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Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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Positive overall trends and several longstanding shortcomings are highlighted in draft annual audit letter.

Oak Bluffs town hall. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

According to a recent examination of Oak Bluffs town finances for fiscal year 2014 (FY14) by the accounting firm Powers and Sullivan, the town’s overall financial health continues to rebound, although some troublesome symptoms of past problems still linger.

The 13-page draft management letter provided to town officials in March outlined four items that were resolved since the FY13 audit, one that was partially resolved, and eight that remain unresolved. Because it is a draft management letter, town officials will have the opportunity to clarify and/or correct items deemed unresolved by the auditors before their final FY14 assessment.

The 2014 fiscal year began on July 1, 2013, and ended June 30, 2014.

 

Healthy indicators

According to auditors, there was a $603,000 increase in the town’s general fund — the town’s primary operating fund, which totaled $3.3 million at the end of the fiscal year. “This increase is attributable to prudent cost controls resulting in $339,000 of unexpended appropriations, and from overall revenues exceeding the prior year by $279,000,” the draft letter states. To put the town’s financial rebound in perspective, in FY11, the town general fund was $913, 021 in the red.

The accountants also wrote that “Oak Bluffs’ assets exceeded liabilities for governmental activities by $35.7 million at the close of [FY] 2014.”

The report concluded that the town had properly followed all federal guidelines over the course of the fiscal year, stating, “No instances of noncompliance material to the financial statements of the Town of Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, were disclosed.”

 

Unresolved issues

While many of the topics in the management letter relate to complex accounting rules, some basic shortcomings that were mentioned in last year’s management letter and in some cases, years before that, continued to attract the attention of auditors.

The report was again critical of the amount of time it took the town to reconcile accounts. It stressed that reconciling account activity and accounts receivable “is an integral internal control procedure over the most significant revenue sources of the Town. Without monthly reconciliations, the possibility of errors and/or omissions occurring and not being detected in a timely manner increases.”

The report was also was critical of the lag in closing town ledgers. In FY 14, town ledgers were not closed until December, five months after the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

A timely close of the financial reporting process would allow the town to know its certified free cash position (among other items) in time for a fall town meeting,” auditors wrote. “We recommend that the town analyze the reasons for the delayed cash reconciliations and develop a plan to speed up the process. The delay in reconciling the treasurer’s cash delayed the town accountant’s ability to reconcile cash per the general ledger on a timely basis throughout the year.”

This year, free cash was not certified by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) until the week before annual town meeting in April, after the financial and advisory committee (FinCom) had to make its final recommendations. In some cases, FinCom reversed its recommendations once free cash was certified, and had to hand out a supplemental sheet at town meeting showing those changes, which created confusion on several votes. FinCom chairman Steve Auerbach said the delay in certifying free cash was due in large part to town accountant Arthur Gallagher’s six-week absence due to illness, and to outdated accounting software.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times that he agreed with the auditor’s assessment of the reconciliation process. “The No. 1 area we can improve this year is the reconciliation of accounts,” he said. “We have to attack the process and get things done in a more timely fashion.”

To that end, Mr. Whritenour said, he has begun weekly meetings with the town financial team — the town accountant, town treasurer, and principal assessor — and he is hiring an outside accounting firm to examine the process, with funding set aside from the auditing account.

Auditors also recommended better communication within town hall walls, in particular between the town tax collector and town accountant.

“We also noted the accounting and collector offices, which should be sharing a mutual dialogue in the process, were reconciling the activity independently and separately from one another,” the report said.

Toughen up and tighten up

Auditors suggested, for the second year in a row, that the town should be more aggressive in collecting delinquent property taxes and wastewater bills.

They also recommended that the town needed to be more aggressive in collecting debts for use of town property and demand payment up front. Mr. Whritenour said this comment was inaccurate. “There’s no outstanding balances for [use of] town property,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ll question.”

In FY 13, auditors said that the town had to gain control of the police detail fund, which was then $36,000 in the red. However, auditors said the deficit almost tripled to roughly $92,000 in FY 14.

“Given this fact, it remains crucial that the town can be able to verify the exact composition of the fund deficit so that necessary collection procedures can be initiated against the relevant parties on an as needed basis,” the letter states.

Mr. Whritenour said the police detail deficit was a byproduct of the lagging reconciliation process, and that more than $22,000 of the total is from entities that went belly-up after contracting for police details. “There was a festival in the mid-2000s that ran up a big bill that went out of business right after the festival,” he said. “There’s another $14,000 where it appears money was collected, but may have ended up in other accounts.” As an example, Mr. Whritenour said the permit fee for the Monster Shark Tournaments included the cost of police and fire department details and additional highway department costs. “So the licenses and permits revenue went up, and the [police] detail fund wasn’t credited,” he said.

