Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

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The Oak Bluffs fire station. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 11:20 a.m., 11/21/2014

Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour brought good news to the selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday evening. “I’m pleased to announce that all approvals and permits are in place for the new fire/EMS station,” he said. “There will be a public groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, November 24, at 2 pm. I encourage anyone who can make it to attend. We don’t do a lot of groundbreakings around here.”

Mr. Whritenour’s announcement followed several weeks of scrambling by public officials. That came to a head at last Thursday’s planning board meeting, where a standing room only crowd gathered to see if the 17 months of planning and permitting and the years of lobbying for the $8.3 million fire/EMS station would finally come to fruition. Two weeks prior, the project had been cast in uncertainty when town building inspector Mark Barbadoro discovered that the project lacked the necessary site plan review and was in non-compliance with town zoning bylaws.

Alarming oversight

The situation came to light on the morning of October 31, when Mr. Barbadoro asked planning board chairman Brian Packish for the board’s site plan review, in order to process the construction permits.

“I told him ‘It’s funny you should ask because we don’t have one,’” Mr. Packish told The Times in a phone call. “I’d been asking for a site plan review since early spring and the town administrator and the building inspector told me it didn’t need one. I met with project manager Joe Sullivan and he told me he’d been asking about the site plan review since January. How can you possibly read section 10.4 in the zoning bylaws and say a new fire station doesn’t need a site plan review?”

Mr. Barbadoro contacted town counsel Michael Goldsmith immediately after his conversation with Mr. Packish. In an email exchange obtained by The Times, he wrote, “Section 10.4.1 item 1 of the Zoning Bylaw requires that ‘construction… over 500 square feet requires Site Plan Review by the Planning Board.’ It has come to my attention that the fire station has not been reviewed by the planning board…My concern is that if we do not obtain a valid site plan decision then I will have no legal document to enforce and if something goes wrong the town would have difficulty in court as a result. I do not want to stand in the way of progress but I want to make sure that the town is protected. Please let me know if you are aware of any exception.”

Mr. Goldsmith replied in an email that he knew of no exceptions to the bylaw and wrote that  town administrator Robert Whritenour should be apprised of the situation, “ASAP.”

“As you know Jim Dunn provided us with his opinion that site plan review was not required for this project,” Mr. Whritenour stated in an email to Mr. Packish, later that morning. “Otherwise we would have been in front of your Board last spring. If Jim was wrong that’s fine, but obviously that creates a problem now as the project has already been bid. I would certainly appreciate some time on your agenda for a review of the plan on November 13.”

In a comment emailed to The Times following publication of this story, former building inspector Jim Dunn said a plan review would have taken place after final plans and permit application had been received by the building department. “The final package for the fire station was submitted to the building department in August, about a week before my last day on August 12,” Mr. Dunn said in an email to The Times Friday.  “The package was never opened or reviewed. No decisions, recommendations or opinions were ever made by me.”

Pulled out of the fire

Mr. Packish accommodated Mr. Whritenour’s request and put the site plan review at the top of last Thursday night’s agenda. Mr. Whritenour was the first to speak. “We apologize to the planning board,” he said. “We’ve been working on these plans for over a year now and we should have been in front of you guys six months ago, but we really were unaware. I think we’ve been struggling a lot with the whole site plan and review process. Thankfully, after working with Mark Barbadoro and Brian [Packish], I think we have a good handle on everything now.”

Mr. Whritenour turned the presentation over to John Keenan and Antonia Kenny, principals in the Falmouth architectural firm Keenan and Kenny Ltd. After an hour of questions and discussion, the board approved the fire/EMS station with four conditions, two of them — a reconfigured wall around the generator and eight additional white pines on the north border — addressed sound mitigation for abutters. A bicycle rack requested by board member Erik Albert was also accommodated. The board also requested that the exhaust fan in the vehicle bay be pointed skyward, instead of horizontally at the abutting properties. Ms. Kenny said engineers had advised against it, but she agreed to re-investigate.

The board’s unanimous, somewhat tempered, approval gave the final go-ahead for construction of the long-awaited 20,250-square-foot fire/EMS station.

Emerging energy
In a later conversation with The Times, Mr. Packish said the outcome of the site plan review was never really in doubt. “Our hands were pretty well tied,” he said. “Legally, the planning board has 60 days to vet a project. We had seven days. But the last thing you want to do is show the process being ineffective at this final hour.”

