Authors Posts by Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow

Barry Stringfellow
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Circuit Avenue extension, a main thoroughfare for visitors into downtown, has a shortage of signage and sidewalks but no shortage of power lines. —Photo by Michael Cummo

A consultants’ report delivered to Oak Bluffs officials Monday as part of an ongoing planning process described the town as a primary trade area, one that is growing, aging, and becoming less seasonal in its mix of homes. The 29-page study delivered via teleconference to members of the Oak Bluffs Downtown Streetscape Master Plan Committee (DSMPC) and town and Island officials also included recommendations for invigorating the downtown area.

Town officials and attendees were presented with a trove of information in the two-hour meeting hosted by consultants from Horsley Witten Group to share the data from a recent economic study and to discuss results of the initial public outreach survey done by the newly formed DSMPC in late July.

In comments after the meeting, DSMPC member Brian Packish told The Times, “I think it’s a good start. They gave us some solid information and some good suggestions. Now we as a group have to discuss what we like and what we don’t, and keep the process moving. A lot of the big concerns, trash, parking, sidewalks, were also big issues in the 1998 town master plan. That was almost 20 years ago. I think it’s time we make some real progress.”

He said the DSMPC will have an open meeting at 1 pm Monday at town hall to talk about the results.

Good return

The DSMPC held its inaugural outreach event on July 23 and 24, to elicit opinions from visitors, seasonal residents, and Islanders on how to revitalize downtown Oak Bluffs. The survey was also available until Aug. 22 on the DSMPC website.

At Monday’s meeting, Jon Ford of Horsley Witten Group shared the results with palpable excitement. “We had 542 responses to the survey,” he said. “That’s record-breaking, even for Horsley Witten.”

Mr. Ford said 70 percent of the respondents were year-round residents, 23 percent were tourists, and seasonal residents filled out the remaining seven percent.

“There was consistent optimism among seasonal residents, which was a little bit surprising,” he said. “The top priority of respondents, across the board, was that the town had to preserve its historic character and the vibe of downtown.”

“There’s also a need to carve out more in the public realm. By that I mean places to sit down and relax in the downtown area,” Mr. Ford said.

Unsurprisingly, decrepit theaters and town cleanliness were also high on the list of concerns. “Garbage and litter have been a hot topic for many years,” he said.

The town beaches were also frequently mentioned, according to Mr. Ford; however, this survey was focused on the downtown business district.

“Healy Square, or as many know it, Post Office Square, is a valued downtown asset that many respondents cherish, and also feel can be improved. It’s a great space,” Mr. Ford said, likening it to the increasingly popular “pocket parks” of urban-planning argot. “It can be expanded and enhanced.”

The surveys showed other long-standing issues, walkability and parking, remain high on the list. Parking, access to town, and circulation, especially the congested and narrow sidewalks, were repeatedly cited as problematic by respondents.

“There’s also clearly a need to get around by car and for better parking,” he said.

Mr. Ford said that a conversation with Police Chief Erik Blake yielded one possible win-win tactic. “Meters are much simpler parking management. Chief Blake said it’s a lot less man-hours than chalking tires. Assuming half the downtown is metered spaces six days a week, from 9 to 6, the four-month gross revenue is $150,000.”

Big ideas

With regard to the downtown parking issue, Mr. Ford proposed, counterintuitively, to reduce parking spaces on Circuit Avenue. “We can lose 18 spaces on Circuit Ave. and gain 10 on Kennebec,” he said. “This would also make room for more outdoor street space on Circuit Ave., and more room for Healy Square.” He added that there are 600 parking spaces within a five-minute walk of downtown. There was also the suggestion to make parking on Circuit Avenue back-in only, still on a diagonal, to improve traffic flow and safety. “It requires public outreach,” he said. Neither suggestion was received enthusiastically.

The state of Circuit Avenue extension was again often mentioned. The major thoroughfare road from the harbor and from the passenger ferries is an anarchic mix of pedestrians and recently rented mopeds and cars, garlanded by drooping power lines. There are no directional signs and no designated sidewalks.

In what Mr. Ford described as “our biggest idea,” Horsley Witten suggested making Circuit Avenue extension one-way, leading away from the harbor into town, and possibly renaming it “Harbor Avenue.” The current right-turn lane off Oak Bluffs Avenue onto Circuit Avenue extension could be converted to parking. He also pitched the idea of street painting where Circuit Avenue and Circuit Avenue extension meet, and repaving the street with a porous material, as Provincetown did with their main street, since the road is in a floodplain area.

Mr. Ford was upbeat about the survey findings and the future of the downtown district. “We’re not re-envisioning,” he said. “We’re just recalibrating to make a great place greater.The bones are all there as we all know.”

Less seasonal

Horsley Witten contracted Cambridge-based ConsultEcon to conduct an economic analysis of the Oak Bluffs business district to help inform the decisions of the DSMPC. The wide-ranging study included data on trends in the town and Island economy, demographic shifts, consumer-expenditure patterns and trends with seasonal residents and tourists. It defined the town of Oak Bluffs as the primary trade area, and the rest of Dukes County — the other five Island towns and 75 Gosnold residents — as the secondary trade area.

According to the study, the Island population is growing faster than the state as whole, and there will be an estimated 18,000 year-round residents by 2018. The 5.6 percent growth rate “is significantly larger than projected growth in Nantucket and Cape Cod, where population is expected to grow by 1.2 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively,” the report said. The projected population growth for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the same time period is 2.4 percent.

Two-thirds of the Oak Bluffs population is over age 35, and the median age is 46.2 years old. The household size in Oak Bluffs is less than the state average, which reflects an aging population and more seasonal residents retiring to the Island — a trend that is also growing on the Cape.

The median household income in Oak Bluffs is $68,405, lower than the median income for the total trade area, $71,083. The numbers also reveal a stark income disparity in Oak Bluffs — one-third of the town population earns more than $100,000 a year, while the second-largest income group is the 20 percent who make between $25,000 and $49,999 a year.

The study estimates that year-round residents spend roughly $52.5 million per year, on and off-Island, spending the most for food, motor-vehicle and parts dealers, and general merchandise, in that order.

In a trend that bucks the rest of the Island, seasonal residences in Oak Bluffs have declined from 56.1 percent in 2000 to 50.8 percent in 2010. “The expectation [is] that more seasonal homes will be converted into year-round residences in the coming years, and the demand for more year-round goods and services will likely rise,” the report says, noting again that the same trend is playing out on the Cape. “General merchandise and home improvement stores are opportunities that would better serve the growing resident market population and support more business activity in Oak Bluffs downtown.”