Police Chief Erik Blake cited FEMA monies that never materialized to reimburse the department for details during Hurricane Sandy and winter storm Nemo, and from the department of public health (DPH) for the Island-wide pandemic exercise conducted a few years ago. He also said there were outstanding balances from NStar and Martha’s Vineyard Hospital when auditors last examined the books.

The draft letter also criticized the police department’s recordkeeping procedures. “The system maintained by the Police Department to track outstanding amounts owed relies heavily upon hard copies of bills sent. Reliance on a manual system increases the risk that accounts are misfiled and that collections efforts are not taken against parties who owe the town money.”

Chief Blake said the comment was not entirely accurate. “We do our billing for details in QuickBooks, and the town uses MUNIS,” he said. “We bill companies through QuickBooks, and when the money comes it, it’s put in the town’s MUNIS system.The next fiscal year the town is going to add the component to MUNIS that lets us do all the billing in the MUNIS,” he said.

Overall, Mr. Whritenour said he was pleased with the rigorous examination of town finances. “This is why we do an audit,” he said. “We ask them to come in and identify the items we can improve. We pay a lot of money for people to tell us how to do better. We’re on our way, we’re just not 100 percent there yet.”

The vote is essentially symbolic vote after three towns rejected a similar request.

School officials want to replace their current administrative building. – Photo by Michael Cummo

In what was essentially a symbolic vote, Oak Bluffs voters endorsed a request to chip in for a new administration building for the Martha’s Vineyard public schools at a special town meeting at the Oak Bluffs school on Thursday night.

Chilmark, Tisbury and West Tisbury rejected the request at their annual town meetings, which legally made the vote irrelevant. The article required a yes vote from all six Island towns.

In the lead up to the special town meeting, the Regional School District Committee and the Oak Bluffs Financial and Advisory Committee (FinCom) endorsed the town’s participation in a 20-year bond needed to pay an estimated $3.9 million price tag.

Oak Bluffs selectman Greg Coogan said he thought the presentation by assistant superintendent and soon to be superintendent Matt D’Andrea, that showed the cramped, decaying condition of the current administration building made a big impression on the attendees. “I would have been surprised at the outcome before the meeting, but the presentation made all the difference,”  he told The Times Friday morning. “I’m sure next year they’ll come back with a pitch that shows more people what the needs are.”

“We were very pleased that the Oak Bluffs voters almost unanimously approved the article,” outgoing superintendent James Weiss told The Times Friday. “Although it doesn’t have any impact legally, emotionally and politically it was a very positive outcome.”

Mr. Weiss said that the presentation was quickly developed after the article was rejected at the first two town meetings. “It was the first time we made the presentation,” he said. “Once they see the conditions of the current administration building, people really understand the need for a new one.”

The current administration building is a former church built over 90 years ago, across from the Tisbury school.

A total of 55 voters attended the meeting, five more than required for a quorum.

The article was not on the Oak Bluffs annual town meeting warrant because of an administrative disconnect between the school administration office and town hall.

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The Martha's Vineyard builder advocates a new approach to add workforce housing, six units at a time.

An architectural rendering of a building that houses six, two-bedroom condos with a proposed price tag of $240,000 each. – Image courtesy of Squash Meadow Construction

Squash Meadow Construction President Bill Potter thinks he could help solve the need for affordable housing, six units at a time. Regulatory assistance and infrastructure support are key.

Mr. Potter has been thinking about the affordable housing problem on the Vineyard for years, in part because the problem affects many of his employees.

“One of my guys lives in a basement apartment with his girlfriend that costs them $1,400 a month,” Mr. Potter told The Times, sitting in his quiet office last Saturday morning. “They make six figures between the two of them, but they’re in a $1,400 basement apartment. That’s typical for our workforce. They can’t buy a house yet, and the year-round rentals are insane. My wife works in real estate; she says she gets calls every hour.”

Mr. Potter said he attacked the problem by working backward — to see what Squash Meadow could build that would fit a mortgage with monthly payments around $1,400.

“It comes out to a $240,000 mortgage,” he said. Checking a mortgage calculator on Saturday morning, Mr. Potter figured the monthly payment would be roughly $1,300 at current rates. “They could own their own piece of the Vineyard for less than they’re paying for a basement apartment,” he said.

