is at 9 percent, more than double the 2009 YRBS figure.

The middle school 2014 YRBS, which polled 251 students in grades seven and eight, showed no statistically significant changes from the 2012 YRBS, except for a slight uptick in marijuana use, where 6.9 percent reported marijuana use in the past 30 days, up from 4 percent in 2012. Alcohol use held steady at 7.3 percent, tobacco ticked up from 1 percent to 2 percent, and prescription drugs from 2.7 percent to 3.3 percent.

Countering the culture
“We live in a unique place and we have some unique challenges,” Youth Task Force Coalition Coordinator Jamie Vanderhoop said. “There’s not an issue with access to drugs and alcohol here on the Island. People come on vacation, they come to party, and that brings access to our young people.”

“We think the seasonal aspect of the Island is one of the biggest challenges to people making better choices,” Ms. Manning said. “Summertime becomes a very challenging time for our families on the Vineyard. Parents are working more, they’re less accessible to their kids because they have to be. Kids work at an early age here, and often in the service industry where there’s easy access to alcohol and other substances through their co-workers. In the summertime we become a community that really relies on partying for our economy, and our kids grow up with that somehow being the norm, so it skews it for them.“
“I can’t tell you how many people, even their 50s, say, ‘We always had 20-year-olds at our parties in high school,’” Ms. Manning said. “That doesn’t happen in most places. The blended age-group socialization is a big challenge here. It becomes that thing where parents get lured into, ‘It’s always been that way, it’s how it works here on the Island.’ It doesn’t have to be that way. We can have a higher standard, and I think people are hearing that, and that’s showing up in the numbers.”

Ms. Vanderhoop said that ironically, the 2014 YRBS also shows that students don’t believe their own progress. “We’ve heard from teachers that kids don’t believe the numbers, and they think that everyone is smoking pot and that the survey is a bunch of lies,” she said. “As part of our survey, we asked about behavior and what their perception of their peers behaviors are. We ask them if they had a drink of alcohol in the past 30 days. We also ask, ‘How many kids in your grade do you believe have had a drink?’ There’s a big misconception here. A lot of kids on the Vineyard believe most kids are using, when in fact, most kids are not. We’ve done the test three times in a row, and it came out within a couple of points each time. We know there are a lot of kids making healthy decisions. We want to make sure they know they’re not the only ones.”

Sea change
The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force was created in 2004 as a response to alarmingly high drug and alcohol usage shown on the Island by the 2000 and 2002 YRBS. “There was a study done at Brandeis University that said you don’t change the culture of a place quickly, and it takes at least 10 years to have an impact,” Ms. Manning said. “It was important to look at this as a long-term project, because there are a lot of factors involved. It’s about helping kids make healthy choices earlier. It’s about empowering parents to tell their kids not to do it and encouraging parents to make healthy choices for themselves. It’s having the whole community look at how we can make this a healthier place for our kids.”

“Historically addiction has been a big issue here, but there’s also a lot of positives in this community,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “The Island is a very thoughtful community. Once we started the dialogue, the light bulbs went off: ‘We can do better. We can make better decisions for ourselves and our kids.’ We’re very fortunate to have the networking opportunities that we have on the Island. Some things that might get caught up in bureaucracy in other communities get done here.”

“We often speak with parents and point them in the direction of accessing resources to support them in parenting their teen,” Ms. Manning said. “Typically we start talking to parents when their children are in sixth or seventh grade, but we encourage parents of all-aged children to start talking to their young person. We say that you should talk early and talk often. We provide parents with a network called the Safe Homes Pledge Network, which is an online database of parents who have committed to monitoring social activities for their children and enables them to communicate with one another.”

Ms. Manning said making parents aware of the enormous legal liability they take on by abetting underage drinking has also helped create a shift in behavior. “An attorney who works for the law firm of Campbell and Campbell comes, pro bono, to make responsibility presentations to parents,” Ms. Manning said. “It’s amazing how many of them don’t realize the enormous legal risks they take when they enable underage drinking.” Videos of the presentation are available at all town libraries and on the YTF web site.

“The police departments have also been a huge help,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “Part of our funding for a state grant required increasing compliance checks at liquor stores. Initially the police worked with the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, but they became such strong partners we didn’t need outside help. Now we have a very good compliance rate.” Ms. Vanderhoop said the YTF also works with the local police on safe party-dispersal training. “Our police departments have been great about doing details during peak times like prom season, or over Thanksgiving, times when there’s likely to be a lot of underage drinking going on,” she said.

“Credit also has to go to the store owners,” Ms. Manning said. “Almost all of the stores that sell liquor have partnered with us, and they voluntarily invested in computerized I.D. checkers, which are very expensive.” Ms. Manning said that store owners have been receptive to the YTF “Sticker Shock” campaign, where brightly colored stickers that inform the risk of providing alcohol to underage drinkers are placed on bags. The YTF also provides local restaurants with Responsible Beverage Server Training.

They YTF has also established an anonymous tip line — 508-444-2YTF — where people can anonymously give information about underage drinking and drug use. “We’ve gotten calls from people who know of a house that’s a habitual party house,” Ms. Manning said. “We’ve been informed of a place where a party is about to happen, and we’ve given it to the appropriate police department. This way police can stop a party before it starts. Police would rather not bust kids.”

On the cusp
While the 2014 YRBS contains encouraging data, Ms. Manning and Ms. Vanderhoop know the challenges will continue as long as there are substances that can be abused.

“We’re very proud of what our community has come together to do, and we’re very aware that we have to stay on top of this if we’re going to maintain a decrease in these numbers,” Ms. Manning said. “We know opiates and heroin are on a huge rise in the 20 to 50-year-old age group, and trends like that tend to filter down to younger people. Prescription drug misuse is on the rise in our high school. It’s very much on our radar, and we’re addressing it.”

“We’ve placed Med Drop boxes at the Tisbury, Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and West Tisbury police departments for people to properly dispose of their unused medications,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “We’re also providing local pharmacies with prescription bags that educate the consumer about responsible storage and disposal of unused medication.”