Recommendations

The ConsultEcon report stresses the importance of visitors’ arrival to the town because it sets the “tone and tenor for a visitor’s trip.” While the report credits the Steamship Authority for improvements to the terminal and adjoining streetscape, it describes the North Bluff arrival area as “chaotic,” adding, “When arriving at these passenger-only ferries, visitors are immediately presented with an array of opportunities to rent cars, mopeds and bikes, or take a tour or taxi, that signal that Oak Bluffs is a place of departure and not arrival.” The aesthetic and functional shortcomings of Circuit Avenue extension was an oft-mentioned topic in both studies.
“Wayfaring,” signage that helps visitors find their way to town and to specific attractions, was another frequently raised issue. The report suggested that in addition to signage, which should be designed in the Victorian spirit of old Oak Bluffs, “interpretive trails create an attraction for cultural tourists, who tend to spend more money during a trip than the average tourist spends.” It did not define “cultural tourists.”

The oft-trod issue of inadequate sidewalks was again raised. “Overall, the sidewalks in the Oak Bluffs Downtown are too narrow to accommodate all visitors at peak times, leading people to walk in the streets.” Suggestions were made to add more open space and public seating in the downtown area, noting, “Many visitors use the tree planters in the streets, which are in ill repair.”
To draw more visitors to the downtown area during peak season, the ConsultEcon report recommends hosting more midweek events. It also suggests adding under-represented stores like home furnishing and arts and crafts galleries. It concluded that the downtown could benefit with the addition of entertainment attractions, which “may include but are not limited to” nightclubs, amusements, a bowling alley, and a movie theater.

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New unit will increase access to care and decrease costs for patients and for caregivers, hospital officials said.

The new walk-in clinic will provide an alternative to the busy hospital emergency room. (Photos by Michael Cummo)

The Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has begun renovating the no-longer-used emergency room in the old hospital building for use as a walk-in clinic. Hospital leaders said the new clinic is necessary to address a longstanding shortage of access to non-critical health care for Islanders.

Tim Walsh, Martha's Vineyard Hospital CEO (left), and Dr. Jeffrey Zack, chief of emergency medicine, said changes in health care are driving changes at the hospital.
Tim Walsh, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO (left), and Dr. Jeffrey Zack, chief of emergency medicine, said changes in health care are driving changes at the hospital.

In a conversation with The Times on Wednesday, Tim Walsh, hospital CEO, and Dr. Jeffrey Zack, director of emergency medical services, discussed this newest addition to an expanding scope of services that the hospital now offers.

The hospital officials said the addition of a walk-in clinic would provide an alternative to the emergency room and become part of a continuum of care that includes emergency care, primary care and inpatient care overseen by hospitalists, all linked by a system of electronic medical record keeping under the umbrella of the hospital’s parent organisation, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), which now provides the Vineyard hospital with radiology, anesthesiology and oncology services.

In March 2007, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital became an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare.

“This is part of a system-wide overhaul that we’ve been doing over the last few years to better accommodate the needs of our patients on the medical end and also the financial end,” Dr. Zack said. “The goal here is to design a system that can cover from the very sickest to the non-critical patients, and the walk-in facility has been a big hole in our delivery system.”

Dr. Zack said all too often, patients utilize the emergency room (ER) because they may not have a primary care doctor. “Emergency medicine is here for the sickest of the sick, yet over the last 10, 20 years we’ve started to take care of everybody. We do a lot of primary care, especially here on the Island. It isn’t the most cost-effective way to deliver quality care. This [walk-in clinic] fills that need of ‘not too sick but can’t wait for an office visit in a week.’”

Dr. Zack said that the walk-in clinic will also help manage the surge in patients when there’s an outbreak of the flu or a virus like the one currently spreading in the midwest. “Historically this overflow would go into the ER, which diverts resources and is a costly way to practice medicine. But up until now, there’s been very little options for folks on the Island.”

Staffing and hours

The medical personnel staffing the walk-in clinic will be a mixture of physicians and mid-level providers, such as physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners. Mr. Walsh said the hours of operation will be tailored to demand.

“We’re going to study and figure out the hours as we go along,” he said. “If there’s a need to stay open after hours, we’ll see what we can build around that. We’re hoping to play off the community. If there’s a real need to keep it open, say, until 7pm at night, then that’s what we’ll do. We’re open to figuring that one out.”

Long range benefits

In addition to the benefits in patient care and cost containment, Mr. Walsh said the clinic will help balance the books in the long term as well.

“Looking down the road at the Affordable Care Act, and where they’re trying to go, it’s really about population health management,” he said. “For a given population you’re responsible for everything that happens to them. We’re rethinking how you do it. They want to do global payments in the future, for every person that comes into your system they’ll pay you $25,000 a year — you take care of the health care. Right now, it’s about volume, the more you do, the more you make. That’s going to change to: the more you do, the more your expenses are. So you’re not making more money. That’s where a walk-in clinic can save money. A $300-dollar visit to the ER can be done instead for $100.”

Mr. Walsh said the goal is to make the walk-in clinic operational by next summer at the latest. “I’m hoping we can get it in by next February, but we got sidetracked with repairs to the air handling system in Wing 1 in the beginning of the summer. Replacing a new unit costs over $700,000. The next move will be to install air transfer in the old ER It’s interesting times around here.”

Increased demand
The walk-in clinic is the latest in a series of improvements and upgrades. These include the addition of a new MGH oncology unit, the recently completed $2 million transfer to electronic record keeping, and a $1 million investment in hiring hospitalists, doctors who solely treat hospital inpatients and thus provide consistent care and free up overwhelmed primary care doctors.

The expanding system was put to the test this summer, which according to hospital statistics, was the busiest in the hospital’s history. Patient days in acute care were up 28 percent, and patient days in skilled nursing facilities (SNF) were up 74.4 percent.

“We were busting at the seams,” Mr. Walsh said. “Because of our expanded services like the hospitalists, we were able to hold on to more patients here and not transfer off-Island. The ICU was much busier. It’s stunning how much volume we did. We were boarding in the ER, which is unusual for us. We had it happen in the past but not to this extent. Not even close.”

One goal is to avoid transfers to mainland hospitals when possible. “I don’t think the number of patients went up significantly; it’s the number of people we’re keeping in the system,” Dr. Zack said. “That’s the overall goal here. Our patients don’t want to go to Boston. They want to stay here with their families. So we’re adding more resources one bit at a time so we’re able to do that. Now looking at the big picture, we need to address the lower acuity stuff.”

Doc docs

The recent conversion to electronic records will enable the growing departments within the hospital, and partner hospitals off-Island, to instantly access critical medical information within the Partners Healthcare network.

“It’s an all-in-one system,” Dr. Zack said. “There’s no fishing around at 2 am trying to find information — it’s there. That time can be important, and maybe life-saving.”
“If you go from here to Mass General, they see the primary care records, the ER records, they see everything. And vise versa: when the patient comes back, we see everything they did in Boston,” Mr. Walsh said. If the hospital shows “meaningful use” of the electronic records system, according to an upcoming Medicare evaluation, it will receive a significant rebate to defray the cost of the system.

