Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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Representatives from the Massachusetts Health Connector, Vineyard Health Care Access, and state representative Tim Madden held a joint press conference at the Dukes County administration building on Friday to hammer home one point — the time is now for uninsured Islanders to get insurance, and for insured Islanders to get a health insurance check-up. The next open enrollment period starts November 15, and everyone who is in Health Connector coverage, or was placed in temporary coverage over the last year needs to reapply if they still want to be covered by insurance through the Commonwealth.
“Our mission is to connect people to comprehensive and affordable health insurance,” said Ashley Hague, deputy executive director of Massachusetts Health Connector (MHC). “Our number one goal is to ensure our current members are able to transition without a gap in coverage.”
Ms. Hague stressed that everyone who has coverage through MHC, also known as “The Exchange” or “The Marketplace,” or who was placed in a temporary plan in the past year, needs to submit a new application. Open enrollment concludes February 15, 2015. Since 2006, by law, with some exceptions, all residents of Massachusetts were required to have health coverage that met state standards. For those residents not covered by an employer or commercial health plan, the state created an agency, the Massachusetts Health Connector, to act as a broker for qualifying insurance plans.

When the ACA, also known as Obamacare, went into effect on October 1, 2013, the Massachusetts health care plan was required to retool and offer ACA-compliant plans though ConnectorCare, a new website, which did not work.

Gov. Deval Patrick recently said the new website is being fixed at a total cost of $254 million, which is $80 million, or 46 percent, more than initially projected, according to a recent report in Commonwealth magazine.

Ms. Hague said the technological glitches that plagued the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector Authority last year have been resolved, and the new website, MAhealthconnector.org, will have a simpler, shorter application that can be done in one sitting. The website also has a list of health insurance “navigators” and certified application counselors. Each state has a navigator program, which is required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Navigators work one-on-one with local residents to guide them through the stultifying requirements and shifting options in health insurance today.

Island navigators
Last May, Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Program (VHCA), applied for a grant to fund VHCA navigator training and  and to subsequently qualify as a state navigator for Dukes County. In August, VHCA was selected as one of five new navigators in the state. There are 15 navigators statewide. Now, trained specialists at VHCA can advise the insured and the uninsured, small businesses owners, the self-employed, and seasonal workers. The multilingual staff can assist all Island residents, including members of the Wampanoag tribe. All four of the VHCA client services staff, Ms. Kuh, Mary Leddy, Maria Mouzinho, and Vani Pessoni, are Certified Massachusetts Navigators.
“I want to give a big shout-out to Sarah Kuh,” Representative Tim Madden said. “Her passion for the job, her commitment to the job, and her thoroughness on the job is incredible. A lot of people put in grant applications, but very few are awarded. Having someone on Island that people can actually sit with and help them through it, step-by step, makes a huge difference.”
“It’s very exciting to be included in the navigator program because we feel like we’ve been navigating for decades,” Ms. Kuh said. “It’s not just filling out a form. It’s understanding the implications that go along with it. We look at the different programs, their benefits, how to use the insurance, and what happens if you need to see a medical specialist or behavioral health professional. Hopefully the people in the community know they can come to us with any questions or problems: that is what we’re here for and we’re happy to help.” Ms. Kuh added that there are hundreds of Vineyarders who need to reapply to keep their insurance.

“While we encourage people to seek out assistance from navigators, we also encourage them to make appointments with them ahead of time,” Ms. Hague said. “We had situations where there were lines out the door, and while that’s a great thing, it’s probably not efficient for anybody.”

Mass outreach
Ms. Hague said in the coming months, the Health Connector program is launching an extensive outreach campaign. “We’ll be sending postcards and letters in the mail so we ask people to please read their mail from the Health Connector,” she said.

In addition to newspaper and radio advertisements, people will also be notified by phone, and some will be notified in person by outreach staff who are planning to make over 200,000 home visits. There are three groups the Health Connector is targeting with its outreach program. One group is the 100,000+ people in the Commonwealth Care or Medical Security plan.

“I am becoming more familiar with the Island and high percentage of seasonal employment here, so this plan is significant,” Ms. Hague said. “The plan was supposed to be closed last year but will be closed January 31, 2015. Subscribers in that group must submit a new application by January 23.”

Another group, individuals in temporary Medicaid, will have their coverage end in three phases. Coverage for the different sub-groups will end January 15, February 1, and February 15. Each group will be repeatedly notified of their respective deadline, Ms. Hague said. The third group being targeted is the 40,000 who successfully enrolled through the website and by phone last year.

“That group is probably the trickiest to help, because they already did this, and might not think they have to reapply,” Ms. Hague said. “But we need the most up-to-date information, address, age, and number of dependents, in order to get them the right benefits and to get the most generous benefits we can.”
Ms. Kuh said that for a single person to qualify for ACA subsidy, the income cutoff would be around $45,000 a year. “Sometimes people don’t know that they’re eligible for help and they’re paying way more for insurance than they can really afford,” she said.
“It’s really important for people to just check and see,” Ms. Hague said. “Even if you’re already insured through your employer, you might be able to take $50 a month off your commercial premium.” She added that people who weren’t eligible for Commonwealth Care last year may be eligible for subsidy under the ACA, which has a higher income cut-off.  Under the ACA, people earning below 400 percent of the federal poverty line may be eligible for assistance.

According the the Department of Health and Human services, the poverty line for an individual is $11,670, so an individual makingunder $46,680 is potentially eligible for health care subsidy. “Most of the people in our health care reform since 2007 are people working,” Ms. Hague said. “Just because you have access to employer sponsored insurance and you were previously crowded out from enrolling in a subsidized program through the state, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case now, so just check and see.”
“There’s also Mass Health Premium Assistance,” Ms. Kuh said. “For a family or person making under 300 percent of the poverty level, Mass Health can pay their share of their employer insurance premium. “It’s not easy to get but when you can, it’s a huge financial help for families,” she said.
Appointments at VHCA can be made by phone at 508-696-0020, or on the website mvhealthcareaccess.org or at the office at 114 New York Ave. in Oak Bluffs. To kick off the open enrollment period on Saturday, November 15, the VHCA office will be open from 12 noon to 2 pm to answer questions and to make consultation appointments.

The areas outlined in yellow have been identified as possible locations for sand mining. The areas outlined in purple are located in federal waters.

Bruce Carlisle, director of the state office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) came to the Island on Wednesday to present an overview of the newly released, 206-page 2014 Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan (OMP) and to hear questions and comments from Vineyard residents.
The public hearing held at the Katharine Cornell Theater was sparsely attended, but many of the attendees who braved the stormy evening stood to speak their minds. The hot topic was offshore sand mining to bolster beaches that are losing their battle against erosion.

