Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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2
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.

4

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.

25

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.”

 

1

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.

Island tariff

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.

Island image

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.”

7

Selectmen cited long standing internal conflicts, financial irregularities for the council on aging director’s dismissal.

Oak Bluffs selectmen listened to a report from chairman of the personnel board Gretchen Coleman-Thomas. From left to right: Walter Vail, Kathleen Burton, Chairman Gregory Coogan, Michael Santoro and Gail Barmakian. — Photo by Michael Cummo

After four and a half months of wrangling and two investigations of department accounting procedures, Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday voted 4 to 1 to lay off embattled Council on Aging (COA) director Roger Wey and reorganize the department.

First hired in December 2004, Mr. Wey, who has been on paid administrative leave since February 11, will end his tenure on June 30.

Roger Wey appeared before selectmen at a meeting on May 20 to discuss a report on his tenure as executive director of the Council on Aging.
Roger Wey appeared before selectmen at a meeting on May 20 to discuss a report on his tenure as executive director of the Council on Aging.

“We have been at a stalemate for a while,” chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan said. “There’s been no progress between attorneys. I asked Bob  [town administrator Robert Whritenour] to look into the COA and the [COA] in Edgartown and Vineyard Haven and make a recommendation. We have to resolve the situation.”

Mr. Whritenour provided selectmen with a six-page report in which he said, “In examining the current status it rapidly become clear that the existing leadership and structure at the Council on Aging is not capable of making significant improvement in the culture that has developed over time.”

Mr. Whritenour said a “significant reorganization” is required. Union opposition is expected.

Shirley Fauteux, agent for the Oak Bluffs board of health and shop steward for the local council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) said in a phone call with the Times that Mr. Whritenour’s actions were a clear case of “union busting,” noting that in his memo he states the COA director, which is a union position, should be replaced with “non-union, salaried, management positions.”

“The union will actively defend that as a union position,” Ms. Fauteux said.

Numerous violations

The selectmen voted to place Mr. Wey on paid leave on February 11 after town accountant Arthur Gallagher reported irregularities in COA finances, in particular with the Quilt Fund.

Selectman Gail Barmakian, seated next to  selectman Michael Santoro, was the lone dissenting vote.
Selectman Gail Barmakian, seated next to selectman Michael Santoro, was the lone dissenting vote.

Per the strong advice of town labor counsel John “Jack” Collins, selectmen first asked police and later forensic accountant John Sullivan of the firm Melanson, Heath & Company of Andover to investigate COA finances.

In a six-page memo dated May 5, Mr. Collins wrote that Mr. Sullivan’s report “confirms the suspicions the Town Accountant had concerning possible inappropriate handling and reporting of funds,” and concludes that “numerous laws appear to have been violated, that even the most basic accounting and reporting was lacking, that the Director used his position to direct or divert monies to private entities, that he directed at least one other COA employee to participate in these activities on town times, that town resources were used to support non-municipal agencies or groups, that public bidding laws were not followed, that even the most rudimentary not-for-profit filing and reporting laws were ignored and that funds belonging to the Town were diverted and expended at the direction of the COA Director in violation of applicable Massachusetts General Laws.”

Change needed

Chairman of the personnel board Gretchen Coleman-Thomas spoke in favor of long overdue change.
Chairman of the personnel board Gretchen Coleman-Thomas spoke in favor of long overdue change.

Mr. Whritenour’s six-page report, which was prepared in conjunction with the personnel board and sent to the selectmen on June 19, cited long-standing and at times rancorous internal conflict and lack of focus on COA services as the main reasons to lay off Mr. Wey. The report made only cursory mention of COA finances.

“For many years there have existed issues of concern with the management of Oak Bluffs’ program of senior services that have proven very difficult for the Town to overcome,” Mr. Whritenour wrote, citing a series of grievances between Mr. Wey and assistant director Rose Cogliano which required a series of hearings before the board of selectman starting in 2006.

“In 2009 problems erupted again, with charges that the seniors were being turned into “camps,” the Directors camp and the Assistant Director’s camp,” he wrote.

Paraphrasing from his report as he addressed the standing room only crowd Tuesday, Mr. Whritenour said in 2012 conflicts erupted again “even stronger than the past” which required a professional mediator to address issues of bullying. “That was met with resistance and with more grievances. Then 2013 we face town accountant complaints that funds from public sources were funneled through private accounts. Those issues are still outstanding,” he said.

Recommended revamp

Mr. Whritenour recommended a sweeping reorganization of the COA to remedy the long-standing divisiveness, and to improve the services to the community, “The council on aging itself needs to be structured in a way that it has more of a governing role over its services,” Mr. Whritenour said. “If we’re going to refocus, we have to look at new organization.”

Mr. Whritenour recommended giving more power to the board of directors, eliminating the director and assistant director position and replacing them with a COA administrator, a program administrator to operate the day to day business of the department, and an outreach coordinator. “We’ll be able to refocus the department on services, and away from control and power struggles,” he said.

Mr. Whritenour said he hoped to create a more collaborative approach at the COA, citing the library as an example where a strong board creates policies and the employees carry them out.