Mr. Packish said concerns remain about compromises made in the name of expedience, particularly with parking. “When you think about a Sunday radio check or a pancake breakfast, or an EMT class, 15 spaces isn’t going to do it. When there’s a fire, it’s pretty safe to say that with 12 bays for emergency vehicles, 15 parking spaces isn’t enough. I’ve never seen people carpool when they respond to an alarm and I haven’t seen many come skidding in on their bicycle either.”

Aside from the site plan snafu, the quick, coordinated response of town officials underscored what some officials describe as emerging level of competence and cooperation in town government. “The town is making tremendous strides getting the right people in the right jobs,” capital programs committee chairman Bill McGrath told The Times.The process works. The planning board was fabulous. I know they spent a good week talking to people on the building committee. I can tell you the next time we build another building in town we’ll be going before the planning board early in the process.”

“Everyone was, to a person, very pleased with the way the planning board accommodated and how well Brian ran things,” building committee member and selectman Walter Vail told The Times in a phone call on Tuesday. “We’ll have a better town with the planning board taking a more active role. No doubt we should have acted on this sooner. We’ve all learned something through this.”

Although Mr. Packish was skeptical that experienced town officials were unaware of the planning board’s intended role in the process, he said the turmoil of the past few weeks was ultimately productive for the town  “As a result of this, we have better cooperation between the planning board, the new building inspector, the ZBA and some of the other departments,” he said. “As this dialogue continues, the hope is we’re going to create a better process and do some things differently in Oak Bluffs.”

Mr. Packish said that moving forward, the planning board will place a high priority on outreach, with increased social media presence and boots-on-the-ground consensus building. “On the local level, the state level, and the national level, outreach is the key to getting things done and to creating change.

The most dangerous words in the English language are ‘we’ve always done it that way.’ We’ve heard that way too much in Oak Bluffs.”

Update: This story was updated to reflect comments by former building inspector Jim Dunn who said in an email to The Times Friday that “No decisions, recommendations or opinions were ever made by me.”

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Clogs from baby wipes and other non-dispersable materials are an increasing problem at the Edgartown wastewater plant.

Baby wipes and dental floss can be useful in the bathroom, but these and other non-woven products, many of which are labeled “flushable,” are causing big headaches at wastewater facilities worldwide. The predicament is even more acute on the Island, where limited sewage and aging septic systems are cited as a major cause of the rapidly declining health of Island water bodies.

David Thompson, Facilities Manager at the Edgartown Waste Water Treatment Facility (EWWT), told The Times that the EWWT, which has the Island’s only septic receiving station, has been beset by clogs directly attributable to non-dispersing products.

“People are flushing baby wipes, make-up wipes, dental floss, Swiffer mop heads, and it’s costing us big money,” he said.

“These non-dispersing products don’t sink to the bottom and decay. They float on the top and cause problems,” he said. “If you have this raft of stuff inside a pump, the float isn’t going to operate properly because it won’t know when to turn on. Or the pump will turn on and not get the signal to turn off and the pump will burn out.”

Mr. Thompson said that during periods of elevated flow, non-dispersing material also sticks in bends in sewer pipes, then fats and greases congeal on them, creating a mass that traps more wipes in a vicious cycle. “Take one of those wipes and you can probably tear it apart with your hands. Then twist it into a rope, and you can get a couple of people can’t tear it apart.”

The EWWT is the only septic receiving station on the Island, so the impact of Islanders flushing non-dispersing materials is particularly severe.

“One baby, five diaper changes a day, times 365, for two years, is enough to make a septic fail,” Mr. Thompson said. “When failing septics get pumped out, all those wipes end up in my receiving machine. Multiply that by a couple thousand and that’s what we’re dealing with. When it gets packed in, I can’t even drive a chisel or screwdriver into it,”

The problem is compounding because adult consumption of baby wipes has tripled in the past decade, according to manufacturer Kimberly-Clark.

Tissue issues

A recent Consumer Reports study showed that a sheet of regular toilet paper falls apart in about eight seconds in swirled water, whereas a “disposable” wipe remained unchanged after 30 minutes. The majority of baby wipes on the market that are labeled “flushable,” are non-dispersing, according to Mr. Thompson.