Shoring up the beaches
Massachusetts is one of the few states on the east coast that prohibits offshore sand mining, but state and federal agencies, in addition to the CZM, are advocating a change in policy. “Offshore sand mining has been a recommendation from several other higher policy level entities including the Coastal Hazards Commission (CHC) in 2007 and the Climate Change Adaptation report issued by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEE) in 2011,” Mr. Carlisle said Wednesday night.
The 2009 OMP recognized that the mining offshore sand could help mitigate beach erosion, but did not designate specific areas that could be mined. The 2014 OMP has designated “primary resource areas” in Massachusetts waters and in federal waters for a small number of potential pilot projects over the next five years. One of the largest primary resource areas is between the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.

“We’re focused in on medium and coarse grain sand as beach compatible sand, and avoiding gravel and cobbles that have more implications and connections with fisheries resources than medium and coarse grain sand.” Mr. Carlisle said, adding that there was extensive input from the United States Geological Survey in identifying the sand resource areas. After that, the CZM identified areas to avoid because of potential damage to fisheries per the input of the MAssachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Infrastructure uses and navigational traffic were also included in the calculus.

“We chose the areas where sand mining would have the least amount of impact and the least amount of conflicts,” Mr. Carlisle said. One criterion of the pilot projects is that the mined sand must be used on public beaches. Mr. Carlisle said that the CZM does not have the authority to determine which beaches will receive the mined sand.

“While it is outside of the jurisdiction of the plan, the beach nourishment projects will be subject to other review and permitting under state, federal and local regulatory programs,” he wrote in a follow-up email.

House divided
Public comments on offshore mining were wide ranging.

Stanley Arend of Oak Bluffs suggested that rather than shipping sand mined from a large offshore facility, a smaller project should be considered for beach nourishment at the Inkwell, where so much sand has collected just offshore, and the water is knee deep for more than 200 feet off the low tide mark.

Shelly Edmundson, is a Tisbury resident and doctoral candidate at the University of New Hampshire, where she studies channel whelks, also known as conch. She requested more study and communication with the fishing community.

“I work with a lot of the conch fishermen and their concern, and my primary concern, is the potential sand mining locations,” she said. “I think significant fishing areas are included in the potential mining areas. I’m very concerned with whelk habitat. They prefer sandy, muddy areas. They lay their egg strings in the sand. There’s just a whole realm of concerns associated with sand mining in general.”

Mr. Carlisle welcomed input from Vineyard fishermen and said that all mining would be done with consideration to the time of year to minimize potential interruption of breeding cycles.
Caroline Hunter of Oak Bluffs, a member of a recently formed citizen beach committee, told Mr. Carlisle about the much maligned dredge spoils that were put on Inkwell beach, and the public protests that ensued. She also read from a letter from the citizen beach committee. “We support the mining of offshore sand with the potential of providing high-quality replenishment material that preserves the quality and safety of our beaches,” the letter said in part.

Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and the founding president of two fishermen’s organizations, spoke against the pilot program off the Island’s north shore. “The reason the Massachusetts oceans act was passed was because the state considers the oceans a top priority,”  he said. “We are not improving the health of the ocean by digging up the benthic environment. I’m sympathetic to the people who want their beaches restored, but that’s not why we passed the Oceans Act.”

Mr. Doty said the designated area off the north shore is a rich fishery for the Island. He also said that small core samples taken during Ms. Edmundson’s studies have shown a fecundity of sea life that would be damaged with offshore sand mining. “The lab in New Hampshire can pick out 47 small living things you couldn’t even see,” he said, adding that mussel beds would also suffer. “It’s not going to help the health of our oceans and it’s not going to help our fisheries.”

The CZM will continue to hold public hearings in Massachusetts coastal towns during the 60-day public comment period.
Mr. Carlisle implored all Vineyarders to weigh in before the comment period ends at 5 pm, November 25.
The ocean plan draft is available online at the EEA website, www.mass.gov/eea/. Written comments should be sent to the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management, ATTN: Ocean Plan, 251 Causeway Street, Suite 800, Boston, MA 02114. Comments can also be sent by email to oceanplan@state.ma.us.

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Officials from the Massachusetts department of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) will hold a public hearing on Wednesday to hear public comment on the newly released, 206-page 2014 Massachusetts ocean management plan (OMP). The 2014 plan is the first update to the original 2009 OMP, mandated by the Massachusetts Oceans Act and signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in 2008. The OMP was created to protect critical marine wildlife habitat and to set standards for ocean-based development. It must be revised every five years.
The stated goals of the 2014 OMP are to update crucial scientific data obtained since the 2009 OMP, to adjust zoning of critical habitat areas, to advance the planning and siting of potential renewable energy areas, to develop parameters for ocean mitigation fee projects, and to identify potential areas for offshore sand mining that can provide beach nourishment for eroding shorelines.
The 2014 OMP has the input of more than 100 scientists and experts, as well as feedback from numerous public meetings, according to the EEA website.
The October 22 hearing, scheduled from 5 to 7 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven, is one of five regional public hearings the EEA and CZM will hold in Massachusetts coastal regions during the 60-day public comment period, which ends at 5 pm, November 25.
CZM director Bruce Carlisle will be on hand to give an overview of 2014 plan, and to hear questions and comments from Islanders.

Renewable energy
The 2014 OMP draft states, “there has been significant progress in the planning, analysis, and leasing stages of offshore wind development in federal waters adjacent to Massachusetts.” In June of this year, the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts jointly announced the sale for commercial leases for wind power on the outer continental shelf off the Massachusetts coast. The sale is expected to be final by the end of this year. “With the progress of in [sic] planning, analysis, and anticipated leasing of offshore wind energy areas for potential development in federal waters, an important part of the 2014 draft ocean plan is work to advance the proactive planning and siting of transmission corridors to bring renewable energy from the projects in federal waters across state waters to landside grid tie-in locations,” the report said.

The 2014 OMP has no bearing on Cape Wind, the wind farm planned for Nantucket Sound. “As far as we’re concerned, Cape Wind is leased, licensed, permitted and moving forward,” Mr. Carlisle told The Times. “The 2014 plan doesn’t alter it, it supports it.  Now is the time to do some proactive planning around transmission. Let’s put some foresight and forethought into it and do the best job we can.”

Of the four tidal energy projects proposed in the 2009 OMP, only one, the Muskeget Channel project, which is in partnership with the town of Edgartown, has been approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Offshore mining

Massachusetts is one of the few states on the east coast that prohibits offshore sand mining for beach nourishment. The 2009 OMP recognized that the mining offshore sand could help mitigate beach erosion, but did not designate specific areas that could be mined. The 2014 OMP has designated “primary resource areas” in Massachusetts waters, and in federal waters, for potential pilot projects. One of the largest primary resource areas is between the north shore of Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.
Mr. Carlisle said that dredge spoils are strongly preferred for beach nourishment by the CZM, but only if the sand is compatible with the beach. While some communities on the Cape have had sand trucked in, the cost on the Island would be prohibitive.
“We’re going to take a very careful approach to pilot projects,” Mr. Carlisle said. “It starts with trying to find areas in waters that have good resources that have least impact with fishing and other marine uses. We’ve gone through a very thorough and deliberate approach to determine the best possible areas. In the plan we identify nine areas: the North shore, Metro Boston, South shore, Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket Sound, Vineyard Sound, and Buzzards Bay. We’re going to confirm the geological work. We also need to work with fisheries. The areas we’re starting to identify should not impact fishing.”
Mr. Carlisle said offshore mining can be done with minimal environmental impact. “When sand is mined offshore, it’s not creating a huge pit,” he said. “The latest technology is used to taper the seafloor and to keep the contour intact. This technology is routinely employed by the mid-Atlantic states.”
In the conversation with The Times, Mr. Carlisle frequently stressed that the CZM wants to work in partnership with coastal towns, and that no action would be taken without strong public support. “We want people to give us solid feedback, both positive and negative,” he said.
For information on the review and update process, along with links to the 2014 final Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, ocean management plan data, and 2009 draft ocean plan and related documents, see the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan home page, or contact CZM at czm@state.ma.us or call 617-626-1200.