Building blocks
Finding a parcel of land that allows multi-unit development is no easy task on Martha’s Vineyard. As most builders will attest, even the simplest construction can require running a gauntlet of local opposition, permitting agencies, and increasingly, wastewater issues. The “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) factor is also a major obstacle.

“I hate to use the word ‘project,’ because some people pounce on that and call it a housing project that doesn’t belong on the Island,” Mr. Potter said. “We don’t want to be the bad guys in the eyes of the Islanders who oppose this type of project. We also don’t have the time to explore solutions to the wastewater issues. We need some type of collaboration with the towns so that the wastewater issue has already been solved before we can start a project like this.”

Early last year, Mr. Potter heard about two 6,000-square-foot parcels on Duke’s County Avenue in Oak Bluffs that were for sale. Since they were in a commercial zone, he could build multi-unit housing, according to town zoning bylaws. Additionally, since the town sewer line runs the length of Dukes County Avenue, wastewater would most likely not be an issue. Mr. Potter did feasibility studies on the property, and figured he could construct a building on each parcel, with six two-bedroom units, 600 square feet each, that would sell for the target price of $240,000.

The momentum for the Dukes County Avenue project slowed last spring, when Mr. Potter had to devote all of his time to building the new Vineyard House. The new Vineyard House campus is tangible proof that Squash Meadow and Mr. Potter can delivery quickly and efficiently — the five modular buildings, including three multi-unit residential homes, all LEED certified — were completed in six months and brought in under budget.

“Squash Meadow has been in business for 15 years. We have our process down,” Mr. Potter said. “I know I could build those [Duke’s County Avenue] homes for that price. I don’t mind reducing my profit margins if I can do some good for the community.”

Mr. Potter said he’s looking to create multi-unit workforce housing for the Island as a whole, not just for his employees, and that he wants to help fill the void as a private developer as well as in collaboration with the Island towns. “If it’s done with the town, the town can decide how the homes are sold,” he said. “Does this solve the housing crisis? No. But I think this model can go a long way in creating housing for our labor force. Every time we build six units, that’s six new homeowners, and more rentals that open up.”

Creative financing

Mr. Potter acknowledged that the down payment on a $240,000 mortgage can be a barrier to ownership for a fully employed Islander. But he said he’s optimistic that local banks will be open to creative financing.
“We’re committed to working on ways to address this issue on Martha’s Vineyard,” David Brennan, senior vice president of residential lending at Cape Cod Five, told The Times on Monday. “We do have programs that require as little as three to five percent down. Some require mortgage insurance. Some come with unemployment insurances. We know part of the challenge is seasonality of employment, and we know many Islanders have to work two or three jobs. We’re always looking to meet the demand with solutions that are a little bit out of the ordinary.”

 

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Island taxi drivers are concerned that Uber will affect their business through unfair competition.

Taxicab owners are concerned about the impact Uber will have on Martha's Vineyard.

Uber, the Internet-driven ride-sharing service that has boomed in popularity in America and around the world, may soon have a presence on the Vineyard. “We’re currently exploring the Martha’s Vineyard market and using ads to test its viability,” an Uber spokesperson told The Times last week.

According to Uber statistics, more than 10,000 Massachusetts drivers have signed up to drive for the transportation network company (TNC). Last week Uber began advertising for drivers on the Island.
Also last week, Gov. Charlie Baker introduced legislation that will require all TNCs to properly vet their drivers, and to require each driver to carry a minimum of $1 million of insurance coverage. This was already Uber policy, according to their spokesperson. “Every Uber trip is backed by a $1 million commercial insurance policy, and all drivers who wish to partner with us must pass a multitiered background check that examines federal, state, and county records,” he wrote in an email. “In addition, drivers must pass all vehicle inspections required by their state or local governments. In the case of Massachusetts, that means an annual check at a licensed inspection station.” Uber does not check cars for cleanliness; however, individual cars and drivers can be rated by their passengers.

Uber was also a topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting. “I don’t see that there’s any way to stop it,” Selectman Gail Barmakian said.

Selectman Walter Vail said he’d like to see how Uber operates in Boston under the governor’s new legislation before making any recommendations.

Police Chief Erik Blake said that state law cannot be superseded by local bylaws. “I can enforce taxi-stand and bus-stop violations, but because people are doing commerce with their phones, it’s very hard to oversee,” he said.

4Uber is an on-demand car service that enables drivers who qualify to use their own cars and to work their own hours, as independent contractors. Uber can also be used by taxi drivers and car services. Using the free app for iPhone and Android devices, riders request service and the type of vehicle they want. Dispatch software sends the nearest driver to the location, and tells the riders how long their wait will be. The Uber app signup requires a credit card number, so no cash changes hands. The app also comes with a fare calculator, so riders will know how much they’ll be paying before the car shows up.