The city of Portland, Maine, tried to address the issue with a series of humorous public service announcements, “What the Flush?”

The problem made international headlines in London in 2013 when London sewer officials investigated a rash of complaints from customers unable to flush their toilets, and subsequently found a 15-ton “fatberg,” the size of a double decker bus, composed of nonwoven fabrics balled up with fats, oils, and grease. In Canada, the Associated Press reported in November 2013 that flushed wipes cost municipal sewage treatment plants about $250 million per year. According to an article in New York magazine, an employee in the city’s department of environmental protection estimates the cost of clearing lines clogged with non-woven products at $18 million a year, not including staff overtime and damaged equipment costs.

Mr. Thompson said he knows of only one company that sells dispersing baby wipes, Sellars Wipers and Sorbents, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“We have to get the word out,” Mr. Thompson said. “Just because a package reads ‘flushable’ it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. If people care about their plumbing, about their septic system, about their sewer bills or about the environment, they have to start making some changes.”

In the 2010 Flood Insurance Rate Map, the high to moderate risk areas are in maroon and red. The minimal risk areas are in yellow and in gray. These demarcations may change when the new map is released by FEMA. —Map courtesy of MVC

Martha’s Vineyard property owners who live near the coast could see their insurance rates rise or fall depending on the final version of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) for Dukes county expected to be complete soon. One way homeowners can ensure that they receive the best and most accurate premium, experts told The Times, is to obtain what is known as an elevation certificate (EC).

While most communities on the Massachusetts shoreline have received their preliminary rate map, the FEMA website currently lists the Dukes County FIRM as “on hold.” This week, Kerry Bogdan, FEMA senior engineer, told The Times in an email, “While we are working hard to meet the projected schedule we last discussed, we are currently working to resolve an outstanding issue which could influence the projected timeline.”

Ms. Bogdan did not say what the outstanding issue is, but the delay presents an opportunity for Island homeowners to obtain an elevation certificate if they haven’t already done so.

FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) do not require homeowners to purchase flood insurance. FEMA simply identifies the high risk zones and NFIP provides government subsidized insurance.

The only time a property owner has to purchase insurance is when he/she takes out a loan with a lender that is using federal money or is insuring his/her assets through a federal insurance program. That said, flood insurance can be a wise investment, even for people not in high-risk flood zones, experts advise.

Zone defense
Homeowners who want the best possible flood insurance rate are advised to invest in an EC. It verifies the elevation of a structure relative to the the base flood elevation. Base flood elevation for a home is where the high water mark of a flood that has a one percent chance of being equaled or exceeded, also known as a 100 year event, reaches the “first living level” of the home. The EC is required to properly rate post-FIRM buildings, which are buildings constructed or substantially improved after December 31, 1974, or after the publication of the first FIRM for that particular community.

If a property owner wants to contest FEMA’s FIRM zone designation when the new FIRM comes out, the EC is their best asset to do so, and it is required in a request for a Letter of Map Amendment (LOMA).

“A [LOMA] is an individual’s best way to fight a zone designation,” a staff member for Massachusetts 9th district congressman Bill Keating told The Times on background. “It’s not as difficult as it seems at first glance. We can get help from the right people at FEMA to help people through it. It’s not an inexpensive process, but it can save a lot of money in the long run, which is why it’s so important to get it right from the beginning.”

Preventing costly mistakes
An EC can also help property owners avoid construction or renovation decisions where a few feet, or in some cases, a few inches, can cost them dearly.

“I recently spoke with a woman who raised her house so it was in compliance with floodplain ordinances,” a flood insurance consultant who spoke to The Times on background to protect the privacy of clients said. “Unfortunately, she enclosed the elevated area and didn’t put flood vents in, so [the base flood elevation] was rated at minus three feet, which put her annual premiums at $4,400 or more. If she had had flood vents, she would have been rated at a plus five, which would have been roughly $480 per year.”

The consultant also spoke about a recent case where the owner of a newly constructed home didn’t properly complete work on the land surrounding his home. “He got a finished elevation certificate prior to laying the sod around his home. His floor was above base flood elevation, but his lowest adjacent grade — elevation of the lowest ground touching the structure’s foundation — was not above base flood elevation, by an inch. That inch will cost him thousands of dollars by keeping him in a flood zone.”