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Over 35 sleep-deprived days and nights, a record 3,282 fishermen made countless casts, nursed aching backs, untied umpteen bird’s nests, and sometimes caught fish, in the 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Sunday, the Derby came to a raucous conclusion with an awards ceremony held at the Farm Neck golf club in Oak Bluffs.

On the Derby stage, a tearful mother hugged her son after he won a desperately needed work vehicle, a Somerville police lieutenant embraced Derby committee members like long lost brothers when the click of a padlock won him a new boat, and a fly fisherman claimed a long vacant crown.

As per the long-standing ritual, each winning fisherman in the shore and boat bluefish, striped bass, bonito, and false albacore divisions drew a number from one to four out of a small box to determine the order in which he or she would draw a padlock key. Once each fisherman held a key, one by one, longtime Derby president Ed Jerome took the key and inserted it into a padlock held next to the podium microphone.
Five men, two women and a seven-year-old boy not much bigger than the winning striped bass, stepped onto the stage, as family, friends, and bleary-eyed fishermen and Derby volunteers anticipated the dramatic conclusion.

Shore winner

Michael Mulcahy of Arlington, bluefish shore grand champ, raises his arms in triumph after winning a new Eastern boat when his key opened the Derby grand prize lock. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Michael Mulcahy of Arlington, bluefish shore grand champ, raises his arms in triumph after winning a new Eastern boat when his key opened the Derby grand prize lock. —Photo by Michael Cummo 

The shore division was decided first. Behind Mr. Jerome stood Michael J. Mulcahy of Arlington, who’d hauled in a 15.20 pound bluefish; Creanga “Cosmo” Cosmin of Vineyard Haven whose 38.63-pound striped bass stayed atop the leaderboard for most of the Derby; Sebastian Keefe of West Tisbury and Los Angeles, who, conversely, got to the winner’s circle by weighing in a 7.87-pound bonito just an hour before the Derby closed at 10 pm, Saturday night; and Mary Ann Angelone of West Tisbury, the crowd favorite, who made it to the finals with a 14.65-pound false albacore which she caught on Lobsterville beach, standing next to Phil Horton, the man she would dethrone.

The festive crowd, far larger than the tent at Farm Neck could hold, went pin-drop silent as Mr. Jerome placed Mr. Mulcahy’s key into the lock. The subsequent “click” ignited a blast of cheers. After hugging friends and Derby officials, Mr. Mulcahy took to the podium.

“I guess the 23rd time is the charm,” he said. “I’ve fished this tournament for the past 23 years and everybody on this Island has been wonderful all these years. My friend Roy Langley (Derby weighmaster), my one and only tackle guy Steve Morris, and my Island host who’s put up with me for 25 years and all my nonsense, David Hearn.”  Mr. Mulcahy won an Eastern 22 Outboard, with trailer, compliments of Eastern Boats of Milton, New Hampshire.

Boat winner

From left, Fran Clay, Preston Butler, Bob Clay and Ed Jerome in front of Preston's new Silverado truck courtesy of Clay Family dealerships. —Photo by Michael Cummo
From left, Fran Clay, Preston Butler, Bob Clay and Ed Jerome in front of Preston’s new Silverado truck courtesy of Clay Family dealerships. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The crowd noise subsided as Ed began the key ritual for the four shore grand leaders waiting their turn for a chance at a new Silverado truck courtesy of Bob and Fran Clay of Edgartown and the Clay Family dealerships.
Norman Bouchard Jr. of Vineyard Haven scored the winning bonito of 10.47 pounds. His key didn’t work. Vinny Iacono, son of Chilmark fisherman Wayne Iacono, who won the Derby in 1972 with a 56.9-pound striped bass, qualified for the winner’s circle with a 39.77-pound striped bass that was the longest fish atop the leaderboard. His key didn’t work. Fighting an incredibly strong fish and incredibly high odds, Mason Warburton, who’d already won enough tackle in the mini-junior division to open his own Bass Pro Shop, was on the stage for landing a 13.17-pound false albacore. His key didn’t work, and Preston Butler of Vineyard Haven knew his 15-pound bluefish had won him the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado. Cheers crescendoed to a roar as Mr. Butler hugged his mother who joined him onstage. To make it official, Mr. Jerome put Mr. Butler’s key in the padlock. “This is my worst nightmare,” Mr. Jerome said, quieting the crowd. The “click” of the lock set off another round of celebration. “I just have one thing to say,” a dazed Mr. Butler said at the podium. “I need a truck like nobody’s business.”

Grand prize winner Michael Mulcahy (left) stands with his partner Daniel Lucas and his new Eastern boat, motor and trailer —Photo by Michael Cummo
Grand prize winner Michael Mulcahy (left) stands with his partner Daniel Lucas and his new Eastern boat, motor and trailer —Photo by Michael Cummo

After the festivities, his proud mother Donna told The Times, “He’s also a commercial fisherman. He dropped out of college and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’He’s following his passion, to be a fisherman on the Vineyard and he works very hard at it. His truck has over 350,000 miles on it, he really needed this,” she said, wiping a tear.

Notable grand slam
Brice Contessa became the second fisherman in the history of the Derby to score a grand slam with a flyrod from shore. There had not been a shore grand slam on a fly rod since 1995, in large part because shore bonito have been so scarce for so long. But this year Mr. Contessa, manager of The Port Hunter in Edgartown, landed a 6.89-pound bluefish, a 6.09-pound bonito, a 9.51-pound false albacore and lastly, a 17.33-pound striped bass for a combined weight of 39.82 pounds.
Mr. Contessa fished the Derby as hard as it can be fished while maintaining steady employment.“I work full time, but I pretty much fished every day,” he told The Times. “I entered the conventional and fly rod divisions, but I stuck with the fly rod.” Mr. Contessa has 15 years of fly rod experience, by his own reckoning.  Mr. Contessa received a print that artist Dimitry Schidlovsky created for the grand slam category many years ago. But because there hadn’t been a shore fly rod grand slam since 1995, when Chip Bergeron became the first (and only other) to reach the Derby’s most elusive fishing milestone, the artwork that Mr. Dimitry donated had waited 19 years.
Just as impressive, Mr. Contessa’s striped bass, still alive when he brought it in, was successfully revived and released at the weigh station.