Choice is good

Mr. Walsh and Dr. Zack said the recent sale of Vineyard Medical Services, presently the only walk-in clinic on the Island, had no bearing on today’s announcement. “This has been on my radar for two years,” Dr. Zack said. “For us the hospitalist program was more important to get up and running; so that took precedence.”
“I talked to Dr. Jacobs several times over the years about buying his practice as a satellite facility,” Mr. Walsh said. “I like Dr. Jacobs, he’s a great guy. We’ve always had a really good relationship. The problem is the licensures. When you’re talking about a hospital satellite, you have to meet hospital code, and the standards are brutal, as they should be. The air-exchanges demands are extremely high. I don’t think any house could meet them.”

Mr. Walsh is supportive of the new walk-in venture. “It’s good for people to have choice. It’s on us to deliver a good product,” he said.

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The President of the Friends Group Leo Gagnon, in front of the Council on Aging building. (Photo by Michael Cummo)

The Oak Bluffs Council on Aging (COA) board meeting held August 28 was slightly delayed. The Thursday morning exercise class in the meeting room had gone long, and it took a while for the steady stream of sweating and, for the most part smiling, endorphin-charged seniors to exit.

Council-on-Aging_Robert-Whritenour.JPG
Oak Bluffs town administrator Robert Whritenour, center in pink, joins community members at the monthly luncheon put on by the Council on Aging. (Photo by Michael Cummo)

As the room cleared, Leo Gagnon, president of the Friends of the Council on Aging (FCOA), a nonprofit corporation that is the fundraising arm for the COA, talked about an open house held on August 13 to mark a change in direction for the organization that had been at the center or controversy.

“I introduced it as the new senior center,” he said. “We want to get rid of the old and bring in the new. You should have seen this place. It was packed. Local merchants contributed prizes and every 15 minutes we rang a bell and gave out a door prize.”

Mr. Gagnon said the many contributions from local merchants included a 32-inch flat screen television from Crane Appliance.

“We also had live entertainment from the Princess Poo-Poo-Ly band. They’re an Island band of 16 people playing ukuleles. They were terrific. They played for over 90 minutes. A lot of people were singing along. There were four guys sitting up front, who are barely able to walk, and they were standing and stomping their feet and their canes. Sandra from the Vineyard Haven COA said, ‘This place rocks!,” Mr. Gagnon said, grinning.

Trying times

The picture Mr. Gagnon described is in marked contrast to the COA of a few months ago when the organization was rocking with a different kind of energy. The 2014 winter of discontent involved police and forensic accounting investigations, heated accusations, and divisive infighting, which culminated in the resignation of former director Roger Wey, as of June 30.  While the investigations found no criminal wrongdoing, a history of sloppy accounting and years of rancorous relations among COA staff came to light. In a six page report, town administrator Robert Whritenour wrote that the long-standing rift between associate directorRose Cogliano and Mr. Wey yielded “charges and counter charges of harassment” dating back to 2006, which divided the COA membership into opposing “camps.”

In his June 19 memo to the selectmen, Mr. Whritenour recommended a reorganization of the COA — eliminating the director and assistant director positions and creating a COA administrator and a program director, while making the board the engine that drives COA.

Moving forward

“Roger is moving on and we’re moving on and that’s the way it should be,” Walter Vail, selectman and COA board member told The Times following the August 28 board meeting.

Mr. Vail was chairman of the selectmen when on the advice of town counsel an investigation began into COA accounting practices and procedures. Although the matter could have been handled in closed executive session, Mr. Vail elected to make the proceedings public. He became a lightning rod for criticism by Mr. Wey’s supporters, who were always in full throat at selectmen’s meetings, but he stuck by his decision.

“There are only a few people who are still unhappy,” Mr. Vail said. “We had 135 people show up at the open house. Leo did a great job. Everybody had a good time. I think the message is pretty clear.”

“The board needs to be a managing partner of the COA,” Mr. Blythe said in an earlier conversation with the Times. “If you’re going to be a good board member you have to listen to both sides before you make a judgement.”

At the recent board meeting, some topics the board discussed included a new photography class starting in September, upcoming bus trips, a trip to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute without a bus, an October dental clinic, and a generous $1,500 gift from the Cottagers Association.

“They give to a lot of organizations,” Mr. Gagnon said. “The COA received the most. I never expected that kind of check.”

“I already have a call into Arthur to make sure it’s done properly with the town,” Ms. Cogliano said, adding that the money will be put in account for fuel assistance.
“People need to know they can apply,” outreach coordinator Susan Von Steiger said. “I’m sure Arthur will be very discreet.”

In other business, the board discussed the need for a new projector so movie night can become a regular event, recruiting a high school student or technologically savvy person to give computer classes, and how to acquire the new computers on which to be taught.

Although much of the current technology accessible at the COA is relatively ancient, Mr. Gagnon said the Oak Bluffs COA is the only place on Island where seniors can schedule a Skype session with a live person from the Social Security Administration. He then floated the idea for a Karaoke machine for a regular Karaoke night, to widely varying degrees of enthusiasm from the board.

Later, Mr. Gagnon spoke excitedly about a new program beginning in the fall, “A Matter of Balance,” which teaches seniors how to navigate the fear of falling through physical and mental exercise. He also said the board was looking to expand the popular line dancing classes given in the summer to a year-round activity.

Board member Abraham Seiman told the members that the bridge club was considering a move back to the COA from its self imposed exile. The club had separated from the COA in protest over Mr. Wey’s dismissal. “They left because of all the nonsense,” Mr. Gagnon said.

Following the meeting, Mr. Gagnon had high praise for Ms. Cogliano. “Rose turned this place around,” he said. “It’s been difficult, at best, but this place is much better than it used to be.  There’s no more fighting. It’s a happy place to come now.”

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Ralph Packer saved the day after heavy seas snapped the barge anchor lines hours before the show.

President Obama watched the Oak Bluffs fireworks from the North Bluff porch of Valerie Jarrett. (Photo by Max Bossman) — Photo by Max Bossman

The estimated 12,000 spectators at the annual Oak Bluffs Fireman’s Civic Association fireworks show Friday night had no idea how close the show was to being postponed.

“The was by far the most difficult show I’ve had to deal with as chief,” Oak Bluffs fire chief John Rose told The Times. “We had a stiff northeast wind blowing 20 miles an hour and six to eight-foot seas, and two anchor lines on the barge broke. We lost the first anchor around 4 pm. When the second line broke, someone from [R.M.] Packer had to go back to Vineyard Haven for two more anchors.”