Big savings
According to, the National Flood Insurance Plan (NFIP) website, a homeowner with a house worth $250,000 can save more than $90,000 over 10 years by building three feet over base flood elevation.

Raising a structure is not the only way to achieve proper base flood elevation, according to the insurance consultant.

“If they’re in a hazard zone and they have a basement, filling in the basement, and creating a non-subterranean crawl space under the house with flood vents, can be very cost-effective,” he said. “Some people gasp at the idea, but if your basement floor is six feet below base flood elevation and your post-FIRM insurance costs are $4,000 per year, it can be a smart thing to do. It may cost you $15,000 to fill in the basement and move your utilities, but your insurance costs may be reduced by $3,600 per year. This return on investment would pay off in less than 5 years and you reduce the risk of enduring flood damage. It’s a win-win for homebuyer and seller.”

Changing a basement to a crawl space can also make that home more valuable and provide more equity that buyers may be able to qualify to purchase, since they won’t have to expend $150- $300 per month on flood insurance. The only way to know if changing the basement to a crawl space will yield savings is by having an EC completed and discussing the survey with a community code enforcement officer, the consultant said.

Although rising ocean levels and climate change lead many to assume that new FIRMs invariably raise insurances rates, in some cases, they can help lower insurance rates. “I just got off the phone with a gentleman from a Massachusetts shore area who’d had flood insurance for 40 years,” the consultant said. “He was rated in a V zone. When the new maps came out they designated him in a C zone. His insurance agent petitioned for refunds for this year and last year because the older maps didn’t have aerial photos which clearly identified where his building was in comparison to the flood plain. His premiums went from almost $3,000 to $450 dollars and he’s going to be grandfathered into the X zone rather than the V zone.  He’s very happy that the new maps came out.”

Preferred risk
Coastal areas vulnerable to flooding are numerous in Massachusetts and on Martha’s Vineyard. These areas are identified on the FIRM as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). SFHAs of high to moderate hazard begin with the letter A and the letter V. Moderate low risk zones are labeled either B, C or X. If a homeowner is not in a SFHA, he or she can qualify for a preferred risk policy extension (PRP), which has substantially lower rates than SFHA policies.

Owners in an X zone who think they could be reassigned into an A or V zone when the new FIRM comes out, should act quickly or risk not qualifying for the PRP. Once the new FIRM is released, it’s too late. There’s another wrinkle coming down the road, the “newly mapped property table” designation, which will go into effect on April 1, 2015.

If a homeowner takes out a PRP on December 1, 2014, and the maps change in July 2015, when they renew on December 1, 2015, they will qualify for the “newly mapped property table,” which for the first year will be a preferred rate. On December 1, 2016, the policy will be renewed by grandfathering or on base flood elevation, which means providing an elevation certificate.

“If you took the policy out before the maps changed and you were in a low hazard zone, then you’re going to be grandfathered in the lower risk zone, rather than the A or V zone. That could easily mean a price difference in premiums of $1,000 to $2,000,” he said.
EC’s do not have to be done repeatedly. If a homeowner gets an EC this year and it says that the lowest adjacent grade is one inch above the base flood elevation, they are not in the flood zone.

“If the maps change next year and the base flood elevation in your area goes up two feet, your elevation certificate is still good,” the consultant said. “However, you would be in a special flood hazard area.”

An EC must be filled out by a qualified engineer or surveyor. It can cost anywhere from $500 to over $1,500. “I always encourage neighbors to pool their resources. Surveyors base their measurements on the property benchmarks. Why not involve the neighbors who share those benchmarks and defray your cost?”

According to FEMA, every home is in a flood zone. It’s the potential for flooding that varies. A homeowner needn’t live on a shoreline to benefit from a preferred risk policy, or the investment in an EC.

“I recently had a situation where a large water main broke and flooded a number of houses,” the insurance expert said. “Fire and homeowners insurance doesn’t cover a situation like that. Only flood insurance covers foundation damage. Since their house is the most valuable asset for many people, it makes sense to get flood insurance. And an elevation certificate ensures they get the correct insurance.”

More information about elevation certificates and FIRMs can be found at FEMA’s recently launched Flood Map Service Center  website.

