Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

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Veteran Martha’s Vineyard oysterman Jack Blake combines innovation and perspiration to raise an increasingly valuable mollusk.

Jack Blake hand picks oysters that he's been raising since 2012 and immediately puts them on ice. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Katama Bay is still as a mill pond when Jack Blake boards his 23-foot skiff, early on a recent morning. The shrill cry of a hungry osprey breaks the peaceful silence. That, and the sound of Mr. Blake slapping at a swarm of no-see-ums. “Usually there’s a breeze here and they aren’t too bad,” he says. “Let’s get moving.”

The early morning stillness greets oysterman Jack Blake when he starts his day.
The early morning stillness greets oysterman Jack Blake when he starts his day.

For the next 10 hours, Mr. Blake will not stop moving. He will lift heavy loads of ice and oysters and the cages and the bags and the trays in which they grow. He will inspect hundreds of oysters, one by one, and knock off the jingle shells and barnacles that can slowly kill them. He will pack his oysters on ice, or put them back into the bay, as quickly as possible. Back on land, he will cool the day’s take — which averages 700 oysters — down to 33 degrees. Then he and Susan Blake, his wife and business partner, will load their refrigerated van and deliver Sweet Neck Farm oysters to restaurants around the Island. Sweet Neck Farm oysters are in such demand that the Blakes can’t spare any for their off-Island distributor, J.P.’s Shellfish from Eliot, Maine, until October. Then, the exported Sweet Neck Farm oysters will end up in restaurants from Florida to California.

Mr. Blake’s day begins at 3 am. He works at his computer, entering data from the day before and figuring out what cages or trays need tending that day. “I don’t like working at the computer that much,” he says. “It’s a helpful tool, but I just want to be on the water.” Mr. Blake loads up his truck at 5 am and tries to be on the water by 6, although that depends on what needs fixing. “There’s always maintenance, every day,” he says. “But that’s part of the fun. I like figuring things out.”

Oysters are gently tumbled to knock off jingle shells and barnacles in a machine designed and constructed by Jack Blake.
Oysters are gently tumbled to knock off jingle shells and barnacles in a machine designed and constructed by Jack Blake.

From March 15 to October 15, Mr. Blake works seven days a week, except when a hurricane rumbles up the coast. During the winter, he averages three days a week, which at times this past winter meant working on the bay in heavy snow. “The bay used to freeze solid before the breach,” he says, referring to the rupture of Norton Point Beach during a nor’easter in April 2007. “The day after the breach, Sue and I were out here and it was like being on the high seas. We both got seasick.”

A new trade

Mr. Blake moved to the Island from Marshfield two years after high school, in 1974. He worked as a cook at Lawry’s Fish Market during the summer and as a scalloper during the winter. Eventually he got into the construction trade in 1979. “I wanted to build my own house, so I figured this was a good way to learn,” he said.

Mr. Blake built his house and became a custom home builder. “I built all kinds of houses — capes, gambrels, even a six-sided house. But after a while, I needed a new challenge,” he says. He started quahog fishing full time, but eventually his conservation conscience began to kick in. “I got to the point where I pretty much fished out Caleb’s Pond, and I felt bad about it. Then I heard about a new aquaculture program run by Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group (MVSG) and I applied. It was intended to help the commercial fishermen who were going out of business, but one of the spots didn’t get filled.”
“Of the 15 guys that started in the program in 1995, Jack is one of the five who stuck with it,” MVSG director Rick Karney said in a phone interview with The Times.
Mr. Blake says his career as an oysterman has been an ongoing process of trial and error and improvisation. “There was a big learning curve. I didn’t make a dime the first three years. What works in Wellfleet won’t work here. You always have to fine-tune things, you’re always learning.”

Making the rounds

Katama oysterman Jack Blake was one of the first oyster famers on the Vineyard.
Katama oysterman Jack Blake was one of the first oyster famers on the Vineyard.

“Pretty good office huh,?” he says, indicating the expanse of Katama Bay as he motors to his first stop of the morning — his 650-square-foot raft, or as he calls it, “My home away from home.” The raft is moored next to his one-acre farm where 350 buoys mark each one of his cages. Mr. Blake built his raft, which has a tumbler that he also designed and built to knock off unwanted hitchhikers from his oysters. “That took 7,400 welds,” he says, pointing to the slowly rotating cylinder with oysters from cage 279. “I put it on gentle cycle. You don’t want them to be jarred or they leak some of their water.”

The tumbler, and all electronics on the raft, are powered by a small wind turbine that sits atop the canvas roof that also gives the oysters shade. Most of the oysters in the tumbler are from seed that he began raising in 2012.

“I just love being out here on my own,” Mr. Blake says, lifting a heavy bag of oysters out of a cage.

But his treasured solitude comes with an additional element of risk. The effects of the polio he contracted when he was two years old are still with him. “My legs are getting much weaker,” he says. “Because of the polio, my leg muscles never fully developed. Now, if I fall down, I can’t get up by myself. People always ask me how long I’ll do this. I used to say until I’m 85, but I’m not so sure,” says Mr. Blake, who turns 61 on August 11.

Sweet Neck Farm Oysters are in such high demand they're only sold to Island establishments during the summer.
Sweet Neck Farm Oysters are in such high demand they’re only sold to Island establishments during the summer.

After the oysters are iced or put back in their cages, Mr. Blake, sweat dripping from his brow and his white tee-shirt besmeared with Katama Bay silt, heads to the mouth of the bay to tend to his upwellers — a nursery for juvenile oysters. Mr. Blake designed and built his upwellers to utilize the swift current that runs between Katama Bay and the narrow mouth into Edgartown Harbor. “The upweller feeds the seed a steady stream of nutrients,” he says, admiring a tray of thumbnail-sized oysters. “It also keeps them spaced out and keeps them clean. Look at them, they’re beautiful.”

With funds from MVSG, Mr. Blake helped other Katama Bay oystermen build their own upwellers. “Jack trained other farmers how to build the upweller he designed,” Rick Karney said. “They built them communally at the town oyster barn. Jack’s been great about sharing all his knowledge.”

“There really isn’t competition,” Mr. Blake says. “Katama Bay oysters are some of the best because we all share information. A few guys started out competing like fishermen, but they’re beginning to understand. There’s plenty of places to sell.”

Mr. Blake says timing plays a crucial role in oyster farming. “You have to plant at the right time, you have to air dry at the right time, you have to know when they’re spawning and you have to harvest at the right time. It’s an art.”

Booming demand

Oyster farmers on the whole are also benefiting from propitious timing with the nationwide surge in the popularity of oysters and oyster bars. Oyster production on the east coast has doubled in the past five years, according to East Coast Shellfish Growers Association (ECSGA), and last year, cultured shellfish from farms between Virginia and Maine brought in $103 million, more than the groundfishing industry for the same area. In Massachusetts in 2012, 4.1 million bushels of oysters were sold, bringing in $9.5 million to Bay State farmers. In 2013, 4.3 million bushels of oysters worth $10.8 million were sold.  Closer to home, last year, between the 34,050 bushels of oysters harvested in Chilmark and the 163,500 bushels harvested in Edgartown, sales for Island oystermen totaled $1,963,500, according to town reports. Mr. Blake says he’s getting up to 90 cents per oyster this summer, well above last summer’s peak of 75 cents per oyster.