The wind direction also created additional complications. “Because the wind was out of the northeast, which is unusual for this time of year, we had to reposition the barge 1,600 feet offshore instead of the usual 600 feet,” Mr. Rose said. “We also had to move the barge 400 feet to the south so the debris wouldn’t fall on spectators or on buildings in town.”
Mr. Rose said that he and state fire marshal Stephen Coan were in constant contact with the National Weather Service station in Taunton, which provided critical data that informed the final fireworks decision. “They told us winds would diminish from sustained 20 miles an hour to sustained 14 miles an hour between six and eight o’clock,” Mr. Rose said. “They called it on the money.”

After a frenetic afternoon of repairing, recalculating, and repositioning, a test shot that was fired shortly after 5:30 pm showed the barge needed to be moved further offshore.

“We were having trouble orienting the barge because of the wind and the strong currents” Warren Pearce, president of American Thunder Fireworks told The Times. “I was pretty panicked. Then I called Ralph Packer and he told me the tide was going to change in an hour and the current will switch and the wind will drop and we’d be all set. He was right. That man knows what he’s doing.”

Mr. Pearce, a 25 year veteran of the fireworks industry, said Mr. Packer makes many unseen contributions to the show every year. “Generally barges are an expensive addition to a show, but not in this case, because Ralph donates it. He also has his guys pitching in doing all kinds of things. They’re an integral part of making this work.”
Mr. Rose also gave kudos to Mr. Packer. “He was generous enough to tell the tugs to stay on the barge during the show,” Mr. Rose said. “As long I can remember, it’s the first time we had tugs holding the barge in place. Without the tugs there wouldn’t have been a show. Mr. Packer stepped up and saved the day.”

Mr. Pearce said Mr. Rose also deserved credit. “Chief Rose called me four days before the show and said he was concerned about the forecast and that wind was going to be a problem,” he said. “That informed what equipment we brought and in the end we had what we needed. We had a plan in place even before we got there and John was an integral part of it.”

Mr. Rose said the annual fireworks show requires a great deal of planning and coordination, even in ideal conditions. “Nobody realizes all the different things that go into the fireworks show,” he said. “We do a ton of pre-planning, starting right after the first of the year. Everything has to fall into place.”

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Funding approval for clearing the little bridge channel appears imminent, but other projects face further scrutiny.

FEMA officials are expected to fund dredging the north channel into Sengekontacket Pond. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Town administrator Robert Whritenour presented Oak Bluffs selectmen with a good news/bad news update on the status of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for Hurricane Sandy repairs at their regular meeting on Tuesday night.

“We’ve received verbal determination that the Little Bridge dredging project meets the public benefit threshold,” Mr. Whritenour said. “One big change: we can’t use it for beach nourishment at Inkwell and Pay Beach.”

Little Bridge crosses one of two channels that connect Sengekontacket Pond to Nantucket Sound. The two popular public beaches are approximately one mile north of the dredging site.

Mr. Whritenour said that FEMA guidelines for dredging funds require the most cost-effective disposal of the dredge spoils, which in this case means depositing the material on State Beach. He added that when the formal written approval comes through as expected, the dredging contractor can do the work within 30 days.

Selectman Walter Vail noted that FEMA will only cover 75 percent of the project and asked how the town would cover the remaining 25 percent. Mr. Whritenour said the town dredge account would cover the balance. The work will be done in October or November, if all goes as planned.

While things are looking up for Sengie, the funding forecast for another project under FEMA review, the reconstruction of the North Bluff, is not as promising.

In an August 22 letter to Robert Grimley, FEMA region 1 disaster recovery manager, Mr. Whritenour wrote, “The second critically time-sensitive project is the reconstruction of the North Bluff seawall that has been degraded to very poor condition as a result of Hurricane Sandy. In its current condition this seawall is no longer capable of protecting the adjacent coastal bank or the public roadway and we shudder to contemplate the risk of failure we face in the next major coastal storm.”

Mr. Whritenour also provided FEMA with an August 21 memo from CLE engineering consultant Carlos Pena, who wrote that the seawall, which was built in 1940 with inferior cement, “has a strong risk of failure during a major coastal storm” and needs to be completely rebuilt. FEMA officials has so far maintained that the less expensive option of reinforcing the existing wall can adequately protect the town. The North Bluff seawall runs from Oak Bluffs harbor entrance to the Steamship Authority terminal.

Other projects for which the town has applied to FEMA for Hurricane Sandy funding include repairs to Sea View Avenue bulkhead, restoration of beaches and jetties at Pay Beach, Jetty Beach, and the Inkwell, and East Chop bluff restoration. Mr. Whritenour suggested that the town consider appropriating funds for additional engineering studies on East Chop bluff, since they can be used to apply for funding from other state and federal agencies in the event FEMA does not award hurricane Sandy funding, which seems more likely in his estimation.

Cheers and jeers
In other business, the selectmen gave patrons of The Ritz Cafe something to celebrate with a unanimous vote to officially transfer the year-round, all-alcohol liquor license from Janet King, former co-owner of the Ritz for 31 years, to Joseph L. Stallings, president of BB&L management. The bequeathment was presided over by attorney Howard West.

Eastville Beach seasonal residents were again out in force to fight the proposed oyster farm that received preliminary approval from the selectmen in March after the proposal garnered the unanimous support of the shellfish committee and shellfish constable David Grunden. Chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan told those assembled that the fate of the aquaculture project currently rests with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and selectmen cannot act until that decision is made. Mr. Coogan assured the concerned residents that the board was taking in both sides of the debate, and he showed a thick stack of letters to that effect.

Selectman Gail Barmakian said a recent site visit to Eastville Beach gave her a better understanding of the group’s concerns. Eastville residents also asked for improved communication from the town during the off-season, including email blasts on upcoming decisions. Mr. Whritenour said that tailoring emails to specific groups is a large undertaking and is not in the town budget. He added that all taxpayers in Oak Bluffs can keep abreast of developments by checking the town website. Selectman Michael Santoro said that improving the town’s Internet infrastructure and social media is a high priority for the capital committee in the coming months.

Mr. Whritenour informed the selectmen that for the town to maximize insurance benefits to cover repairs to the fire damaged transfer station, a declaration of emergency had to be passed. Selectmen endorsed the move unanimously.

Selectmen also unanimously endorsed the appointment of Jennifer Parkinson to the Council on Aging board of directors. “I think she’ll be a great asset to the council,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “I’m sure she’ll bring some great ideas.”

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When Bill Howell hires a recovering addict, he knows their situation first hand.

Bill Howell, owner of Concrete Bill. "Education and treatment is the silver bullet when it comes to overcoming addiction." (Photo by Michael Cummo) — Photo by Michael Cummo

This is the seventh installment in a continuing look at drug abuse and its effect on the Island community by Times reporter Barry Stringfellow. 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,” on June 5 “Section 35—when addiction calls for drastic action” and on June 25, Intervention—tackling addiction head on.

