Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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Mary Nada, a founder and fundraising campaign chairman of Vineyard House, cuts the ribbon to open the new facility. —Photo by Michael Cumm0

Frigid temperatures and the slate-gray skies didn’t dampen the spirit of the celebratory crowd gathered for the official opening of the new Vineyard House residential campus off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven Friday. The crowd included Vineyard House alumni, board members, volunteers, and clinicians who battle in the trenches against one of the Island’s most critical health problems. Hugs, handshakes, and high-fives were abundant among the close-knit group, which easily numbered over 100.

A half-hour before the ribbon-cutting ceremony, personnel from an amalgam of Island contractors, including Tea Lane Nursery, Squash Meadow Construction, Tabor Tree & Land, Mahoney’s, and Daniel Rogers Excavating, were raking and shoveling and zipping around in Bobcats at a frenetic pace. Dawn Bellante-Holand, managing director of Vineyard House, told The Times it had taken a Herculean effort to make the grounds presentable after the torrential rains earlier in the week.

“These crews have been working from seven in the morning until midnight,” she said. “A few days ago, we were knee-deep in mud. We tried to get wood chips to soak up the water, and we were told it would take two days to get the trucks. We asked John Keene, and he had trucks ready to go in 20 minutes. You hear people say that this is a close-knit community, but the generosity that Islanders have shown to make this happen is just amazing.”

A pathway is marked by honorary and memorial bricks. —Photo by Michael Cummo
A pathway is marked by honorary and memorial bricks. —Photo by Michael Cummo

While the landscaping was still a work in progress, five new cedar-shingled buildings, each with a Christmas wreath on the door, stood ready to take in Islanders in the early stages of recovery.

“I’m glad I have to speak over such a festive group,” Ms. Bellante-Holand said, taking the podium. “This has been such a heartwarming experience. The love and the joy that is already in these rooms and in these houses is because of the generosity of our community.” Ms. Bellante-Holand gave special thanks to interior designer Julie Robinson: “Julie has literally done everything from choosing the paint to figuring out the width of headboards to how to get more storage space, and no matter how busy she was, she always made time for us.”

Bill Potter, president of Squash Meadow Construction, lead contractor for the project, said he and his wife have been part of Vineyard House “in one way or another since the very first house came into existence. To see the transformation from where Vineyard House was then and where it is today is just mindblowing.”

Mr. Potter said a large number of Vineyard House alumni were involved with the construction. He added that the building committee, Squash Meadow Construction, and Mashek MacLean Architects worked hand in glove. All deserved a share of the praise, he said.

“We worked together on the project with same spiritual principles as recovery, such as trust and love and compassion,” he said. “It resulted in not only the biggest project we’ve ever done but also the easiest and most seamless project. I may be up here getting the accolades, but it’s the culmination of so many people that gave their time, all the subcontractors that spent that extra hour or two hours, or took that extra five grand off the budget. It’s been an honor to be part of this.”

Mr. Potter concluded his remarks by noting that one day earlier, the new buildings were officially LEED certified. A LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification is awarded when a new building shows exemplary energy efficiency and environmental design, and it requires a rigorous third-party inspection to qualify.

“The houses are state of the art, and they were done on budget and on time,” he said. “From day one everything has fallen into place, beyond our wildest dreams.”

Since 1997 Vineyard House has been the only long-term sober-living facility for Islanders who are coming back to the Island after detox or rehab. Initially located in Oak Bluffs, there was one building that housed eight men, then another home that housed seven men was quickly added, and in 1999 a house with five beds was added for women.

Happy attendees toured the grounds after the ribbon was snipped. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Happy attendees toured the grounds after the ribbon was snipped. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The Vineyard House capital committee started raising funds for the new campus in 1997, and got off to a blazing start with an anonymous $500,000 donation. After eight years of fundraising, which was temporarily stymied during the economic downturn, the capital committee reached its $3 million goal in January. A big piece of the puzzle came into place in 2006 when Jerry Goodale offered the 4.4-acre tract of land off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven to the board for $270,000, far below market price. Money from the capital fund, along with proceeds from the sale of the existing Oak Bluffs houses, enabled the new campus to be built without Vineyard House incurring any debt.

Friday morning Ms. Bellante-Holand introduced Mary Nada, a founder of Vineyard House and board member for more than 17 years, as the driving force in the fundraising campaign. “Through her own perseverance, sheer will, and charm, Mary had done the majority of the fundraising for what you see behind you,” Ms. Bellante-Holand said. “Mary made sure that the flickering light that was the capital campaign was never extinguished.” To honor Ms Nada’s efforts, Ms. Bellante-Holand asked her to cut the ribbon.
“I just want to say nobody ever does this singlehandedly,” Ms. Nada said. “I’m ruthless, and half of you know that. The other half of you, I’ll get to you later.” Speaking briefly with The Times, Ms. Nada gave high praise to Mr. Potter and the remarkably short time it took him and his subcontractors to build the campus. “Squash Meadow pulled a rabbit out of a hat,” she said.

Housewarming
A long line of celebrants waited patiently in the cold to tour the new men’s residence. Inside, the smell of fresh paint still hung in the air, and the wood floors were polished to a shine. A time-lapse video showing the construction of the campus played on a TV in an expansive living room. Dianne Mackellar, substance abuse counselor at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, who, along with Hazel Teagan, is on call 24/7 to help addicts and their loved ones through short-term crises and long-term recovery, beamed with pride as she toured the building. “Seven men are moving in tomorrow, three more on Sunday, and we interview two more next week,” she said. “My phone has been ringing off the hook with new applicants.”

The new Vineyard House will be home to 24 people — two houses will accommodate 17 men, and one house will accommodate seven women. Additionally, there will be an office building and a common building with a meeting room. A short stretch of sidewalk that leads to the meeting room is made of bricks, some of which are inscribed with messages — some had words of encouragement; some memorialized those who lost their battle with addiction. One of them read, “Thanks to Vineyard House, we have our son back.”

For more information about Vineyard House, call 508-693-8580, or go to vineyardhouse.org.

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—Photo courtesy WikiMedia Commons

This is the eighth installment in a continuing look at drug abuse and its effect on the Island community. The series began on Jan. 2 with “Opiate addiction hits home,” followed on Jan. 22 by “Martha’s Vineyard police and physicians confront opiate abuse,” on Feb. 12 “Opiates, a love story,”  on May 7 “Battling addiction on Martha’s Vineyard,” on June 5 “Section 35: When addiction calls for drastic action,”  on June 25 “Intervention — tackling addiction head-on with Island and Cape resources,” and on August 27 “Island concrete contractor builds a foundation for recovery.”