Battling vibrio

As with any farmers, oyster farmers have to deal with pests and pestilence. Vibrio, typically a warm water problem, has become an increasingly serious problem for Island farmers. Last September, an outbreak of Vibrio illness led to a month-long closure of oyster operations in Katama Bay. It was just one of numerous closures across the state, which has seen a steady rise in Vibrio cases since 2011, when 13 cases of the disease were reported. In 2012, 27 cases of Vibrio were reported, and 58 were reported in 2013. Twelve of those cases had some relationship to Katama Bay, according to state reports.

So far this year, two cases of vibrio have been confirmed by state Department of Health (DPH) officials. One of them was linked to a Katama Bay oyster harvested on July 2. State regulations, adopted from this year’s Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference, require an immediate shutdown of a farming area when two cases of Vibrio are confirmed within a month. August 2 passed without another reported case, so for now, it’s business as usual for Katama oystermen. But the specter of a shutdown still looms, especially as water temperatures rise. “I know where the oyster came from,” Mr. Blake said. “The DPH inspector said he did everything right. Sometimes there’s nothing else you can do.” One mitigating factor in a Vibrio outbreak is that, unlike an agricultural pox, the oysters are not permanently damaged. When the water turns colder, the bacteria count will drop, making the oysters edible once again. Mr. Blake said that after last year’s shutdown, he was eventually able to sell all of his crop.

Happy as an oyster

“Oyster farming is a win-win,” Mr. Blake says, as he heads back to the Katama boat launch with the day’s harvest. “You put back what you take in, and the oysters take a lot of nitrogen out of the water. It’s the ideal business for the Island, and it’s a great way to make a living.”

Mr. Blake says there’s also an intuitive element to oyster farming. “I know what makes my oysters happy,” he says. “They need space. If you crowd them, and they get stressed out, and it shows. You can’t get too greedy.”  Mr. Blake also has an attachment to a few oysters from his 1999 crop. Of the 400 he put aside, three or four are left. “They’re my pets,” he says. “I think the record in the United States is 12 inches. I’m going to bring one out when it hits 13 [inches]. But nobody’s going to eat it.”


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A meeting between the town administrator and FEMA brass left a cloud of uncertainty over anticipated storm repairs.

Dredging is needed under little bridge at Sengekontacket. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The long-running campaign by Oak Bluffs officials to secure funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair damage caused by Hurricane Sandy remained in limbo this week. In a meeting Tuesday, FEMA officials informed town Oak Bluffs officials that the town’s applications still lack proper documentation, and that internal mistakes on FEMA’s part still need to be reconciled.

“It was a tough meeting,” Robert Grimley, FEMA disaster recovery manager for Region 1, said in a phone call with The Times on Tuesday. “I know Mr. Whritenour was frustrated, but we can’t make final decisions without the proper documentation.

“I think the positive is there’s some information, like maintenance records, that’s readily available that the applicant can retrieve. The applicant, to their defense, said they had provided all the documentation to the joint field office, but for whatever reason, we never received it or someone doesn’t have a copy of it. We just want to make sure before we approve it that we have all the paperwork in order. If it slipped by us, all five of those projects could be at risk down the road if we didn’t fix them now.”

The five projects for which the town has applied to FEMA for funding include the dredging at Little Bridge at Sengekontacket, East Chop Road and Seaview Ave. bulkhead, restoration of beaches and jetties at Pay Beach, Jetty Beach, and the Inkwell, the seawall at North Bluff, and East Chop Bluff.

“The meeting was a little disappointing,” town administrator Robert Whritenour said in a phone call with The Times on Wednesday. “They started off telling us that FEMA may have made some mistakes. They said consider this like an audit. The long and short of it, we had months of discussion with various project engineers which ended in FEMA sending their signed project worksheets which documented the town’s eligibility and the scope for each one of the five projects. To have them come back and say we’ve reviewed those and we think FEMA made some mistakes, means redoing all of the work that we’ve already done. The one good part that came out of it is they agreed to a weekly conference call so we could stay on top of this and there wouldn’t be anymore surprises.”

In addition to Mr. Whritenour, the town was also represented at the meeting by selectman Walter Vail and conservation commissioner Elizabeth Durkee.

“It was my expectation that the Sengekontacket dredging and the North Bluff project were going to receive final approval,” Mr. Whritenour said. “The next window for dredging is from September 1 to January 15. Hopefully we’ll be on track. Sengie is an ecological problem and the longer we wait, the more we jeopardize the health of the pond. I don’t see any major roadblocks, but I didn’t see any before either. North Bluff is even more frustrating. Their engineer questions extent of damage to the wall. It’s disappointing for this to come up at this late juncture. We were under the impression that was resolved.”

The channels at Big Bridge and Little Bridge connect Sengekontacket to Nantucket Sound, and provide the only flushing of the pond.

Deal or no deal

A critical misunderstanding occurred between the town and FEMA in October, 2013, when town officials apparently assumed that a FEMA sign-off on a project worksheet locked in federal funds. In his town administrator’s report on October 22, 2013, Mr. Whritenour wrote, “Oak Bluffs has received approval and signed contracts for more than $4.3 million in federal disaster assistance: $553,086 for Sengekontacket dredging; $664,588 for East Chop Road and Seaview Avenue bulkhead repair; $1,165,284 for beach and jetty restoration at the Inkwell, Pay Beach and Jetty Beach; and $1,960,845 for North Bluff seawall repair.”

“Unfortunately, the applicant believed that because they [FEMA] signed the project work sheet that it obligated the federal government to funding,” Mr. Grimley said. “What that really means is that the project specialist and the applicant are agreeing to the damages that they are measuring. It does not mean that the federal government is obligated to commit to that money.”

Speaking with The Times on Wednesday, Mr. Whritenour maintained there was no such confusion on the town’s part. “We attended training sessions, we know project worksheet approval is not a grant, but it is first key juncture,” he said. “They determine what the scope of project is. We did think they agreed to the scope.”

Help for Sengie
Mr. Grimley said he and other Region 1 FEMA officials are looking at every angle to secure funding for the town. “We’re working very hard to get them the funding,” he said. “Our lawyers are the best. They’re very creative when it comes to getting approvals and working within the laws and regulations.”

Mr. Grimley cited the Little Bridge dredging project as an example. “We’ll rewrite the project worksheet on that so instead of having it under beach replenishment, which is considered permanent work, we’ll put it under debris removal. It’s certainly eligible for that and it’s a lot easier to get approved.”

Mr. Grimley said that some FEMA decisions were imminent, although he did not specify which ones. “We’re very close to making a determination one way or another. If it’s not favorable, they have an opportunity to appeal to the regional administrator here in Boston, and if they’re still not satisfied they can make a second appeal to FEMA headquarters. We’d rather make the determination favorable right up front; that way we don’t go through more rigamarole.”

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The newly formed streetscape master plan committee seeks opinions and ideas in person and in cyberspace.

Anyone with ideas on improving the Oak Bluffs business district can weigh in at the DSMPC website — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The recently formed Oak Bluffs Downtown Streetscape Master Plan Committee (DSMPC) held its inaugural outreach events on July 23 and 24, to elicit opinions from visitors and Islanders alike on how to revitalize downtown Oak Bluffs. Members of the eight-person committee manned tables outside the post office and next to the town information booth both days, giving out surveys and listening to all comers. On Wednesday evening there was a public visioning meeting at the Oak Bluffs library and on Thursday morning, members of the business community gathered at Union Chapel to share their views. Both meetings were moderated by consultants from the Horsley Witten group.

The new logo of the Oak Bluffs Downtown Streetscape Master Plan Committee.
The new logo of the Oak Bluffs Downtown Streetscape Master Plan Committee.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Gail Barmakian, DSMPC member and Oak Bluffs selectman, said in a phone interview with The Times. “We were trying to get a wide cross-section of people and I think we were very successful at that. It didn’t matter if they were visitors, seasonal residents, or Islanders, people have a passion for this town. But you have to draw them out. You can’t just say ‘fill this out.’ You have to engage.”