“I think the legalization changes with marijuana will also present new challenges in educating young people,” Ms. Manning said. “Nationally we’re seeing a rise in marijuana use, so we’re keeping an eye on it.”

What can parents do if they think their child is using drugs and/or alcohol? “If you asked me that question last year, I would have said go to the school adjustment counselor or to community services [MVCC],” Ms. Manning said. “But with the new Island Wide Youth collaborative, on-Island treatment is available, and there’s a highly qualified group of people working together on each case. We’re on the cusp of some big steps in addiction prevention and treatment on the Vineyard.”

School expenditures in Oak Bluffs push the town budget to the brink. — Martha's Vineyard Times file pho

While Oak Bluffs finances have been trending in a positive direction in recent years, when town administrator Robert Whritenour delivered his proposed budget to the selectmen Tuesday night, he also delivered some sobering news — education costs will once again push the town budget to the brink of a Proposition 2.5 override.

“Things are tightening up quite a bit,” Mr. Whritenour said. “I’m not picking on the school system by any stretch of the imagination, but my major concern is the education portion of the town budget. Educational spending is very much pressing the town’s financial limits.”

Mr. Whritenour’s proposed $26,516,245 budget for the next fiscal year, which next goes to the financial advisory committee (FinCom) for vetting, proposes a modest 1.7 percent increase in town expenditures. However, the overall increase in the budget with education increases factored in is 3.34 percent. The $581,000 increase in the Oak Bluffs high school assessment and the proposed $402,015 increase for the Oak Bluffs school budget bring the total educational spending increase for Oak Bluffs in FY16 to just under $1 million, more than the requested increase for the entire town.

“We’ve had very intense discussions with educational leaders,” Mr. Whritenour said. “It’s probably not realistic to keep the education below the Proposition 2.5 levy limit. There are just too many state requirements combined with the growth in the number of students.”

Mr. Whritenour said the town should “squeak by” in FY16 without an override; however, the $600,000 override approved by town taxpayers last year will be completely spent. “Last year we took half the override and set it aside for FY16. We won’t have that luxury in [FY17],” he said. “If we have another year of high growth in education expenses, we’re going to have big problems.”

State aid is a particular sore point. The total amount of state aid is determined in large part by real estate values, not earned income. This puts Oak Bluffs, and many towns on the Cape and Islands, at a disadvantage in qualifying for funds. Mr. Whritenour estimated that Oak Bluffs will be assessed with $150,000 in negative funding, e.g. the town will have to pay $150,000 to the state in FY16. “The state aid is actually getting worse,” he said. “The first $150,000 that this town raises has to go to the state, not to the classrooms in our town. Since 2008, state aid has not been there for the town, and it’s absolutely shameful.” Mr. Whritenour said the charter school is also a drain on town finances, since Oak Bluffs has to pay 100 percent of the tuition for each student. Mr. Whritenour said he will meet with state representative Tim Madden and a small group of town officials in a closed meeting next week to discuss the putative structure of state education funding. Selectman Gail Barmakian suggested that Oak Bluffs would stand a better chance of affecting change at the state level by forging alliances with other Cape and Island towns.

FinCom chairman Steve Auerbach said he’s optimistic that the financial burden on Oak Bluffs can be mitigated. “Our reception at the all-Island school committee and at the high school committee was very positive,” he told The Times on Wednesday. “I think they understand that with the constraints of Prop 2.5, there is a limit to what we can spend.” Mr. Auerbach said increase in health insurance for school employees is budgeted at 10 percent, but it could be considerably lower, depending on rates set by the Cape Cod Municipal Health Care Group, which are due to be announced in a few weeks. “School officials are not unsympathetic to what we’re trying to do,” he said. “They get unfunded mandates from the state, so it’s not an easy equation.”

Mr. Whritenour also had good financial news for the selectmen. “Revenues are quite strong, and there are things we can do to continue to make revenues strong,” he said, adding that revenue growth is currently pegged at 3.35 percent. “For estimated receipts last year we collected about $200,000 more than we budgeted,” he said. “Having over $3 million in estimated receipts is awesome. This year’s collections, halfway through the [fiscal] year, we’re $80,000 above last year’s collections. We’re not going to see $1 million in surpluses, we don’t have that luxury, but the days of negative numbers are over.”

Staffing shuffling
Mr. Whritenour proposed freezing the vacant administrator position at the Council on Aging (COA). In addition to cutting costs, this will allow the COA to replace the retiring part-time outreach coordinator with a full-time outreach coordinator. “We want to lower administration costs and increase our outreach efforts,” he said. “That’s where the need is greatest in our community. Economically, that’s where we can have the biggest impact.”

Cost-of-living raises for union employees will be capped at two percent in FY16, and there will be no step raises.

Mr. Whritenour proposed additional funding to the highway department for seasonal restroom maintenance.

To improve efficiency in town hall, Mr. Whritenour proposed additional administrative support for both the assessor and town treasurer, as well as eliminating two part-time administrative positions in the health department and replacing them with one full-time position. In the building department, he proposed eliminating the half-time code enforcement position and adding a full-time administrative assistant.
“We’re recognizing the need for administrative support for the planning board,” Mr. Whritenour said. “We were able to double [the administration budget], but it’s a work in progress.”

Mr. Whritenour said he supports continued consolidation of the fire and EMS departments, and he informed the selectmen that Oak Bluffs homeowners are going to see a reduction in homeowner insurance due to an improved rating of the town’s fire department by the insurance industry.

In other business, Mr. Whritenour informed the selectmen that due to the delay in FEMA funding, dredging at Little Bridge, the channel between Sengekontacket Pond and Nantucket Sound that is completely choked with sand and gravel, will not take place until June 1 at the earliest.

 

Dismayed by debris despoiling Vineyard vistas, Tim Hanjian takes a stand.