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At a meeting on October 28, Matthew Dix (center), Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank foreman, appealed to dog owners to stay on the Land Bank trails. —Photo by Michael Cummo

About a dozen dogs and their owners recently gathered at Trade Wind Fields Preserve off County Road in Oak Bluffs to hear Matthew Dix,  Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank foreman, describe the ecological damage the 71.8-acre parcel has sustained from years of increased dog walking traffic off marked trails and what the Land Bank is attempting to do to curtail it.

As their canine counterparts cavorted in the parking lot at the meeting held October 28, it was the dog owners who did the growling. Mr. Dix had barely finished introducing himself when he was beset with complaints about the bright green DO NOT ENTER signs that he’d installed at various trailheads, the message sometimes reinforced with a felled pitch pine.

“Who’s saying there’s a problem?” Jack Krowski of Oak Bluffs said. “This puts a terrible taste in my mouth. I’ve been coming here for years. A lot of us come here for quiet enjoyment and there’s never been any problem. This is a form of bullying. I just bought a house near here, and I paid $4,000 [to the Land Bank]. Now you’re trying to take this away?”

“If I didn’t have this place I’d move off the Island, that’s how important it is to me,” Marianne Goldsmith said.

Mr. Dix, a 24-year employee of the Land Bank and veteran of many heated land use meetings, explained, “We’re not trying to take anything away from anybody. We’re trying to re-establish a set of trails that were here from the beginning.” Mr. Dix said the goal is to get people and their pooches to stick to the two miles of Land Bank trails that ring the property, and to deter people from crossing the unplanned trails that have evolved over time, several of which bisect the runway and the taxiway of the grass airstrip, and traverse through rare plants and rare insect habitat.

Rare earth

In this aerial view of Trade Winds Fields, the red lines indicate unauthorized trails. — Courtesy of the Martha's Vineyar
In this aerial view of Trade Winds Fields, the red lines indicate unauthorized trails. — Courtesy of the Martha’s Vineyar

Trade Wind is a sandplain grassland, a habitat that is dwindling on the Island as tree growth expands. “It’s a mosaic, it’s grass and shrub and heath land, a classic example of a sandplain,” Julie Russell, Land Bank ecologist, told The Times. “The wind and salt in the air, and the continued mowing over the years to keep it as an airstrip, have kept the pitch pines and oaks from taking over. I work with a lot of different properties and I can count on one hand the places where I can find some of these rare plants.”

Ms. Russell said the rare grasses include the rarest strain of sand plain blue-eyed grass, which is not actually a grass but part of the Iris family and classified as endangered by the National Heritage Endangered Species program (NHES). Other wildlife of concern is purple needle grass, considered threatened by the NHES, and the purple tiger beetle, which is listed as a species of special concern by the NHES. There were three patches of purple needle grass, until one was obliterated by an improvised trail.

Forging an old path

Mr. Dix took responsibility for the current conundrum. “It’s my fault for not stopping this 15 years ago when it really started to snowball,” he told The Times. “There weren’t many dogs here until around 1996, maybe 20 people a day. Now, Trade Wind is by far the most used Land Bank property on a year-round basis.”

The Land Bank paid $2.75 million for the Trade Wind property in 1989, deconstructing the plans of developers Ed Jigarjian and Joe Esco, who intended to build 32 condos, a clubhouse with indoor pool, tennis courts, and 12  2,500-square-feet homes. Over the years, Trade Wind has become so popular with dog owners it’s become known as “the dog park” in Island argot. According to Oak Bluffs land bank commissioner Priscilla Sylvia, even first responders refer to Trade Wind as “the dog park.”

Ms. Sylvia expressed similar concerns about the direction of Trade Wind. “The Land Bank purchased a globally rare sand plain that feeds directly into the Farm Neck well,” she told The Times. “I think that there is overuse by good meaning people. I’m hoping we can coexist. This is a very important piece of land. We need to protect it at all costs.”

Over the years, Mr. Dix has tried various signage to inform the public and to protect the property. Previous signs that gently asked people not to cross, with a detailed explanation, were ineffective. The recently installed “DO NOT ENTER” signs inflamed more than they informed. It was the reaction to these signs, which one dog owner referred to as “scolding,” that prompted Mr. Dix to initiate the current series of informational sessions.

“We’ve tried the middle ground with signage, but it’s clearly not working,” he said. “We considered a wide range of solutions, including fencing, but we don’t want to do that. We want the public to use it, we’re just asking to stay on the trail system.”

