Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick
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Edgartown selectmen ordered Oak Bluffs resident John Labell to restrain his dogs on a leash whenever he brings them to Edgartown, and that includes while walking in the Manuel Correllus State Forest. The decision followed a dog hearing at Monday’s regular meeting.

The selectmen conducted the hearing following a nuisance complaint filed by Karl Nelson of Edgartown, after two separate incidents about a year apart where dogs owned by the two families tangled in the state forest. Neither the dogs nor the people involved were bitten or injured, but the Nelsons’ dog was frightened and ran away, to be found several hours later, in the second incident.

Edgartown animal control officer Barbara Prada noted that neither dog involved in the two incidents was on a leash, as required both by state forest regulations and Edgartown regulations.

“I think it’s clear the most important thing is no matter how friendly your dog is, to have it on a leash,” chairman Art Smadbeck said.

Selectmen declined to issue a $200 bond, which could be forfeited in the event of any further violation of the leash law.

“It was an unfortunate incident, and very difficult because both of them were off leashes,” selectman Margaret Serpa said. “If there’s a further incident of any kind, then we can discuss a bond.”

Also Monday, selectmen declined to get involved in a dispute between residents of Mullen Way and developer Michael Kidder, who has proposed a nine-home development off Mullen Way. Selectmen referred the homeowners to the Edgartown planning board, where the project is now under review.

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Photo by Michael Cummo

With a recent hike in electric rates, Martha’s Vineyard residents report an increase in unsolicited offers from companies offering to switch their energy supplier and save the customer hundreds of dollars in electricity costs. Comparing plans can be a bewildering experience in deciphering arcane utility regulations, interpreting the legal nuance of fine print in contract agreements, and trying to outsmart the experts who predict future energy costs.

While competitive energy suppliers are regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, and subject to consumer-protection laws, consumer advocates warn that buyers should consider promotional pitches and long-term contracts with an abundance of caution, and carefully evaluate whether switching suppliers will actually save money. Many come with onerous termination fees, temporary “teaser” rates, or monthly service charges in addition to the standard per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) charge.

A recent $4 million settlement agreement by Just Energy, a competitive energy supplier licensed to sell energy plans on Martha’s Vineyard and in many other Massachusetts communities, illustrates the pitfalls facing consumers.

According to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, Just Energy engaged in deceptive marketing and sales that misled consumers into signing contracts based on attractive introductory pricing, only to later increase their electricity supply costs.

“We allege this competitive supplier engaged in widespread and misleading conduct that lured consumers into costly contracts in the form of high electricity rates and termination fees,” wrote attorney general Martha Coakley in a Jan. 6 statement. According to the agreement, Just Energy will pay $3.8 million in restitution to certain customers, and $200,000 to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Deregulation complication

Before Massachusetts lawmakers deregulated the energy industry in 1998, most consumers got electricity delivered to their homes by the same company that purchased energy from power plants and resold it to consumers. The prices were set through a complex process overseen by state regulators, who granted companies a near-monopoly on retail energy sales in exchange for control over prices.

Deregulation split the two components of retail energy into separate parts: delivery and supply. The large energy companies (NSTAR, in the case of all Island consumers) still deliver electricity to individual households and businesses. They maintain equipment, handle billing, and repair infrastructure after storms.

But NSTAR and other companies no longer have the exclusive right to buy electricity from power generators and resell it to consumers.

Lawmakers separated the two functions in order to increase competition. Deregulation certainly accomplished that goal. Consumers are now free to choose any state-approved competitive supplier to provide electricity to their home or business. Instead of a monopoly, there are currently 19 independent companies authorized to supply electricity to NSTAR residential consumers in Massachusetts, and 57 others that supply electricity to small- and large-scale commercial consumers. Most of these companies are intermediaries between the firms which own power plants fueled by natural gas, nuclear energy, coal, oil, hydro power, or alternative energy sources including solar or wind, and retail consumers.

The increased competition is intended to benefit the consumer, but with the benefit comes a burden. State regulators are no longer mostly responsible for setting the price and choosing a supplier. That responsibility now falls on the consumer, and it can be an extremely complicated decision.

Seeing the light

Electricity consumers on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard have an extra layer of complexity added to the cost equation, a layer intended to protect consumers by using economies of scale to negotiate a better price. Cape Light Compact is a municipal buying group for 13 Cape Cod towns, the seven towns (including Gosnold) of Dukes County, along with Barnstable and Dukes County. Governed by representatives from each town and county, Cape Light Compact delves into the complicated energy market, and using the power of about 200,000 individual customers working collectively, chooses a competitive supplier and negotiates a short-term contract price for electricity. That company becomes the default supplier. If a new customer opens an account with NSTAR, the designated default company supplies the electricity at the price and terms negotiated by Cape Light Compact. Any customer has a right, with no penalty, to opt out of the default arrangement, and choose his or her own energy supplier. NSTAR handles the switch, and bills the consumer according to the price and terms of his new competitive supplier.