Earlier this year, Governor Deval Patrick signed off on $20 million for the Department of Public Health (DPH) to map a long-term solution for the addiction epidemic in Massachusetts. In August, he signed a bill that requires insurers to reimburse patients for addiction treatment from licensed counselors, and guarantees coverage for up to 14 days for inpatient care. Yet as more and more resources are spent on the state and local level to fight addiction, the death toll from overdoses continues to climb.

According to Massachusetts State Police, there were 53 suspected heroin or opiate overdose deaths across the state this month. There have been eight overdose deaths on Martha’s Vineyard in the past 16 months, according to Dr. Charles Silberstein, resident psychiatrist and substance abuse specialist at Martha’s Vineyard hospital.

The demand for beds in detox and inpatient-care facilities continues to vastly outstrip supply. Outpatient services remain stretched to the limit, and the relapse rates for opioids and heroin, the most virulent substances in the addiction pandemic, remain as high as 90 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

More and more, clinicians are focusing on prevention rather than cleaning up the wreckage that addiction invariably brings. Gosnold on Cape Cod is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that treats the majority of the Vineyarders who seek inpatient treatment for addiction.

“The more we get into data analytics and the more we bring behavioral health into the mainstream of medical care, the things those of us in the field have known for many years are becoming apparent — patients who suffer with addiction add tremendously to the overall health care cost and to the social welfare cost,” Gosnold on Cape Cod President and CEO Ray Tamasi told The Times. “People tend to think of the immediate fixes, like we need more hospital beds. That may be the case, but my feeling is the longer-range solution has to involve something much more substantial and sweeping, which is where prevention comes in.”

Early signs
Mr. Tamasi said that there are clear markers for people who are prone to addiction, rooted in nature and nurture, that are often overlooked. “There are predisposing factors in addiction, and we know what they are. But we’re not doing an awful lot in response with that knowledge,” he said. “We know that there’s a much higher risk with children that are born into a family where one or both biological parents have addiction issues. I was talking to a husband and wife a few weeks ago; both of them are in long-term recovery, and they just had a child. On the first day of that child’s existence, he’s got a 70 percent chance of developing addiction. These considerations need to be addressed at birth.”

Mr. Tamasi said that addiction-prevention efforts are reaching out to an increasingly younger audience. “Historically when we’ve gone into schools it’s been mostly focused on high schools,” he said. “Now we’re in middle schools and we’re in elementary schools, and we go as early as kindergarten. Obviously these children aren’t using substances, but they are coming to school with enough distress that’s interfering with their ability to learn and to adapt to the school environment. Whether they come from a family that is predisposed to addiction or not, as they move along, without some intervention to address those emotional issues, when they encounter a substance that changes the way they feel, and makes them feel more normal, if you will, they are primed for the repeat experience, and when that happens, the train has left the station. The encouraging thing is we can identify these high-risk kids at an early age. The key will be, what can we do that can right the ship?”

ABCs of addiction
A pilot program, developed at Gosnold and funded in part by the Tower Foundation and the Bilezikian Family Foundation, is sending five licensed clinical social workers into 10 schools at all levels on the Cape.

Patty Mitrokostas, director of prevention and school-based counseling at Gosnold, told The Times, “A lot of what we are doing at the elementary level is responding to issues identified by teachers and counselors that are possibly rooted in family issues — the child is often tired or sad, not appropriately dressed, or maybe hasn’t had breakfast. Teachers are also educated on the signs of depression, anger-management issues, and anxiety disorders. If we can engage the family early enough, the chances are much better that the child will learn healthy coping skills and that mental health care can be destigmatized to adult family members who might resist it. If a child learns that it’s okay to be nervous sometimes and learns to cope at a young age, that’s an extremely valuable lesson to learn at school.”

Ms. Mitrokostas said an indicator of the program’s success is the increased demand for the counselors’ services: “In our original grant application, we were looking to fund five counselors. Now we’re looking to double that number by year three. I give kudos to the schools for being so receptive to the program.”

Talking to teens
The teenage years are crucial in predicting addiction predilection, according to Mr. Tamasi. “We know when young people start using alcohol and smoking pot before the age of 14, they have a four to six times greater likelihood of developing a dependence,” he said. “The biggest change in high schools has been the very rapid migration into opiate pain pills. From there we’re seeing a very quick move to heroin, which is where we’re seeing more and more overdoses. The introduction to mind-altering substances has traditionally been alcohol and marijuana, which is still often the case, but we’re seeing a lot more young people taking an opiate. There’s also the perception that if it’s made by a pharmaceutical company, it’s safe, but they don’t realize how rapidly these medications produce dependency.”

Mr. Tamasi said families can be very reluctant to acknowledge addiction. “No one wants this to be happening, and the natural tendency is to minimize it,” he said. “When you wait too long and the problem has become obvious to everyone, it’s a lot harder to get the horse back into the barn. The earlier you start talking about these things, the better chance you have of forestalling or preventing substance abuse.”

How should parents respond if their child comes home under the influence? “You sit down the next day and say, ‘We’re going to a professional and talk about this,’” Mr. Tamasi said. “That does not equate with ‘you’re addicted.’ It really has to do with education and awareness and interrupting the cycle. Teens often deny it. It’s like a lot of things, the first impulse is to say, ‘It’s not really a problem.’ There’s always someone they can point to who’s deeper in addiction. It’s not just the young person that does it; families often do it too.”

In general, Mr. Tamasi is not an advocate for drug testing at home. “If the young person has access to the family vehicle, that might be a reason to do it, but I’m not a great fan of testing, unless it’s recovery management,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a need for a family member to find incontrovertible evidence. You’re not trying a case. This is a family issue now, so if the teen won’t go for professional help, the family member can go. Then it’s a matter of customizing an approach. When all else fails, tell the truth and be candid.”

“Families are the most influential factor in a child’s development, even through high school,” Ms. Mitrokostas said. “The more educated the parents are about abuse prevention and mental health, the better for everyone.”

Dr. Charles Silberstein agrees with Mr. Tamasi and Ms. Mitrokostas. “The main reason people use substances is for a sense of connection,” he said. “Drugs can give an artificial sense of connection, and I think that’s why a lot of kids use them. The world feels lonely and they don’t feel connected to family. There was a study done that showed nightly family dinners are a predictor of not engaging in substance abuse,” he said, referring to the 2011 study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The study concludes, “Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners (5 to 7 per week), those who have infrequent family dinners (fewer than 3 per week) are almost 4 times likelier to use tobacco; more than twice as likely to use alcohol; 2½ times likelier to use marijuana; and almost 4 times likelier to say they expect to try drugs in the future.”