Uber charges are based on a combination of time and distance, and vary by location.

Police cited numerous infractions in a March compliance check.

This file photo shows the interior of the LoFT and several of the many games they have. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated Thursday, 11 am.

Oak Bluffs Police Detective James Morse presented selectmen with a long list of code violations by LoFT, the bar and adult game room on the second floor of the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co., during a public hearing convened at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Detective Morse told selectmen that he first learned of the new establishment, formerly Dreamland, in a story published in The Martha’s Vineyard Times. Mr. Morse said that in following through on his duties as a license compliance officer on March 20, he found the blueprint on file listed no amusements, and that neither a change of use permit nor an entertainment license had been issued. Mr. Morse said his search also showed that no certificate of occupancy had been issued by the building inspector. Likewise, a fire inspection certificate signed by Chief John Rose was not on file.

Mr. Morse said he made a spot check of the bar/adult game room on Saturday evening, March 21. In addition to a number of minor infractions regarding the display of certificates, he told selectmen he saw alcohol served to impaired patrons — one who was boisterous and stumbled “in a serpentine manner,” and one who was drifting in and out of consciousness. He noted that the manager eventually asked both patrons to leave.

Building inspector Mark Barbadoro expressed concern about the staircase to the rear entrance to LoFT. “The back exit is what they use for a loading dock,” he said. “The stairs were built so that they could take it apart and move things in, and then reassemble it. The last time I went there, [the staircase] had not been reassembled, which is very troubling.”

Mr. Barbadoro said he spoke with the building owners about it, and that as of yesterday, the staircase had only been partially reassembled. “We have to come up with a plan for rebuilding it,” he said.

The building is owned by C Vivor LLC, which is owned by Mark and Mike Wallace.

Selectman Walter Vail asked, given the extent of the violations, why LoFT had not been closed. Det. Morse said it would take “a riot” for the police to shut it down, but that the fire chief or the board of health could close it immediately if they saw fit.

LoFT proprietor J.B. Blau was not able to attend the hearing due to illness, Mr. Whritenour said. The Wallaces also did not attend. Office administrator Alice Butler said a certified letter was sent to the Wallaces regarding the matter, but the town had received no response prior to Tuesday night’s meeting.

“It seems to me these people have been in business a long time and should know better. Right or wrong, I feel like we’re being avoided tonight,” Mr. Coogan said.

Police Chief Erik Blake said there was no excuse for the lack of a change of use permit. “He’s been in business 28 years; he should know better,” he said.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said due to the “far-reaching” nature of violations, the hearing should be kept open to allow for additional testimony.

Speaking with The Times by phone on Wednesday, Mr. Blau said a number of the violations had already been addressed. “We will continue to work with the selectmen and the police to make everything right,” he said. “That’s always our goal.”

The selectmen voted to continue the hearing on Thursday, May 7.

Oyster farm ploughs ahead

Brothers Dan and Greg Martino gained final and unanimous approval from the selectmen for an aquaculture license that will allow them to operate a two-acre oyster farm off Eastville Beach. Although the selectmen voted 4-1 to approve the license in September 2014, a lawsuit filed by seasonal resident Jeff Ludwig in Suffolk County superior court on Oct. 15 put the final outcome in doubt. The complaint alleged that the selectmen failed to conduct a comprehensive review of the project, and cited concerns about safety for swimmers and boaters, and excessive noise, as well as aesthetic concerns. In negotiations with town counsel Michael Goldsmith, the litigants, through their attorney, agreed to drop the appeal if the Martinos agreed to a set of conditions related to summer hours of operation, noise mitigation, and emergency contingency plans. The Martinos had agreed to the terms prior to Tuesday night’s meeting. It will be the first commercial oyster farm in Oak Bluffs.

“This is certainly a relief to everyone involved,” Mr. Coogan said.

In other business, selectmen unanimously chose Michael Santoro to be the next board chairman. Upon his acceptance, Mr. Santoro nominated Gail Barmakian to be vice-chairman, citing a long and productive relationship with Ms. Barmakian. The board voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Barmakian.

“Hopefully that means you’ll be chairman next time,” Ms. Burton said to Ms. Barmakian.

“I think the vice-chairman should become chairman,” Ms. Barmakian said. “That’s the proper way, even though it hasn’t always worked that way.”

An earlier version of this story referred to LoFT as LoFT 21+. The correct name is LoFT.