Mr. Whritenour was sharply critical about the COA outreach, saying the program that serves the largest senior population on the Island reaches about eight people, as compared to the 60 to 70 people that the Edgartown outreach program serves. “It’s not reaching the numbers we’d like to reach. In comparison to other communities it is miniscule,” he said.

Town labor counsel John (Jack) M. Collins advised that it would likely take three to four months to restructure the organization. He recommended that Mr. Whritenour and the COA board oversee the transition.

Selectman Gail Barmakian, the lone dissenting vote with “a very strong nay,” questioned if the COA reorganization required a town meeting vote. Her question went unanswered. She raised numerous questions over the course of the discussion, several times eliciting applause from the vocal contingent supporting Mr. Wey.

“I think we need to be really cautious and look into this more before we give the power to the board in this letter,” she said.

Selectman Kathy Burton, who said she’s been getting complaints about the COA from constituents for years, endorsed Mr. Whritenour’s reorganization plan. “I feel it’s best for the town and for the seniors here to move on. I think these are excellent suggestions,” she said.

Selectman Walter Vail also strongly supported the action. “It makes all the sense in the world,” he said. “It gives us opportunity to think about this for a while. We have to try something new.”

“We proposed the exact same thing in 2010,” personnel board chairman Gretchen Coleman-Thomas said. “The members today and in 2010 wholeheartedly support this.”

Ms. Coleman-Thomas said increased outreach to the community and active polling of the senior population were essential to improving the COA and defining its mission.

Mr. Coogan wrapped up the lengthy discussion, declining public comment. “This could have gone on a long time,” he said. “We’ve all had time to think about it. I could hear from 20 people on one side and 20 from another. I’ve heard from the COA board and from personnel board and I think it’s time for the board itself to move on this.”

Mr. Vail quickly made the motion to adapt Mr. Whritenour’s strategy and Ms. Burton seconded it. Mr. Coogan concluded the discussion despite continued procedural questions raised by Ms. Barmakian. “The motion is to lay off the COA director as of June 30 and let board continue to look at organization of the council on aging so we can resolve that by the fall. That’s as far as we’re going to go,” he said.

Future strategies

In a phone call with The Times on Wednesday morning, Mr. Wey said he was weighing his options with his attorney, Paul Merry. “We have to gather all the information and then we’ll have a strategy,” he said. “We had an investigation and an audit and nothing in either one that found anything that was really wrong. How much have they spent on all this nonsense? The legal fees, the accountant, the police investigation — if all this money went to fuel assistance there’d be a lot of happy people. The big losers are going to be the seniors, being underserved during the busiest time of year.”

In a phone call with the Times on Wednesday morning, Mr. Whritenour said he felt confident that the COA would function well over the summer. “Since February 2014 Rose [Cogliano] has been serving in an acting capacity and Susan [[Von Steiger] has increased her outreach role,” he said. “Things are going quite smoothly. The center is performing very well, we haven’t skipped a beat.”

Mr. Whritenour said that over the summer he, along with the COA board, will refine job descriptions, develop organizational goals, and conduct a professional recruitment process.

Correction:An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that selectmen voted to fire Mr. Wey. Selectmen voted to lay Mr. Wey off and reorganize the COA.

0
Gosnold addiction treatment center. — Gosnold

This is the sixth installment in a continuing look at opiate abuse and its effect on the Island community. The series began on Jan. 2 “Opiate addiction hits home,” and was followed on Jan. 22 “Martha’s Vineyard police and physicians confront opiate abuse,” on Feb. 12 “Opiates, a love story,” and on May 7 “Battling Addiction on Martha’s Vineyard,” and on June 5 “Section 35—when addiction calls for drastic action.”

Addiction doesn’t just take over an addict’s life. It also takes over the lives of their loved ones. As their world becomes more cluttered with the wreckage that the addict leaves behind, anger and resentment builds, along with the constant worry that every time the phone rings, it’s bad news. When the promises of sobriety have been broken so often they’ve lost all meaning, a planned intervention provides a way for friends and family to tackle the addiction head on.

On Island help

There is a dearth of on-Island professionals who are qualified to lead interventions. Dr. Charles Silberstein, resident psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital is one of the few.

“Intervention is a very powerful way to break through an addict’s denial,” he said.

Dr. Silberstein meets with the friends and family before the intervention and advises them on the combustible encounter that lies ahead. “I ask that they don’t tell the addict what’s best for him or her because it comes across as controlling,” he said. Saying, ‘’I love you so much, I’m angry with you all the time. If you can’t go into treatment I can’t live in the same house,’ is much different than saying, ‘You need help.’  When you communicate from a place of anger it never works.”
Dr. Silberstein sometimes recommends a planned intervention, where the element of surprise is eliminated and the addict actually helps to organize the event. “The problem with surprise interventions is it can leave people traumatized,” he said. “The nice thing about a planned intervention it that it can feel empowering and it doesn’t feel like an attack. With any intervention, the goal is the same — to intervene on the destructive behavior and to design solutions to the problem. People go through stages of readiness for change. Once you have a dialogue you can bolster the addict to make the change they want to make. There’s a part of every addict that doesn’t want to be an addict. It’s not  a pleasant life.”