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Citing the dramatic turnaround in town fortunes since Robert Whritenour took office, the board unanimously approved a pay hike.

Citing his exemplary performance since 2012, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted unanimously to give town administrator Robert Whritenour a raise. – File photo by Ralph Stewart

Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour will have a little extra money to spend on Christmas presents this holiday season. Meeting in executive session following their October 28 meeting, selectmen held a performance review and followed it up with a unanimous vote to give the town administrator a three percent step increase effective immediately this fiscal year and next.

The raise was announced at Tuesday night’s regular meeting by chairman Greg Coogan. “It’s well deserved and overdue,“ he said.

Speaking with The Times earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Coogan was more expansive about the reasons for the raise. “He’s done so many things in a positive way for the town,” he said. “He’s very responsive to the board’s wishes. He’s put us in a great financial position. He’s made it an inclusive style working with the members of the finance committee, he’s making solid plans for the future with the capital improvement committee, and we’re going in a very positive direction so we can take proactive steps in improving the town infrastructure.”

Mr. Coogan also said that Mr. Whritenour has shown exemplary dedication to the town. “Bob puts himself through a lot on a daily basis with his travel,” he said, referring to Mr. Whritenour’s daily commute from Falmouth. “We know he sacrifices a lot to come to the Island and we know he’s developed a real love for Oak Bluffs, not just for the people but also for the uniqueness of Oak Bluffs.”

“We got Bob at a bargain price and he clearly earned his keep,” selectman Walter Vail told The Times on Tuesday before that night’s meeting. “It was the only fair thing to do. I hope somewhere down the road, before his contract runs out, that we can put in place a reasonable extension on it. I think the rest of the board would agree with me.”

Reached by phone, selectman Gail Barmakian had no comment on the raise.

Mr. Whritenour was named town administrator in February 2012. His current contract, which expires in 2017, called for him to receive $128,051 in FY 2014, which ends June 30, 2015.

“I’m very appreciative of the board’s action,” Mr. Whritenour told The Times on Wednesday. “I was quite moved actually. I didn’t request a raise. I’m very happy to be working for this town.”

Mr. Whritenour said a provision of his contract requires the selectmen to make an annual evaluation. While his three evaluations have been positive, Mr. Whritenour, citing hard financial times, said he had not requested or received any step increases, which according to his contract, can be roughly three percent a year with a favorable board review. “I didn’t put it in the budget because things have been so tight and the focus has been on the health of the town’s finances,” he said.

Mr. Whritenour said that selectmen based this fiscal year’s step increase on last year’s evaluation and next year’s step increase on this year’s evaluation.

Formerly Falmouth’s town manager, Mr. Whritenour was named interim town administrator in September 2011 and he’s been widely credited for bringing stability to town finances that were in disarray at the time.

Mr. Whritenour’s interim contract called for him to work for 13 weeks, at a salary of $1,731 per week, representing an annual rate of $90,000.

At the time, the town had been without an administrator since August 1 and was still reeling following a series of missteps that included a botched election and a reprimand from the state attorney general’s office over bidding and procurement practices.

Mr. Whritenour said the Oak Bluffs job was a substantial pay cut from his previous job as Falmouth town administrator, “But I didn’t come out here for the money,” he said. “I came to contribute to the community and I work hard at it and I enjoy it. I love the Island and I love the community and I want to continue to do a good job.”

Executive session explained
Mr. Coogan said there was no particular reason for the timing of the pay increase, rather a long succession of positive developments in the town. “We have had a lot of positive feedback about Bob for a long time, both when Kathy [Burton] was chair and when Walter [Vail] was chair. I believe his contract mentions looking at step increases and we hadn’t offered any in the last several years and we felt we had been a little bit late in rewarding him. It had nothing to do with anything other than he’s doing a great job  We feel this is the right thing to do.”

According to the agenda of the October 28 meeting, the reason for the executive session was  “To conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations, or contract negotiations with nonunion personnel.” The minutes of the executive session have not yet been released.

“The intention was to have a frank discussion without any outside pressures. We just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page,” Mr. Coogan explained.

“When you’re talking about someone’s salary, that’s an executive session topic, or when you’re talking contracts, which we did not change,” Mr. Vail said. “Because we were beginning the work on our FY 16 budget, we wanted to make sure it did not get missed by the selectmen, because Bob wasn’t going to do it on his own, we know that.”

“Under the law, it’s standard practice to go into executive session to talk about contractual issues,” Mr. Whritenour said Wednesday. “I think that’s why the board chose to go into executive session. I really didn’t have a preference.”

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The Island theater was a major impetus for the proposed blight bylaw. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The Oak Bluffs planning board last week rejected a proposal to impose stricter regulations governing the appearance of downtown properties through a bylaw that expressed the frustration of town leaders with the deteriorating appearance of the Island and Strand theaters.

After more than an hour of discussion and public comment, the board voted 3-0 with two abstentions to reject the “Minimum property maintenance and vacant building zoning bylaw.” Board chairman Brian Packish and board member Erik Albert abstained because they own property in the business district.

As described, the intent of the proposed bylaw was “to enhance the economic viability and visual integrity of the B-1 and B-2 Business Districts [and] to provide a mechanism for the removal of existing nuisances within these districts.” Those who spoke cited the subjectivity of the proposed bylaw, which would require town meeting approval.

Oak Bluffs building inspector Mark Barbadoro said the bylaw was not enforceable under his purview since he can only take action when a building is considered structurally unsafe. He said it also could set the table for conflict down the road.

“My primary concern is that it’s up to the town to decide what it needs to address in terms of aesthetics,” he said. “It’s not very specific and I’m afraid it’s going to turn into something where feuding neighbors turn on each other. When does white cedar [shingling] become so far gone it needs to be addressed? I think there are some serious problems with some of the buildings in town that the building department and selectmen have the ability to address in terms of blight. The board of health and the selectmen can order a building down. Extreme measures can be taken, but there’s not a lot in between.”

“I see a lot of redundancy here,” board member Ewell Hopkins said. “I don’t see the benefit of a blight bylaw regardless of how it’s worded when what it brings to the table is aesthetics. Why aren’t we enforcing what we have instead of creating new statutes?