Do the right thing

The mini-junior first place winners were all smiles. From left: Mason Warburton, Xavier Clarke, Zak Potter and Chase Toomey. —Photo by Michael Cummo
The mini-junior first place winners were all smiles. From left: Mason Warburton, Xavier Clarke, Zak Potter and Chase Toomey. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Special awards are usually given for a specific fish, to a specific gender or age group, to honor a Vineyard fishing stalwart who’s moved on to the great Wasque in the sky. The Martha’s Vineyard Surfcaster’s Association (MVSA) Sportsmanship Award has nothing to do with piscatorial prominence, but everything to do with the spirit of the Derby.

“In a few short years this award has taken on a life of its own,” Derby chairman John Custer said. “It goes to an individual, an organization, or a family that represented what the Derby stands for — integrity, camaraderie, playing by the rules, and overall good sportsmanship. We deliberated for a long time. We take this very seriously.”

Mr. Custer went on to describe how a father and daughter, in a singular act, stood out above all the other nominees. “A child hooked up with a big fish, and had a hard time fighting it, and the dad knew if he touched any part of that rod, the fish was not eligible for the Derby. But Dad did touch the rod and when they got to the weigh station it was the first thing they said.”

The fish, a 11.19-pound boat bonito, would have propelled the young fisherman into first place, but was not eligible.

“It was a wonderful way to send a positive message of doing the right thing, so when you see them on the street, congratulate Keith and Lyla Fenner,” Mr. Custer said, to a torrent of applause.

Totals
A record high 3,282 fishermen caught 2,305 fish, weighing a total of 19,520.23 pounds. They caught more bluefish than anything else: 946, weighing 7,642 pounds. Bonito were the next most numerous catch (561 fish; 2,678 pounds ), followed by false albacore (520 fish; 4,181 pounds) and striped bass (288 fish; 5,022 pounds).

There was good news and bad news regarding the overall fish stocks. Although the winning shore bass was bigger than last year’s, there has been a steady decline in the weights and numbers of striped bass caught in the Derby since the moratorium was lifted in 1993 and Buck Martin won the shore division with a 54.74-pound fish.

“Bluefish were down, bass were way down, and it’s not just around here,” Mr. Jerome told The Times. “Albies were about the same, but bonito were way up — shore bonito especially. Last year five shore bonito were taken; this year 51 were weighed in.”

Volunteers make it happen
The Derby takes year-round planning and a small army of volunteers to make it one of the premier fishing tournaments in the country. From long-term planning to the instantaneous updates on the leaderboard, from filleting to delivering fish to various Island senior services, the backbone of the Derby is its many volunteers.

“We could not have the Derby without them,” Mr. Custer told the crowd. “Amy Coffey leads an amazing team.”

“The weigh in station is a combination of the old and the new.” Ms. Coffey told The Times. “Out front it’s chalk and sand and fish, just like it was when the Derby started. Behind the scenes there’s a lot of technology. Every fish that’s weighed in is entered into the computer immediately. We post the results at 10 after 10 every night.  One night our site went down and I was flooded with texts from all over the country,” she said, laughing.

Following a short respite, the Derby committee will begin planning for year 70.

For all Derby results, go to MVDerby.com

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Photo courtesy of Keenan + Kenny

Oak Bluffs selectmen voted unanimously at their regular meeting on Tuesday night to approve the building committee’s selection of J.K. Scanlan of East Falmouth to construct the the town’s new fire/EMS station, clearing the way for the construction project to begin.
The J.K. Scanlan bid came in at $6,453,000, $3,850 below the $6,456,850 cost projected by Daedalus Projects cost estimators. J.K. Scanlan estimated it will take 10 months to build the new station, two months shorter than the 12-month period the town required in the request for proposals (RFP) issued in August.
John Keenan and Antonia Kenny, principals in the architectural firm Keenan and Kenny Ltd. of Falmouth, were on hand to endorse the committee’s decision. “This has been a 16-month process, and I think we got it right,” Mr. Keenan said.
“They have the ability and the buying power to be able to state they can bring this in on budget and in the timeline,” Joe Sullivan, project supervisor from Daedalus Projects, told the board. “They’ve built a fire station before, and that helped.”
J.K. Scanlan is a familiar name on the Vineyard where it has completed a  number of public works projects. Keenan & Kenny Architects designed the new West Tisbury town hall and J. K. Scanlan Company was the general contractor.
“It’s encouraging that you followed this process and still came in under the predicted cost. I’ve heard from a number of people how well the building committee worked on this,” chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan said. “What happens if they don’t stay on schedule?”
“It’s our job to make sure they hit all the benchmarks,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Selectman Walter Vail, also a member of the building committee, singled out Vineyard Haven resident Ian Aitchison for his contributions to the building committee. “In a past life, Ian oversaw much bigger projects than this. He was full of great questions and was a very valuable member of the committee, and I really appreciate that he came over from Vineyard Haven.”
“I’ve been volunteering all around Island, the West Tisbury library, the West Tisbury police station,” Mr. Aitchison said, in a phone call with The Times last week. “I enjoy it. It keeps me out of trouble.”
During construction, the fire department will be stationed at the modifiedtown highway barn on County Road where renovations are already underway. EMS and administrative services will be housed in a separate building on Barnes Road until construction is complete.
The new 20,250-square-foot fire/EMS station will replace the current 8,413-square-foot structure on Wing Road. Construction is slated to begin in November. In April town elections, town voters approved a $8,288,000, debt exclusion to finance the new station by only six votes (421-415).

Seasonal quandary
In other business, the selectmen were presented with the quandary of giving victualers with seasonal liquor licenses the option of staying open for less than the required five days a week, thus allowing them to operate longer into the shoulder seasons.
Suzanna Cromwell, co-owner of Sweet Life Cafe on Circuit Ave.,  petitioned the selectmen to allow the restaurant to operate three days, Thursday through Saturday, until the end of the year. Ms. Cromwell said without an exemption, the restaurant would have to close at the end of October. Oak Bluffs town bylaw requires year-round liquor license holders to stay for a minimum of four hours, five days a week, unless given special permission by the selectmen. Typically the exemption is given for renovation and cleaning during the winter. Seasonal liquor licenses allow businesses to stay open from April 1 to December 31, with the same operating criteria. Town bylaw states if seasonal licensees close for more than 48 hours without selectmen’s permission, they must close until April 1.

“I can appreciate financial pressure; I’m just worried about precedent we’d be setting,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “It doesn’t feel fair to the year-round businesses. We’ve discussed before we didn’t allow them to close more than 48 hours, other than for renovation and cleaning.”