Ms. Barmakian said an overriding theme was that cleaning and repairing downtown should be a top priority. “People were saying that we have to clean it up,” she said. “Clean and repair but not change the character of the town. We had to preserve the unique character of the town.”

“We dished out roughly 350 surveys during the day,” DSMPC member Brian Packish said in a phone interview with The Times. “So far we’ve gotten about 200 back between the website and the ones we handed out.” Mr. Packish, a landscaper and chairman of the planning board, said the public visioning meeting on Wednesday night exceeded his expectations. “The meeting room was packed,” he said. “People were excited. A lot of them stayed and talked in the parking lot after the meeting.”

Mr. Packish said signage, or “wayfaring” in urban planning parlance, was a much discussed topic. “There’s definitely a need for better wayfaring,” he said. “When you rely heavily on tourism, the tourists need to know where to locate the bathrooms and how far they are from the Campground, and what direction to go.” Mr. Packish said signs for pedestrians that give the walking time to destinations was a popular idea.

Ms. Barmakian agreed. “Signage from both ferry terminals is really lacking,” she said. “It also places a burden on the police because they have to spend so much time giving directions.”

The well attended town visioning meeting produced a number of constructive ideas for improving the Oak Bluffs business district.
The well attended town visioning meeting produced a number of constructive ideas for improving the Oak Bluffs business district.

Mr. Packish said a park and ride for employees in the downtown area was a popular solution for the summertime parking woes, and that the dingy downtown appearance was a recurring theme. “Overall, town cleanliness was definitely a big issue,” he said. “A lot of people feel there need to be more trash barrels and more pickups.”

Duncan Ross, DSMPC member and the de facto representative for the Friends of Oak Bluffs, also said the Wednesday night meeting was particularly productive. “It was good for the people on the committee because we weren’t in any of the working groups,” he said. “We just walked around and listened to the ideas.”

A former selectman and retired teacher, Mr. Ross said that one of the better ideas he heard was to create parking for downtown employees on the streets that border Waban Park. “I thought that was a brilliant idea,” he said. “It’s a simple solution to a problem that has persisted for a long time.”

In a phone interview with The Times, John Tiernan, co-owner of the Dockside Inn, said he pitched a similar idea at the Thursday morning meeting he attended with other town business owners. “I suggested wrapping Waban park with head-in parking, like we have at Ocean Park,” he said. “You could give employees hanging tags, they could walk into town and know they’re not going to get a ticket. You could have maybe 200 parking spots there. You’d have 20 disgruntled homeowners, but 12 of them rent their house out during the summer anyway.” Mr. Tiernan added that parking around Waban Park could also increase flow to Pay Beach and the Inkwell which in turn could also create business for new vendors.

Overall, Mr. Tiernan said he was encouraged by the Thursday gathering. “It was a great first meeting,” he said. “It was an eclectic crowd. which is representative of what Oak Bluffs is. I’m happy there were people like Peter Martell and Kerry Scott, along with some of the newer business owners like me. Peter doesn’t pull any punches. He’s a longtime steward of the town and he cares a lot about Oak Bluffs.”

Mr. Tiernan said that adding proper sidewalks and replacing the sagging, aging telephone poles with underground lines were some of the improvements that he hoped to see on Circuit Ave. extension. “One of my proposals has met a bit of resistance, but I think Circuit Ave. extension is perfect for cobblestones,” he said. “When you go to the North End in Boston or Portsmouth [New Hampshire] you see cobblestones, and you know you’re in a seaport. Edgartown does this, why can’t we? We can’t do the same old, same old. People joke about New Bedford but the downtown area is much better than Oak Bluffs, hands down, and they have much better signage.”

Mr. Tiernan said that as a hotelier, he pays 11.7 percent tax on every room charge and he questions how it’s spent. “Six percent of that tax goes directly to the town, yet we can’t clean up Circuit Ave. or fill potholes on Circuit Ave. extension,” he said. “I have no idea where that money goes. If the town can’t clean up the sidewalks on Circuit Ave., how about hiring a private contractor to power wash them? I’d pitch in for that.”

Mr. Martell, owner of the Wesley Hotel, said he was less than enthused by the Thursday business owners meeting. “The dog and pony show [by Horsley Witten consultants] doesn’t mean a lot to me,” he said. “I don’t need to listen for 15 minutes about how great they are at making signs. Oak Bluffs has plenty of signs. My big thing is to improve the beaches. They’re a disgrace. I don’t know why they’re [town officials] dragging their heels. You can have all the signs you want, but when people get off the boat and look at our beaches, they’re going to go somewhere else.”

Mr. Packish had a different take on the consultants’ contribution. “They really did a good job: they went door to door to every business in town, and their study was pretty comprehensive,” he said. The firm, along with Mr. Packish and DSMPC member Erik Albert, owner of the Oak Bluffs Inn, also run the committee’s active social media program, including the website and a Facebook page that already has over 800 likes. Surveys can still be completed on the website, until August 8.

“We want to hear from all Islanders, not just Oak Bluffs,” Mr. Packish said. “We’re open to good ideas.”

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TEDxMarthasVineyard will feature 13 speakers, each talking for 15 minutes, and three streamed videos spread out over a single afternoon.

Ken Wentworth, Katy Decker and Liz Witham are collaborating on the Vineyard's first TedX conference. — Courtesy Liz Witham

“Insanity, Genius, and the Creative Process” will be the topic of TEDxMarthasVineyard, on August 19, from 11 am to 6 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society. TEDxMarthas Vineyard is the first TED event to be held on the Island. The Martha’s Vineyard Times is the media sponsor of the event.

“We’re really proud to partner with TEDxMarthasVineyard as media sponsor for their inaugural conference,” Peter Oberfest, publisher of the Martha’s Vineyard Times said. “TED began 30 years ago to consider the convergence of technology, entertainment, and design (hence TED), and has grown into a sprawling international program, including affiliated TEDx conferences in communities all over the world. TED’s mission — ideas worth spreading — resonates with the best of community newspaper and digital content goals, to challenge conventional wisdom and to spark creativity within the Martha’s Vineyard community.”

The first TED conference in 1984 included demos of cutting-edge technology such as the compact disc, the e-book and 3D graphics from Lucasfilm. TED’s popularity exploded after TED Talks were first posted online in June 2006. At the end of the first year, TED Talks had two million views. By the end of 2009, the first year of the TEDx program, the total views surpassed 200 million and in November 2012, TED Talks had one billion collective views. There have been over 10,200 TEDx events in 162 countries since the program began in 2009.

Following the TED model, TEDxMarthasVineyard will have 13 speakers, each talking for 15 minutes, and three streamed videos spread out over a single afternoon. Alexandra Styron, an author and lifelong seasonal Island resident, will moderate TEDxMarthasVineyard. Katy Decker is directing the event, with support from fellow co-founders Maggie Bryan, Ken Wentworth, and Liz Witham.

“I’ve produced TEDx events in San Miguel De Allende, Mexico, and I thought it would be an amazing fit for the lsland,” Ms. Decker said. “We wanted to do an event that isn’t age or gender specific, and that would attract people from all walks of life.”

Ms. Decker said the speaker selection began with suggestions from some prominent Islanders.“There’s a lot of amazing people here on the Island, like Geraldine Brooks and David McCullough,” she said. “They already give so much back to the community, rather than ask them to speak, we asked who they would like to hear.”