“I don’t believe there’s anything here that creates another option we don’t already have,” recused chairman Brian Packish said. “We don’t want bylaws directed at two properties when there are 287 properties in town. If you’re asking the building department to decide if a building’s pretty or not, you’re going down a slippery slope.”

Co-owner explains

Benjamin Hall Jr., co-owner of the Island and Strand theaters and attorney for Lucky 7 Realty Trust which holds both of the buildings, attended the meeting to contest the legality and the spirit of the bylaw.

“This was clearly written to force us to tear down the building,” he said. “I can appreciate people are upset with it. For that I apologize. However, this bylaw is over the top.”

Mr. Hall said the bylaw was “problematic” because it applied today’s building code to a 100-year-old building. “This is a zoning bylaw,” he said. “It cannot have retrospective application.”

Mr. Hall also took issue with the “registration of vacancy” clause. “There are situations where properties might be unrented but owners might be storing things in it,” he said. “Registering a vacant building after seven days seems punitive. The insurance company will say you have no insurance — most vacant buildings are not insured. This is putting somebody between a rock and a hard place. I think the intention of the bylaw is ‘your place looks like crap.’”

Mr. Hall said the repair of the Island theater has been hampered by the elements, the summer building moratorium in the downtown district, and by extreme measures taken by former town building inspector James Dunn. He provided the committee with a detailed and lengthy account of his various travails in his efforts to spruce up and repair both buildings.

The hearing ended on a positive note, with board members and Mr. Hall agreeing to further discussions.

“Thank you, Ben, for coming out,” Mr. Packish said. “I would encourage you to continue the dialogue. We have a resurgence in our town that I’ll venture to say is unprecedented.”

Mr. Packish said that at a recent seminar he spoke to several planning board members from other towns who are in similar situations, namely Scituate and East Hampton. “They said the worst thing we can do is waste time and energy on a few properties,” he said. “As the tide rises you will carry those properties with them.”
“It’s true that bylaws can’t go after existing problems,” Mr. Barbadoro said. “Tenants doing the work might work better than a bylaw.”

“The town can’t afford to spend a lot of money on litigation,” Skip Finley said. “We need to meet with the family. We need to find a way to sit down and make this work.”

After the vote to shelve the bylaw was taken, acting board chairman Kris Chvatal concluded the proceedings. “I’m glad we had a public hearing so we could get this in the open,” he said. “I’m concerned about local government making decisions. Higher property values always make a town look prettier. Hopefully with the downtown revitalization project we’ll see that.”

Selectman Walter Vail, an outspoken critic of the Hall family’s handling of the theaters, was unable to attend the meeting. In a conversation with The Times on Wednesday, he said he would continue to push for action on the theaters. “I don’t want that building looking like that next summer,” he said.

Mr. Sweeney posted this photo on the Islanders Talk Facebook page after bringing the wounded owl to safety. —Photo by Zachary Sweeney

Around 8 pm on the unseasonably warm night of Tuesday, December 2, Chelsey Hitt of Oak Bluffs and her boyfriend, Daniel Kelleher, were driving along Wing Road in Oak Bluffs when they saw a young eastern screech owl foundering in the road.

“It was right by the intersection of Wing Road and Pheasant [Lane],” Ms. Hitt told The Times. “We stopped and went back to help it. We shooed him along and walked next to him until he was away from the road. We don’t know anything about owls so we weren’t sure what to do. Some people came out of their house and told us to call Gus Ben David. We didn’t get an answer. We tried animal control and everybody we could think of. We called the Com Center and they told us to call Felix Neck and we got a machine there too. We had to get going, so I posted his picture on Islanders Talk,” she said.

Islanders Talk is a Facebook page where Islanders, after being accepted to the closed group, post breaking local news, ask for recommendations, or just vent about local issues.

Owl EMT

The wounded owl recuperated on an improvised perch in Mr. Sweeney's living room. —Photo by Michael Cummo
The wounded owl recuperated on an improvised perch in Mr. Sweeney’s living room. —Photo by Michael Cummo

“I got home from work and sat down at my computer and the Islanders Talk page was up and this wounded owl [message] had just been posted,” Zachary Sweeney told The Times at his Oak Bluffs home. “Once I heard about it, I couldn’t just leave it there. I’d rescued an owl before, so I got  a box and a flashlight and some leather gloves and headed out.”

The chances of finding a small, umber-colored owl on ground covered with brown leaves, in the dark, were not good.

“At first I thought he must have flown off,” Mr. Sweeney said. “I was about to give up but fortunately he turned at the right second and I caught the glare off his eye. He was probably hiding under leaves for protection. He was easy pickings for a skunk or a cat or a stray dog.”

Mr. Sweeney hypothesized that the winter moth bloom that night played a role in the owl’s losing battle with a car.

“The winter moths were out big time that night. Screech owls eat rats and mice but they eat a lot of insects because of their size — they only get to be nine inches at the most. He was probably going for some dinner and got hit.”

As Mr. Sweeney recounted the previous 48 hours for The Times, the statue-still raptor, barely bigger than a coffee can, impassively watched from a perch Mr. Sweeney built for it in his living room, improvised out of a beach plum branch. The perch afforded the owl a good view of a 55 gallon saltwater fish tank, where clownfish, lemon peel, tomato clowns, a hawkfish, and a shy lobster reside.

The bed for Beau, Mr. Sweeney’s golden retriever puppy, lay next to the aquarium. Elsewhere in the living room, a pineapple bush, a hibiscus, a Christmas cactus, various bonsai trees, a weeping cypress, a ficus plant and an anthurium plant, soaked in the afternoon sun. The picture window afforded views of some of the many bird feeders and birdhouses that encircle the house. There was no TV.

“I like watching my animals, and I have a lot of plants, I’m just a weirdo I guess,” Mr. Sweeney said with a shrug.

Mr. Sweeney demonstrated an easy rapport with the wounded bird. He made a knocking sound, clicking his tongue off the roof of his mouth, and the owl responded in a strikingly similar sound and cadence. “He hasn’t tried to fly yet,” Mr. Sweeney said. “He’s been taking water from an eyedropper, which is a good sign. I fed him some chicken but the mouse was too big.”

Mr. Sweeney extended his hand and the owl climbed on without hesitation. “They’re wicked smart animals,” he said, gently stroking the owl’s head with the back of his index finger. “They don’t have many predators around here. I don’t know if that’s why they’re so docile, but the other one was the same way,” Mr. Sweeney said, recalling his first owl rescue in 2005. “I got him in a wicked snow storm. He’d been hit by a car as well.”