From left, Matt Stamas, Betsy Donnelly, Tim Hanjian, Veronika Buckley, and 2-year-old Hannah Buckley helped clean trash from Eastville Beach in Oak Bluffs on New Year's Day. – Photo by Michael Cummo

In his line of work, Tim Hanjian of Oak Bluffs, owner of Eco-Island Pest Control, is used to dealing with destructive foes from the insect world. But it was the human litterbugs, and the unsightly messes they left behind, that were the focus of Mr. Hanjian’s efforts on a recent frigid Saturday morning at Eastville Beach. It was the third cleanup effort of Clean MV, a grassroots movement in its infancy, started by Mr. Hanjian and friend Matt Stamas. That day they were joined by three people, Betsy Donnelly, Veronika Buckley, and 2-year-old Hannah Buckley, more than doubling ranks of the two previous Clean MV gatherings, where Mr. Hanjian and Mr. Stamas tackled beach trash on their own.

Hannah Buckley, 2, puts a window frame found on Eastville Beach into a bucket to be thrown away. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Hannah Buckley, 2, puts a window frame found on Eastville Beach into a bucket to be thrown away. – Photo by Michael Cummo

“Matt and I had been talking about the problem for a while, and we decided to pick a spot and spend an hour picking up garbage,” Mr Hanjian told The Times. For the first two Clean MV efforts, Mr. Stamas chose Medeiros Cove on Lagoon Pond, a place where he spent many hours as a child. “I found half a jug of antifreeze with cap off,” he said. “We easily found 100 cans and bottles. The nip bottles are everywhere. If I could cash all of them in, I could own half of the Island.” Mr. Hanjian said one of the more disconcerting finds was five paint cans, all with paint in them. “They were dumped about 15 feet from a trash can,” he said. “When it rains, all those chemicals run into the pond. We all go to the Net Result to get the scallops that come out of there. Basically we’re poisoning ourselves.”

“All those chemicals going into the water is more of a concern than people realize,” Mr. Stamas said. “This Island is known for its natural beauty, and throwing away trash like that is very disrespectful of the community.”

Mr. Hanjian said Clean MV only asks that people donate an hour of time to picking up litter. “Nobody wants to spend a whole day picking up trash,” he said. “We do whatever we can do in an hour, that’s it. I want it to be as stress-free as possible. If somebody can help for 10 minutes, that’s great. We’ll take it. This is more about building awareness of the problem.”

Mr. Hanjian posts upcoming Clean MV events on a number of Islander Facebook pages, including Islanders Talk, Island Pickers, and Green MV.  He also posts on the Martha’s Vineyard Minutemen page, because more and more, hunters are coming across trash piles in the most secluded areas of the Island. “These aren’t tourists doing this,” he said. “Islanders are the biggest offenders.”

At the conclusion of the Eastville beach cleanup, the five volunteers had filled two large trash bags. “We found the usual assortment of bottles and cans,” Mr. Hanjian said. “This time we also found clothes, that was a first. We also found medical waste bags that had been torn open.”

Mr. Hanjian said Clean MV is just one Island group that’s taking on trash. “I’m just another guy trying to help,” he said. “I don’t want to be seen as the guy trying to lead the way. My family is big into service. My dad, Armen Hanjian, has run the Island Food Pantry for the past 17 years.”

Mr. Hanjian believes a key to turning the rising tide of litter is more trash cans on the Island. “There’s not enough garbage receptacles, period,” he said. “We can pay for it now or pay for it later. One way or another we’re going to pay for it.”

The next Clean MV beach cleanup will be at Eastville Beach, this Saturday morning from 11 am to noon.

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Officials vow increased outreach, greater transparency, and a stronger presence in town hall.

Oak Bluffs planning board members Euell Hopkins (left) and Brian Packish want the planning board to play a stronger role in town affairs. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Oak Bluffs officials have good reason to be optimistic in 2015. Reduced deficits, increased reserves, and a stable outlook recently prompted Standard and Poor’s (S&P) to up Oak Bluffs’ town bond rating two grades, from AA- to AA+. New buildings are springing up in the business district, improvements abound on Circuit Avenue, and last month construction began on a new $8.3 million fire station, the town’s first capital project since the library broke ground more than a decade ago.

At the fire station groundbreaking, chairman of the board of selectmen Greg Coogan said the new municipal building embodied a rejuvenated cooperative spirit in town government. “We’ve seen a renewed sense of teamwork here in town, demonstrated by all of you,” he said.

If indeed the new fire station evinces a new spirit of teamwork in Oak Bluffs, members of the town planning board said they were left sitting on the bench. Only a last-minute discovery by the newly hired town building inspector, who legally couldn’t issue construction permits without a site review, gave the planning board a say. Ultimately, the board approved the project with minimal changes and a unanimous vote that was less than enthusiastic.

“Our hands were pretty well tied,” planning board chairman Brian Packish told The Times. “Legally, the planning board has 60 days to vet a project. We had seven days. But the last thing you want to do is show the process being ineffective at this final hour…The hope is we’re going to create a better process and do some things differently in Oak Bluffs.”

In a recent conversation with The Times, Mr. Packish, owner of Packish Landscaping, and board member Ewell Hopkins, an information technology consultant, discussed changes they believe will improve the planning process, increase the board’s efficiency, and make the town more responsive to taxpayers.

Town hall transparency
“There’s a misconception that it’s crazy in O.B., and we’re fighting all the time,” Mr. Packish said. “People are passionate about O.B. When they’re excluded from the process, they make decisions based on rumors because our government isn’t presenting them with facts, soliciting their input, and making decisions based on the will of the people.”

“The process is fundamentally busted,” Mr. Hopkins said. “There are many anecdotal examples that show the lack of appreciation for a collaborative approach in the town. Anytime officials say they want to get something done so they don’t want to involve other voices, they’re reaching a level of arrogance that I don’t support. I don’t think there’s any decision you can make that is a better decision by excluding people.”

“Some people can argue that financially, the town of Oak Bluffs has come a long way, but as we cleaned up our books, the rest of our process stayed as broken as our finances were five years ago,” Mr. Packish said. “In the name of control and in the name of owning and manipulating the process, many, many steps are skipped.”

Mr. Packish cited a Dec. 4 roads and byways committee meeting that was not posted or open to the public. “We had a meeting that was very, very illegal,” he said. “I said, ‘This a quorum, we shouldn’t be having a meeting behind closed doors,’ and Bob [Whritenour] said, ‘Well, we are.’”