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Corrected April 30 at 12:11 pm
Previously this article stated that four of the six Island towns have to approve the bond measure for it to pass. The vote has to be unanimous.

Oak Bluffs voters will be asked to vote on a request to help fund the construction of a new $3.9 million administration building for the Martha’s Vineyard public schools, at a special town meeting that begins at 7 pm at the Oak Bluffs School Thursday, April 30.

Town payment on the 20-year bond used to finance the project would be $98,812 in 2017, and would decline steadily to $60,159 in 2037.

The article was not on the annual town meeting warrant because of an administrative disconnect between the school administration office and town hall. West Tisbury and Tisbury turned down the request.

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Martha’s Vineyard restaurateur Jo Maxwell says price gouging for substandard housing is a recipe for disaster.

The permanent staff at Chesca's restaurant includes, from left, Chef Jean, John Tau, owners David Joyce and Jo Maxwell, Chris Christie, Carrie-Lynn Whitney, and Cindy Curran. – Photo by Michael Cummo

The warm breezes, ringing cash registers, and sunny skies of the Vineyard summer are just weeks away, but uncertainty clouds the horizon for business owners who are still scrambling to find shelter for their seasonal employees. Jo Maxwell, chef and co-owner of the highly regarded Chesca’s Restaurant in Edgartown for the past 21 years, is one of them.

“This year we’ve already had 14 very qualified, experienced staff from New York City and other places, who really wanted to come here, but had to back out because they couldn’t find housing,” she told The Times. “This isn’t just happening to us. A lot of business owners I’ve talked with are desperate.”

Ms. Maxwell said she’s thankful for her core crew of Islanders, who will staff the restaurant during the shoulder season. “Without the Islanders, we couldn’t be open,” she said. When summer arrives, Ms. Maxwell said the popular bistro will be staffed by eight Islanders, three American employees from off-Island, and nine foreign students on J-1 visas.

Ms. Maxwell said her search for shelter for off-Island help has been a full-time job, and that she’s never seen such a dismal housing climate. “Landlords should be able to make money, but it’s gouging at this point,” she said. “I saw a room in a house with no kitchen privileges for $1,600 a month, and a one-room cabin with an outhouse going for $3,000 a month.

I thought I was on Candid Camera,” she said, referring to the long-running TV show that pioneered the hidden camera/practical joke format. “It has truly reached an obscene level. We’ve spent $3,000 in deposits so far. One of the places I rented is a shed. In normal conditions, I wouldn’t put my lawnmower in it. But it’s still a lot nicer than most of the places I’ve seen. The only thing you can find for under $800 a month is either a basement with no windows or an attic with no ventilation.”

Recipe for disaster
Ms. Maxwell said in “olden days,” she and her husband, co-owner and chef David Joyce, rented an entire house for their employees, but after 10 years, the cost became prohibitive. “If we did that now, it would eat up at least 70 percent of our profit,” she said. Since then, Ms. Maxwell’s heard a litany of housing horror stories from her employees.

“One of my chefs lived in the house where the landlord came barging in with a chainsaw,” she said, referring to the June 2013 incident when a landlord made a predawn raid with a revving chainsaw on a four-bedroom house in Oak Bluffs that he’d rented to 14 people.

“We live on an Island where you have to get a permit to build a doghouse, and that’s great. But there’s no monitoring of occupancy bylaws, there’s no monitoring of the health and safety codes, and there’s no fair market value anymore. This isn’t just affecting [restaurants], it also affects the retail shops,” she said. “No one is going to have any help anymore.”
As the domestic seasonal labor has been increasingly priced out of Martha’s Vineyard, “J-1s” have become increasingly important. A salient fact regarding the J-1 workers is that “they do not have to earn a living. They are subsidized, so they can actually get by,” Ms. Maxwell said.

But they too may soon be in short supply.
“The word from many of the sponsor companies is that soon the Vineyard will not be offered as a place of work because of the housing problem,” Ms. Maxwell said. “Towns on the Cape, and other tourist towns like Portsmouth and Kennebunkport, are actually affordable. You can get a two-bedroom house in Chatham a mile from the beach for the price of a room here.”

Ms. Maxwell repeatedly expressed concern that the housing shortage is also taking a toll on the Island at large. “It is not just our tourist season workforce that can’t afford to live here. Islanders can’t. Children who were raised here can’t. Doctors, nurses, teachers, the foundation of the Vineyard, can’t find a place to live. There has to be some leverage.”