Mr. Sweeney attributed his love of nature to his grandparents. “They live in Chilmark and growing up I spent a lot of time there,” he said. “I’d take off into the woods and come back six hours later and they’d never worry.”

Mr. Sweeney made his first animal rescue in high school, when he came to the aid of an addled Bohemian waxwing. When he took the bird to Felix Neck, it turned out the bird was not injured, but drunk from eating fermented grapes. Since then, Mr. Sweeney has cared for a menagerie of wounded and orphaned animals. This summer he adopted five orphaned baby skunks that lived under his neighbor’s house. “I could pick them up and feed them, they were really cool,” he said. “The woman that has the beauty parlor next door told me that when she went to her car the other night there were five skunks out there,” he said laughing. “That wasn’t my intention, but, oh well.”

Raptor rehab
The morning after the rescue, Mr. Sweeney set about finding a veterinarian. “I posted an update [on Islanders Talk] first thing and started making some calls,” he said. “Pretty soon, a lot of people were making calls. Michelle Katz gave me a couple more leads, which led to the New England Wildlife Center, and they agreed to take him. Michelle was already going off Island on the first boat the next day, so she said she’d drop him off.  The whole thing was a community effort: It was really cool how it came together.”

Mr. Sweeney acknowledged there was some sharp criticism from some people who thought that he was domesticating wild animals. “Now he’ll be receiving the help he needs. No more negative feedback, and hopefully everyone is happy to know the owl has been given to the people who could help him best. It’s too bad there’s not a place on Island that can do this. There’s a lot more wildlife out there than people realize.”
As of Wednesday morning, the owl was recovering at the New England Wildlife Center (NEWC). Dr. Gary Mertz, staff veterinarian told The Times there are two breaks in the left wing which can possibly be fixed with a cast or a surgically placed pin, but the bird’s flight potential remains up in the air at this time.

More information about how to help wounded animals, and when not to help them, can be found at the NEWC website, wildlife-education-center.com, on the center’s Facebook page, or by calling 781-682-4878.

 

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Except for three members of the Oak Bluffs financial advisory committee (FinCom), there were no members of the public in attendance at the annual public hearing to discuss possible changes in town taxation protocol Tuesday. Accordingly, the proceedings went swiftly, and selectmen, after a discussion of options with town assessor David Bailey, voted unanimously to keep the current tax structure for fiscal year (FY) ’15, which began July 1.

The proposed tax rate will be set at $7.96 per $1,000 of value across the board.

Major proposals on the table included a dual tax rate that would differentiate between residential and commercial property owners, and a tax exemption that would give year-round residents a break when compared with seasonal residents.

Selectmen unanimously voted, 5 to 0, not to make any changes in tax policy. The tax rate is contingent on Massachusetts Department of Revenue approval.

Residential exemption?

In his presentation on a split tax rate between residential and commercial properties, town assessor David Bailey told the selectmen that any relief for residential property owners would be minimal, given the small number of commercial properties when compared with residential. “We can increase the commercial tax burden by as much as 50 percent,” he said. “This has never been adopted in Oak Bluffs because of the incredible skew that already exists.”

Mr. Bailey explained that if the town were to increase the commercial rate by the maximum amount, for every $1 that came off a residential tax bill a commercial property owner would pay $13.

Mr. Bailey said a small-business exemption for companies with fewer than 10 people could be applied if the split residential-commercial rate was approved by selectmen.

The most potentially heated option is the residential exemption — offering an exemption to year-round residents who claim their Oak Bluffs home as their domicile. “That exemption can be as much as 20 percent of the average residential value in town,” Mr. Bailey said. “This year, the 20 percent exemption would total about $104,000.”

The savings for residential properties on the low end of the valuation scale are considerable — the tax on a property assessed at $200,000 would go from $1,592 to $838, according to a handout sheet. The owner of a house appraised at $500,000 would save $523.

Conversely, property taxes on a $200,000 nondomicile/seasonal home and a $500,000 one would go up from $1,592 to $1,746 and $3,980 to $4,365, respectively. Savings for year-round homes diminish as assessed values increase, until the assessed value reaches $1.2 million, and year-round residents would pay more taxes, regardless of whether there were an exemption.

Currently, Tisbury is the only town on the Island with a residential exemption. Nantucket also has one. “There are very few towns that do it,” Mr. Bailey said. “I worked in Falmouth and Mashpee for a combined 29 years. It comes up every year, and sometimes gets very heated. It’s worth talking about. My suggestion is, if people are serious about doing this, is to form a small committee and come up with impact studies, and have public hearings other than this hearing, where the seasonal homeowners can come in and talk.”
“This came up as a somewhat serious discussion around 2009, when the town was really down and people were fearful they couldn’t pay their taxes,” chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan said. “It’s difficult right now to think about doing that.” Mr. Coogan said the burden on Mr. Bailey to make such a change for FY ’15 was much too severe.
“Logistically it’s a tough thing,” Mr. Bailey said.

“The argument can be made, and has been made in the past, that the second homeowner uses much less of the year-round services and therefore this would be a double whammy, because they’re already paying to our benefit now; to charge them more I think is unfair,” selectman Kathy Burton said.
“It gets complicated because the state formula for reimbursement takes into consideration these vacation homes, so we’re penalized for them as well,” Mr. Bailey said. State reimbursements for education are particularly punitive for the town, since expensive vacation homes skew the state assessment and reduce or, in the case of Oak Bluffs, eliminate state aid for education.

“I think it would really affect the real estate market,” Ms. Burton said, drawing on her 22 years of experience in the field. “I can hear it now.”

“They had a serious proposal in Mashpee this year and it was almost a lynch mob,” Mr. Bailey said.
“Let’s get some sand on our beaches before we consider anything like this,” selectman Michael Santoro said.

FinCom chairman Steve Auerbach recommended considering the exemption in the future. “On the face of it, it seems to be a progressive way of allocating taxes,” he said. “People with lower valued homes would benefit more than people presumably more able to pay their tax burden.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian agreed that the residential exemption is worth exploring: “Not that I can tell you I agree with it, but it does have its merits,” she said.

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Although long-awaited FEMA funds may be released next week, wary town officials discuss contingency plans.