Mr. Packish said he was assured by committee chairman and selectman Michael Santoro that no decisions would be made in the meeting. “But that’s not relevant criteria to whether you have a meeting or not,” he said. “And they did make decisions. They picked areas for potential paid parking. They talked a lot about park and ride. I kept asking, ‘When are we going to have a hearing? How do we vet this?’ and there were no answers. Basically what you’re saying is you don’t want to hear from the people who are writing the check. Where else would you go and say, ‘I don’t care what you think, I just want your money’? That’s what the town has been doing.”

Mr. Hopkins said the agenda for the park and ride is an example of a special interest group, in this case the Oak Bluffs Association (OBA), promoting an agenda without input from the wider population. “The OBA hasn’t said, ‘What do we need to do to broaden our perspective on this?’” he said. “They’re coming together to design something based on their perception of need, which in this case is commerce. But you don’t have a residential voice in this discussion; you don’t have an elderly voice in this discussion; you don’t have parents of young children in this discussion. I think those voices are as valuable as the other voices.”

More cohesion
In addition to creating a better working relationship between town government and taxpayers, a priority for the board is to increase efficiency within town hall.

“There’s got to be a central repository for planning,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We don’t do that, because historically whoever had the juice makes the decisions. You can’t properly plan if you don’t know what’s happening in other [departments], and it ain’t happening.”

“Our goal is to create a process that shows cooperation between all of the town boards,” Mr. Packish said. “We’re not looking to own the process, we’re looking to have the information in one place.”

“But,” Mr. Hopkins interjected, you need to have a planning board that has respect in the town. The planning board in Edgartown is listened to by the town. They fund it properly, they give it the authority that it warrants, because they understand the importance of planning. If you look at the budgets at the six towns and look at Oak Bluffs, you can see something is wrong.”

In 2013, the budget for the Edgartown planning board was $77,673, according to the town report. The planning board budget for West Tisbury was $53,574, for Tisbury $60,700, and for Oak Bluffs, the Island’s largest, most populous town, the budget was $7,654.

“Before we spend an extra dime on the planning budget in Oak Bluffs, we have to figure out where we’re spending planning dollars already,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We’ve seen how dispersed the planning process is in other departments; that translates to additional costs. We write a check to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) every year, but what do we get for that money? How many professional planning hours do we get, and who’s auditing it? The relationship with the MVC shouldn’t always be adversarial. Why not take advantage of their resources — the mapping, the traffic studies, et cetera, and in effect, use the expertise we’re already paying for, so we don’t have to carry that load.”

Oak Bluffs assessment in the $1.4 million MVC’s FY16 budget, set to be approved next week, is $141,868.

Broken records
The Edgartown planning board has a support staff of one full-time and one part-time employee. Currently the Oak Bluffs board is allocated five hours a week from Shelly Carter, administrative assistant to the board of selectmen. “Shelly does a great job, but we at least need a part-time administrative assistant,” Mr. Packish said. “In Oak Bluffs, we can’t even document what we’ve done.”

“There’s two years worth of minutes missing from the planning board,” Mr. Hopkins said. “The minutes are in complete disarray. We can’t afford to be so amateuristic. We have major legal challenges ahead, and there’s no documentation. Now the big elephant in the room is Southern Woodlands.”

Mr. Packish said the board was recently informed by MVC development of regional impact (DRI) coordinator Paul Foley that a developer has expressed interest in purchasing the long-troubled tract.

“You can’t just decide that you’re going to allow 70 acres to be developed with no documentation of what transpired up to that,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Right now, legal challenges cannot be defended, because [meeting minutes] are still on tapes that haven’t been transcribed. That’s not acceptable. We’re going to have to get sued for us to realize that we can’t keep doing that.”

Entrenched attitudes
There are long-held beliefs in town hall and in the vox populi that the planning board intends to challenge in 2015. “I hear two things consistently,” Mr. Packish said. “On the one hand I hear [town officials] say, ‘We have to do it this way, otherwise everyone is just going to stop it.’ So they hold it and covet it, and spring it on you at the last minute. Then I talk to people on the street and I say, ‘Why don’t you participate? You’ve got a great idea there. Come to the next meeting.’ They say to me, ‘Why? The decision’s already been made, I’m not going to waste my time.’ We need to bridge those two mindsets.”

“There’s no public input, because fundamentally, starting with the governing body, there’s no appreciation for the importance of public input, and that turns to apathy,” Mr. Hopkins said.

Mr. Packish said the recently formed Downtown Streetscape Committee is an example of how increased outreach can work. “We’ve been tireless in exploiting every avenue,” he said, “from sitting in front of the post office to manning a booth at Harborfest. We went door-to-door to downtown businesses, we did a direct mailing to everybody within 500 feet of the district, and we’ve expanded our social media presence. What we’re finding is people are embracing it. After seeing the amount of participation that we had with the streetscape committee, it feels foreign to me to sit at a meeting and create a park and ride, which is such a big item for our downtown, and see zero outreach.”

Mr. Packish said he is optimistic the the incipient change in 2014 will gain momentum in 2015. “I think the tide is slowly turning,” he said. “We’re seeing more faces at meetings. We’ve had 30 and 40 people at planning board meetings. Not long ago, if 10 people came it was considered a crowd. When you sit in a meeting with 30 to 40 people, when you get constant emails and have constant discussions, you get a really clear sense, very quickly, as to what the people want. It’s really very simple.”

Chairman responds
In a telephone conversation with The Times on Tuesday, chairman of the board of selectmen Greg Coogan responded to some of the concerns Mr. Packish and Mr. Hopkins expressed.

“I don’t feel like that we’ve ignored them. I think the planning board has played an increased role since the downtown study was done with consultants, and got the town looking at itself from someone else’s perspective,” he said. “Brian and Ewell have done a great job, as have all the members of the planning board. We welcome their involvement.”

Mr. Coogan said the board intends to address the administrative shortcomings in this year’s budget. “The budget is tight, but we are looking at giving them more administrative assistance,” he said. “Keep in mind we’re also trying to give more support to the building department and the health department. I’m sure they’ll want more than we can give, but we have to start somewhere. We have a lot of planning to be done in the coming year, and it’s nice to have a board that’s so energetic about the planning process.”