A common refrain Mr. Dix has heard is that a twomile loop is too long for elderly dog walkers. “I’m 76, sometimes it’s okay for me to walk the whole thing, sometimes I’m too tired and I have to cross over,” Ms. Goldsmith said. “I approve of much of what you’re doing. I don’t like your argument that  if you let us cross one place, then we’ll take advantage, like we’re all natural transgressors. Just give us two or three shortcuts.”

Sara Barnes suggested that Mr. Dix enlist dog walkers to help repair the sandplain. “We can help with the reseeding in the spring,” she said. “I know a lot of us would be willing to help. But please take those signs down, they’re really annoying.”

Lessons learned

A few days after the October 28 information session, less combative signs were installed that read, “Please stay on marked trail.”

Mr. Dix said the informational sessions have been productive in other ways.  “I like the idea of forming an advisory committee of dog walkers,” he said. “I learned there’s a willingness to compromise and it’s good to know some people are willing to help us plant grasses and self-police the place.”

The biggest takeaway, according to Mr. Dix, is that as Trade Wind has grown into an Island-wide dog park, a tightly knit family of dog owners has grown along with it. “We definitely underestimated the social value this place has for so many people,” he said.

Over the past 20 years, Trade Wind has become a defacto town square where dogs and humans socialize on a daily basis. It’s an informal group, but tight enough to have its own Facebook page, with posts about dogs for adoption, health updates on dogs and owners, disapproval for the new Land Bank signs, and considerably more disapproval for whomever tore one of them down.

A jar of dog biscuits is taped to a tree at each trailhead and kept stocked by anonymous biscuit fairies. Lawn furniture, recently and mysteriously donated, also sits at the trailhead. Mr. Dix inflamed the dog walking constituency when he removed the chairs the previous week. He admitted it was a mistake, and they were put back within 48 hours. This past Monday, the late afternoon regulars, many of whom are sharing Thanksgiving together, occupied the chairs while their dogs romped en masse.

“We really appreciate the Land Bank for letting us come here with our dogs,” Vasha Brunelle of Vineyard Haven said. “This is the highlight of the day for many of us.”

“This is one of the best dog parks anywhere,” Phil Pankiewicz of Vineyard Haven said, petting his dog, Daisy. “We’re willing to work with the Land Bank. But they have to realize, a lot of seniors walk out here and they can’t do a two mile loop. So let us keep two of the paths, that’s all.”

Mr. Pankiewicz recently suffered a heart attack when he was driving to Trade Wind with Daisy. He drove himself to the hospital and he was quickly airlifted to a hospital on the Cape, with Daisy waiting in the car. Someone from Trade Wind, he’s still not sure who, got the word to a neighbor who took care of Daisy until Mr. Pankiewicz returned to the Island.

“We look out for each other,” Nancy Blank of Oak Bluffs told The Times. “If we don’t see one of the regulars, we’ll check and see if they’re okay. We’ve helped each other through illnesses, housing crises, all kinds of things. We’re all brought together by our dogs, and we love this place.”

“We live for this place,” Mr. Pankiewicz said, as he headed into the gloaming of a cold November day, with Daisy following close behind.

Mr. Dix will host additional information sessions on Thursday, Nov. 13, at 4 pm and on Monday, Nov. 17, at 12 noon, at the Trade Wind parking lot on County Road. The Land Bank management plan for Trade Wind Fields is available at

The Oak Bluffs wastewater treatment plant processed 30.3 million gallons of sewage in 2013. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated 6:20 pm, Friday

At a recent meeting of the Oak Bluffs Wastewater Commission on October 15, members of the Oak Bluffs Association (OBA), several of them among the town’s largest users, expressed their unhappiness with the current rate structure. They also charged that the town had, over a six-year period, mistakenly drawn over $650,000 from the wastewater enterprise fund, money that should have been used to defray system costs, and as a result the largest users paid more than their fair share.

A closer examination of their complaints revealed that several years ago the confluence of dire financial times and the untimely death of town treasurer Paul Manzi contributed to an accounting oversight, in which a one time emergency transfer from the wastewater enterprise fund repeated for an additional four years.

A look across the state reveals that Oak Bluffs has one  of the highest sewage rates in Massachusetts. As the town considers additional sewering to address the rapidly declining health of water bodies, business owners who contend they’ve already shouldered an inordinate amount of the town sewering costs want to see changes in the department’s operation and rate structure.