Little Bridge in Oak Bluffs. —Photo by Michael Cummo

It appears that the long-running, painstaking pursuit of federal funds to dredge the choked channel at Little Bridge in Oak Bluffs may finally be at an end. At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, town administrator Robert Whritenour read aloud an email he received that morning from Tom Perry, a high-ranking official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“We are now in the later stages of the approval process and expect to be able in the next week to provide you with the news that you have an approved FEMA Project Worksheet,” Mr. Perry wrote. “As always, it is possible we could encounter additional review/approval problems, but we do not anticipate any at this time.”

The news received a tepid response from town officials, who’ve heard words to this effect several times before. “It’s very encouraging, but it does stop short of final approval,” Mr. Whritenour said. “We’re changing our attitude with FEMA applications. As long as approval is not completely final, we need to go ahead with a new contingency plan. We can’t be sure of anything with FEMA. I recommend the town take this on as its own project.”

Mr. Whritenour said that one option is for taxpayers to vote to appropriate the funds at town meeting, possibly with a short-term bond issue, and then use the federal funding as reimbursement, rather than be beholden to a bureaucracy as clogged with red tape as Little Bridge channel is clogged with sand. “Waiting for a federal agency is not the way to go, he said. “They have a different mindset than we do.”

“In the FEMA scope, this project is nothing,” selectman Gail Barmakian said.

FEMA has budgeted the Little Bridge dredge project at $321,000. Shellfish constable David Gruden said that if the town self-finances the project, it would be free of onerous federal regulations and the job could be done much less expensively, and with local contractors. “With all the federal criteria, no local companies could bid on the job because none of them had the fancy GPS depthfinders that were required,” he said. “I talked to one of the interested local companies that said their bid would be more in the neighborhood of $150,000. If we did it our way, it could be half price or less. That said, there’s a lot more sand there now then when the project was bid on. All estimates were for removing 4,000 cubic yards of sand. It’s three or four times that now.”

Mr. Grunden added that another advantage of self-financing is that the town has permits in hand to use the sand for beach nourishment.

“I agree this is the only sane way to go,” chairman Greg Coogan said. “What’s the timeline look like?”

Mr. Grunden said the town has until April 1 to complete the dredge, otherwise — due to regulations by the Massachusetts Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program that protects nesting birds — the project would have to wait until the following autumn.

Since annual town meeting will be after the April 1 deadline, selectmen discussed calling a special town meeting to vote on financing the dredge project.
Mr. Whritenour also noted that given the declining health of Sengekontacket Pond, there is additional urgency to clear the Little Bridge channel, one of only two openings that feed water from Nantucket Sound into the pond.  “We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the federal government to write us a check,” he said.

“We need to work on this as soon as possible,” shellfish committee member Rick Huss said. “It’s already gone longer than it should. Every nor’easter is going to pile up more sand.” Mr. Huss said the lack of circulation due to the clogged channel is doubly deleterious because it endangers the shellfish population that helps buffer rising nitrate levels.
“I recommend that Bob [Whritenour] and David Grunden look at all the options, town meeting, special town meeting, and see where we stand,” Mr. Coogan said. “Hopefully we’ll hear some good news next week and this will all be moot.”

Robert Grimley, FEMA Region 1 recovery division director, told The Times in August that funding for the dredge project was likely to be released in a matter of weeks. Mr. Grimley has not returned repeated calls and emails from The Times regarding the latest FEMA developments.
In other business, selectman Michael Santoro, after recusing himself from the proceedings, went before the board to apply for a transfer of license for the Ocean View restaurant from the current owners, Ocean View Inc., to Santoro Hospitality II, Inc. “The Ocean View is an institution,” he said. “I’m going to have some tough shoes to fill. I’m going to continue the Jackson tradition as best I can. I’m going to add a few new menu items, but I won’t touch the fish sandwich or the steak sandwich, I promise.”

Noting the charitable work the Jacksons have done in the community over the years,  Mr. Santoro also promised to keep on the current Ocean View staff. “I’ve been doing business here for 23 years,” he said. “It would be foolish for me to go in there and turn it upside down.”  The selectmen approved the transfer unanimously, 3–0. Selectman Kathy Burton was absent due to illness.

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The team at Vineyard Healthcare Access, (from left) Sarah Kuh, Lindsey Strug, Maria Mouzinho, Vani Pessoni and Mary Leddy. —Photo by Michael Cummo

As the open enrollment period for the Massachusetts Health Connector (MHC) rolls into its third week, health insurance advisors at the Vineyard Healthcare Access program (VHA) are reporting that, contrary to the mayhem of last year’s open enrollment, the new and improved Massachusetts Health Connector  is performing as advertised.

“It’s a world of difference,” Sarah Kuh, VHA director told The Times. “It’s working just like it was originally supposed to, but never was until now. You can’t even compare the functionality.”

Ms. Kuh said that as of Wednesday, VHA has submitted applications for 188 Islanders and 62 are enrolled in a health plan. She said that the vastly improved website, while not totally bug-free, has helped the VHA staff serve Islanders more efficiently. “We can sit down with people and complete an application and 75 to 80 percent of the time, we can get them through the entire process, and enrolling them in a health plan, in one sitting,” she said, adding that the application process usually takes about an hour and a half.

Paul Munafo of Vineyard Haven had a consultation at VHA two weeks ago. In a conversation with The Times, he was effusive in his praise for the VHA staff.  “Last year when we tried to sign up on the website, it was a disaster. I was on a transplant list and I needed insurance for expenses that were perhaps going to come. We got such a runaround we had to get our own insurance through HSA. We ended paying $1,300 a month. This year was like we’ve landed in Oz. It was flawless. We’re saving approximately $500 a month now. For us, that’s huge. Mary Leddy [a staff member at VHA] is awesome; I can’t say enough about her. She knows more about insurance than anybody I’ve ever met. We’re very lucky to have Vineyard Healthcare Access.”

Island navigators

Earlier this year, VHA applied for a grant to fund the specialized training  needed to qualify as a “navigator” for  MHC for Dukes County. In August, VHA was selected as one of five new navigators in the state — there are 15 navigators statewide. All four of the VHA client services staff, Ms. Kuh, Ms. Leddy, Maria Mouzinho, and Vani Pessoni are Certified Massachusetts Navigators. They can advise the insured and the uninsured, small businesses owners, the self-employed, and seasonal workers. The multilingual staff can assist all Island residents.

The current lead time for a consultation at the VHA is four to six weeks. “People who receive no subsidies — meaning they have private insurance through the Health Connector — have a December 23 deadline,” Ms. Kuh said, but she stressed that accommodations can still be made for people with that deadline. “We do have ways of squeezing people in as needed,” she said. “We’ve also been training a new staff member who should be certified by next week. That will open up availability as well.”