In his budget for FY16, presented to the selectmen Tuesday night, town administrator Robert Whritenour proposed a $12,000 budget for the planning board. The amount is a 57 percent increase over the FY15 budget and the $10,000 allocation for clerical salary almost doubles the $5,654 allocation in FY15, but it falls considerably short of the requested $21,836.

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Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Tisbury firefighters converged on the Lampost Sunday morning.

As smoke billowed out of the Lampost early Sunday morning, first responders from Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and Edgartown raced to the scene and quickly took their pre-assigned positions. Over the course of the next three hours, firemen battle the “blaze,” searched the four-story structure for victims and rescued a fellow firefighter.

Firefighters prepare to enter the Lampost building amid billowing smoke.
Firefighters prepare to enter the Lampost building amid billowing smoke.

As firemen rolled up the hoses that criss-crossed Kennebec and passers-by did double takes at the victims lying on the ground — mannequins that had been hidden in the building — Chief John Rose provided an assessment of the morning drill. “Overall it went pretty well,” he told The Times.

Mr. Rose said the drill provided valuable information about where to best place equipment, especially Tisbury Fire Tower 1, a ladder engine equipped with a crane and a bucket that can put a firefighter eye level with a blaze, or a struggling victim, on the fifth floor.

The conditions were intended to mimic a real blaze.
The conditions were intended to mimic a real blaze.

Mr. Rose said the glaring inadequacy of the radio communication system was a particular concern. “This has been an Island wide problem for a while now,” he said. “We knew it was an issue but we didn’t realize the extent of it until today. There were times I couldn’t get commands to my men because their radios weren’t working properly. When the Rapid Intervention Team went in on a Mayday call to save a fellow firefighter, they weren’t able to communicate with him and we couldn’t hear where they were. That’s completely unacceptable.”

A firefighter feels his way into the building.
A firefighter feels his way into the building.

Mr. Rose said the exercise took months of planning between him and Edgartown fire chief Peter G. Shemeth, and Tisbury fire chief John Schilling. “It’s good to know these two departments have our backs, because if there is a fire in the downtown area, God forbid, we’re going need to act quickly. I think everybody has a much better idea of their role after today,” he said.

Mr. Rose said grant applications have been submitted to obtain funding infrastructure improvements, such as additional radio transmission towers. “One way or another, we have to do something,” he said.

“We learned a lot about placement of apparatus on Circuit Ave., particularly with Tower 1,” Chief John Schilling told The Times. “It was a challenge to put up ladders at the front of the building because of the sharp slope of the terrain. There’re also a lot of challenges managing personnel at a scene that size.”

Mr. Schilling also expressed concern about the sketchy radio communication. “We need to address our communication challenges,” he said. “We’re using a system that was designed in the 1960’s, where everything flows through one central dispatch. That doesn’t work in a mutual aid situation.”
Mr. Schilling said there will be a meeting next week with all Island fire and police chiefs and representatives from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to address the problem. “Somewhere along the line we’ve got to figure out how we’re going to transition to a new system, unfortunately it’s going to be a significant dollar figure,” Mr. Schilling said.

Minutes after police distributed his photo, the suspect unwittingly crossed paths with an alert town police chief.

The Mermaid Farm farm stand is now protected with surveillance cameras. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Increasingly, Martha’s Vineyard farmers are wrestling with a challenge unrelated to weather or harvests. Thievery from farm stands is hitting the bottom line.

The Mermaid Farm on Middle Road in Chilmark was the most recent target. Allen Healy, co-owner of the farm with his wife Caitlin Jones, didn’t discover he’d been robbed on Dec. 29 until he took inventory and counted the cash from the can the next morning. He checked the footage from his recently installed security cameras, and it clearly showed the alleged perpetrator in the act and the car in which he drove away. Chilmark police detective Sean Slavin responded to his call.

“The suspect didn’t look familiar, and his vehicle had out-of-state plates,” Detective Slavin told The Times. “He made four trips to his car, carrying as much as his arms could carry.” The suspect took milk, cheese, yogurt, and other goods worth $103, according to Detective Slavin. The video showed he left a $20 bill in the can.

Detective Slavin took a photo of the video footage on his cell phone and texted it to police officers in all six towns at 10:44 am.  At 11:05 am, off-duty Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi was driving in his truck when he saw the suspect’s vehicle drive by going the other way on South Road. “I’d received a photograph of the suspect from Detective Slavin, and the pictures matched,” Chief Cioffi told The Times. “I followed him to Alley’s [General Store], and with the assistance of West Tisbury police, we blocked him in. We’re happy we caught another person stealing from the honor system.”

Police arrested Daniel Levin, 41, of Washington, D.C. According to Detective Slavin, Mr. Levin gave police permission to search his home, where they found stolen goods and psilocybin mushrooms. Mr. Levin was arraigned in Edgartown District Court on charges of shoplifting by concealing merchandise and possession of class C drug.

Mr. Slavin said the Mermaid Farm theft had no connection to a prior string of up-Island farm-stand thefts. “We caught one adult for the farm-stand thefts this fall, and more recently we caught the kids who stole a cash box,” he said.

The 100-acre Mermaid Farm has a devoted following for its milk, yogurt, yogurt drinks (lassi), cheeses, beef, lamb, and produce. It’s one of few farms on the Island that sells raw milk, which goes for $14 a gallon.

Troubling trend
Mr. Healy estimates he lost about $50 a week to shoplifters in 2014. “When I did the numbers for last year, we were alarmed at how much was being taken,” he said. “The week of Thanksgiving, we lost over $400. I think the honor system is done.”

Three weeks prior to the theft, Mr. Healy had upgraded from a self-installed security camera to a professionally installed system, which he said cost him about $1,500. “I had four cameras installed,” he said. “There’s one on the cash can, one at the gate, one at face level, and another covering the general area. If you steal, you will get caught,” he said.