Speakers at TEDxMarthasVineyard will include author and screenwriter Jon Ronson (Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test); seasonal resident and film producer Gary Foster (Sleepless in Seattle, The Soloist); Bevil Conway, lecturer on neurobiology at Harvard Medical School; renowned sommelier Andre Mac, Ian Ridgeway, captain of tall ship Shenandoah, singer/songwriter/producer Devonte Hynes aka Blood Orange, and costume designer Janie Bryant (Mad Men). Ms. Bryant is nominated for an Emmy award, but has elected to speak at TEDxMarthasVineyard and to watch the proceedings on television from the Island. A full list of speakers, along with ticket and sponsorship information, can be found at the TEDxMarthasVineyard website.

TED has exacting standards for TEDx events, and work began on this event last August. “This is a very expensive event to produce, since we have to post the talks on-line and TED production standards are very high,” Ms. Decker said. “That along with travel expenses for the speakers has us running at a deficit right now. The proceeds from this year, if there are any, will go to funding next year’s event,” she said.

Tickets are $65 for the August 19 event. There will be events over four days, starting on August 17, where donors of $500, $1,000 and corporate sponsors will have the opportunity to join the speakers at more intimate gatherings, including cocktail parties, a lunch sail on the Shenandoah and dinner and wine tasting at Atria.

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Island homeowners must confront baffling insurance policies tied to fluctuating flood maps.

Water Street in Vineyard Haven lived up to its name during Hurricane Sandy. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

On Wednesday, Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill aimed at relieving homeowners beset with rising flood insurance premiums. The new law prohibits creditors from requiring homeowners to buy flood insurance policies that exceed the balance of their mortgage. Additionally, it bans mortgage lenders from requiring coverage for the contents of the home or including a deductible of less than $5,000.

Underscoring the confusion that continues to bedevil consumers and vendors, the law, which arrived on the governor’s desk as H 3783, an Act Relative to Flood Insurance, also stipulates that homeowners fully understand that minimum flood insurance protects only their outstanding mortgage interest, not the value of their home. H 3783 is just the latest in a flurry of federal and state legislation that has been passed in the past two years, to try to bring order to a flood insurance program awash in confusion and red ink.
“The deeper you look into this, the more complicated it gets,” U.S. Representative William Keating said in a phone interview with The Times. Mr. Keating represents the 9th Massachusetts district, which includes the Cape and Islands. Mr. Keating played a key role in the drafting and passing of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act (HFIA), the most recent federal flood insurance legislation signed into law in March by President Obama.

HFIA repeals and modifies a number of provisions in the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act, which was enacted after emergency bailouts from Congress were required to keep the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) program afloat after taking a $22 billion hit from Hurricane Katrina. Many congressmen were inundated with complaints from their constituents who felt they were paying the tab for wealthy owners of vacation homes.
“It was a hard job convincing people in Congress this wasn’t the case,” Mr. Keating said. “I was told directly by other congressmen that these are rich people with waterfront homes. I tried to tell them that these are mostly family homes, many of them passed down through generations, but that was the mindset.”

Mr. Keating owned a house in Edgartown for 10 years and said he is well aware of the financial challenges Islanders face, along with the misconception that it’s an exclusive enclave for the elite. “People in congress have used the Vineyard as an example of flood insurance helping the rich,” he said. “That perception was around even back in my State House days.”

Drowning in Biggert Waters
The impact of Biggert Waters was immediate in Massachusetts. Homeowners who’d never been in a hazard zone suddenly found themselves with crushing flood insurance bills. Insurance rate hike horror stories were legion.

“I had a client who was on the old flood insurance plan who was paying $500 a year,” said Deb Martin, an insurance consultant with Grassi Insurance in Wareham “After Biggert Waters, it shot up to $60,000 a year. This was with a house that was almost 100 years old and had never been flooded.”

Biggert Waters also eliminated grandfathering — no longer were buildings allowed to keep their original flood-risk rating even if the zone designation changed with new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)  flood zone maps. In addition to skyrocketing premiums, second homes were hit with a 25 percent annual tax increase. Grandfathering of insurance policies was also eliminated, so when a home was sold, flood insurance rates went to actuarial rate immediately. People who bought homes after July 2012 became ineligible for subsidies after October 1, 2012, the day the new law went into effect. Biggert Waters also mandated that FEMA redraw coastal flood maps, and to do it quickly. Flood risk determinations were made for the high water mark in a 100-year storm — a model where there is a 26 percent chance of flooding over the span of a 30-year mortgage.

HFIA spells relief
HFIA capped residential insurance rates for primary homes at 18 percent and restored grandfathering. “Grandfathering is a big thing for Massachusetts because a lot of our homes are older homes,” a member of Mr. Keating’s staff said on background. “Under Biggert Waters when a home was sold or transferred it went to actuarial rate immediately. The new bill repealed the trigger. It was really devastating, especially for our district.”

HFIA also delayed rate hikes for four years while FEMA re-evaluates the accuracy of its flood maps. HFIA also includes the Keating Provision, which “guarantees that community maps are drawn with methodology that is appropriate for their region, ensuring that flood insurance premiums will be fair and accurate,” according to a press release from Mr. Keating’s office.

The Keating provision was set in motion shortly after FEMA released preliminary flood maps last fall. “Once we got a close look at the new maps, we felt like they just didn’t look right,” another Keating staffer said. “We felt like we needed to do our own study.”


An independent review of FEMA flood maps, by Dr. Brian Howes of UMass Dartmouth’s School of Marine Science and Technology and John Ramsey of Applied Coastal Research and Engineering, concluded that FEMA had utilized the Direct Integration Method (DIM), a Pacific Coast wave model, as opposed to one based on the Atlantic coastline in New England. The study concluded that the SWAN model — Simulating Waves Nearshore — developed by the Dutch, was a more accurate wave model for the Atlantic Coast wave pattern.
Based on the new study, the town of Rockport successfully appealed the new FEMA flood maps in February. “I expect FEMA to rectify the incorrect Massachusetts maps based on their recent approval of Rockport’s appeal,” Mr. Keating said in a press release after the decision. Other towns in New England are also preparing appeals on the Rockport decision. However, at present, FEMA is still using the DIM methodology.
“There are many different acceptable models,” FEMA engineer Kerry Bogdan said in an interview with The Times. “That doesn’t mean what we did is wrong.”
“My view is they’re digging in,” Mr. Keating said. “The law requires FEMA to enhance coordination with communities before and during mapping and to report certain information to members of Congress for each state. There’re questions throughout the whole process regarding the accuracy of the maps. A lot has been placed on FEMA in that respect, but the methodology has to be corrected.”

Mr. Keating added that he’s had discussions with Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on the matter and that the oversight committee to homeland security has been receptive to a hearing, which he expects to hold this fall.

Although FEMA was due to release revised preliminary maps for Martha’s Vineyard this month, Ms. Bogdan said the maps will be made public in late fall or early winter. After the maps are released, there is a 90-day comment period where towns or townspeople can challenge FEMA findings. Individuals can challenge the map by hiring an engineer to draft a certificate of elevation, the cost of which can range upwards of $1,000. “We try to time the release of the maps to the 90-day period close to town meeting,” she said. The maps do not become official until they are approved at town meeting. Until that time, the 2010 maps for the Vineyard will be the FEMA standard.

Congressman urges action
Mr. Keating stressed that the most effective action for Islanders will be collective action. “We’re urging communities to become part of the Community Rating System,” he said, referring to the FEMA program that rewards communities that take action to reduce flood damage to insurable properties. “You’re not just benefiting individuals, you’re benefitting the community.This can decrease premiums for people from 10 percent up to 45 percent. In many cases, towns are already doing what it takes to earn credits.”