Most people have a deadline of January 23, 2015, according to Ms. Kuh.

“For people who are clearly over income for any subsidies or tax credits, they don’t have to go through the Health Connector, they can go to a broker. That’s usually pretty efficient.”

Eligibility

People who make under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) as determined by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are potentially eligible for health care subsidies. The poverty line for an individual is $11,670, so an individual making under $46,680 may qualify, as could two people making under $62,920; families of three or four have limits of $79,160 and $95,400, respectively.

Applicants must bring last year’s tax returns and the last two or three pay stubs and any other income information, such as Social Security payments. For seasonal workers, the last pay stub of the season is required.

“There are instances where proof of residency is required, which can be satisfied by a utility bill,” Ms. Kuh said. “If proof of income or proof of residency is required, applicants will have 90 days to submit that information. When people are not U.S. citizens born in the U.S. — if they’re either naturalized citizens or have a different immigration status — we need their green card and certificate of naturalization.”

Federal I.D. proofing, a major bugaboo in last year’s open enrollment, has been fixed, according to Ms. Kuh. “This is part of what wasn’t working in the old system but is working now,” she said. “When people put in their information, like their Social Security number, this system matches that to certain federal information. When that fails, then the online application can’t continue, then people do have to verify their identity. This requires another appointment to complete the application, but it doesn’t happen often.”

Check yourself

The three-month enrollment period ends February 15, but different subgroups have different deadlines, so Ms. Kuh advises Islanders to confirm their deadline as early as possible. She also recommends that people try the Health Connector website on their own. “Obviously we want to be available for everybody who wants our help, but it’s worth the try to do it own their own because the website is working this time.”

Joanne Metayer Lambert, a pre-school teacher from Oak Bluffs, has followed Ms. Kuh’s advice.  “We have an appointment with Mary Leddy on December 15,” she told The Times. “I’m working on the [Health Connector] website now to begin our new application, and it’s very user friendly. We’ll go to Mary to finalize it and make sure all the t’s are crossed. Mary has been a huge help in the past. Thank goodness we have that office.”

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The Oak Bluffs Fire House, before renovations began in November. —Photo by Michael Cummo

In a significant change to Oak Bluffs fire department protocol, all full-time emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are now required to become certified firefighters. New job descriptions, developed by Chief John Rose in conjunction with the town personnel board, and unanimously approved by the board of selectmen at its last meeting, require all full-time EMTs and paramedics to obtain “Firefighter 1” certification within two years. The same policy will apply to new hires.

“Since both departments are combined, we thought this change made a lot of sense,” personnel board chairman Gretchen Coleman Thomas told The Times. “Most towns on the Cape have already done this and it’s worked out well.”

Mr. Rose said the impetus for the change was to ease the demands on volunteer firefighters. “We’ve been putting too much of the burden on volunteers,” he said. “A lot of our guys have second jobs and it can be hard for them to make drill on the weekends. It can also be tough for employers when people are called off the job to respond to a call.”

Mr. Rose said the volume of calls has increased considerably in recent years, especially during the summer.

Volunteers will still be called for major events. There are 50 active volunteer firefighters and 20 to 25 volunteer EMTs currently serving the town. The full-time staff will respond to routine calls, including automatic alarms that are rarely an emergency. “In the past year we responded to 256 automatic fire alarms,” Mr. Rose said. “A very small percentage of those were actually fire-related.”
The hybrid positions will come with a pay increase of roughly a dollar an hour for current employees. “By being proactive and spending a little bit now, we’ll save the taxpayers money in the long run,” Mr. Rose said. Roughly $30,000 has already been allocated in the town budget to fund the change.

The department currently has three openings for full-time emergency responders. Mr. Rose said applications have been received from on and off Island and he hopes to fill the positions by January, 2015. When the hiring is complete, the fire department will have 10 full-time firefighter/EMT/paramedics, one full-time administrative assistant and one part-time assistant.

At town meeting in April, voters approved a $337,756 budget for emergency medical services and $226,613 for the fire department.

 

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This map illustrates 24 watersheds on Martha's Vineyard,16 of which are major coastal pond watersheds. —Map Courtesy MVC

An overflow crowd of concerned Islanders filled every seat and most of the balcony stairs at the Katharine Cornell Theatre at Thursday night’s Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) meeting to hear Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director Cape Cod Commission (CCC), describe the serious ramifications of unchecked rising nitrogen levels in Cape and Island coastal ponds and water bodies and the options for stemming the flow. Doing nothing will negatively affect Island property values and environmental quality, he said of a problem that will cost millions, if not billions of dollars to correct.

Mr. Niedzwiecki was on the Vineyard at the MVC’s invitation to present the updated draft of the Section 208 Cape Cod Area-Wide Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP). The 300-plus-page draft, which was written over 14 months with input from CCC staff, consultants, and 170 stakeholders from across the Cape at a cost of $3.5 million, focused almost exclusively on rising nitrogen levels that increasingly imperil local waters and the quality of life on the Cape and Islands.

“Many of our estuaries are dead or dying,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “Shellfish no longer grow naturally in many of our bays and the only thing left is a few species of sea worms, the marine equivalent of cockroaches. We have to act.”

Mr. Niedzwiecki told the assembly that the Cape and the Vineyard face similar hurdles — both are coastal communities with nitrogen-based water quality issues, both have low density development patterns and rely heavily on inadequate Title 5 septic systems, both have seasonal surges that stretch treatment plants to capacity, and both are populated with frugal and fractious New Englanders, who have to approve costly long-term expenditures with a two-thirds vote at town meeting.

“I think that the Vineyard can benefit from the work we’ve done on the Cape,” he said. “Much of it is extraordinarily transferable.”

Watershed idea
The 2014 WQMP is based on watershed boundaries, not man-made town boundaries, an antipodal approach from the 1978 WQMP, which Mr. Neidzwiecki described as “ridiculously outdated.” There are 105 watersheds on the Cape. Mr. Neidzwiecki said creating consensus among watershed-sharing towns is a difficult task. “They joke that the only thing towns hate more than the Cape Cod Commission is each other,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said, to knowing laughter from the crowd. “There has been a lot of great local planning, but few towns have approved those plans. It’s very difficult to get a two-thirds vote at town meeting on plans that are big and expensive. There are always people who question the science and the engineering, and it’s easy for a plan to suffer the death of 1,000 cuts. The MEP (Massachusetts Estuaries Project) provides very good science. We have to break through this barrier.”