Mr. Healy said his new system, with bigger, more visible cameras, appears to be deterring would-be thieves. “I’ve actually gone three, four days without anything being stolen,” he said. “I have footage of a woman who took some yogurt and pulled cash out of the cash can, then she notices the camera and put it back. The look on her face was priceless.”

Mr. Healy said he’s considering hiring someone to work at the stand this summer. “It’s a tradeoff between how much you pay someone to be there and how much you could lose,” he said.

Other merchants are also feeling the pinch from pilfery, according to Mr. Healy. “Or maybe we’re just noticing it more,” he said. “Either way, just about everybody I know has cameras now. There’s a honey farmer I know who hasn’t, and he’s always getting robbed.”

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A three-company exercise will prepare firefighters and EMTs for a fire in the vulnerable Oak Bluffs downtown district.

Don't be alarmed if you see smoke pouring from the windows of the Lampost on Sunday. – Photo by MIchael Cummo

The Lampost on Circuit Avenue will be engulfed in smoke early on Sunday morning, Jan. 11, and that’s just the way Oak Bluffs Fire Chief John Rose wants it.

“It’s the first phase in preplanning a fire in our downtown area,” Chief Rose told The Times. “It’s a three-town operation; Tisbury and Edgartown will be sending over apparatus and crews to help us to make it as realistic as possible.”

Chief Rose estimates there will be 15 fire and EMS vehicles and between 50 and 60 fire and EMS personnel. The drill will commence around 8:30 am and should be concluded by noon. Chief Rose said the simulated smoke may be visible to passersby as early as 7:30. “We want to get the word out so people won’t be alarmed,” he said.

 — File photo by Mae Deary
— File photo by Mae Deary

Circuit Ave will remain open during the drill. The only road closure will be on Kennebec from Healy Way to Lake Avenue. Parking spots in front of the Lampost, the Ritz Cafe and Mocha Mott’s will be taken up by fire and EMS vehicles. “We’re trying to minimize the impact to the business community, but it’s something that we have to do,” Chief Rose said. “We have to get prepared for a big fire in that area. It’s such a challenge with the old wood buildings being so tight together. There’s so many things that make a fire down there a tricky approach.”

An added complication for firefighters is the volatile Island weather, which could quickly turn a kitchen fire into a conflagration. “You have to consider what’s your wind direction, what’s your wind speed, even the time of year and the time of day. If it’s 4th of July weekend in the middle of the day, it’s a whole different fire than if it’s December in the middle of the night,” Chief Rose said.

Deputy Josh Little stands beside a calibrated breathalyzer machine at the Dukes County Jail and House of Correction in Edgartown.

A glance at the court report published weekly in The Times reveals that arrests for operating a vehicle under the influence (OUI) are commonplace on Martha’s Vineyard. Although the list of arraignments and dispositions appear as brief snippets in a list on a page, the consequences to the people whose names appear are far-reaching.

There is personal embarrassment for individuals who in many cases have never been arrested, significant financial cost, and the inconvenience of a loss of license to drive.

“A simple OUI is a year in hell,” Island attorney Jennifer Marcus told The Times.

Ms. Marcus is a court-appointed defense attorney and she also maintains a private practice on the Island. She estimates that 75 percent of her caseload is OUI arrests, and the vast majority of the people arrested had no prior criminal record.

“They don’t see themselves as a criminal, they’re just regular people who made a bad choice,” she said. “So many of them say they knew they were on the edge, but they drove anyway.”

Ms. Marcus said her clients endure consuming regret and shame when they appear in court and see their name in the paper. Over the long term, consequences lead to considerable complications. “Losing the ability to drive in a rural community like the Vineyard is life-changing,” she said. “What do you do when you drive kids to school and you live down a dirt road? There’s also a message it sends to the children you’re raising, and to their friends, and the parents who raise them.”

“The license ramifications are gigantic,” Robert Moriarty, an attorney at Edgartown firm of McCarron, Murphy, Vukota, told The Times. “It could easily cost you 10 grand and it’s a huge pain,” he said.“I try to make it as quick and as painless as possible, but it’s the district attorney’s job to prosecute and they do it well.”
According to Massachusetts law, “The maximum legal concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream (BAC) for an adult operating a motor vehicle is 0.08. For a minor under the age of 21, this limit is 0.02.

Hoping that their OUI arrests might spare others from making the same mistake, three Islanders arrested for OUI told their stories to The Times on the condition they not be identified by their real names.

A date ends badly
“I was on a date in Oak Bluffs and I drank more than usual because I was nervous,” Margaret of Tisbury said. A successful professional in her late 20s with a penchant for preppy, Margaret looks more like an L.L. Bean model than a lawbreaking citizen who until last month, was assigned to a probation officer. “I knew I was probably over the limit, but you do it enough times, you see friends and co-workers do it, you forget,” she said, shaking her head at her flawed logic. “You also think it’s safer on the Island because you know the roads so well, you’re not going very far and you can’t go very fast.

“I was doing about 40 [miles per hour] going over the [Lagoon Pond] bridge, when I saw the police car, sitting where they always are on Beach Road. I slammed on the brakes because there’s that short stretch where it’s 20 miles an hour. Then he pulled out behind me…” she said, her voice trailing off. “He asked if I’d been drinking, I said yes and started crying. I can’t lie.”

Margaret quickly found herself handcuffed and sitting on the rock-hard plastic seat in the back of a police cruiser. The breathalyzer machine at the Dukes County jail malfunctioned so she was taken to the hospital for a blood test. She failed. After a night in jail, she used her one phone call to get a taxi. “I was too ashamed to call anyone,” she said.

Margaret didn’t hire an attorney. “It didn’t make financial sense to hire a lawyer to try to beat the system. I was guilty. I’m not a liar,” she said.

Even though her probation officer reminded her that jail time was a possibility and strongly suggested she hire a lawyer, Margaret went before the judge on her own.

“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” she said. “I don’t even remember what the judge said.”

In addition to a suspended license, Margaret had to take, at her own expense, a 16-week OUI offender class at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. She had 19 classmates.

“Most of the people said they were very close to home, and that though they had been drinking, they didn’t think they were legally drunk,” she said. There are no hearing officers on the Island, which meant repeated trips to the Cape, without a car. “My aunt met me at the boat and drove me to South Yarmouth,” she said.