Punitive rates
Oak Bluffs wastewater customers are billed on an ascending scale, meaning the price per gallon goes up as usage increases. OBA board director Terry McCarthy said the ascending scale places an undue burden on the larger businesses, especially restaurants and hotels, that already contribute considerable excise tax revenue to town coffers. “From a big user’s point of view, the ascending scale is punitive,” Mr. McCarthy, a former state representative who has harborside commercial interests, told The Times. “They say it’s to make people conserve, but I think that argument is a little specious. With a flat rate, you pay more if you use more, so that incentive is still there. This is particularly hard on restaurants and hotels. If you run a large hotel, what do you do? Make people take shorter showers?”

“The ascending rate structure is endorsed by Department of Environmental Protection because it encourages people to save water,” wastewater commissioner and selectman Gail Barmakian told The Times.  “Some very big users have saved considerable amounts of water, and saved themselves a lot of money, so it does work. Also, you have to consider that being hooked up to wastewater has allowed some businesses to expand and become more profitable. That’s a service to the town as well, but it gives them an advantage.”
About one third of Massachusetts communities bill on an ascending scale, according to the 2012 Tighe and Bond Massachusetts sewer rate survey.

Oak Bluffs property owners are charged a penny a gallon for the first 40,000 gallons used per annum and the rate goes up in 40,000 gallon increments until it tops out at 2.8 cents a gallon for 360,001 gallons and above. There is no difference between commercial and residential rates. Usage rates have not increased since the system went into operation on April 1, 2002.

According to the Tighe and Bond survey, the average yearly charge for sewage in Oak Bluffs was $1,020. The state average was $646. Only 12 percent of communities in the survey averaged $1,000 or more per year. Comparatively, the Edgartown annual average was $520, according to the survey. Tisbury, was not listed in the survey, but according to the town website, the department of public works charges a flat fee of 3.1 cents per gallon.

Sludge is costly
Lisa Merritt, an Oak Bluffs wastewater department administrator and lab technician who’s been with the department since its inception, told The Times there are many reasons why Oak Bluffs sewage rates rank among the highest in the state. “We have to ship our sludge off Island, which costs over $80,000 a year,” she said. “We run a sequencing batch reactor plant (SBR), which is expensive because it requires over 300 grinder pumps, working 24/7, and they need maintenance 24/7. An SBR plant has the smallest footprint and it’s the cheapest to build, but it’s also the least cost-effective in the long run.  Another reason is our effluent — the treated water — is pumped under Ocean Park, which is extremely expensive. Edgartown uses open pits.”

Burdensome betterments
In addition to usage fees, Oak Bluffs wastewater customers pay betterment fees, which cover the actual cost of installing the sewering and thereby “bettering” their property. Betterment fees were initially $10,000 for residences and $20,000 for businesses. In 2007, betterment fees were recalculated based on usage, again hitting the biggest users the hardest.

According to Peter Martell, owner of the 95-room Wesley Hotel, the largest hotel in Oak Bluffs, his betterment fee increased 1000 percent. “The original price for betterments was $10,000 for a residence and $20,000 for a business,” Mr. Martell told The Times. “The state didn’t like that formula for some reason. So my betterment bill went from $20,000 to $200,000 in one year.”

Ms. Merritt said the initial betterment fees were always noted as temporary. “You cannot give a final betterment figure until all of the final bills are tallied when a new wastewater system or any large project is complete,” she wrote in an email to The Times. “It was explained to everyone that the [initial] estimates had been recalculated using water usage and included the final numbers for the completion of building the new wastewater treatment plant. In the case of the Wesley Hotel, the betterment was $168,675.69,” Ms. Merritt wrote. “The new betterment figure started the 20-year repayment period over again in 2007, subtracting what was paid between 2002 and 2007 with a repayment interest rate of 2 percent.”

Room to flow
According to Mr. McCarthy, who was a member of the first Oak Bluffs wastewater committee, it was assumed the treatment plant would need to expand its footprint for additional sewering around the ponds, the harbor, and other critical areas. As a result, they purchased a five-acre lot directly across Pennsylvania Ave., known as the Leonardo property. But when it came time to make the payment in FY 2009, the town was broke.