“When other establishments have to stay open, puts the financial burden on them,” selectman Gail Barmakian said. “I’m sure [year-round proprietors] lose money in the off season because they have to stay open.”
“We have a bylaw against closing more than 48 hours, but we want the town to be open and for people to have options. It’s an interesting  problem,” Mr. Coogan said. “I want to take care of year-round businesses, that’s who I want to protect.”
After considerable discussion, the selectmen voted unanimously, with selectman Michael Santoro abstaining, that the board should weigh the issue and vote at their next regular meeting on Tuesday, October 28.
After the vote, Mr. Santoro suggested that the selectmen follow suit with Edgartown, and invite restaurant owners to an open forum and hear their opinions on the matter.

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Julie Fay, Martha's Vineyard Community Services executive director, said the Island Wide Youth Collaborative will receive a grant of up to $300,000 a year, for two years of programming, from the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC), an organization recently formed to serve the mental health and substance abuse issues of young Islanders, will receive a grant of up to $300,000 a year, for two years of programming, from the Peter & Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation (Tower Foundation).

The mission of the IWYC is to provide comprehensive mental health care and substance abuse counseling for Island youth by better coordinating the efforts of Island clinicians and providing specialized training, along with increased outreach and prevention programs for young people and their parents. The Tower Foundation grant will be used to support those goals.

In an interview with The Times last week, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director Julie Fay said the IWYC was created in August, 2013, in response to a sharp increase in the demand for youth-oriented mental health services on the Island, and the lack of resources to handle it.

“We were packed with kids here at the Island center this past year,” Ms. Fay said. “The high school was dealing with a lot of issues like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and carving [self mutilation]. Overall our inpatient psychiatric hospitalization rate for adults and children on the Vineyard is four times greater than on the mainland. The admission rate for adolescents on the Island is a little over three times greater.” According to Community Services statistics, from July 1, 2013, to July 1, 2014, there was an 18.4 percent increase in inpatient psychiatric admissions for children under 18 years old. In that same time period, there was a 39 percent increase in the number of psychiatric evaluations done at Martha’s Vineyard hospital emergency services.

Letter hit home
Ms. Fay said that the impetus for the creation of the IWYC came in part from a letter from a concerned parent. “This really hit home for me when I got a letter from Jan Burnham, who wrote so poignantly about the situation,” Ms. Fay said. “We sat down a year ago last summer to talk about it. As we looked into it, it became very clear there was a paucity of services for the young people on Island.”
The IWYC is comprised of members from the Martha’s Vineyard public schools, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the Martha’s Vineyard YMCA, the Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force and private practitioners.

Ms. Fay said the group coalesced quickly. “As we started to talk as a group it became clear that we all worked with a lot of the same kids and same families but we weren’t working in concert with each other, which was not productive,” she said. “We decided we had to do something about it, and we formed the IWYC and applied to the Tower Foundation for funding.”
The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, based in Getzville, New York, awards grants to improve the lives of young people in the places where members of the Tower family have lived and worked. Most grants go to organizations in western New York (Erie and Niagara counties) and eastern Massachusetts (Barnstable, Dukes, Essex, and Nantucket counties).

“There were two Tower Foundation grants to apply for, one for mental health and one for substance abuse issues,” Ms. Fay said. “Since we have such high demand for both services, we decided to apply for both. We didn’t know how they would react, if they thought we were being greedy, because we were also asking for the maximum award for both.” The Tower Foundation contacted Ms. Fay in early May and asked for a meeting. Martha’s Vineyard hospital CEO Tim Walsh volunteered the hospital conference room so the meeting could be held via teleconference, thus enabling all founding members of the IWYC to attend. Tower Foundation representatives were duly impressed, and gave the IWYC proposal directly to Tower Foundation trustees. They also sent a consultant to the Island in late July. A group that included the IWYC founding members, representatives from the public schools, the YMCA,  the Dukes County sheriff’s department, Oak Bluffs police department, parents, and clinicians, all met with the Tower Foundation representative to show their support for the newly minted organization. “The fact that all these people came together, with two weeks notice, in the busiest part of the summer, was extraordinary,” Ms. Fay said.
The good news
Representatives from the Tower Foundation called Ms. Fay on October 1 with their decision. “They said we can have up to $200,000 for two years and if you meet your goals we will extend it,” she said. “We were blown away.”

The newly funded IWYC program will serve Islanders aged 9 through 26, according to Ms. Fay. “We’ll have a program manager and web presence that will maintain all the youth-oriented events on the Island, recreational, substance abuse, mental health, school-based events, whatever is going on,” she said. “We’re going to drop the barriers for these young people to get help. We have a good cadre of clinicians on the Island. But there’s not a lot of collaboration between them. We’ll erase that and really have people working together.”

Ms. Fay said the IWYC will also take an active, non-medical approach to helping its clients. “We’ll design a service plan for what he or she needs,” she said. “It may be employment, volunteer jobs, a therapeutic mentor, whatever the needs may be.”

Helping those who help
The IWYC will also conduct an Island-wide survey of mental health clinicians on the Island to determine the specialties of each, so that programs can be more accurately developed for IWYC clients, and so that clinicians can be sent off Island for training in these areas. “They’ll come back well trained for that specialization and how to deal with that kid and his or her family,” Ms. Fay said. “Over the course of their training, they’ll meet the top experts on the topic. So if a kid with an eating disorder is at the point where he or she needs hospital-based care, the [newly trained] clinician will know the best place to refer them. It will save the parents the stress of trying to figure that out on their own.”

Ms. Fay said clinicians will gain advanced training in a wide range of issues, including carving, sexual abuse, and even the return of a deployed sibling or parent with a brain injury or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once the clinicians are back on Island, they will have monthly consultations with their trainers via teleconference for advice on specific cases.

Parental outreach
Ms. Fay stressed that a critical component of IWYC services is reaching and working with parents. “We want to work hand in glove with parents,” she said. “That’s crucial to the process. You can’t successfully deal with one without dealing with the other.”

Ms. Fay said there’s a certain boundary schools have to operate in if they have concerns about a student, but they can talk to a parent, who now can come to the program manager at IWYC. “Mom’s probably picked up on it as well and has probably been in front of a computer screen every night trying to figure out what to do,” she said.  “Parents go to each other. It might be in the stands of a lacrosse game, asking each other what to do, say about their son smoking pot. That conversation is what we want to bring into a more informed setting with the IWYC. We’ll be asking parents to come to us with their concerns. We’ll also be holding monthly forums at the YMCA on a particular topic. We can guide the parents to where they can be helped.”
Ms. Fay is optimistic that the IWYC can help reduce the number of crisis cases on the Island. “Between prevention, earlier intervention, and responding earlier to situations before they become critical, I think we will really be able to roll back the hospitalization rate,” she said. “The IWYC is going to fill in a lot of the blanks. The Red House coming on line will also be a big help.” The Red House is new crisis intervention center at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Although the IWYC is not yet up and running, parents who are concerned about their child’s mental health or substance abuse issues can contact Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Island Counseling Center at 508-693-7900.

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A still from "The Hungry Heart" shows young people struggling with opiate addiction. —Courtesy Kingdom County Productions

The Friday night screening of The Hungry Heart, a movie that addresses the ravages of addiction in rural Vermont, will be followed by a question  and answer session with three addiction experts familiar personally and professionally with the suffering that invariably accompanies drug addiction.