Bill Howell arrived at the Vineyard House construction site off Holmes Hole Road in Vineyard Haven early on a recent sunny Monday morning with his dog, Keeper, kicking up a cloud of dust behind him. Mr. Howell didn’t look like a typical cement contractor in baggy shorts, low-cut Chuck Taylor All-Stars and faded “Keep off grass” tee-shirt. He also bucked the stereotype with his easy-going, soft-spoken manner.

Jamie Kergaravat hauls boards that will make the form for a concrete foundation. (Photo by Michael Cummo)
Jamie Kergaravat hauls boards that will make the form for a concrete foundation. (Photo by Michael Cummo)

He gave instructions to his young and eager five-man crew as they put the finishing touches on an expansive foundation for the men’s dormitory at the new Vineyard House, the Island’s only sober living facility. The job has special significance for Mr. Howell. “I was one of the first residents of Vineyard House; I started living there in 1999,” he said. “I bid low on this job. I really wanted this one.”

Mr. Howell started Concrete Bill, his cement contracting company, in 2001 when he was still a resident at Vineyard House. He’ll have 15 years clean time on November 29 — “5,377 days clean, but who’s counting?” he said.

Mr. Howell has hired many Vineyard House residents and alumni over the years. “A lot of people in recovery won’t hire people in recovery. I don’t get that,” he said. “I did from day one. This is not a not-profit company. But I can’t not hire these guys.”

Four out of five of his crew today are in recovery. “We were five out of six, but we lost one last week,” he said. “He needed to borrow $500 for a new car, that’s the last I’ve seen of him.” Mr. Howell shrugged. “I don’t fire people who are struggling. In the past 10 years, I only had to fire one person.”

Solid reputation

Mr. Howell’s company, Concrete Bill, is well respected in the Island building community. “Bill has been doing foundations for me since he first started out,” Bill Potter, CEO of Squash Meadow Construction, told The Times. Squash Meadow is the general contractor for the new Vineyard House. “Integrity and honesty are core principles that we believe in as a company and we expect from the people we work with. Bill Howell lives up to that in every respect.”

“Bill’s easy to work with and his crews are quality,” project manager Woody Mitchell told The Times. “When you’re doing modular homes like Vineyard House, foundations have to be perfection. It’s not like you’re framing in the field when you can make adjustments on the fly. Bill does a quality job every time.”

Rock bottom

Originally from the Cape, Mr. Howell, 51, came to the Island because he was “basically homeless,” and he hoped the move would lead to the path of recovery.

Initially, it didn’t.

“Pills, cocaine, heroin, I took whatever was there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to an addict. It has nothing to do with logic. lt’s a form of insanity.”  Mr. Howell began using drugs and alcohol at the tender age of 9. Addiction runs deep on both sides of his family. “My father died of complications from alcoholism, my grandfather was an alcoholic,” he said. “Being around addicts was normal for me, and I just kept doing it.”

In the end, the move to the Island was key to his recovery. In addition to gaining a foothold at Vineyard House, “It felt good to have an ocean between me and the people I was spending time with,” he said.

Pillar of the community

Mr. Howell is active in the Island recovery community. In addition to providing employment, he’s a sponsor, mentor and he helps organize an annual celebration of recovery that the Vineyard community has hosted for the past 26 years.

Per 12-step program protocol, no individual can speak to a particular  recovery program. While the ultimate goals are the same, there are differences in dictum. “The goal for us is not abstinence, it’s recovery,” Mr. Howell said, adding that he relapsed for the last time in the 90’s. “There’s zero hope or expectation when you start in recovery. All you think about, all day, every day, is using again. But if the times a person uses are shorter, and the clean times last longer, that’s a win.”

Mr. Howell said the dark days create a special bond among recovering addicts. “We’re all survivors of the same near-fatal catastrophe,” he said. “We pull for each other. If you need support, go to a meeting. There’s one on this Island every day.”

Mr. Howell also had a suggestion for people who aren’t sure if they need help. “If you’re wondering if you have a problem, ask your family and friends what they think,” he said. “They’ll tell you.”

De-stigmatizing addiction

Mr. Howell was unfailingly forthcoming about his addiction and his recovery and he didn’t hesitate to give his last name. “I think people are more comfortable doing that because the perception of addiction is changing,” he said. “It has to change. Education and treatment is the silver bullet when it comes to overcoming addiction.”

Two of Mr. Howell’s crew also elected to give their full names.

Jamie Kergaravat, 29, has been working for Concrete Bill for three months. He has the build and the close-cropped hair of a Marine who just finished boot camp. “I was homeless three times,” he said, lighting a cigarette. “I lived in halfway houses, homeless shelters, outdoors. I was not into my recovery.”

Like Mr. Howell, he was down to his last stop when he came to the Island. His aunt took him in after yet another rehab stint at the Brockton Addiction Treatment Center. He’d stolen so much from his mother that she had a court order to keep him 50 feet from her house. “Now, I can’t get her off the phone,” he said laughing.

“The best thing I ever did was going to my first meeting here. I raised my hand and asked for help. It was hard to do. It was like putting my tail between my legs. I was scared. I sat at a table afterwards, and there was a line of people who wanted to help.”

Mr. Kergaravat has six months clean time. He’s lived at Vineyard House for the past five months. “It’s a great group of guys — we all click,” he said. “It’s impossible to do this alone. It’s all about surrounding myself with people who are doing the right thing.”

Which is not to say it’s been a smooth ride. “There’s definitely white-knuckle times, especially in the beginning,” he said. “But I’m not going back. I love living here. This Island has so much to offer.” Mr. Kergaravat reached into the back of his pick-up and picked up a brand-new surf rod and reel. “I haven’t caught anything yet, but I figured it’s time to start learning.”

Emmett Cook, 21, went to 12-step meetings with his father when he was a child. “He did work at it,” Mr. Cook said. By the time his father moved the two of them to the Island for a fresh start, Mr. Cook had been a frequent guest of Rhode Island and Connecticut state youth facilities, starting at age 13.

He enrolled at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School but dropped out after a year. His appetite for drugs grew unabated. “My drug of choice was ‘More,’” he said. “It didn’t matter what it was, just ‘more.’”

Mr. Cook’s father has since moved back to the mainland and is no longer in recovery. Mr. Cook stayed and, after one relapse, has been clean for over a year. “April 17, 2013,” he said.

Mr. Cook had turned 21 the day before he spoke to The Times. He celebrated with a cake and a dip in the ocean, and a meeting. “I usually go to a meeting every day,” he said. “It’s an hour a night: there’s no excuse not to go.”

As the crew packed up, Mr. Kergaravat surveyed the finished job. “It’s very cool that we got to build the foundation for this place,” he said. “If someone wants help, I’d say come to Vineyard House. There’s always a bed. The new place will have tons of beds.”