Dr. Silberstein added that if someone is in imminent risk to themselves or to others, the best course of action is to call 911.

Deborah Pigeon, a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) based in Vineyard Haven, can also supervise an on-Island intervention. Before going into private practice on the Island, Ms. Pigeon worked at Gosnold addiction treatment center and a satellite facility, Emerson House for Women in West Falmouth.

“Interventions now are approached a different way,” she said. “They’re not as much about the shock value as they used to be.”

Since there are no inpatient facilities on the Island, Ms. Pigeon and Dr. Silberstein arrange for a bed in an off-Island facility and a friend or family member to accompany the person before the intervention. Although Ms. Pigeon is no longer solely dedicated to treating substance abuse, she estimates that at least 75 percent of her patients are directly or indirectly affected by it.

Off-Island help

Holly Carroll, an intervention coordinator at Gosnold addiction treatment center, has supervised interventions on the Cape and Islands for the past seven years. As is usually the case with recovery, it all begins when someone picks up the phone.

“It starts with a call to my cell phone — 774-313-0662 — from a friend or family member and I listen to their concerns,” Ms. Carroll said in a phone interview with the Times. “I tell them about the services we provide and we discuss things like family history. After the initial interview we schedule a time to meet. In most cases this involves immediate family, but I urge people to think outside the family system. It can help to hear from a wider spectrum of people, like a high school friend or neighbor or athletic coach.”

She said. “My job to be flexible and work within their time frame because crisis can’t be planned.”

Once Ms. Carroll is enlisted, the process moves quickly. “I like to meet with family and friends the day before and have the intervention the next morning,” she said. “In the planning session we discuss the who, what, when, where, and why of how the day’s going to work. Some families are not as cohesive as they need to be, and I need to educate them on addiction. Without a cohesive group, intervention is not a good idea. You can end up dividing the family rather than uniting them.”

Ms. Carroll asks everyone in the group to write letters to the addict, which are read aloud at the intervention. “We also talk about what’s going to stand in the way of the person accepting help, and we address it,” she said. “People often say they can’t go to rehab because they’re afraid of losing their job, but you can’t lose your job based on getting help. It’s the law. If they have a dog or a child that needs looking after, that’s where family and friends step in.”

The actual intervention usually doesn’t last more than an hour. The vast majority of the time, the next step for an Islander will be the trek to an off-Island inpatient facility.

“99 percent of the time, that person needs inpatient help.” Ms. Carroll said. “I encourage families to follow up quickly. Change is not easy. Sometimes people change their minds if you wait. I don’t feel comfortable leaving the family unless I know that patient is on the way to an inpatient facility.”

Ms. Carroll estimated that 75 to 80 percent of the patients are also are battling clinical depression or bipolar disorder, which makes professional inpatient care even more essential to their recovery.

Ms. Carroll usually arranges inpatient care at Gosnold. “I can ordinarily get a bed within 24 hours,” she said. “Not only am I part of the admissions process, but I follow the family and the case throughout the system. That’s a significant advantage when you work under the same umbrella.”

The cost of an intervention is another hurdle Ms. Carroll can help families overcome. “It’s $250 an hour for my face-to-face time, $50 an hour for travel time,” she said. “Ordinarily the cost is not more than $1,000. $3,500 is the industry standard.”

Ms. Carroll stressed that no one is turned away if they don’t have the financial means. “Many of our patients have state insurance [Mass Health]. We can also work with sliding scale when necessary.”

Intervention specialists
Dr. Charles Silberstein, Martha’s Vineyard hospital resident psychiatrist and substance abuse specialist  508-696-1990

Deborah Pigeon LMHC, LMFT,  508-693-7435

Holly Carroll, Gosnold Intervention coordinator,  774-313-0662  Sunday through Thursday.

Email: hcarroll@gosnold.org

0

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed 17 unit Oak Bluffs subdivision.

Proposed site of Lagoon Ridge development. — Google Maps

In 2009, a team of developers unveiled a grand plan for Lagoon Ridge, a 60 unit subdivision on 70 acres in Oak Bluffs. The plan survived review by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI) but the partnership did not.

On Monday night, the development returned to the MVC land use planning committee (LUPC) much reduced in size and scope. A public hearing before the full commission is set for July 17.

Commissioner Linda Sibley of West Tisbury chaired the meeting, which was attended by four other commissioners. Fred Hancock was the only Oak Bluffs commissioner present.

The proposed Lagoon Ridge development is roughly half the size of the originally planned Lagoon Ridge.  Davio Danielson, owner of the property with his five children, intends to build up to 25 dwelling units, sited in three different “clusters” on the 32.5 acre parcel.