None of the six Island towns are enlisted in the Community Rating System, according to the FEMA website.
A staff member from Mr. Keatings officesaid there are staff members available who can set up a conference call between town officials and FEMA about joining Community Rating System.
“The clock is ticking on the reform: three and a half years seems like a long way off, but it’s not,” Mr. Keating said, referring to the grace period that was part of HFIA. “The sooner we get more resolution the better it is for everyone. This affects the way people make plans and there are lot of other issues tied into this. We don’t want to be waiting till the 11th hour.”

Mr. Keating said Islanders can get help with flood insurance on a case-by-case basis from his staff by calling his Plymouth office at 508-746-9000.

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The Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic (OBBC), a big-game fishing tournament and the de facto replacement of the Monster Shark Tournament, will make its inaugural run this week, from Wednesday through Saturday, July 24–26.
Damon Sacco of Bourne, owner and operator of Castafari Sport Fishing and organizer of the Hyannis Tuna Fest, is the organizer of the OBBC. He has been assisted by Christian Giardani of Falmouth, one of the organizers of the Falmouth Grand Prix fishing tournament, and Ted Rosbeck of Edgartown.

“The fishing is really starting to heat up, so we should see some great action,” Mr. Sacco said in a phone interview with The Times. “We just need the weather to cooperate.” Mr. Sacco said the bluewater fishing south of Martha’s Vineyard rivals the best big game fishing anywhere in the world. Contestants can fish two out of the three days, which will allow for overnight trips to the northeast canyons, prime waters for big game hunting.

The OBBC is sanctioned by the International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) and will operate on a points system. Species that will accrue points are bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, swordfish, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and marlin. Marlin will be catch and release only. Sharks will have no point value. Contestants will weigh in their fish from 5 to 8 pm, Thursday through Saturday, at the dock adjacent to Our Market. A marine biologist will be on hand at the weigh-in. There will be sponsor booths in Sunset park as well. Mad Martha’s Brewery is the main sponsor of the tournament.
On Saturday night, there will be an awards dinner at Dreamland, followed by a party with live music, that will open to the public at 10 pm.
Ten percent of the tournament proceeds will be donated to the Island autism group, according to Mr. Sacco. There will also be a charity raffle for the Massachusetts General Hospital colon cancer research fund.

The Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic replaces the Monster Shark Tournament, which ended after the untimely death of organizer Steven James in a duck hunting accident in January. Mr. James ran the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament for 27 years, defending and modifying it over time in the face of growing opposition from Islanders and others.  In February, Oak Bluffs selectmen voted to reject the application for a new shark tournament and instead chose the multi-species tournament proposed by Mr. Sacco and his associates.
Mr. Sacco said he’s expecting 25 to 30 teams to enter this year — a modest turnout compared to the Monster Shark tournament, which peaked in 2004 with  245 participating entrants that paid an entry fee of more than $1,000 per boat. But Mr. Sacco is confident the OBBC will grow under his guidance. “We had 16 contestants in the first year of [Hyannis] Tuna Fest, in 2011,” he said. “This year we had 57.” Mr. Sacco said his goal is to reach 100 contestants in five years.

More information for the Oak Bluffs Bluewater Classic can be found at the tournament website,

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The Goodale Construction Company pit has been the focus of complaints from nearby residents. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The Oak Bluffs zoning board of appeals (ZBA) Thursday voted 5-0 to annul building inspector James Dunn’s ruling that Goodale Construction Company must obtain a special permit to continue mining operations at its 100.2-acre property off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

In April, Mr. Dunn ordered the company to apply for a special permit on the basis that the sand and gravel mining/asphalt enterprise “has been substantially extended since the use became nonconforming.”
Although Goodale’s operates in a residential zone, the company maintained it has the grandfathered right to continue unabated since the land was a mining concern before town zoning laws went into effect on February 10, 1948. Mining operations began on the property in the 1930s and the Goodale family has owned it since the 1950s.

The Thursday night, July 17, meeting was a continuation of a ZBA public hearing held on June 19, which was only the latest meeting in a long simmering rhubarb between the company and neighborhood abutters.

Goodale’s raised the ire of their neighbors in 2011 after the company fenced in the remaining part of its parcel, and cut a new road for access to the Little Pond neighborhood, which abuts their property. The latest flare-up began when Goodales began clearing trees on the last 20 mineable acres, on the western sector of the property, which is closest to the neighboring residential area. Peter Goodale, son of owner Jerry Goodale, estimated Thursday night it will take 20 years before the parcel, and the entire sand and gravel mining operation, is exhausted.

Abutters air concerns

Thursday night, abutters and nearby residents said that Goodale’s has increasingly become an environmental hazard, and they cited concerns about dust, fumes and the potential for polluting a crucial Island aquifer.

“The dust created by a gravel pit operation is not the same as the dust caused by farming,” Iron Hill resident Richard Fried said. “Gravel releases a crystalline silica which is a known carcinogen. These tiny particles enter the lungs and stay there.”
“In the last 40 years we know there’s been significant impact on the public health and on groundwater quality,” Iron Hill resident Judy Marion said. “That has not been addressed at all.”

“The trees are the last barrier and removing them will be detrimental,” Little Pond resident Patricia Marks said. “The lack of trees makes for more dust, more noise, and more snow depth in the winter which makes it harder for first responders.”

Kris Chvatal, a ZBA member who presided over the meeting, repeatedly had to remind members of the public providing comment that the hearing had no bearing on the continuing operation of Goodale’s. “The issue of operation is not on the table,” he said. “This is simply do they continue doing business with a special permit or without one?” he said.

Law of the land

Over the course of two hours, Jerry Goodale and Peter Goodale sat impassively at a table facing the board, flanking their attorney, Kevin O’Flaherty from the Boston firm, Goulston & Storrs. Mr. O’Flaherty stated that in addition to being grandfathered, Goodale’s passed the Powers  Test, the prevailing metric in determining nonconforming land use in Massachusetts courts. The Powers Test asks if current land use is the same as before zoning was initiated, if the land use is similar in quality and in degree, and if the land use drastically increases the impact on surroundings.

“There has not been a drastic change here,” Mr. O’Flaherty said. “It is not the case that because the hole is bigger it is an expansion. A business is allowed to grow naturally. Goodale’s passed the Powers Test with flying colors.” Mr. O’Flaherty’s comments elicited a groundswell of grumbling from objecting abutters.

Mr. O’Flaherty also said that Goodales has substantially decreased production, which has resulted in a reduction of man hours and heavy equipment use. “2001 was our heaviest year, with 177,000 tons. Last year, 102,000 tons of material were produced,” he said.

As to environmental concerns, Mr. O’Flaherty noted that the plant is in compliance with myriad EPA regulations and has complied with the requests of the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. He added that the plant has also implemented renewable energy “There was a coal-fired boiler back in the day,” he said. “Now there’s a solar array to run asphalt batching and the processing plant.”

Strong support
The board also heard from a vocal contingent of Goodale supporters who cited the economic importance of the mining concern for the Island. Goodale’s is the sole supplier of sand, gravel, and asphalt on the Vineyard. They also spoke to the long history of altruism the Goodale family has on the Island. A number of the Goodale supporters who spoke were also abutters.
“I’ve lived at Little Pond since 1984,” Josh Flanders said. “Over the years Jerry had been 100 percent up-front about things. They haven’t increased their impact, they just continue doing what they do. I was fully aware of what was going on and that was my choice to buy and it hasn’t had an effect on me and my four kids. Jerry’s an honest guy and he’s helped a lot of people on this island.”
Michael Capen, a direct abutter to Goodales since the 80s when development around Goodale’s began in earnest, said anyone who didn’t want to live near a mining business should not have bought their property there in the first place. He added that Goodale’s donated 10 acres of their property to expand town water wells.