Janet Constantino, director of the New Paths Program at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS); Deborah Pigeon, Island therapist with 30 years of experience in substance abuse therapy; and Bill Howell, Island contractor, recovering addict, and mentor to many Islanders in recovery will join film’s director, Bess O’Brien, who will moderate the discussion co-sponsored by The MV Times.
Ms. Constantino started working at MCVS in June after moving from New Haven, Conn., where she was the director of nursing and nurse practitioner at Leeway, Connecticut’s only inpatient acute care facility for persons with HIV/AIDS and substance abuse/mental health issues. She told The Times that her brief time on the Island has been eye-opening.

“I didn’t think I’d see anywhere near the amount of addiction I’ve seen since I moved here,” she said. “I came here during the summers as a child and just thought of it as this beautiful place, which it is. But there’s much more going on beneath the surface than I imagined.”

Ms. Constantino said the drugs of choice for her patients in New Haven tended to be heroin and cocaine, which is not the case here. “I see a lot more alcohol, marijuana, and [opiate] pill use on the Vineyard,” she said. “We see people that range in age from 20 to 65, from all walks of life.”
Historically the addiction rate on the Island is double the rate of addiction on the mainland, according to the most recent Martha’s Vineyard health status report.
Deborah Pigeon, a licensed clinical social worker and certified alcoholism and drug abuse counselor, told The Times that she’s seen the substances of choice change over her 30 years on the Island, but the cycle of substance abuse remains the same.
“There’s always a spike this time of year, when people’s businesses close up,” she said. “Unlike most places, we don’t see a big spike around the holidays but for some reason, there’s another spike around March. We’re not sure why.”

Ms. Pigeon said when she first started working at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, the predominant substances of choice were alcohol and marijuana. In the 1980s cocaine became popular and as the 21st century progressed, opiates, in the form of pain pills, ascended to the top of the addiction food chain. “Now prescription opiates are harder to get, so heroin addiction is increasing substantially here, mostly with people in their 20s,” she said. “We’ve seen a big rise in parents of adult children who don’t know what to do.”

Bill Howell, a successful concrete contractor on the Island, brings firsthand experience to the panel discussion — he’s a recovering addict who will have 15 years of clean time on November 29. “Education and treatment is the silver bullet when it comes to overcoming addiction,” he said in a recent interview with The Times. “The substance doesn’t matter to an addict. It has nothing to do with logic. lt’s a form of insanity.”

Mr. Howell moved to the Island to get clean, and after a few stumbles, he found his footing at Vineyard House, the only sober living facility on Martha’s Vineyard. Mr. Howell started his company when he was still living at Vineyard House and he’s hired many Vineyard House residents and alumni over the years.

“A lot of people in recovery won’t hire people in recovery. I don’t get that,” he said. “I did from day one. This is not a nonprofit company. But I can’t not hire these guys.” In addition to providing employment, Mr. Howell is a sponsor, a mentor, and he helps organize an annual celebration of recovery that the Vineyard community has hosted for the past 26 years.

The Hungry Heart will have one showing at 7:30 pm, October 10, at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in the Tisbury Marketplace. Tickets — $12 general admission, $9 for MV film society members, $7 for ages 14 and under — are available online and at the box office.

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Water Street in Vineyard Haven lived up to its name during Hurricane Sandy.

As sea levels and flood insurance premiums continue their inevitable rise, the Community Rating System (CRS) can help mitigate the costs of both. However, none of the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard is enlisted in the Community Rating System. Chilmark is not a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) participant, so only five towns are eligible for the program.
The Vineyard is not an anomaly. Only 13 towns in Massachusetts participate in the CRS, according to Chris Markesich, CRS coordinator for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region 1. “The majority of CRS participants is in the South and Mid-Atlantic, where entire counties take part in the program,” Mr. Markesich said. “In Massachusetts it has to be done by towns because of the Home Rule provision.

Congressman William Keating, representative for the 9th Massachusetts district, which includes the Cape and Islands, played a key role in the drafting and passing of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIA), the most recent federal flood insurance legislation, signed into law in March by President Obama. In a recent interview with The Times, Mr. Keating said, “We’re urging communities to become part of the Community Rating System. This can decrease flood insurance premiums for people from 5 percent up to 45 percent. In many cases, towns are already doing what it takes to earn credits.”
The CRS is a program run by FEMA to encourage communities in flood-prone areas to take preventive measures that exceed NFIP standards. In exchange for a community’s proactive efforts, policyholders can receive reduced flood insurance premiums. The CRS also provides incentive for communities to expand public outreach efforts, so people can keep up with constantly evolving and often Byzantine flood insurance regulations. 1,296 communities now participate in the CRS, and nearly 3.8 million policyholders benefit from it, according to the FEMA web site. The CRS uses a rating system from Class 9 to Class 1. Most communities enter the program at a Class 9 or Class 8 rating, which entitle residents to a 5 percent or 10 percent discount respectively.

Rigorous application process
Part of the reason so few towns currently participate in the CRS is that the application process is very time-consuming. The CRS manual tops out at more than 600 pages. It can take many months, even years, to attain entry, and enrollment has to be renewed by FEMA every year. “I’d recommend a town form a CRS application committee,” Bob Desaulniers, flood insurance specialist for FEMA Region 1, told The Times. “If you take a committee approach there isn’t a person in town hall who’s taking a deep breath wondering how they’ll do it.”

Mr. Desaulniers, a 40-year veteran of the insurance industry, said it would behoove towns to have an insurance agent on their CRS committee. “Insurance agents are used to dealing with big manuals. They can manage this ungodly manual and then look at the point system and figure out what the town can do and what they’re already doing,” he said.

Mr. Desaulniers recommended that the committee also include a conservation agent and a building inspector, who is often the town floodplain manager.
Mr. Desaulniers is part of a speakers’ bureau that FEMA recently formed to help town officials, CRS committees, and insurance agents keep up with changes in regulations. “Things have changed so much since 2012, even professionals have difficulty keeping up,” he said. “And our speakers’ bureau is in such demand we can’t keep up. There’s so much misinformation out there.” Underscoring his point, Mr. Desaulniers said FEMA was just asked by Congress to determine if churches and municipal buildings, which are non-income-producing, can qualify for the 18 percent annual cap increase instead of the 25 percent cap that commercial properties receive.

CRS Scituate
Scituate is one of the 13 towns in Massachusetts that participates in the CRS. Today the town is at CRS Class 8, so property owners receive a 10 percent discount on their flood insurance. “It’s a great program; I don’t know how communities survive without it,” Scituate conservation agent Pat Gallivan told The Times. “It’s reviewed every year, and some communities have lost it. I think if that happened here we’d have a taxpayer revolt,” he joked. Scituate joined the CRS in 1990, the first year of the program. “All my predecessors took it pretty seriously,” he said. “We’re at level 8 now, but I think we’ve missed some points along the way. Just documenting things we already do like cleaning clamshells out of flood basins and regulating storm water will help bring that number up. The town has also bought repetitive-loss properties in the VE zone, which is the high-hazard zone. Some of those homes had collected several times.”
Mr. Gallivan said the public-awareness component of the CRS has wide-ranging benefits. “The CRS requires an annual meeting for all homeowners in flood zones,” he said. “We had 200 people come last time. The presentation gives you [CRS] points, but it also informs. There were several people who had basements that they didn’t use. They didn’t know that by filling them they could be in an entirely new flood zone.” Like Mr. Desaulniers, Mr. Gallivan also advocates the committee approach. “We have a really strong CRS committee,” he said. “We meet every two months. Our town historian, David Ball, has done research about storms that hit here in the 17th century. It’s fascinating stuff.”