“When the first year principal was due, [town administrator] Michael Dutton and [town treasurer] Paul Manzi went to wastewater begging us to help pay just this one time,” Mr. McCarthy said.

According to the minutes from the March 12, 2008 water commissioners meeting, “Paul Manzi also requested that the Wastewater Department pay the Leonardo property loan payment this year and for one year only because the Town is in a budget shortfall. The loan payment is approximately $136,000.”

At town meeting in April 2008 (FY 2009), the town approved an article to pay for the Leonardo property. “This year only, the wastewater department will be paying for the principal and interest for the purchase of the Leonardo property,” voters were told in the executive summary.

“We were told this was a one time deal to get the town out of a tight spot,” Mr. McCarthy said. “But subsequent to that in [FY] 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014, the payments continued and nobody was ever told. Never once did anybody, from the finance committee or the selectmen go to the wastewater commission and say, ‘By the way, we’re going to just tap these payments out of your account.’

“Since the money is controlled by the town, even though it’s our fund, it’s very frustrating. There was a total of $794,871 taken out of our account, of which only $136,500 was actually authorized by wastewater commissioners. Somebody made the decision to quietly and covertly make these payments in subsequent years, but no one was told these amounts were being appropriated from the Wastewater Retained Earnings Fund.”

After investigating Mr. McCarthy’s claims, town accountant Arthur Gallagher told The Times that Mr. McCarthy was essentially correct, except that the town, not the wastewater commission, covered the $117,125 mortgage payment in FY 2014.

Mr. Gallagher, who became town accountant in March 2012, said he could only speculate on why the wastewater enterprise fund was repeatedly tapped for the Leonardo property purchase. “What I think occurred is with the death of Mr. Manzi, no one in the Town’s administration knew the terms of the agreement and therefore continued to charge wastewater 100 percent of the pay down,” he wrote to The Times. “Additionally, the consultants hired to fill this void would not be charged with changing and or setting new policies. Not being present during [that] period, this is all supposition on my part.”

Mr. Gallagher said the town will pay off the rest of the loan. “Typically these payments would be split 50-50 with the town,” he said. “Wastewater made the paid first five payments and we’re paying the last five that will be reduced in budget moving forward.”

Water under the bridge
“We’re not pointing a finger at anyone,” OBA vice president Renee Balter said. “We discovered this problem and think it should be given some thought.” Ms. Balter also said that future town meeting appropriation articles should close the loophole that says, “or to take from any other source.”

Some business owners would like to see reduced rates to make up for the yeoman’s share they’ve paid over the years. “If they’ve been taking $100,000 plus every year it stands to reason they could give a reduced rate, or increased flow, to the high gallonage people,” Mr. McCarthy said.

Mr. Martell concurred. “The bottom line is our fees should be dropped,” he said. “I give them the benefit of the doubt, they can’t drop it much. The only way to do that is to expand the system, and the town needs to do that to save the ponds. Hopefully it’s not too late.”

Mr. McCarthy said that the current town sewering and treatment plant are greatly diminished versions of what he and some of the original wastewater commission advocated. “There was a contingent, which I was a part of, that wanted to sewer most of the town, and there was a strong contingent that wanted to kill the whole thing, because they thought sewering would encourage development and ruin the environment,” he said. “Now we’re trying to figure out ways to sewer areas near the Lagoon, Sunset Lake, Crystal Lake, and Sengekontacket, and we’re going to pay a helluva lot more for it than we would have back then. That’s water under the bridge. Moving forward we have to work with commissioners and selectmen to develop a long-range plan to increase treatment capacity, and we have to act quickly.”

Correction: A reference to the Edgartown wastewater plant in an earlier version of this story mischaracterized some of that plant’s operations and accounting systems. There is no additional drain charge. Bills are calculated by the current charge of $68 per drain. The Edgartown system is not almost entirely a gravity collection system. In fact, of the 1,100 accounts there are more than 400 grinder pumps. Edgartown did not avoid sludge shipping costs and spent $110,000 to ship and dispose of 675 tons of sludge off-Island in FY14. Lastly, while a filter press reduces transport costs, the processing and disposal of septic tank waste and the sludge generated from it are operating costs for the facility ($65,000 in FY14). Revenue from septic haulers does not go into the facility’s operating budget, but is returned to the town’s general fund.

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,, 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 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, 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

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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 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.

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

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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.