“I can’t imagine how we could do business paying for sand from off Island,” septic specialist Tim Peters said. “The average septic [installation] takes 300 yards. One ten-wheeler holds 25 yards and it’s $400 roundtrip.”

ZBA member Joe Re said that although the three tenets of the Powers Test were somewhat subjective, he was inclined to agree with Mr. O’Flaherty’s argument. “The nature of the sand and gravel mining is that when they empty out one area, they are going to go to another piece of their property,” he said. “It’s the nature of the beast. I don’t think they’ve stepped outside of the operation.”
Board chairman Andrea Rogers concurred. “I believe it’s the same use since 1948,” she said.
Although the board’s decision was unanimous, Mr. Chvatal expressed concern for the abutters. “This is such a coin toss,” he said. “The thing that gets me is the proximity issue. I understand the nature of the beast, but I wonder if there isn’t some sort of impact. I would love to secure an agreement for a different fence or adding trees, but I cannot do that in this hearing.”

“We were surprised at the unanimous decision,” Richard Fried said in a phone call with The Times. “We weren’t looking to shut this down, we were just hoping to get some concession — a certain amount of forest left, and certain assurances on pollution controls. We’re not just concerned about the law. We’ve learned government regulations aren’t always safe.”

Mr. Dunn, who has announced his retirement, did not attend the Thursday night hearing due to a previous engagement.

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Comcast has extended the deadline for at least 270 homeowners to pay a minimum of $2,139 each to bring service to the island.

The island of Chappaquiddick on the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard is without cable service. — File photo by Bill Brine

The hard fought and sometimes fractious campaign to bring Comcast high speed Internet/cable TV/phone service to Chappaquiddick appeared as though it was about to hit a wall in the form of a Monday, July 21, deadline by which at least 270 homeowners were required to pay Comcast a minimum installation fee of $2,139, which the cable giant said it needs to make its $1.58 million initial investment to wire the tiny island commercially viable.
However, island proponents of the multi-step deal fashioned by Edgartown officials were recently given a boost when the cable giant moved the deposit deadline back to March 1, 2015. If Comcast had stuck to the original deadline, the prospect for cable on Chappy would be extremely dim.

According to residents involved with negotiations, as of Wednesday, July 16, there were 92 deposits on the books.

The deadline has been extended in part because there was so much sturm und drang surrounding the previous benchmark of 270 commitment letters by October 1, 2013.

The commitment letter required no payment from the homeowner. It simply gave Comcast permission to survey their “dwelling unit” to determine if logistical complications, namely the distance from the main cable under Chappaquiddick road, would require additional charges above the $2,139 deposit.

“The deadline extension was mutually agreed upon in the spirit of cooperation as we continue to work with Edgartown leaders in our efforts to have Comcast serve the island of Chappaquiddick,” Comcast cable spokesman Marc Goodman said Wednesday in a phone call with The Times.

In the meantime, cable proponents hope they can enlist more signups from people who were initially uneasy about sending in a commitment letter or were simply unaware of what it entailed.

Woody Filley, Chappaquiddick Island Association (CIA) utilities committee member, said in a phone call with The Times that 294 people sent in commitment letters by last year’s October 1 deadline.

He said there are another 140 homeowners that were not part of the initial commitment letter inventory. Comcast is going to allow those people another opportunity to sign a commitment letter. Once signed, Comcast will send out engineers to evaluate the installation charges. At that time, homeowners can decide whether they would like to place a deposit for service.

First hurdle
By July 2013, there were only a handful of commitment letters on file, due in part to confusion over the terms. Some residents thought that the letter left them vulnerable to an open-ended financial commitment. Some proponents of the deal thought the Comcast estimate of “dwelling units” contained guest houses and detached garages, thus making the goal more difficult to reach. Comcast denied appeals for a recount.

At the Chappaquiddick Island Association (CIA) annual meeting in July 2013, it was apparent that the Comcast commitment letter had created a great deal of confusion. Many people were put off by the brief missive which stated that each homeowner had to sign up for for two years of basic cable in addition to paying the Aid in Construction Fee (AIC) of at least $2,139. But over the next two months, the tide turned.

That 294 letters of commitment were tallied at Edgartown National Bank on October 1 was a testament to a core group of people on the CIA utilities committee, headed by Mr. Filley, a technology teacher at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, who relentlessly worked the phones and bent ears whenever and wherever they could. Chappy ferry owner Peter Wells, a strong advocate of the technology upgrade, kept a running tally on a scoreboard on the Chappy side of the ferry. He was also uniquely situated to lobby his captive audience, in his own genial way.

Keep counting

It’s one thing to get 270 people to send in a letter, it’s another to get them to part with more than $2,100 dollars. Mr. Filley said that while the deadline has been pushed back to March 1, 2015, the goal is still to get 270 deposits in as soon as possible. “The sooner we hit 270, the sooner Comcast gets going,” he said.

Comcast completed its survey of Chappy by March of 2014, and the estimates were sent out. While some proponents thought Comcast might try to get out of the deal with exorbitant AIC fees, very few of the houses that could be wired required additional funds. “Most homes were not to be charged anything but minimal installation fees,” Mr Filley said.

Mr. Filley said lessons have been learned from last year’s commitment letter campaign and changes have been made in the collection process. “We’ve been working with [Edgartown town administrator] Pam Dolby and she’s been taking payments,” he said. “A lot of people have been dropping them off at her office.” Mr Filley said deposits can also be sent to: Town of Edgartown, PO Box 5158, Edgartown, MA, 02539, Attention: Pamela Dolby “Confidential.”

The original Comcast proposal stated that if the required deposits were in by July 21, 2014, Chappy would have a functioning cable system by February 15, 2016.

Banding together for bandwidth
To help Chappy residents who want hi-speed Internet but can’t swing the high up-front cost, some Chappy residents have established the Chappaquiddick Community Fund (CCF). “The long-range purpose of the CCF would be to provide financial help to face a variety of issues and needs that might arise within the Chappy community such as emergency fuel assistance, emergency medical costs and other such needs,” former CIA president Lionel Spiro wrote in an email to The Times. “In addition, our application to the IRS described the need to raise funds to provide Comcast with half their costs of installing cables under town roads. Thus far, various members of the Chappaquiddick community have indicated a willingness to donate as much as $153,000 if needed, for this purpose.”
Mr. Filley advises people who are content with their current Internet service with Verizon or ChappyWISP to consider the explosive pace of technology growth. “This is not just going to fix a problem for a year. This is going to be a long-term improvement to the infrastructure,” Mr. Filley said. “Consider how much technology has changed in the past 10 years. Medical technology is exploding on the Internet. That’s especially important for remote areas like Chappy. And look at the convenience that it brings. It wasn’t that long ago when you had to drive to the steamship to get a reservation. Infrastructure decisions are made on anticipated lifestyles instead of present lifestyles.”

To people who resist the deal because they resent having no other choice in cable provider, Mr. Filley says that when it comes to something as crucial as technology, it’s better to have one monopoly than none at all.