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

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Benito

Tracey Briscoe, the new owner of Benito's on Circuit Ave., kisses Benito "Benny" Mancinone in May, 2014, after his retirement. — MVTimes file photo

This Saturday, Island stalwart Benito Mancinone, known to generations of Islanders as “Benny,” will be back in his former Oak Bluffs barber shop on Circuit Avenue that still bears his name. For the first time since he quietly slipped into retirement and left the Island in 2013, Mr. Mancinone will be cutting hair from 9 am to 12 pm for a minimum $40 dollar donation, to raise money for the Joseph Jerome Memorial Foundation (JJMF). Keeping with his long-standing tradition, Mr. Mancinone will not take appointments.

Former Edgartown School principal and longtime chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, Ed Jerome, a close friend of Benny’s, started the JJMF in memory of his son Joseph, who died last September after a long illness, at the age of 24.

“The foundation was created to help Island families with chronically ill children afford the high cost of taking them to Boston for treatment,” Mr. Jerome said. “It’s unique to Islanders, the many trips, the ambulances. They might be in the hospital 50, 75 nights a year. It can create tremendous financial strain. Meanwhile, you have no idea if and when your child will get well.” Mr. Jerome said when his son Joe was receiving care in Boston, it sometimes required him and his wife Maryann to alternate five-day stays in the city while raising another child back on the Island.“It’s a difficult situation you don’t understand unless you’ve been there,” he said.

Mr. Jerome said that there are no strings attached to the assistance from JJMF and there’s no application process. “This is a fund where we try to find those folks who are too proud to say anything,” he said. He and other board members will rely on the Island grapevine, as well as local health care professionals, teachers, and counselors, to find families in need. “It’s all done very quietly,” he said. “Nobody’s going to know.”

Old friends

“Ed was the first friend I made when I moved to Martha’s Vineyard,” Mr. Mancinone said in his thick Italian accent in a phone interview with The Times. Mr. Mancinone moved to the Island in 1991, responding to a letter that he received the day after he was forced to close his Springfield restaurant. “I had to figure out what to do to take care of my family,” he said. “The next day, this letter arrives, asking licensed barbers to apply to Cottage City Barbershop on Martha’s Vineyard.” Mr. Mancinone was the first person to respond. He got the job and moved his family to the Island, and he soon met Mr. Jerome.

“Ed taught me everything about fishing, except he doesn’t give up his secret spots,” Mr. Mancinone said.

“I’m Italian, he’s Italian, we hit it right off. It became a great friendship,” Mr. Jerome said.

Mr. Mancinone and Mr. Jerome fished together often over the years, especially during the Derby. “Benny and I fished before work. He would go to his shop and I would go to school,” Mr. Jerome, said. “I caught some nice fish, 34-pound stripers fishing with Ed,” Mr. Mancinone said. “But 11 years fishing the Derby, I never got a bite, not even a bite. My wife was starting to wonder if I was really fishing.”

Under new management

Last year, after 22 years in his Circuit Ave shop, Mr. Mancinone sold his business to his longtime employee and de facto daughter Tracy Briscoe and her brother, Jason Gruner.

“He was Papa Benito,” Ms. Briscoe said fondly. “He never called me Tracy. It was either ‘that girl’ or ‘Fifi.’”

Ms. Briscoe worked almost every summer with Benny after he took over the shop and worked some winters as well. She originally hatched the idea for Saturday’s fundraiser.

“I adore the Jerome family,” Ms. Briscoe said. “I cut Joe’s hair when he was a boy. I watched him grow up. It’s a win-win to raise money for the Jerome’s foundation and bring back Benny at the same time.”

Saturday will mark the first time Benny will see the top to bottom renovation Ms. Briscoe and Mr. Gruner made to the shop over the winter. Per Benny’s wishes, they kept the barber shop spirit intact. They also redid the floor and the walls and added some modern touches like flat screen TVs and a popcorn machine. Still, Benny’s imprint is everywhere. The original barber poll still spins outside the window in which his old barber chair sits. A 1954 clock from his Springfield shop with inverted numbering — so clients can read it in the mirror — hangs on the wall.

“People that didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to Benny now have the chance,” Ms. Briscoe said. Very few people knew Mr. Mancinone was retiring and moving to Connecticut. Which is the way he wanted it. “I hate saying goodbye,” he said. “It makes me very sad. But I’m really looking forward to seeing Ed and the rest of the guys.” Mr. Mancinone said he’ll cut hair at least until 12 noon, depending on how his recently replaced knee holds up. “I’ll go as long as I can,” he said. “Then when I can’t work no more, I’ll just tell them to give me the money. Give me 60 or 100 bucks. It’s for a great cause.”

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Rink booster says investing in much-needed roof repairs and solar energy conversion could benefit investor and Islanders alike.

The MV Ice Arena would reduce its operating costs by up to 50 percent with the addition of solar panels. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Arena (MVA) is showing its age. The 20-year-old roof on the 40-year-old building is leaking. Since it’s not insulated, the roof hemorrhages heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. The MVA electric bill is over $100,000 a year — more than half the annual operating budget.

Now the technology exists so the hot sun can keep the ice cold year-round. The opportunity also exists for an investor to make his or her money back, with interest, while helping to improve one of the Island’s main sports and recreation venues, according to Bob Mone of West Tisbury, a longtime supporter of the rink and former member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Owner of Mone Insurance in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Mone is looking for an investor to fund the new roof and the installation of photovoltaic cells that he said would supply over 95 percent of the arena’s energy needs.

“You rarely see an opportunity to donate to a good cause and get your money back with interest,” Mr. Mone said in an interview with The Times. “When I first saw the numbers, I thought it was just too good to be true. But it’s not.”

Mr. Mone said that the investor would be able to recoup his loan, which will be in the neighborhood of $1.6 million, with interest ranging from four to six percent over ten years, through a combination of tax benefits estimated at $806,196 after six years and proceeds from the sale of Renewable Energy Certificates (REC) expected to generate $642,834 over seven years.

According to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs, RECS are tradeable energy commodities that require 1 megawatt hour of electricity be generated from an eligible renewable energy resource. RECS can be sold or traded at auction once a year. The investor will own the solar array and completely control the funds it generates.

“Right now, we’re leaning towards Bennett Electric to do the solar work,” Mr. Mone said. “They’re the low bid and they want to put the photovoltaic cells on the roof, which will cost less than putting them on a separate canopy, and would make the permitting process a lot simpler.”

The environment will also benefit from the MVA renovation. “I really want the rink to go green,” Mr. Mone said. “Currently it has one of the biggest carbon footprints on the Vineyard. By keeping the energy costs in check, it will also help provide long-term financial security for the rink.”