“The first time I went on a Friday and they were closed. The second time I went in the afternoon and couldn’t get in to see him because the line was so long. The third time I got there early in the morning and waited all day to see him. I missed three days of work to talk to someone for five minutes.”

Because she also had a marked lane violation, common in OUI arrests, Margaret had to go to an eight-hour driver retraining course off Island as well. “It was so dumb and it could have been much worse,” she said. “I figured for the amount of money I spent, I could have gone out five nights a week for the past year, taken a taxi home, and still had money left over.”

An evening of music ends on a bad note
Like Margaret, Paul, a semi-retired carpenter from West Tisbury in his mid-60s, had never been in trouble with the law before his OUI arrest this summer. Like Margaret, Paul was pulled over on Beach Road, just after crossing the Lagoon Pond drawbridge around 1 am. Like Margaret, Paul had just come from Oak Bluffs, where he listened to a band at the Ritz cafe. But the similarities end there.

Paul said he was not over the legal limit, and that his consumption totaled three beers over the course of five hours. On the advice of a lawyer friend who was in the car when he was pulled over, Paul refused to take the breathalyzer test administered at the jail. By law, a refusal is an automatic six-month license suspension.

“One of the things I’ve discovered is the court system is incredibly inefficient,” Paul told The Times. “Since the arrest, I’ve been to court four times. Each time I had to wait five to six hours, and each time my time in front of a judge was about 30 seconds and so far the only thing I have to show is a trial date in February.”

Paul said he’s fortunate that he’s semi-retired, but he had to give up work he’d secured before the arrest. “I can’t take all my tools on the bus,” he said. The loss of license is also going to affect a long-planned vacation. “My wife and I were going to fly to Oregon and drive down the coast all the way to Los Angeles,” he said. “I’m not sure what we’ll do now.”

Paul doesn’t regret the snap decision to refuse the breathalyzer, but the shame of going to jail in handcuffs sent him into a spiral. “I’m not a depressive person, but I went into a deep funk for a while after spending the night in jail,” he said. “I replayed every negative thing I’ve ever done since elementary school.”

Paul said despite the enormous inconveniences, and the cost of the OUI, which he estimates to be $4,000 so far, some positives have come out of the experience. “My wife and I spend a lot more time together than we used to. She’s been great about all this. Even when I called her from jail at three in the morning.”

While Paul’s spirits have lifted, his future is still fraught with uncertainty. “I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “Hopefully this will all be over in February.”

Twice bitten
When Chilmarker James, 50, got his first OUI charge, he was certain he was under the limit. “We were at a wedding up-Island and I had maybe four beers over three hours,” he said. “There had been some noise complaints so the police were just waiting for people to leave. They pulled me over, said they detected a strong odor of alcohol, and asked if I had been drinking. I said I had, and they arrested me.”

Fast forward 20 years. James is known for his cautious driving. “People joked that I drove like a grandmother,” he said.

“He did drive like a grandmother,” his ex-wife of 11 years told The Times. “The whole time we were married, I never saw James drink irresponsibly and drive.”

But recently, after a night of dancing and four glasses of wine at an Edgartown establishment, James chose to drive home. He’d passed a cab stand on the way to his car, but dismissed the idea, reasoning the fare to his Chilmark home would be at least $40.

“I did a rolling stop, the cop pulled me over, then my life began to unravel,” he said.

The consequences of a second OUI are considerably more onerous, not the least of which is 30 days mandatory jail time, unless a judge grants an alternative disposition which commutes the sentence to a two week stint at an inpatient rehab facility. The second OUI carries a fine of up to $10,000 and loss of license for two years.

“Because I refused the breathalyzer, my license will be suspended for anywhere from six months to three years,” James said. “I’ve already spent $3,000 dollars on a lawyer, there’s another $1,000 for drunk driving school and I’ll spend my two weeks of vacation time at inpatient rehab, which I also pay for. And when I get my license back, I’ll have to pay three grand for a breath monitor,” he said, referring to the ignition interlock that requires the driver blow into a breathalyzer to start their car.

James implored Islanders to make the choice he dearly wishes he’d made. “I can’t stress  this enough, if you’re looking at your car and wondering if you’re over the limit, don’t mess around, get your ass in a taxi. Beg, borrow or steal the fare to get home. If you live up-Island, they’ll charge you top dollar but at the end of the day, that cab will cost less than one percent of what you pay for an OUI.”

Serve and protect
“I’d like to think people are a little smarter than they were 10 years ago,” Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson told The Times. “More people are using designated drivers and cabs, and the safe rides program at the high school does a good job.”

Mr. Williamson said the majority of the OUI arrests in Oak Bluffs are people who are well above the .08 limit. Many are repeat offenders. “It doesn’t take a lot to reach .08,” he said.

Rather than use checkpoints, Mr. Williamson said his department does targeted enforcement. “We send officers out every night specifically looking for impaired drivers. None of my officers take pleasure in arresting people, but we have our job to do. It can be tough in a small community when you know the person or you have mutual friends. Years ago, police could decide to give someone a ride home but that all changed when police in Ware gave a guy a ride home and he went back to his car and had a head-on collision that killed three people. There’s no discretion anymore. If you’re over .08, we have to arrest you. But it’s better to be arrested than to hurt someone in an accident, or worse.”

By the numbers
Island police departments reported the following number of OUI arrests to date in 2014: Oak Bluffs, 56 OUI arrests ( 41 in 2013); Edgartown, 37 OUI alcohol arrests, 1 for drugs; (33 in 2013) Tisbury, 50 OUI arrests (28 in 2013); West Tisbury, 6 (19 in 2013); Chilmark, 4 OUI arrests; Aquinnah, no arrests in 2014 to date and none in 2013.

“Our numbers are going down because people are taking cabs, unlike years in the past,” West Tisbury police chief Dan Rossi said.