Dennis CRS-less
The town of Dennis is not in the CRS. “We’ve tossed it around, but there’s an enormous amount of documentation that goes with it, and it’s very time-consuming,” Dennis town planner Dan Fortier told The Times. “Over 60 percent of real estate sales on the Cape are in cash, so when you don’t have mortgage and the flood insurance requirement, it doesn’t have as much of an impact.”

That said, Mr. Fortier said the basic tenets of the CRS are good guidelines to follow.

“We do a lot of outreach, which is really key with all these changes,” he said.  “We hold informational sessions, we publicize them in the papers and on radio and in social media. After we got our new flood maps, we reserved the senior center for an information session from 3 pm to 8 pm, and when we arrived at 2 pm to set up there was already a line. We probably had over 1,000 people come through. Between walk-ups and phone calls we were servicing over 100 people a day, and the flood maps on the web site were averaging over 200 hits a day. We update the information on the planning blog so both seasonal and year-round residents are aware of the flood zone changes.”  Mr. Fortier said a current topic on the outreach agenda is a change in the crucial primary-residence criterion. “As of June 1 the requirement that you needed to live in your house 80 percent of the year to qualify as a primary residence changed to 50 percent. The old classification really screwed a lot of people. It meant a lot of the snowbirds who spent the summer here and the winter in Florida had no primary residence, and they got hammered on both ends.”

To CRS or not to CRS
Echoing Congressman Keating, Mr. Markesich strongly recommends coastal towns in Massachusetts join the CRS. “It’s not just for better insurance rates. It can help mitigate loss of life,” he said. “Better infrastructure and better-informed people are going to do better in a major flood event.”

Mr. Markesich acknowledged the application process can be onerous, but said there are increasing FEMA resources to help. “Our office has conducted CRS workshops throughout New England this summer to try to get the word out about the CRS program. We had a workshop in May in Hyannis, but I don’t believe anyone was there from the Vineyard,” he said. “The CRS program also has recently added an Insurance Services Office that works directly with communities on applications.”
Mr. Markevich said that while FEMA is ready to help, it must get a letter of intent from an elected town official to begin the process. FEMA responds with a 13-page “Quick Check,” which determines if the town meets the minimum threshold of 500 points. “The Quick Check usually shows people they already have enough points to qualify,” Mr. Markesich said. The 500 points earns the town a 5 percent discount on NFIP insurance.
After the Quick Check, FEMA officials make a Community Assistance Visit (CAV), usually within a month, although some cases can take longer.  Helpful information is also at CRSresources.org, which also hosts users’ groups and conference calls. The next CRS workshop to help town officials with the application process or with maintaining their existing CRS program is a four-day program being held in Rhode Island beginning Oct. 20. It’s free of charge to town representatives from FEMA Region 1. Mr. Markevich said he will answer questions personally as well. A staff member from Mr. Keating’s office, speaking on background, said they can also work as a liaison with FEMA to help with the CRS application process.

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Veteran Island dentist Garrett Orazem said Oak Bluffs benefits from municipal fluoridation.

Updated Sept. 26, Friday: The Board of Health took no action Thursday night.

This Thursday night the Oak Bluffs board of health (BOH) is scheduled to hold a public hearing and possible vote on the continued fluoridation of the town water supply. Oak Bluffs is the only one of the three Island towns with municipal water service that adds fluoride to its water, but for the most part, the significant public health debate has attracted little attention.

Chiropractor John Campbell, a member of the board and a staunch opponent of fluoridation, is the driving force behind the effort. Dr. Campbell cites health risks that include cancer.

Veteran Island dentist Garrett Orazem, a proponent of fluoridation, said any move to end fluoridation would be a “huge mistake.” Public health experts are in agreement on the benefits.

This will be the second public hearing on fluoridation elimination. The first hearing was held in the early afternoon on June 10, and attracted only three people, two of whom were ardent fluoridation opponents. The board said it scheduled the Thursday hearing at 7 pm in the library meeting room hoping to draw a larger audience. The meeting is open to all Islanders. “We’d like as many dentists to weigh in as possible,” health agent Shirley Fauteux told The Times.

Vineyard Haven dentist Dr. Helene Shaeffer questioned the scheduling of the two public hearings and how much input the board really wants from Island dentists. “The first hearing was during the day when we were all working, and this hearing is on the second night of Rosh Hashanah,” she said, referencing one of the Jewish high holidays. “I think their choices have been misappropriated.”

The practice, which began in April 1991, costs the town $15,290 per year. Currently, sodium fluoride is added to town water at all four pumping stations at 0.7 parts per million, according to Water District superintendent Kevin Johnson. The Massachusetts department of public health supports the Centers for Disease Control fluoridation range of 0.7 to 1.2 parts per million, according to a department spokesperson.

A big mistake
Dr. Garrett Orazem, a dentist on the Island for 33 years and staunch fluoride proponent, changed his off-Island plans to attend the Thursday-night hearing.

“I found out about this last Friday night when I came back from off-Island,” Dr. Orazem told The Times. “I called patients from Oak Bluffs on Saturday and Sunday and I’ll keep calling other dentists when my schedule allows. I hope the good people of Oak Bluffs will show up in substantial numbers and let the board know that discontinuing fluoride is a huge mistake. A lot of people aren’t aware that if they take it out, it can’t go back in without great difficulty. When a board votes to fluoridate, and enough people object, it goes to a public vote, and then outside agitators show up from all over the country and use scare tactics. It happened before on the Island in 1962 when Edgartown attempted to add fluoride to their water, and people were wrongly convinced that fluoride causes arthritis.”

Dr. Orazem said he has seen the benefits of fluoridation in his practice. “I know of a family in Oak Bluffs where a father and mother have a great deal of decay and have lost some teeth, while their two children grew up with fluoridated water and have shown barely any tooth decay between them,” he said.

Dr. Orazem discounts the notion that individuals who want the benefits of fluoride can apply the chemical ion with rinses and toothpaste. “I raised a family in Edgartown and I had to give fluoride to my kids every day,” he said, adding that his children, now grown, have had minimal tooth decay. “I’m a dentist, and it was difficult for me. I can’t imagine what it would be like for families with challenges. With fluoridated water, you can reach the entire community, not just a few.”