Cluster A is divided into four large lots with four homes of up to four bedrooms. Cluster B will contain four homes on four standard lots, each with up to three bedrooms. Cluster C will have 15 small lots with up to 17 dwelling units, including two duplexes and six to eight units designated for buyers over 55 years old. One lot may become a community house with space for group activities and extra rooms for visiting family.  Cluster C is considered “Phase 2” and will be financed by sales of clusters A and B.

“We want to make homes that are accessible to the over 55 folks who are downsizing as well as homes that are affordable to working men and women who service the community like tradesmen, teachers, and police and firefighters,” Mr. Danielson said in an interview with the Times. “The MVC is really concerned about year-round housing. These homes are built to be inhabited 12 months of the year, and they’re well insulated so owners don’t pay too much for heat.

Subdivision divided
Planning for the original 70-acre version of Lagoon Ridge began in 2009 when Mr. Danielson and the Proskauer family, owners of an abutting 37.5 acre parcel, began initial negotiations. The permitting procedure began in May 2011 and 60 dwelling unitswere eventually approvedby the Oak Bluffs Planning Board and referred to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review as a DRI.

In late 2012, the co-venture between the two families fell apart.

“It’s hard enough for one crazy family to get things set up,” Mr. Danielson joked. “They stopped dealing, they walked away. I was spending money hand over fist for both of us and they stopped answering emails and phone calls. It was a shock. God knows real estate ventures are always fraught, so one shouldn’t be too surprised when something like this falls apart. It was almost too good to be true.”

New site plans of a scaled down Lagoon Ridge with 25 dwelling units were presented to the Oak Bluffs Oak Bluffs Planning Board in July 2013 and were approved under the town’s flexible zoning bylaw that was approved by voters in 2003. The bylaw permits more densely planned development than conventional zoning allows in exchange for preserving open space and creating affordable housing and elderly housing.

The bylaw requires that 10 percent of the units are affordable to families earning less that 50 percent of median income or 15 percent for families earning between 50 percent and 80 percent of median income.

Long negotiations with MassWildlife over rare moth habitat recently ended in agreement to a “two-thirds take” meaning that less than 11 acres can be developed or disturbed in any way.

Mr. Danielson has developed family land before, also with an eye on conservation. “My mother and I and my cousin Emmett Carroll did Tower Ridge in the 1980s, and we were very proud of that. Seventeen acres were kept in buffer zone as natural land, which we felt was better than most of the other developments that had been done at that time.”

Mr. Danielson said he would like to have a builder in place by the end of the year. “We’re planning to vet some contractors that we know that can do “green” work, Mr. Danielson said. “We’d love to have builders with LEEDS-certified or HERS-value homes get in touch with us. This is going to be jobs for the Island and places for working men and women to live.”

25

Building inspector James Dunn will seek a professional survey to assess the condition of the Circuit Avenue building.

The Island theater is in need of structural repairs. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

In a move that took town officials and the building owner by surprise, this week outgoing Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn prepared to declare the Island theater building at the foot of Circuit Avenue unsafe, setting the stage for its possible demolition by the town, or a lawsuit over its fate.

Tuesday morning, Island Theatre co-owner Brian Hall walked into Mr. Dunn’s office to inquire about building permits needed for ongoing repairs to the roof. Mr. Dunn told Mr. Hall that he was preparing an order to demolish the building.

On Wednesday, in a conversation with the Times, Mr. Dunn indicated he was taking a slightly different tack. That afternoon, Mr. Dunn presented a “make safe or demolish and remove” notice to Brian and Benjamin Hall, co-owners of the theater.

“To be fair, we’re going to establish a board of survey to make this decision,” Mr. Dunn said in a memo to town officials dated June 18. “Although we have some reports and conversations regarding the building’s structural integrity or lack thereof, we are putting together a report following the standard procedures for a Board of Survey which requires individual reports from an engineer, wiring inspector, plumbing/gas inspector, the fire chief, a disinterested party and the building inspector. Once completed, this should not take more than a week, I will issue a report based on the conditions cited in the reports.”

In a later conversation with the Times, Mr. Dunn said the Board of Survey has successfully resolved similar situations in residential districts and he felt confident the survey could be done in a week.

Blindsided

Brian Hall said he was blindsided by Mr. Dunn’s action. “This is a complete 180 from what he told me before,” Mr. Hall said in a phone call with The Times on Tuesday. “I asked him if there was any way I could convince him not to send the letter, and he said, ‘No, I’ve made the decision.’ He said it was because repairs were taking too long and that he was going along with the first engineer’s [John Lolley] assessment of the building instead of the second assessment done by Reid Silva.”

Mr. Hall said the demolition order also surprised him because Mr. Dunn recently gave him assurances that he would get a 30-day extension on the summer outdoor construction moratorium for the B-1 district, which began June 1.

“I feel the building is unsafe,” Mr. Dunn said in a phone call with the Times on Tuesday. “I have talked to Brian many times about his building and the Thai restaurant. We make verbal agreements, I go back 30 days later and nothing is done.”

Differing assessments

The Island theater hasn’t shown a movie since August 2012. Winter storm damage that year to the roof and associated water issues created a long and growing list of needed repairs. The sight of the decaying building at the gateway to downtown Oak Bluffs has been a source of frustration for town officials and residents.