To that end, Mr. Niedzwiecki said there are tools on the CCC website, available to all, that synthesize data from the 6,000 pages of background, analysis, recommendations and supporting documents that went into the WQMP. These tools can help communities build consensus on a strategy by showing cost benefit analysis of different technologies, down to specific parcels of land. The website will keep people abreast of the latest developments in wastewater technology.

“We developed these tools so complex data sets became more accessible.” Mr. Niedzwecki said. “We hope this leads to more constructive discussions at town meeting, and that the work we’ve done makes it less expensive for you. The 208 [WQMP] program is our last opportunity to design a solution for ourselves.”

Mr. Niedzwiecki said that the special fertilizer overlay district that was drafted by the MVC and approved by all six Island towns last year shows promise for Island-wide consensus. He also described the measure as “low-hanging fruit,” given the enormity of the challenge that lies ahead.

The 2014 WQMP leaves no doubt that septic systems are the major factor in the wastewater quandary. According to the draft, the Cape accounts for less than four percent of the state population and about 20 percent of the septic systems. About 85 percent of Cape wastewater flows from homes and businesses with on-site septic systems that drain into the groundwater, and into coastal watersheds. Additionally, Title 5 septic standards are ineffective in reducing nitrogen levels since they are designed to reduce bacteria. This has been an historically heated issue between Cape interests and the EPA.

In 2010 and again in 2011, the Conservation Law Foundation and Buzzards Bay Coalition sued the EPA over Title 5 regulations, claiming the agency failed to meet its obligations under the Clean Water Act to update and to enforce water quality standards. On November 17, the legal wrangling ended with an agreement stating if the EPA agrees to stricter monitoring of a regional water quality, based on the 2014 WQMP, the lawsuits will be dropped. The deal still has to be approved by a federal judge.

New approaches
Mr. Niedzwiecki said two different teams of experts were formed to look at options for respective watersheds — one team looked at traditional methods, e.g. sewering, and the other at non-traditional strategies, e.g., eco-toilets. Since sewering is only cost-effective in high-density areas, its potential is limited on the Cape and Islands. According to the WQMP, only three percent of Cape homes are sewered. “I hope the [WQMP}
will encourage pilot programs in remote areas on Martha’s Vineyard,” he said. “We should not build what we don’t need, this applies to infrastructure and to bureaucracies. It will help to bring smaller, more manageable projects to town meeting.”

The overall cost estimate to bring nitrogen to acceptable levels in Cape waters is between six and eight billion dollars, according to Mr. Niedzwiecki. “I think it will be less with improving technology, and keep in mind it will be spread out over at least two generations. It’s a big number, but the longer we wait, the more expensive it will get.”

Ultimately, the new data show that investing in solutions to eutrophication makes good business sense. “This isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s an economic issue,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said. “New studies show for every one percent drop in water quality, there’s a .7 percent drop in property values.” Using this metric, the WQMP calculated that if the town of Barnstable had made a moderate effort to curb nitrogen discharge, average home sale prices would be $20,176 to $35,228 higher. “The [Cape Cod] chamber of commerce immediately saw the connection and has been a big help in educating the public,” he said. “Money is a great way to encourage collaboration.”

Moving forward, Mr. Niedzwiecki stressed that the CCC is ready to support the Vineyard in the battle against eutrophication. “Whatever information we have, we will give to the Vineyard,” he said. “We’d be happy to come over and help.”

Islanders respond
They have done an unbelievable amount of work that will be extremely valuable to us,” Oak Bluffs selectman and wastewater commissioner Gail Barmakian told The Times. “It’s wonderful that they’re so willing to share.”

Ms. Barmakian expressed optimism that Islanders can put the new data to use more expediently than their Cape counterparts. “I think the Island population tends to be more environmentally conscious,” she said. “Maybe I’m an optimist, but I don’t think it will be as difficult here as it is on the Cape to get towns to work together. Oak Bluffs has a great working relationship with Tisbury with the joint Lagoon Pond watershed committee.”

Ms. Barmakian said that the planning tools on the CCC website will be invaluable for town officials, and possibly watershed groups, when they create innovative wastewater management strategies. “The most important thing to remember is that all situations are different,” she said. “These tools will help measure the best solution for each town, in terms of effectiveness and cost. Some people think sewering is the answer, but it’s not. Sewering is the most expensive solution and it’s not just the upfront costs, it’s the ongoing costs.”

Melinda Loberg, chairman of the Tisbury wastewater committee and a selectman, was encouraged by the turnout. “One of the things that pleased me most was the attendance at the meeting,” she said. “It demonstrates that Islanders are aware and they care about this. When we go to town meetings we need that awareness. My strongest takeaway is that towns have to start planning financially to take this on.”

“Tisbury has some areas we think are densely populated enough to make sewering cost-effective, but we also have to look at alternatives.” Ms. Loberg said. Echoing Ms. Barmakian, she pointed to the joint Tisbury Oak Bluffs Lagoon Pond watershed committee as a nascent example of growing Island cooperation. “We’re working well together because we all care about the Lagoon. It’s very helpful to have the new data to determine who will pay for what,” she said.

Edgartown shellfish constable Paul Bagnall agreed with the watershed approach to the 2014 WQMP. “We need to solve our problems together,” he said. “Nitrogen doesn’t know any boundaries, algae doesn’t respect town lines. It’s going to be cheaper to do it together than each town to do it on their own.”

Mr. Bagnall said he was encouraged with the WQMP endorsement of shellfish as a viable, denitrification technique. He said a pilot program started two years ago in Sengekontacket with 500,000 oysters is bearing fruit. As of this September 15, the first batch of those oysters were legally harvestable. “The current estimate is that each oyster takes .4 of a gram of nitrogen out of the water,” Mr. Bagnall said. “So Islanders can do their part and eat a lot of oysters over the holidays.”

Linda Sibley, longtime West Tisbury MVC member, is well aware of the difficulty in building consensus beyond town lines. “The challenge for the planners is not only figure out solutions but how to bring people along,” she said. “Education is extremely important. People expect you to tell them why, persuade them there is a problem, and that there’s an engineering solution that’s worth the money. You have direct democracy in town meeting, and people identify with that in a way that you can’t relate to regional organization. Whatever the solutions are, they’re going to be so expensive. If we delay it only gets more expense. It’s something that we have to come to grips with.”

“Now is the time wastewater really has to come front and center,” MVC executive director Mark London said. “We’re really grateful for the homework [the CCC] has done for us. Sewering is not an option for most of the Island. We really need to look at alternatives.”