Don’t touch that dial
Not everyone on Chappy wants Comcast to come. Seasonal resident Jay Hunter is an outspoken opponent of the deal. “One of the reasons people come to Chappy is the serenity and the wilderness,” he said in a phone call with The Times. “It’s one of the reasons why we’re here, to get away from things you’re inundated with. My bookcase is full of books that actually get read. We go hiking and blueberry picking and fishing. My 26-year-old was just here with a buddy, the TV or the computer weren’t on once.There were too many other things to do.”
Mr. Hunter also questions the current Comcast strategy from a technological angle. “Communication is going to be wireless, that’s the direction technology is going. For now, Chappy WISP works just fine. I was working this morning on the Internet and we stream Netflix no problem.”

Long time coming
The battle to wire Chappy began in early 2011, when negotiations began for a new 10-year contract between Comcast and the Island Cable Advisory Board (CAB), a committee representing the six towns on Martha’s Vineyard. Initially, Comcast said it had no interest in serving the remote, sparsely populated, island on an island. Service to Chappy became a major stumbling block to renewing the Island-wide deal. The CAB and Comcast extended the contract several times over the long and increasingly strained negotiation. In December 2011, Ms. Dolby refused to attend any more meetings until Chappy was included in the conversation. In September 2012, Comcast agreed to include Chappy, and finally, in late January of 2013, the selectmen from the six towns endorsed a 10-year, Island-wide agreement with Comcast.

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When a Chilmark carpenter suffered a massive heart attack, quick action by Islanders lead to an implausibly happy ending.

Chris MacLeod, looking no worse for the wear, with wife Hope and children Finnegan and Linden, at the Chilmark town barn on Monday. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Chris MacLeod, 47, was working by himself at the Chilmark North Road fire station on the morning of June 18. Around 10:30 am, as one of the warmest days of the year began to heat up, he began to feel ill.

“I was on a ladder, replacing some trim boards, and I started to feel sick, and my arm started tingling,” Mr. MacLeod recalled in a conversation with The Times. “Rodney [Chilmark town custodian Rodney Bunker] was there and I told him I needed to sit down and he looked at me and said we had to go.”

Rodney Bunker (left) took Chris MacLeod (center) to the Chilmark town barn where Tri-town EMT Kristina West (right) performed life-saving CPR.
Rodney Bunker (left) took Chris MacLeod (center) to the Chilmark town barn where Tri-town EMT Kristina West (right) performed life-saving CPR.

Rodney Bunker knew the closest EMT was at the Chilmark ambulance barn, a short drive away. He didn’t know, however, that on-duty EMT Kristina West was on the second solo shift of her young career, and that she’d never treated a patient in full cardiac arrest before.

“At first I thought they were firemen because they come and go at the station,” Ms. West recalled. “Then I saw Chris and we sat him in a chair right away. It wasn’t long, less than a minute until he coded,” she said.

“Coded” is medical-speak for cardiac arrest — the heart stops pumping and the lungs stop breathing — essentially, the person has died.

Mr. MacLeod coded many times over the next two hours. He coded in the Menemsha ambulance barn, he coded in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, he coded in the helicopter to Boston, he coded twice in the elevator at Beth Israel Hospital, and several more times on the operating table.

After calling for backup, Ms. West began CPR. One hundred chest pumps per minute on a man of Mr. MacLeod’s brawn is a physically demanding task. But Ms. West knew she could hold out until paramedic Matt Montanile and EMT Haley Krauss arrived from West Tisbury. She did not know, however, that they had just been in a serious accident.

“I was driving the brand-new response vehicle on North road, and we were about two miles from the barn when a car pulled out in front of me from a little side street,” Mr.Montanile said. “I barely missed the car, but we went off the road and hit some trees head on and totaled the vehicle. I hopped out and radioed to dispatch to get other paramedics to respond.”

Tisbury paramedics Kyle Gatchell and Tracey Jones, and Tri-town paramedic Ben Retmier, all off-duty at the time, responded to Mr. Montanile’s call for backup. But back at the Chilmark fire barn, more precious seconds were ticking away.

According to the American Red Cross, irreversible brain damage can begin approximately three minutes into cardiac arrest, and the first 15 minutes are the most critical in determining the outcome of a heart attack victim. Mr. MacLeod spent the first of those 15 minutes on a cement floor, in a remote location, on an Island, with a newbie EMT straining to pump his chest. His long odds of a full recovery were dimming rapidly.

Help from all corners

The delay in paramedic support could have been catastrophic. But once the word was out, Islanders stepped in. Chilmark executive secretary Tim Carroll, a special police officer and retired EMT, heard the Priority 1 call on the radio in his office at town hall, which sits next to the ambulance barn. Chilmark board of health inspector Marina Lent also works at town hall. “I’m a former paramedic, so when I heard there was an emergency in the barn, I ran,” Ms. Lent said. “When I got there, Chris was on his back and Tim [Carroll] was helping Kristina. She was doing an amazing job, especially considering how new she is to the job.”

Ms. Lent began to take turns in the chest compression rotation. “Big guys like Chris, you have to compress extremely hard and fast,” she said. “You have to rotate people out every two minutes because you get weaker, but because you’re so full of adrenaline, you don’t realize it.”
Ms. Lent was not optimistic about the outcome.“I was amazed to hear Chris was flown off-Island,” she said. “I honestly didn’t think he would last that long.”

Bret Stearns, natural resources director for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head and tribal ranger Curtis Chandler arrived 10 minutes after the Priority 1 call went out, by Mr. Stearns’s estimation. In addition to joining the chest compression rotation, which now included Tri-town EMT Alan Ganapol, Mr. Stearns and Mr. Chandler deployed the Lucas machine, a chest compression device that the Wampanoag tribe acquired and donated to Tri-town ambulance last October. “The LUCAS (Lund University Cardiac Assist System) machine gives more effective compression for a longer period of time,” Mr. Stearns said. “Chris was the perfect candidate for it.”

By the time the paramedics arrived and the ambulance was ready to go, there were seven Islanders in the chest compression rotation, working to keep Chris MacLeod alive.

Down-Island dash

On a normal day, North Road is the preferred route from Chilmark to the hospital because it’s a straighter road which makes the ride steadier for the paramedics working in back, and there’s usually less traffic. But because of the earlier accident involving the fast response team, Ms. West had to take South Road, which in the best of conditions is a motoring challenge. And Ms. West had not driven the ambulance in a critical emergency before. ”Thankfully, it was mid-June and not August, so traffic wasn’t too bad, and it was mostly locals on the roads,” she said. “They know where it’s safe to pull over and they get out of the way pretty quickly.”

Next of kin

While Mr. MacLeod was fighting for his life, his wife, Hope MacLeod, the intensive needs coordinator for Island schools, was at work in Edgartown, unaware of her husband’s plight. “I was in a meeting and I shut off my phone,” she said. “When I turned it back on there were all these messages, people madly trying to find me. They needed to know what medications Chris is on. They didn’t say what had happened, but they said he was on his way to the emergency room. I raced to the hospital, and I beat the ambulance there. [Chilmark police chief] Brian Cioffi came screaming up in his car. I could hear more sirens coming in the distance. Brian implied Chris might not make it, and I just collapsed on him.”

After some quick work by the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency room staff, Mr. MacLeod was put on a Medflight helicopter to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “They hardly ever let a spouse go on flight. For some reason the pilot said ‘yes,’” she said.

Situation grave

The cardiac response team at Beth Israel was assembled before the helicopter landed. The test results faxed by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital underscored the urgency of the situation.

“His condition was grave,” Dr. Amjad AlMahameed, a Beth Israel cardiologist said in a phone interview with The Times. “We had to shock him twice in the elevator on the way to surgery. Within the first four minutes of surgery we had to shock him twice as well.”