Last summer, John Lolley, a civil and structural engineering consultant with 41 years of experience, was engaged by the Halls to make recommendations on repairing a rotted truss. Upon closer inspection, he found critical structural flaws throughout the theater and recommended demolition. “They built the columns and infilled the walls, which means the walls and columns are not connected,” Mr. Lolley said in a June 4 interview with the Times. “I could see daylight coming through some of the cracks. In my opinion, that building was never sound to begin with.”

After Mr. Lolley’s departure, Mr. Hall hired Reid Silva of  Vineyard Land Surveying and Engineering. According to Mr. Hall, he provided the way forward.

“Reid Silva and I and Jim Dunn got together in March,” Mr. Hall said.  “Reid said he disagreed with John Lolley’s comments that this building is dangerous. This building’s not going to come down. He didn’t put his stamp to it, but he said if you tie into these concrete columns and cement in some steel ties that it’s good.”

In a previous interview with the Times, Mr. Silva said he was engaged to make recommendations on fortifying the truss and that he made no official recommendations regarding wall reinforcement.

“That’s not true,” Mr. Hall said on Tuesday. “I paid him extra money to write a letter recommending his solution.” Mr. Hall provided a copy of the letter to The Times. Although Mr. Silva does make recommendations on repairing the walls, he makes no judgement as to the safety of the building.

Mr. Hall challenged the legitimacy of Mr. Lolley’s assessment.

“He [Mr. Lolley] only had verbal communication with Jim Dunn,” he said.

Mr. Hall also questioned if Mr. Dunn has inspected the building since their March meeting with Mr. Silva at that location.

Mr. Dunn said that the building’s condition in March was cause enough for concern. “Water was running down the walls. It was a foot deep in the [orchestra pit] and frozen solid. Generally, overall condition of the structure is very poor. We don’t know where the mortar or the concrete blocks were made. It could have been done with beach sand the same as the crumbling pilings at town hall. Do I think it will fall over tomorrow? Probably not, but I say that very guardedly.”

“This is not a vendetta against the Hall family,” Mr. Dunn said. “Personally, I like Brian, but the building in my view is dangerous.”

Safety at issue

Mr. Dunn’s “make safe or demolish” order puts the town and the Halls on a collision course. The Halls can appeal the order to Superior Court.

Mr. Dunn, who is set to retire at the end of this month, took action without consulting town officials.

Greg Coogan, chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, said on Tuesday that he was unaware of the building inspector’s plans.

“The law states that in an issue of public safety, Jim Dunn, not the selectmen, has the final say,” town administrator Robert Whritenour said. “It’s unfortunate that it has come to this, but the town has to take some kind of action, especially if the building is considered dangerous.”
“The order says that the building has deteriorated to the point where it is unsafe and must be demolished or made safe immediately. We choose option two,” Brian Hall said. “But if we choose that option, it takes time to get an engineer who can make it safe. To procure the contractor and the materials will take a while. If we had to knock down the building immediately, we’d have to cordon off a large part of Circuit Avenue. If people are really worried about walls falling on the street, a high fence would have to surround the theater, in some places 20 feet from the wall, the cab stand would be gone, half of New York Ave would be lost. It’s patently ridiculous.”

Mr. Hall questioned if safety is really the issue at hand.

“This is about cosmetics, it’s not about safety,” he said. “Just because something’s an eyesore, it’s not a reason to tear it down, especially when it’s based on verbal comments that another engineer disagreed with. That building is not falling over unless someone takes a wrecking ball to it.”

The wrecking ball would be just fine with selectman Walter Vail, who’s consistently been the board’s most outspoken critic of the Hall family’s property management.

“I was in favor of taking it down,” Mr. Vail said. “I still feel that way. This has gone on way too long. I’m not terribly sympathetic to Brian. I’m not about to go against what Jim Dunn says. There’s at least one engineer that thinks it’s unsafe. That’s enough for me.”

11

Victims of time, the elements and technology, the Strand and Island theaters continue to deteriorate.

On Thursday, painters were busy sprucing up the Strand Theatre in Oak Bluffs. — Photo by Steve Myrick

As summer rolls in, two anchor buildings in downtown Oak Bluffs, the Strand Theatre on Oak Bluffs Avenue and the Island theater on Circuit Avenue, remain in disrepair, their marquees that once heralded summer blockbusters now blank.

The Strand houses a bike and moped business. The Island is vacant. Representatives of the Hall family, owners of both buildings, said they are doing their best to address structural and cosmetic issues with both buildings but continue to encounter unforeseen problems.

The Island theater is in need of structural repairs.
The Island theater is in need of structural repairs.

For Oak Bluffs town leaders it all seems like a rerun. At the conclusion of the May 27 meeting of the selectmen, selectman Walter Vail commented on the continued inaction of Halls to address the situation.

“I don’t know of anyone in town who is not frustrated by the condition of these buildings and how long they’ve been in such a sad state,” Mr. Vail said. “I’m fed up; we’re all fed up. The selectmen have been looking at all kinds of options, but it doesn’t look like anything is going to happen soon. I’m open to any ideas anybody has.”