 

Unsocial media
Ms. Maxwell recently wrote about her Candid Camera moment on the MV Rentals Facebook page. She was stunned by the backlash. “I’m getting hate mail,” she said. “People are saying, ‘Get off the Island if you don’t like it.’”

Ms. Maxwell said a blogger threatened to post on Yelp that he or she got food poisoning at Chesca’s. Another called her a hypocrite because she has a pasta entrée for $21 on her menu. “I’m extremely careful about what I put on social media, and I was a little glib.” she said. “But I really did feel like I was on Candid Camera.”

In response to her digital flogging, Ms. Maxwell started the Facebook page “Hope for Housing” to give the conversation some positive momentum.

“I started the group because I couldn’t bear the haters anymore,” she said. “I want to try to create a group of people who are seriously trying to bring change about.” Ms. Maxwell stressed that the solution to the problem is attainable in the short term.

“A lot of people think it’s complicated, but it really isn’t,” she said. “We’re not talking about building affordable housing, or changing rules and regulations, and going to selectmen’s meetings. We’re just asking landlords to come down to more reasonable rents, to $700 to $800 for a room, instead of $1,200 to $1,400. That’s all it would take.”

 

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EMTs and fire personnel removed the driver through the overturned car's sunroof.

EMTs place the driver injured in a roll over accident Wednesday morning. Photo by Michael Cummo.

Updated 4:30 pm, Wednesday, April 29

Police and fire rescue personnel rushed to extricate the female driver of a silver Subaru Forester after she struck a car parked on the side of Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road near Skiff Avenue in Tisbury and flipped the vehicle at approximately 9:15 am Wednesday.

Grace Burton-Sundman, 27, of Tisbury was traveling south toward Edgartown when she struck a parked white Honda Accord.

First responders had to enter the car through the back hatch. It took about 15 minutes to remove Ms. Burton-Sundman from the vehicle through the sunroof. She was placed in a waiting ambulance and transported to Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

Tisbury Police Officer Michael Gately said Ms. Burton-Sundman was likely distracted when she struck the other vehicle. Officer Gately visited the young woman in the hospital, where she was recovering from her injuries. “She was very lucky,” he said. Ms. Burton-Sundman was cited for a marked lanes violation.

Glenn Caldwell of Vineyard Haven was the first to reach the trapped driver. He was headed into Vineyard Haven when he saw the car coming to rest on its side. “I talked to her through the back hatch; she was responsive and alert,” he told The Times. “She knew her name and where she was and who her family was.”

Laura Hart of Chilmark was on her way to work in West Tisbury and was the first to call 911. She gave high praise to Mr. Caldwell. “He was amazing,” Ms. Hart said, still shaking from the experience. “He was calm, and he knew just what to do.” Mr. Caldwell said he learned how to respond to emergency situations from Island lifeguard training.

In a telephone conversation late Wednesday, John Sundman said it appears his daughter will be fine. He thanked the EMTs and firefighters for their quick response.

Growing flocks of nonmigratory geese are a major source of contamination in Martha’s Vineyard water bodies.

Tisbury shellfish constable Danielle Ewart uses a homemade shield to defend herself against an aggressive gander. Photos by Michael Cummo.

Early Monday morning, Tisbury shellfish constable Danielle Ewart perched precariously on a narrow spit of bog that jutted into Lagoon Pond, and fended off two angry Canada geese with a makeshift plywood shield. While Ms. Ewart held off the furiously honking birds, Tisbury shellfish advisory committee member Ray Lincoln took eggs from their nest and coated each one with vegetable oil. Then he carefully replaced them in the nest — a favored technique for addling goose eggs.

Ray Lincoln coats goose eggs in oil, as Ms. Ewart stands ready to hold off potential goose retaliators.
Ray Lincoln coats goose eggs in oil, as Ms. Ewart stands ready to hold off potential goose retaliators.

Egg addling prevents eggs from hatching by closing up the small pores that feed the embryo oxygen.

“If you physically destroy the eggs, the goose will lay more, unless it’s at the very end of the breeding cycle,” H. Heussman, biologist at the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW), told The Times. Mr. Heussman has been studying the Canada goose population in Massachusetts for almost 45 years, and has documented the increasing number of nonmigratory geese in Massachusetts. “Shaking the eggs doesn’t work that well. You have to shake them hard enough to break the yolk, and that’s very difficult, especially in eggs more than three weeks old.”

The DFW generally starts addling efforts on April 15, and the window to act is about a month. This year the schedule was slightly delayed because of the severe winter.

Goose grief
Canada geese are a major factor in the increasing nitrogen levels and the declining health of the estuarine ponds on Martha’s Vineyard, according to several studies.