Mr. MacLeod’s surgery took only 17.9 minutes, according to Dr. AlMahameed’s records. “His heart was starving for blood,” he said. “It was operating at 50 percent efficiency. We found a 90 percent blockage in one artery and another 70 percent blockage downstream. Once we removed the blockages, his blood pressure improved immediately. We knew we could fix his heart,” Dr. AlMahameed said. “But with him getting CPR for so long, there were still a lot of unknowns.”

Dr. Donald E. Cutlip, another cardiologist, concurred, “We’re always optimistic we can fix the heart when someone has CPR right away,” he said in a phone interview with The Times. “In these situations, cardiac recovery is 95 percent. Neurologic recovery is another story. Given what Chris went through, the odds of cognitive impairment were extremely high.”

Wondrous moment

To minimize potential brain damage, Mr. MacLeod was put in a medically induced coma, and into medically induced hypothermia.

Over the next 48 hours, Mr. MacLeod’s loved ones faced the cruel purgatory of praying for him to live, knowing that he might never recognize them, or live without the help of a machine, again. “It seemed like he was recognizing us at times, but it was hard to tell,” Ms. MacLeod said. “I think he knew it was us. His heart rate would go up.”

As Mr. MacLeod was brought out of his coma, the neurological team came to assess the severity of his brain damage. “He responded to all their tests, wiggling his fingers, shaking head ‘yes,’ pressing his foot like he was hitting the gas,” Ms. MacLeod said in a quavering voice. “That was a huge moment.”

By Saturday morning, the respirator tube was removed and Mr. MacLeod was breathing on his own. A week from the day his addled heart stopped eight times, Mr. MacLeod was home “on butterfly light duty,” being showered with homemade gifts from his seven-year-old son, Finnegan, and his five-year-old daughter, Linden, who were thrilled that their father could read to them again.
“The last thing I remember is walking into the barn,” Mr. MacLeod said. “My memory of the the hospital is pretty foggy, and my chest is a little sore, but it’s pretty wondrous that I’m walking around with all my functions.”

Providence and planning

“In Chris’s case, a full recovery is quite miraculous,” Dr. Cutlip said. “Years ago, only a few percent of bystanders knew CPR.  As more people learn it, these miracles will happen more often.”

“He was in the right place, surrounded by people who knew exactly what to do, and they did it properly,” Dr. AlMahameed said. “The outcome of a heart attack is determined in the first 15 minutes. The first responders and the staff at Martha’s Vineyard hospital deserve the credit for protecting his brain.”

Providence played a role in keeping Mr. MacLeod alive, and also in saving first responders from serious injury.

“If Matt and Hailey had been in one of the old first response vehicles, their outcome would have been very different,” Ms. West said.

Mr. Montanile agreed.“I believe that 100 percent. No doubt in my mind.”

To a number, every first responder interviewed for this article cited Rodney Bunker as the key player in Mr. MacLeod’s survival. “If it wasn’t for Rodney telling him to get in the truck, Chris wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Carroll said. “Rodney is the hero of this story.”

Mr. Bunker could not be reached for comment.

Ms. West praised Aquinnah police sergeant Paul Manning for his help at the barn, and for driving his cruiser ahead of the ambulance which made for a fast trip to the hospital.

“Sergeant Manning was a huge help. He has an exceptionally calm nature which is wonderful to be around in a crisis,” she said. “He cleared the road so we wouldn’t have to slow down. That made a huge difference, because if you break even a little hard or swerve to avoid something, the paramedics or the patient can really get hurt.”

Ms. MacLeod marveled at how quickly her husband was treated. “It was 10:50 when Chris went down at the barn. He got to the hospital at 11:40, got to Boston at 12:35, and around 1:30 the doctors told me everything was done,” she said. “I’m just so grateful to everyone. It’s just incredible how so many people could pull together so quickly to save his life.”

Ms. Lent had another take on the save. “Ultimately, the credit goes to Chris and his extreme stubbornness,” she said. “He just refused to go down.”


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Internet giant TripAdvisor says the Island is the priciest of its most popular summer destinations.

Gay Head Light, a popular tourist attraction. — MV Times File Photo

Martha’s Vineyard’s growing reputation as an exclusive enclave for the well-heeled was bolstered last week when Internet giant TripAdvisor released a study that ranked the Island the most expensive  family summer vacation spot of their 15 most popular rental destinations in the U.S.

TripAdvisor calculated that a week’s stay on the Island for a family of four would cost $3,661.13 on average. Rounding out the top were La Jolla, Calif., Miami, Fla., Maui, Hawaii, at $2,497.44, $2,288.81, and $2,465.12, respectively. Chatham, the only other New England destination, comes in fifth at  $2,120.18. The best summer deal according to the survey, is Palm Springs, Calif., which totals a measly $1,256.41, barely a third of the cost of a week on the Vineyard.

Newton-based TripAdvisor estimated the overall cost of the destinations by combining the property rental cost — based on the average weekly cost of a two-bedroom vacation rental property from July to September, 2014, as found on TripAdvisor — a one-day bike rental for four, basic groceries, and one dinner for four at a restaurant.

Historically expensive destinations like Nantucket, Newport, R.I., and the Hamptons in New York were not among the 14 other destinations, many of which, it should be noted, are in the south where costs are generally less.

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Travel costs to the destinations were not included, so a family of four that brings their car would add a minimum of $186 to their Vineyard tab. The survey defined “basic groceries” as one box of breakfast cereal, one gallon of milk, one dozen eggs, four chicken breasts and one bag of mixed vegetables. TripAdvisor determined these items would cost $28.30 on the Vineyard. It did not determine, however, how this paltry amount of food could possibly feed a family of four for a week.

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TripAdvisor is the world’s largest travel site, according to online audience measurement firm Media Metrix. According to Google analytics, the website averages nearly 260 million unique monthly visitors, and has membership of over 60 million people worldwide.

When the Vineyard is presented as an expensive destination to this enormous audience, does that help or hurt business on the Island?

“If you want to spend a lot of money, there are plenty of places on the Vineyard where you can do that,” Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce said in a phone interview with The Times. “But there are a lot more affordable rentals here than many people realize,” she said. “There’s the campgrounds, the youth hostel, and a good number of modestly priced small inns and B & B’s that people should know about. There are marvelous high-end places here. But we don’t want a young family to be scared off from visiting because they’re on a budget.”

Ms. Gardella thought the Vineyard housing costs skewed high because there was only one value-based property — Nashua House in Oak Bluffs — out of the 13 that went into the TripAdvisor metric. “Small inns that are value priced were not represented on this survey,” she said.

Ms. Gardella suggested that smaller establishments could do well to follow the Nashua house example on TripAdvisor. “The Nashua house has great reviews on TripAdvisor and the price is right. They’ve done a terrific job with their social media. They score a four and a half out of five and they have over 200 reviews.”

Ms. Gardella thinks that social media is underutilized by many Island businesses, and she encouraged people to contact the MV Chamber of Commerce for help. “We’ve had staff from TripAdvisor come here three times to speak with businesspeople who want to gain more Internet presence,” she said. “The simple thing of encouraging guests to post reviews can make a big difference. You want to keep your content fresh. You want to be responsive to negative reviews and use them as an opportunity. Our [TripAdvisor] trainings do all of that.”

Ms. Gardella said anyone who wants to be part of the next TripAdvisor advisory should contact the chamber of commerce. “You don’t have to be particularly tech savvy,” she said. “Just let us know and we’ll make sure you get an invitation.”