Paint job

An email exchange earlier in the month and obtained by The Times through a public records request provides a glimpse into the source of Mr. Vail’s frustration.

Jim Tetrealt was busy painting the Strand Theater on Wednesday afternoon.
Jim Tetrealt was busy painting the Strand Theater on Wednesday afternoon.

In an email dated May 20, Mr. Vail wrote to Ben Hall Jr., co-owner of the theaters and the family attorney, “I have not seen any work being done on the Strand theater, as you told me in March would happen this month.  Am I rushing things?”

Addressing the Island theater, Mr. Vail wrote, “It is in such awful condition that it ought to come down and be replaced by a building which could be something you (and Oak Bluffs) could be proud of and even turn a profit!”

Mr. Vail concluded, “We are getting good feedback on how everything on Circuit Ave. is being dressed up, and I am hoping you can also give me an update on your plans for the Island theater. It still looks as awful as it has for years!”
Ben Hall responded to Mr. Vail on May 21. He pointed his finger at tenants of the Strand who he said are responsible for painting and said repairs to the Island theater had been delayed due to various problems with contractors, weather delays, and a town bylaw that prohibits outdoor construction in the B-1 district during the summer.

“Nobody likes to hear excuses, and I am now more disappointed and angry than you are about these matters,” he wrote. “The tenants at the Strand promised me back in March they would have the painting at the Strand undertaken, presumably before Memorial Day weekend.”

Brian Hall, co-owner of the theaters, said in a recent conversation with The Times that the Strand is leased to a moped group managed by Jason Leone. “They’re responsible for maintenance. It’s in the lease that they signed. They keep coming to us saying we want to do this and that, we say ‘Fine, bring us a proposal.’ We have yet to see any proposal from them.”

Town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times that he had received assurances from Mr. Leone that exterior painting and repair of the sign would take place this week and next. On Wednesday, a painter was busy applying a coat of white paint to the side of the building.

Roof work
The Island Theater’s most recent use as a movie theater was in August 2012, when the Sony Corporation leased the auditorium for a private screening and the Island premiere of the movie “Sparkle.” Almost 200 invited guests attended, including producer Debra Martin Chase, President Barack Obama’s advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Attorney General Eric Holder.

Winter storm damage that year to the roof and associated water issues created a long punch list of needed repairs.

“The first thing we have to do is get the roof finished,” Brian Hall told The Times. “We started work on the truss a few days ago. That shouldn’t take that long. How fast the rest goes is out of my control.”

Chris Lowe is the contractor in charge of truss and roof repair, according to Mr. Hall.

Brian Hall said Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn has indicated they could possibly get an extension on the summer outdoor construction moratorium for the B-1 district, which began June 1. “If we have to the end of June, we can make a boatload of progress,” he said. “We can at least get the roof waterproofed, so the tarps would be gone. We’ll go as far as we can with the time we have.”

Brian Hall estimates the repairs to make the Island “leasable” will be in the neighborhood of $100,000.

Asked if the financial liability and the public relations liability that the theaters have become for the Hall family were inducement to put the the buildings on the market, he replied, “We have a lot of people ask ‘would you consider selling?’ Make an offer, we’ll listen. But we never hear a solid offer. I don’t expect a premium, but I don’t expect a low ball either.”

No tear down

In his May 21 email to selectman Vail, Ben Hall Jr. cited contractor issues as the major cause of delays on the restoration of the Island. “We are unable to count on our original contractor to complete the truss repairs and roofing work at the Island for which we finally got specifications and the go-ahead in late March, early April. As you know, we had been stalled until then because we had not found an engineer who could find a solution to the issues seen by others that suggested the building be torn down.”

John Lolley, a civil and structural engineering consultant with 41 years of experience, is the engineer that recommended demolition. Mr. Lolley was engaged by the Halls to make recommendations on repairing a rotted truss last summer.
“In my opinion, that building was never sound to begin with,” Mr. Lolley said in an interview with the Times. “At the time it was built, people knew more about masonry probably than they do now. I was suprised how the masonry wasn’t up to the standards and empirical rules that were used at that time. They built the columns and infilled the walls, which means the walls and columns are not connected.”
Mr. Lolley said the heavy wind load coming off Nantucket Sound and 99 years of Island weather have taken a heavy toll on the structure. “I think it’s dangerous enough that it if it’s not demolished, it should be addressed structurally in a significant way,” Mr. Lolley said. “Just because they inherited problems with the building doesn’t mean they’re not responsible. Something should be done. I’m surprised more hasn’t been done by the building inspector.”

Brian Hall disagrees with that assessment. “His [Mr. Lolley’s] solutions were over the top elaborate,” Mr. Hall said. “The building is not unsafe. It’s not going to be occupiable, but it’s not going to fall over either.”

Mr. Hall said a second engineers report, completed over the winter by Reid Silva of Vineyard Land Surveying and Engineering, provided the way forward.