Junk science
Dr. Orazem studied at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine under Dr. Myron Allukian, Jr., past president of the American Public Health Association and former dental director of the city of Boston for 34 years. In an email to The Times on Tuesday, Dr. Allukian said, “Fluoridation is a sound, safe, public health measure with almost 70 years of positive benefits. Who are you going to believe, every U.S. Surgeon General since the 1950s and just about every reputable state and national health agency and organization in our country, or some junk science from the Internet?”

Dr. Allukian plans to participate in the hearing via speakerphone. In an email to The Times late Wednesday, Dr. Allukian confirmed that health agent Shirley Fauteux had contacted him and will dial him in to the proceedings at 7:30 pm.

Sarah Kuh, Vineyard Health Care access coordinator and director of Vineyard Smiles, a county-sponsored dental health program, also stressed the benefits of fluoridation. “Fluoride in drinking water was cited by the CDC as one of the greatest advances in public health in the 20th century,” she said. “There’s practically no downside to it.”

Ms. Kuh said a recent Vineyard Smiles visit to Tisbury School showed a “shocking” amount of tooth decay, with more than one student needing treatment for 7 cavities. “The science is on our side,” she said. “You can always find one outlier study to support a different point of view. What I would really like to see is fluoride in all towns, rather that taking it away. It doesn’t just benefit children, it also helps prevent caries in adults.”

No fluoride
Dr. Campbell chaired the June BOH hearing. Mr. Campbell did not return calls or emails from The Times seeking comment prior to tonight’s hearing.

At the June meeting, Dr. Campbell read from a two-page sheet that listed various objections to fluoridation, and he discussed the injurious effects of fluoridated water cited in various studies. One study asserted that fluoride increased levels of bone cancer in young males. Dr. Campbell also cited studies that he said show that tooth decay does not go up when fluoridation is stopped. In addition, Dr. Campbell asserted that there has never been a single randomized clinical trial to demonstrate the effectiveness of fluoridation.

Water district superintendent Kevin Johnson said he will not attend the hearing, citing previous plans to be off-Island. At the June meeting, he went on record as favoring the removal of fluoride from the town water supply. Mr. Johnson said he thinks the chemical is potentially toxic and that the money could be better spent elsewhere in the water district. He repeated that stance last week in a phone call with The Times.

Correction: Dr. John Campbell was previously misidentified as Dr. Bruce Campbell

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Dredging at Little Bridge will take place as soon as newly awarded FEMA funds are transferred to the town treasurer.

Citing reduced deficits, increased reserves, and a stable outlook, bond rating agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) has upped Oak Bluffs’ town bond rating two grades, from AA- to AA+.

“It’s a direct result of the town’s effort and this board’s effort to get a handle on the town’s finances and to put the town on a stronger financial footing,” Town administrator Robert Whritenour told selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday night. ”It’s not surprising to see our bond rating going up; what is startling is to see it jump two notches in one review.”

Mr. Whritenour added that the improved rating will make upcoming bond issues more appealing to investors, which will help finance town infrastructure improvements like the new fire station. Selectman Michael Santoro gave kudos to Financial Advisory Committee (Fincom) chairman Steve Auerbach. Mr. Auerbach deflected the approbation to Mr. Whritenour.

“It’s been a team effort, starting with the strategic plan,” Mr. Whritenour said. “We’re clearly on the right track.”

Oak Bluffs had a AA- rating with a negative outlook, meaning future downgrades were likely, when Mr. Whritenour came on as interim town administrator in 2011. The new AA+ rating is one level below AAA, the highest in the S&P grading system.

The S&P report concluded the two-page assessment of town finances with a caveat. “The stable outlook reflects Standard & Poor’s opinion of Oak Bluffs’ strong economic profile and budgetary performance, coupled with very strong liquidity … While we do not expect to change the rating further within the two-year outlook period, we, however, could lower the rating if budgetary performance were to diminish, resulting in lower financial reserves and pressuring liquidity.”

Fuel for thought
More positive financial news came from selectman Michael Santoro, who informed the board that harbormaster Todd Alexander reports the new Oak Bluffs fuel facility has surpassed the 60,000-gallon sales goal, and with the temperate September weather, sales could exceed 70,000 gallons. “There were naysayers who said we’d never sell 30,000 gallons, and we didn’t start until early July,” Mr. Santoro said. Chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan added that he’s had a great deal of positive feedback from boaters about the competitive pricing at the Oak Bluffs harbor vis-à-vis Falmouth and other Island fuel depots.

FEMA funds Sengie dredging
In other business, Mr. Whritenour informed the board that the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) has given the final approval on funding for the Sengekontacket “Little Bridge” dredging project. Little Bridge is one of two channels that connect Sengekontacket Pond and Nantucket Sound. FEMA originally estimated the project cost at $596,131, which included moving the dredge spoils to the Inkwell and Pay Beach. However, in reviewing Oak Bluffs projects in a process known as “recapture,” FEMA reclassified the project as a dredge project, in part to expedite the funding process, according to FEMA official Robert Grimley. Under the new conditions, the dredge material will be deposited on Sylvia State Beach.

Mr. Whritenour said the town has bids in place to do the project for $321,750. The town will commit 25 percent, $80,437.50, of the project cost once FEMA funding is in place. Mr. Whritenour said that the town can act immediately once the FEMA money arrives, and that it’s feasible the dredging can be done in October.

Beach malnourishment
In other business, 12 members of a newly formed citizen beach committee attended to voice their concerns and displeasure with the condition of town beaches. The lack of amenities, limited access for the elderly and disabled, and the overall shabby condition were recurring themes.  “I think our beaches are the most-used beaches on the island, and they’re the worst,” seasonal resident Jill Nelson said. “Now when I come back from the beach, I don’t brush sand off my feet; I have to take a shower because they’re caked with dirt. We pay $16,000 a year in taxes, and I can’t even go to the beach. I have friends that come here and say, ‘I heard Martha’s Vineyard is a big deal, but this is a dump.’  I’m sure it hurts tourism. We’re not just ranting summer people, we have a point. It’s really discouraging.”

At one time we had a shower, a toilet, and a lifeguard station, and now we have nothing,” seasonal resident Gus Gaskin said. “Now it’s 1.3 miles to get from the jetty to the nearest restroom.”

“I’m a business owner, and I think you’re right,” Mr. Santoro said. “I think a lot of this comes back to money, and I’m sure you know we hit rock-bottom five years ago, and it’s taken us time to get back on solid financial ground. We have breathing room now, and the beaches are on our radar.  I think you need to go to Conservation Commission meetings and keep telling them what you’re telling us. There’s a lot of permitting involved in these fixes.”

“We’ll be sitting down just about a month from now for our strategic planning session, where we lay out priorities for the coming year,” Mr. Coogan said. “Your coming to us puts this in the forefront of our mind.  When we talk about what we can address this year, this will be at the top of the list.”

Sign up for signs
The Oak Bluffs Downtown Streetscape Master Plan Committee is seeking volunteers to form a wayfaring committee to improve signage in the town. Volunteers can write to Shelly Carter at scarter@oakbluffsma.gov.