A 2007 water quality study of Sengekontacket Pond, a prized shellfishing area that has been shut down with increasing regularity, showed that 60 percent of the bacteria in the pond came from waterfowl fecal matter, according to Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall.

Tisbury shellfish advisory committee members Jackie Willey and Ray Lincoln blaze a trail through a dense patch of phragmites on Lagoon Pond.
Tisbury shellfish advisory committee members Jackie Willey and Ray Lincoln blaze a trail through a dense patch of phragmites on Lagoon Pond.

The same study, done by the University of New Hampshire Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, N.H., revealed that 16 of the 19 bacterial strains found in Farm Pond were directly attributed to geese, one was sourced to cormorants, and two to mixed species, according to Oak Bluffs shellfish constable David Grunden.

“There’s no doubt that geese are a big cause of shellfish closures,” Ms. Ewart told The Times.

When it comes to feces production, geese are stunningly prodigious — the average Canada goose defecates between a half-pound and three pounds a day, according to Mr. Heussmann. Taking an average of one and a half pounds per day per goose, this means a gaggle of 50 geese, a number easily reached on the great ponds and on Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs, leaves behind 525 pounds of feces every week, which is 27,300 pounds a year, or roughly 13.5 tons of dung per year.

Mr. Heussmann said that “Massachusetts geese” is a more accurate label for these birds than Canada geese. In a DFW study done between 2008 and 2012, biologists banded a total of 4,659 geese. Of the 958 geese that were recovered, 72 percent never left the state, and 90 percent were either recovered in Massachusetts or a bordering state.

“Once geese reach maturity at three years, they’ll most likely stay in Massachusetts the rest of their lives,” he said. “The vast majority of these geese have no idea where Canada is.”

Egg hunt
On Monday, a Times reporter and photographer accompanied Ms. Ewart and her team on an addling expedition. Successful addling requires locating the nest and shooing the goose and gander away while someone coats the eggs with oil and puts the eggs back in the nest. None of this is as easy as it sounds. Sometimes nest locations are obvious, for example a lone goose sitting at the end of a spit of land.

However, this time of year, that bog can become knee-deep in a flash, and suck the footwear off of an unsuspecting addler. Sometimes the nests are in dense thicket, where the brown and gray feathers blend in remarkably well amid spring vegetation. Around Lagoon Pond, finding nests also required navigating through dense patches of phragmites, a towering, sharp, nitrogen-eating invasive reed.

Ms. Ewart brought along industrial-size trash bags for picking up litter along the way. By the time the trio had trekked a few hundred yards, three bags were full. “We have to organize a cleanup here,” she said. “This is unbelievable. We could do this all day.”

A lone goose sitting at the end of a spit of bog near Ferry Boat Island was a promising sign. The geese confirmed the team was on the right track by honking like a chorus of broken bicycle horns as the trio approached the hidden nest.

Ms. Ewart held up her plywood shield, marked “sea mammal rescue,” and slowly approached the nesting goose. Both goose and gander threatened attack as she methodically stepped toward them. Once the geese retreated, Ms. Ewart held her position while Mr. Lincoln rolled each egg in a bucket of vegetable oil and placed it back in the feather-lined nest.

Addling is definitely best done in pairs. Ganders, the males, can be very aggressive. Ms. Ewart refers to a notoriously aggressive gander on Farm Pond as “Big Boy.”

“The super-aggressive geese you see on YouTube are the exception,” Mr. Heussmann said. “The vast majority of the time they just make a lot of noise.”

“I’d never turn my back on one,” Ms. Ewart said as the trio walked to a second nest.

Over the course of the morning, Ms. Ewart, Mr. Lincoln, shellfish advisory committee member Jackie Willey, and her dog Lady, a lab mix, found five nests. Lady proved to be a valuable member of the team. She easily moved the stubborn birds to a safe distance, and on one occasion, dove into the frigid water and swam after a pair, buying Mr. Lincoln plenty of time to coat the eggs.

Lagoon Pond resident Marilyn Wortman had called in one nest location, and met the crew on the shore and thanked them for their work. “People have to get proactive about this,” Ms. Wortman said. “The geese are ruining the pond, and this time of year, they get very aggressive. My grandchildren play around here, and it concerns me.”

The team addled a total of 25 goose eggs. Ms. Ewart plans to make several more trips by land and by boat, but admits many eggs will certainly be missed.