Financial stability is an ongoing issue for the MVA. Like many public rinks of the 1960s and 1970s, the MVA grew in stages — pieces and parts were added over the years, when funds allowed. Mr. Mone and his wife, Gayle, were among the volunteers who built the first incarnation of the MVA in 1973, when Islanders laid the pipe and created an ice surface that was cleaned with a small plow on a Jeep. Side boards were added soon after, and later a roof. The MVA became a year-round facility in 1992 when side walls were added, making it a fully enclosed rink.

Family responds to tragedy

Ryan Mone, Mr. Mone’s youngest son who was a senior stand-out on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School hockey team, died in a car accident on New Year’s Eve, 1998. The following year, the Mones began a drive to improve the MVA facilities, raising funds to replace the flimsy plywood dressing rooms with heated locker rooms and showers.

That the MVA has flourished is the result of the Mones’ desire to memorialize Ryan, and the effect their story had on Bob Levine, a summer resident based in Colorado, who read about the Mones in a local paper and went on to underwrite major MVA improvements. These days the rink bustles nine months a year with high school hockey, amateur hockey leagues, figure skating, and youth instructional camps and youth hockey tournaments, including the annual Ryan Mone memorial tournament. But the roof leaks are only going to get worse, and the electricity bill is only going to get bigger until the new roof and solar panels are in place.

“We want to get this project done as soon as possible,” Mr. Mone said. “Once we get the funding, we could have it done in six months.”

Auction tonight

Raising money for the MVA is a family affair for the Mones. Their oldest son, Jon Mone, a former MVRHS hockey stand-out, and executive producer of the hit movie “Ted,” is providing a walk-on role in “Ted 2” as an auction item at tonight’s Ice Savours, to be emceed by comedian Lenny Clarke. Other auction items include a sunset sail and cocktails on Nat Benjamin’s schooner Charlotte, paella for 10 from Kitchen Porch catering, two tickets to the PGA championship in Florida, four tickets to a Bruins game with a tour of the NBC live feed truck, four tickets to the October 5 Patriots game against the Cincinnati Bengals, rounds of golf at Farm Neck, Mink Meadows, and Vineyard Golf Club, and fishing with “Living it” charters. The event will be held at Farm Neck Golf Club in Oak Bluffs, from 6 to 9 pm. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres will be served and the live auction begins at 7:15. Tickets are $100. For more information, call 509-693-4438.

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Obama’s visit gives local scribes a behind-the-scenes look at covering the commander-in-chief.

Inside the big yellow bus during a long "hold," two reporters file stories while most of the pool soaks in the glorious summer day. — Photo by Michael Cummo

The arrival of a visiting president on Martha’s Vineyard is an exciting prospect for a reporter at a local Island weekly. It provides the opportunity to join some of the nation’s top journalists and photographers and to ride in the motorcade with the President of the United States — POTUS in reporter parlance. And there’s always the possibility, however remote, that a local reporter will get the chance to ask the most powerful man in the world a probing question — a question that could possibly give the president pause for reflection.

The Presidential press pool passes a long holding period at Flanders, where AFP photographer Nicholas Kamm passes the time photographing horses and veteran pooler Rick Friedman jokes with the AP's Jacquelyn Martin.
The Presidential press pool passes a long holding period at Flanders, where AFP photographer Nicholas Kamm passes the time photographing horses and veteran pooler Rick Friedman jokes with the AP’s Jacquelyn Martin.

But past experience covering President Obama as a member of the White House pool has been akin to press purgatory — long hours sitting in vans and buses, and maybe, just maybe, getting a telescopic view of the president’s facility with an 8 iron. This vacation, the president has been even more cloistered than usual, and a Sasquatch sighting on Farm Neck seems much more likely than any contact with the commander-in-chief.

With a mandate to get something out of the money The Times ponied up for the costs to get this local reporter in the White House pool, I decided to interview some of these top-shelf journos, to get a window into the life with the president when something actually happens, to get their impressions of our Island, and to find out what movies they show on Air Force One.

A summer day in the pool

The White House pool reporters were welcoming and collegial when a Times reporter and photographer joined their coterie. It was not long before a photographer from a major wire service shared a moving story about a picture she took last winter that went viral and eventually reunited a mentally ill man with his searching family. When The Times asked her to tell her heartwarming tale on the record so Islanders could share in it too, her tone took a decidedly sour turn. “Aw man, I thought we were just hanging out,” she said, uttering the last words she would speak to The Times for the rest of the 13-hour day on the bus.

Journalists, it turns out, do not like to be interviewed. This irony stems mainly from corporate policy. Given the amount of print journalists who are blogging for less than minimum wage, they can’t be blamed for protecting their livelihood.

The big yellow bus, aka "The Mothership," where the White House press pool spends a good part of the president's vacation.
The big yellow bus, aka “The Mothership,” where the White House press pool spends a good part of the president’s vacation.

But over the course of a long day spent in cramped vans and pacing around holding sites, some reporters and photographers, who asked to remain nameless, eventually shared stories about life on the Obama beat. While President Obama sometimes visits with pool reporters on long flights abroad, the conversations tend to be short and measured, as opposed to the gregarious President Clinton, who loved talking politics so much that one now-retired reporter feigned sleep when he saw the president coming to the back of the plane.

Neither the pool reporters nor the president get frequent flier miles on “Air Force One” and the movie “Air Force One” has not been shown on Air Force One. Additionally, the M&M’s and even the tiny tabasco bottles have “Air Force One” stamped on them, and make great gifts at the holidays.

On that day we spent five hours holding at the end of the entrance to the Vineyard Golf Club off the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. The Times took an informal poll to see if these journalists, who are some of the best in the world at unearthing the truth, still saw the Island as an “affluent, exclusive enclave,” as so many of them describe it, after spending some time here. The unanimous response was, “Yes.” They were informed that locals bristle at these descriptions, that the average wage on the Island is 70 percent of the state average, that there’s a critical shortage of affordable housing, and that many Islanders are barely making ends meet.

“Really? Where are they?” one reporter asked genuinely. People who see the Vineyard from the point of view of the president can’t be expected to see the full spectrum of Vineyard life, especially when they spend long days wedged in vans and pacing around holding sites.

Hurry up and wait

After the president finished his round of golf, the “Men in Black” convoy sped up Island, and the press promptly went into hold mode again — this time at the Flanders property, a 65-acre former estate of a prosperous whaling captain who was coincidentally also named Flanders. The photographers took photos of horses from every possible angle, while some Secret Service huntsmen looked longingly at the abundant deer and turkey frolicking in the verdant meadows.

After POTUS got cleaned up for dinner, the convoy, this time including a bomb squad truck manned by men with permanent scowls, sped back down Island. After a circuitous route to Oak Bluffs, the president, the first lady, aka FLOTUS, and a few select friends had dinner at The Sweet Life, where the Obamas have often dined.