 

The yellow markers show the approximate area off Eastville Beach where brothers Dan and Greg Martino plan to farm oysters. — Courtesy of Dan Martino

Seasonal Oak Bluffs resident Jacob H. Ludwig III has filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County superior court to overturn a decision by town selectmen that grants brothers Dan and Greg Martino an aquaculture license for a two-acre oyster farm off Eastville Beach.
The complaint dated, October 15, alleges that the selectmen failed to conduct a comprehensive review of the project. Additionally, it maintains that the selectmen denied the Eastville opponents the right to proper legal representation.
In his response dated December 9, Oak Bluffs town counsel Michael Goldsmith said that the abutters did not sustain substantial injury to their legal rights and asked the court to dismiss the case outright.

“A series of appellate decisions, several of which arose on the Vineyard, set a relatively high bar for an abutter in a lawsuit of this type to demonstrate an ‘injury’ different from the public at large,” he told The Times. “I think it is important to point out that the applicants secured an approval from the Deputy Director of the Division of Marine Fisheries, which is the only required state approval by statute, and that both the conservation commission’s order of conditions and the selectmen’s license are valid for only three years. Plus, the shellfish warden has broad authority to oversee this operation on a day-to-day basis.”

If the court doesn’t dismiss the case, Mr. Goldsmith requested the matter be adjudicated in Dukes County Superior Court. “We were surprised that the case was brought in Suffolk County, given that the only plaintiff alleged that he ‘resides’ in Dukes County, and given that the project and the town are obviously here.” Mr. Goldsmith said in an email to The Times. “The town raised an improper venue defense in its motion to dismiss as well, and a judge may or may not rule on that issue depending on how the standing question is resolved.”

Long standing feud
A group of Eastville residents has opposed the oyster farm proposal since selectmen granted preliminary approval to the Martinos in March.
They have cited concerns about safety for swimmers, boaters, and windsurfers. They also claim that the farm location is vulnerable to northeaster storms, which could mar the beach with debris. In addition they contend that the associated machinery noise and 100 white buoys will damage the aesthetic quality of the shore.
The Ludwig family lawsuit was filed in superior court on October 15, as a response to the final approval the selectmen granted the project on September 16 with a 4 to 1 vote. The day before the meeting, attorneys from the Boston law firm of Sloane and Walsh submitted a 10-page position statement to the selectmen detailing their client’s objections. A feisty contingent of Eastville Beach residents also attended the meeting, voicing their opposition so strongly that chairman Greg Coogan had to twice use his gavel to restore order.
The day after the meeting, Mr. Ludwig hinted at the suit. He told The Times, “The selectmen decided to take away a public use for a lot of people for a private use for two people. I think the Martino brothers are well-meaning, and aquaculture is almost certainly the future of shellfishing, but we think the location is wrong.” He added that he would confer with his family and the 10 other objecting families and decide whether to seek a temporary restraining order.
The Ludwig complaint also alleges that the Martino brothers did not give residents the required 10-day notice before the first public hearing. When this objection was raised at the September meeting, chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan dismissed it out of hand. “There were Eastville residents at the first meeting,” he said. “The Martinos sent letters to Eastville residents, and 99 percent were signed for. There are a lot of other Eastville homeowners who haven’t come forward. Clearly it bothers some people. But at the end of the day, I think we listened to all sides.”
Citing the ongoing litigation, Dan Martino declined to comment to The Times.

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The Gatchell family’s Christmas light extravaganza is bigger than ever but donations for the Food Pantry lag far behind last year’s haul.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus help the Island celebrate Christmas at the Gatchell's house. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Islanders in need of a spark of Christmas spirit need only to drive past 148 County Road in Oak Bluffs, where Rob Gatchell’s annual light display is bigger and brighter than ever. Mr. Gatchell has been lighting up the Oak Bluffs night for the past 33 years. Each year, the display grows a little bigger, and a little brighter and it is all for a good cause, the Island Food Pantry, and this season he could use some help.

“I started doing it when my son Kyle was born,” Mr. Gatchell told The Times. “It’s grown every year since then.” In addition to illuminated reindeer, snowmen, Santas, candy canes, a toy train, a choir, penguins, a homemade igloo and a 40-year-old nativity set, over 25,000 lights festoon his home, which he built himself in 1977. The lights go on Thanksgiving night and will go dark at 8 pm on New Year’s eve.

A licensed contractor who specializes in Victorian restoration, Mr. Gatchell draws on all his skills to create the holiday panorama. “I start working on it in the middle of October,” he said. “This year I had to take down two trees that had died before I could get started. Then I get to work with the bucket lift and get up the high stuff.” Mr. Gatchell said he does about 90 percent of the work himself, and his wife Lynn helps with the ground displays.

“This year a woman gave me a bunch of lights that her husband had used before he passed away. It took two 10-hour days to test all the bulbs and fix the bad ones, but it was worth it. Today, I got a Winnie the Pooh Christmas blow up. When I get  home tonight I’ll figure out where to put it.”

The variety of the decorations has increased over the years. – Photo by Michael Cummo
The variety of the decorations has increased over the years. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Mr. Gatchell said he appreciates the decoration donations, but he’s more interested in donations of food and money for the Island Food Pantry. He said that this year Islanders have been rather Scrooge-like with their donations compared to Christmases past.

“Last year we got about $1,000 in cash donations and 28 cases of food, which is about 1,400 pounds,” he said. “This year, I am way behind. I have nine cases of food, about 450 pounds, and money donations are also way down.”

There are donation boxes in front of Mr. Gatchell’s house. Food donations should be anything that can be stored in a pantry. He said past donations of frozen strawberries, opened cans, and food that was years past the expiration date did not help the cause.

In addition to food and cash donations for the Island Food Pantry, Mr. Gatchell said Islanders can help the cause by going to the B101 radio website to vote for his display in the station’s Christmas light contest.

Rob Gatchell lights up the town for the Island Food Pantry. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Rob Gatchell lights up the town for the Island Food Pantry. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Santa visits Christmas Eve

Santa Claus has confirmed that weather permitting, he and Mrs. Claus will be at the Gatchell display at 5:30 pm on Christmas eve.  As always, Santa will have his magic key that can unlock any door, to assuage the concerns of any children who live in homes without a chimney.