Mr. Silva said that he made no formal design for the repair of the walls. “I had more to do with the truss repair than evaluating the building,” he said in a phone call with the Times. “There are plenty of items that need to be addressed.”

Building push

In a conversation with the Times on June 6, Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn said he spoke with Brian Hall last week. “I told him he had to get moving,” Mr. Dunn said. “If he doesn’t, I’m going to declare it unsafe and have it torn down.” Mr. Dunn indicated that he could use Mr. Lolley’s engineering report to justify the demolition.

Mr. Dunn agreed to extend the June 1 downtown building moratorium until the end of June so roof repairs could be completed. Mr. Dunn’s definition of completed means weatherproofed and shingled, not just weatherproofed, as Mr. Hall indicated in his conversation with the Times. “There’s no reason the entire job couldn’t be done in three or four days with a professional crew,” he said. “You just have to spend the money.”

Even though he is retiring at the end of the month, Mr. Dunn said he has a personal interest in seeing the situation resolved. “I love this town,” he said. “I live in this town; I want to be involved.”

An asset

In a lengthy email to The Times, Ben Hall Jr. described the history of repair projects on both theaters and the challenge faced by small movie theater operators. He defended his family’s stewardship of both buildings, and he said his family had been repeatedly victimized by news coverage.

“It’s easy to throw stones at the owners of such large places,” Mr. Hall said. “These buildings are significant economic assets and it is ridiculous to even suggest that the maintenance and repair of such buildings are being ignored by the owners.”

Mr. Hall said his family had invested close to $1 million in the past decade in the Strand but the film exhibition business is no longer viable.

As for the Island Theater, Mr. Hall said, the severe wind storms of fall and winter 2012 running on through March of 2013 damaged the roof which then damaged the interior walls of the building. Once repair work could begin, he said, engineers were brought in who questioned the structural integrity of the entire building. “As you can understand, this was a real shock,” he said.

Mr. Hall said that as much as townspeople complain, his family is certain town leaders would not permit the building to be torn down without a viable plan for its replacement.

This spring, Mr. Hall said, his family was able to retain an expert who designed “an elegant, but detailed method to knit the building together. This report was provided to the authorities who approved of the concept, and the contractor was asked to re-mobilize to undertake the needed, but more extensive, work.”

Mr. Hall said work was halted due to a town bylaw prohibiting work in the business district during the summer months. The space is unlikely to be operated as a movie theater in the future, he said. “Like other properties in the business district, the Island Theater building continues to be on the market for a long term lease to permit the prospective tenant to amortize whatever investment they may wish to make on the property with uses that would create an additional diversity of services to the residents and visitors to Oak Bluffs,” he said.

2

Construction will be limited to four days a week until September 1.

Construction on the future bowling alley in Oak Bluffs is under way. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The negotiating skills of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen were put to the test at their regular meeting on Tuesday night, as they tried to reach a compromise between developer Sam Dunn and a group of abutters of the Uncas Avenue property where Mr. Dunn is building a 13,500-square-foot bowling alley/entertainment center which will replace a long-vacant and recently demolished laundromat.

In a letter to Oak Bluffs building inspector James Dunn dated May 28, Edgartown attorney Ellen Kaplan, who represents several abutters, asked thatall construction on the bowling alley be halted until September 15, in accordance with a town bylaw that was approved by the selectmen on July 23, 2013.

According to Ms. Kaplan’s letter, the bylaw “was enacted to prohibit construction or renovation of B-1 and B-2  zoned properties in the downtown areas of Oak Bluffs” during the summer, defined as June 1 to September 15.

Following a lengthy and at times heated discussion, selectmen voted 4-1 to allow construction to continue from 8 am to 4 pm, Monday through Thursday.

Communication breakdown

Initially there was confusion among the board about the geographic and legal scope of the July 23, 2013 vote, which chairman Greg Coogan quickly cleared up. “This was a policy, not a bylaw,” he said, holding up a copy of the minutes from the July 23 meeting. “When we voted, Kathy [selectman Kathy Burton] asked that we change from B-1 and B-2 to downtown, and that vote was unanimous. The original intent was not to block the sidewalks.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian said she had no recollection of the vote, and she maintained that the building moratorium should apply to all of B-1 and B-2 zoned property.
“We voted on July 23  after we discussed it at length as we do with every policy,” Ms. Burton said. “I think several of us believed we were voting for Circuit Ave., Kennebec and Circuit Ave Extension. I don’t understand why it was left in [the printed policy] after we voted on it.”

James Dunn apparently never received the amendment that changed the building moratorium from B-1 and B-2 to the “downtown district.”

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Sam Dunn said, adding that he’d received verbal assurances from town officials this spring that the building moratorium restriction would not apply to the Uncas Ave. location. “It would be great if we had a set of rules.”
In a letter to the selectmen dated June 10, James Dunn wrote, “the policy is very clear; and states; ‘to include all B-1 and B-2 zoned properties,’ applicable to ‘any and all construction, reconstruction, installation, demolition, maintenance, or repair of a building, to include painting.’”