While the president ate, the pool was escorted to Giordano’s via Kennebec Ave., which required an explanation of the long line at Back Door Donuts and the wonder of a warm apple fritter. The pool members, who have dined at restaurants all over the world, were unanimous in their praise for Gio’s cuisine, especially the meatball parmesan pizza and the lobster ravioli.

The day ended with the pool gathering with hundreds of locals outside The Sweet Life. Just before POTUS and FLOTUS emerged, the bomb squad truck, per security protocol, pulled in front of the crowd gathered on a spit of land between Pequot Ave. and Massasoit Ave. POTUS and FLOTUS left the restaurant to applause, flashing cell phone cameras and about 100 people chanting “Move that truck! Move that truck!”

The press was warned ahead of time that we had to dash to our vans as soon as POTUS got into his car, or risk missing the motorcade. Despite being impaled by a charging soundman brandishing his boom mike like a lance, this reporter managed to make it back to the van in time.

The day ended with the press getting one fleeting glimpse of POTUS and FLOTUS. From a journalistic standpoint, it was a dud. But maybe, just maybe, a reporter will think twice before describing the Vineyard as a playground for the rich and famous.

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The commander-in-chief racked up 72 holes of golf in his first four days on Island and the family spent some time at the beach.

President Obama is all smiles as golfing partner Ahmad Rashad congratulates him on sinking a putt at Farm Neck golf course. — The Boston Globe

President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and their daughter Malia, along with first dogs Bo and Sunny, arrived by helicopter at Martha’s Vineyard Airport Saturday for the start of a two-week vacation. The Obamas’ youngest daughter, Sasha, was not on Air Force One, but a White House spokesperson said she would be joining the family later.

Waitresses wave out the window of Bangkok Cuisine at people trying to spot President Obama, who dined at The Sweet Life Cafe just next door.
Waitresses wave out the window of Bangkok Cuisine at people trying to spot President Obama, who dined at The Sweet Life Cafe just next door.

Mr. Obama and his family have vacationed on the Island every year since his 2008 election, with the exception of 2012, when he was campaigning for re-election. Past presidential vacation activities have included golf, bike trips with the family, golf, dinners with friends, and golf. A White House pool reporter from a major wire service told a reporter from the Times that when he is in Washington, the president plays golf at least once every weekend.

The public was not allowed to welcome the Obamas at the airport, but well-wishers were frequent along the motorcade route to the president’s rented Chilmark estate. The commander-in-chief quickly changed into his golf clothes and was on the first tee at Farm Neck golf course in Oak Bluffs within an hour of his arrival. The president’s foursome that day included former football star and broadcaster Ahmad Rashad, Cyrus Walker, a cousin of White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Ray Allen, the longtime Boston Celtics star who later took his talents to Miami. After the round, the president did not disclose his score, citing executive privilege.

On Sunday, the president played a second round of golf at Farm Neck. His foursome included Mr. Walker, Mr. Rashad, and financier friend Robert Wolf. After the round, the president stayed in for the night.

President Obama waves to the throng of onlookers after leaving The Sweet Life Cafe, where he dined with his wife Michelle, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Attorney General Eric Holder, Former Ambassador Ron Kirk and their spouses.
President Obama waves to the throng of onlookers after leaving The Sweet Life Cafe, where he dined with his wife Michelle, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Attorney General Eric Holder, Former Ambassador Ron Kirk and their spouses.

As with all presidential movements, security is everywhere. Earlier that day, Island fisherman in search of bonito by boat off the brickyard were shooed away by a crew from a Coast Guard cutter stationed off the Island’s north shore, just east of the Obama’s vacation house. Fortunately for the fishermen, bonito have been scarce this year, or the situation could have ended badly.

On Monday, the president began the day with a phone call to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko about the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Obama expressed his strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The President also spoke with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi about the latest developments in Iraq, Libya, and Ukraine, as well as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to White House reports.

In the surprise story of the day, the president did not play golf. Instead, he went to the beach with the First Lady and Malia. The first family went to one of the private beaches only accessible by Pohoganot Road, in Edgartown, where property owners include the Flynn family, for generations the largest landowners of Pohoganot Farm and surrounding property at Edgartown Great Pond, Andrew and Pamela Kohlberg, children of Jerome Kohlberg who owns the Vineyard Gazette, Robert Levine, and Richard L. Friedman, an investor who hosted President Bill Clinton when he vacationed on the Vineyard.

That evening the president attended a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee event hosted by Berklee College of Music President Roger Brown and his wife, Linda Mason at their home in Tisbury. Tickets to the fundraiser ranged from $15,000 to $32,400. President Obama entered the event to a singer belting out “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”

Mr. Obama told the crowd of approximately 50 donors that he had called new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi to offer his support and congratulations on his election. He reiterated that there is no American military solution to the problem and that Iraq must form an inclusive government. He said the day’s developments were a “promising step forward” in a “critical effort.”

Reuters photographer Kevin Lamarque lets paramedic Traci Monteith experiment with his camera during downtime in the Presidential press pool.
Reuters photographer Kevin Lamarque lets paramedic Traci Monteith experiment with his camera during downtime in the Presidential press pool.

The president began his day on Tuesday by declaring a major disaster in Washington state in response to recent wildfires. The president then played a four and a half round of golf at the very exclusive Vineyard Golf Club in Edgartown. That evening, he and Michelle Obama dined at The Sweet Life restaurant in Oak Bluffs, one of his favorite stops on the Vineyard. The first couple were joined by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Attorney General Eric Holder, and former Ambassador Ron Kirk, and their respective spouses.

The Obamas’ presence electrified Circuit Ave. and a crowd of several hundred people gathered outside the restaurant as they ate. The Obamas were greeted by loud cheers as they left the restaurant. There was also a crowd chanting “Move that truck!” to the Secret Service bomb squad, which had blocked their view upon the president’s exit from the restaurant, per security protocol.

Rainy, stormy weather on Wednesday kept Mr. Obama indoors and apparently on the phone. The White House reported that he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and discussed by phone the ongoing negotiations in Cairo to achieve a sustainable ceasefire agreement. The President reaffirmed United States support for Egypt’s mediation efforts and underscored the importance of achieving a sustainable outcome that ensures Israel’s security and addresses Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, according to a news release.

Mr. Obama chose not to attend an afternoon book signing by Hillary Clinton at the Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven. Ms. Clinton’s sharp criticism of the president’s foreign policy earlier this week in The Atlantic magazine made their expected attendance Wednesday night a topic of much conversation by political pundits. President Obama and his former Secretary of State are on the guest list for an 80th birthday party tonight thrown by Vernon Jordan, the longtime Clinton pal and Washington insider, at the Farm Neck Golf Club for his wife, Ann Jordan.

According to a White House press release, the president will travel back to Washington on Sunday, August 17. He is tentatively scheduled to return to the Island on Tuesday, August 19.