Still, it was a dent. In two and a half hours, three people and one dog likely spared Lagoon Pond about 37.5 pounds of goose droppings per week. Given that a goose can easily live 10 years — the oldest banded bird Mr. Heussmann has recovered was 22 years old — that is a potential 19,500 pounds, almost 10 tons, of fecal matter potentially removed by one addling expedition.

Permitted activity
The addling permit from DFW was issued to the Lagoon Pond Association, which made it possible for the crew to legally traverse private land. Mr. Grunden said while he has been addling around Farm Pond every year since 2008, the scope is diminished because he can only addle on town property or with permission of the property owner.

An all-inclusive addling permit is an option for all great pond riparian societies, as well as for concerned citizens, and there is still time to act. Egg addling permit applications can be downloaded online at the DFW website and faxed in. Mr. Heussman said the turnaround is less than 72 hours, and often is done in the same day. Permits are free.

“Addling has to be done five to seven years in a row to really make a dent,” Mr. Heussman said in an email. “You need several towns to get together and implement a program. Opening up more areas to safe hunting is perhaps the most effective way to reduce populations. And, of course, don’t feed the geese!”

DFW instituted an early goose season that falls in September in an effort to target nonmigratory geese. In 2008, DFW increased the daily bag limit from five to seven geese in an effort to further reduce the number of geese that have made Massachusetts their year-round home.

 

Brian Packish was nine votes shy of unseating Ms. Burton

Oak Bluffs voters went to the polls Thursday to elect town officers.

Updated 12:20 pm, Friday

Oak Bluffs voters decided a five-way race for two seats on the five-member board of selectmen on Thursday when they re-elected Greg Coogan (531 votes) and re-elected Kathy Burton (509 votes). Planning board chairman Brian Packish failed to unseat Ms. Burton by the slimmest of margins with 501 votes. First time candidate Raymond Taylor received 301 votes. Abraham Seiman received 98 votes. This was the second unsuccessful bid for Mr. Seiman.

Oak Bluffs voters made their choices known for two seats on the board of selectmen.
Oak Bluffs voters made their choices known for two seats on the board of selectmen.

This will be Mr. Coogan’s fifth term on the board of selectmen, which he currently chairs. The former Tisbury School math teacher is retired following a more than 30-year career in education.

“It’s amazing how many people turned out, especially considering there wasn’t a money issue on the ballot” Mr. Coogan told The Times Friday morning. “I’m excited to be back for a fifth term. There’re things I want to keep working on,  affordable housing, the beaches, the bike paths to name a few.”

Mr. Coogan said the extremely close vote is a tribute to the hard work of the other candidates, particularly Mr. Packish, and that it was also a message to the incumbents that the board can do a better job of community outreach.

Ms. Burton won re-election to her third term.  She told The Times that she was grateful to the voters, and that a big takeaway for her was the importance of social media. “It’s good to know social media is such a powerful tool,” she said. “It’s a great way to communicate and to hear what’s on people’s minds. Hopefully we can use that with our new town website.”

“I think it was a good race,” Mr. Packish said, speaking to The Times from Rome, Italy, where he is vacationing. “It’s clear people are looking for change, just not enough change to put me in. I think we elevated the discussion and I’ve heard from several people in the current administration that they’re going to be listening a little more, and that’s a good thing.”

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Mr. Taylor said. “But I think I got a good number and people got to know me and what I stand for.”

“I’m glad so many people turned out,” Mr. Seiman said.

Voters overwhelmingly elected to keep fluoride in the town water supply by a vote of 646 to 281. Although the ballot measure was listed as a non-binding question, at a meeting this fall, board of health chairman William White said he would vote with the will of the people in this election. Board member Patricia Bergeron said she would do the same. Chiropractor John Campbell, the third member of the board, has been an outspoken critic of fluoride, and helped spearhead the effort to remove it from the town water supply.

In the uncontested elections, William White was re-elected to the Board of Health (762 votes); Jesse B. Law was re-elected to the Cemetery Commission (763 votes); Alan deBettencourt Sr. was re-elected to the Park Commission (746 votes); and Kristine O’Brien was re-elected to the School Committee (706 votes); Steven Auerbach (669 votes) and Raymond Taylor (729 votes) were re-elected to three year terms and Jason Balboni (710 votes) was elected to his first three year term on the Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom). Robert Huss was elected to a one year term on FinCom (693 votes)  Joseph de Bettencourt was re-elected as Tree Warden (754 votes); Hans Vonsteiger was re-elected to the Wastewater Commission (664 votes) and Nelson Oliver was re-elected as Water District Commissioner (765 votes).

The 1,028 total votes cast represented 28 percent of the town’s 3,679 registered voters.