In his letter, Mr. Dunn said he’d met with Sam Dunn three times over the past month hoping to reach a compromise that was “impartial and reasonable to all.”  He suggested three options: stop all work as of June 30and resume on September 15; stop all work on July 14and resume on September 15; or stop all work on July 14 and resume the first week in September. Sam Dunn rejected all three proposals, according to the building inspector.

“A two-month delay has a significant impact,” Sam Dunn told the selectmen. “A steel building has been ordered, deposits have been made. I see nothing in this policy that is intended to protect abutters from noise. It’s about business. I believe we behaved honorably.”

John Folino, the general contractor on the project, also supervised the construction of MVTV building on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road, which has a similar steel frame design. He said noise was never an issue.

“We had compliments, not complaints,” he said. “The loudest noise was the demolition, which is done.” Mr. Folino said that the prefabricated steel structure doesn’t require the sawing and hammering of a wood framed building, and that there would be no exterior work once it was erected. He also said the site will be fenced off and that safety and security will be maintained “religiously.”

“I know John, he’s a good builder,” James Dunn said. “I do think abutters deserve a certain amount of summer.”

Mr. Dunn reiterated his preference to stick with the B-1, B-2 moratorium that was on the books, regardless of the July 2013 amendment by the board.

Abutters appeal

Abutters to the Uncas Ave. location were again out in numbers to voice their objections. Noise and safety complaints were repeatedly stated.

“I’ve owned my property for 19 years. My life has changed forever,” abutter David Harte said. “This is five feet from my property. I’ve had my foundation shake, I’ve had my hedge taken down. This has not been easy. Give us a break and let us have our last summer.”

Ms. Kaplan said she had visited the site that day. “A large piece of equipment was moving earth and it was noisy,” she said.
Several abutters and attendees said that the fence surrounding the project was encroaching on the street, making it difficult for two cars to pass on an already narrow thoroughfare.
During the proceedings, Mr. Santoro repeatedly suggested a shortened work week as a compromise — restricting work to Monday through Thursday, and restricting hours from eight am until four pm. After a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the selectmen voted to endorse Mr. Santoro’s suggestion, 4-1, with selectman Gail Barmakian voting against.
In addition to time restrictions, the selectmen required Sam Dunn to keep the fences and all personal vehicles and construction vehicles within the property line. Holidays were also added to the work moratorium.

“I have had building on all sides of me for years, so I empathize” Mr. Coogan said. “But to stop a project cold is not fair to other areas in town.”
In response to an email from the Times on Wednesday, James Dunn weighed in on the decision. “I don’t feel the compromise is in keeping with the policy. As it stands, this continues the construction throughout the summer and basically giving eight Fridays of relief from what will be typical construction site activities.”

“It’s not ideal, but we’ll honor the decision of the selectmen,” Sam Dunn said in a phone call with the Times.”We’re going to work as hard as we can to be open by the holidays.”
Ms. Kaplan did not return a call from the Times.

Inkwell woes continue

In other business, citizen anger about the dredge spoils on Inkwell beach also raised the temperature in the room. Although many people, including the selectmen, thought the problem had been solved after the highway department supervised removal of the much maligned beach nourishment on May 23, a piqued group of attendees told the board that there was still a great deal of odiforous black material on Inkwell and State beach.
“I think Richie [highway department supervisor Richard Combra] took as much as he could,” parks commissioner Amy Billings said. “We can’t take any more off right now. It was a mistake and we’re trying to fix it.”

The dredge spoils that have been removed were placed at the town cemetery until a permanent location can be found. The suggestion that the remaining material could be raked and worked into existing sand only served to further chafe the attendees. Selectman Santoro said the selectmen were told that the problem had been fixed.

“You should go there, take your shoes off and walk around,” Oak Bluffs resident Greg Herman said to the selectmen. “Then decide if you think the problem is fixed.”

It subsequently became apparent that none of the selectmen had been to the beach since the highway department took action. “We’ll check into it tomorrow,” Mr. Coogan said.

Until recently, it was assumed by town officials that a solution to the Inkwell imbroglio would be the clean dredge spoils from Little Bridge that were scheduled to be placed on Inkwell beach in the first week of June. However, according to town administrator Robert Whritenour, Little Bridge dredging, which is 75 percent funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been delayed because a new FEMA project engineer has taken over, and the town has had to resubmit all documentation that had been previously approved. Mr. Whritenour said there is no timetable from FEMA, but the town is sitting on bids for the $321,000 project and will act quickly when FEMA signs off, again.

Selectmen voted unanimously to enter into a 20-year contract with Cape and Vineyard electric cooperative (CVEC) to purchase excess capacity from solar projects on the Cape and Islands. According to town administrator Robert Whritenour, the contract will save the town 20 percent on half of the municipal load, essentially saving the town $20,000 a year.
Selectmen also unanimously voted to approve a one-year lease for Angels Helping Animals, a nonprofit dog rescue organization headed by Leslie Hurd, for the empty town animal shelter. Ms. Hurd estimated she will be making $4,200 worth of repairs, which selectmen will allow her to deduct from the rent.