The fundamental difference between customers under the Cape Light Compact umbrella, and competitive energy suppliers operating independently, is that Cape Light Compact is bound to make its best effort to act in the interest of its members. An independent competitive supplier is motivated to make a profit for its owners or shareholders.

Interest and penalties

For the seven-month period from December 2014 through June 2015, Cape Light Compact chose the competitive supplier Con Edison Solutions, a New York company, to supply electricity to residential customers at a price of 15.371 cents/kWh. That is a sharp jump from the previous price of 8.892 cents/kWh.

In other parts of the NSTAR service area, NSTAR chooses a default supplier. Currently the default price of customers not a part of the Cape Light Compact is 15.046 cents/kWh, a few tenths of a cent lower than the Cape Light Compact price. Often, Cape Light Compact negotiates a price lower than the default NSTAR price.

“The compact’s price is always being set by someone who is hired just to make sure you’re getting the best price,” said Stephan Wollenburg, a power supply planner for Cape Light Compact. “People have to be really careful and be really willing to do their homework before they sign up with a [new] supplier. All of them play very clever games.”

Viridian Energy, a firm based in Stamford, Conn., is among the competitive suppliers aggressively pitching Island consumers on switching companies.

But it is difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison. On the company’s web site, a three-year contract is offered at a fixed price of $12.99 cents/kWh. The fine print advises consumers that if they cancel before the end of a three-year contract, they will have to pay a termination fee, but it does not say what the termination fee will be. It says only that the “termination fee is as listed in your enrollment documentation.” The termination fee is actually $50. Other companies impose termination fees of up to $200. Some also charge monthly service fees, typically about $5 per month. Still others offer a low introductory fixed rate for a short period, then switch to a variable rate for the rest of the contract term.

In order to compare Viridian’s price with the Cape Light Compact price, a consumer would have to know the Cape Light Compact price for the next three years. That, however, is impossible, because Cape Light Compact only sets prices in the short term, about every six months. The current price reflects the high cost of electricity during the winter months. On July 1, Cape Light Compact will set a new price, based on new negotiations with a competitive supplier. No one can predict with certainty the market conditions that will determine that price.

“It’s our expectation that it will be considerably lower,” Mr. Wollenburg said. “When we reset our price, our price will be for the second half of the year, which doesn’t have those really expensive months. So it’s going to come down pretty considerably from where it is now. The 13 cents [Viridian’s price] looks really good now, but in July it might not look so good. Even next January it might not look so good.”

Some consumers see value in locking in a fixed price, but the vagaries of the marketplace, where electricity costs can fluctuate wildly, will eventually determine whether the fixed price is a bargain or not.

In the service area covered by Cape Light Compact, about 40,000 customers have opted out, to choose their own competitive supplier. The rest, about 160,000, simply stay with the default supplier designated. But Mr. Wollenburg expects the aggressive marketing campaigns to have an impact.

“We have a lot of churn,” Mr. Wollenburg said. “I would expect we will lose more customers than we have in the past. I expect we’ll get some back, too.”

The Edgartown planning board considers a development off Mullen Way. Martin "Skip" Tomassian (back to camera) represented developer Michael Kidder.

The Edgartown planning board Tuesday unanimously approved an application from Chappaquiddick resident Michael Kidder to build nine 2,800-square-foot, four-bedroom houses on a 7.1-acre lot off Mullen Way, following a contentious public hearing continued from Dec. 16.

The approval comes with a list of improvements Mr. Kidder offered to make at his expense, and set as conditions by the planning board. These include installation of a new eight-inch water main and fire hydrants, public access to extend Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank trails, 1.7 acres of open space, and a prohibition on guest houses or any further subdivision.

The vote to approve the project came after the five-member board voted unanimously not to refer the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), over the objection of attorney Ellen Kaplan, who represented many of the Mullen Way homeowners opposed to the development. The threshold for mandatory planning-board referral is a 10-lot development.

Several residents argued that Mullen Way, a 17.2-foot-wide, town-owned road off Pease Point Way, with pavement covering about 14 feet of the right of way, is not adequate to safely support extra traffic that would be generated by the new development.

“If you allow Mullen Way to become a driveway to this development, you’ll destroy the special character of Mullen Way,” Robert Coad, a Mullen Way homeowner, said.

“Most of what I’ve heard centers on the issue of change,” board member Robert Sparks said, just before he made a motion to approve the application. Edgartown “is a resort community, which has its appeal because old Edgartown was able to exist over 3.5 centuries of change. Is it going to change the world as we know it? I don’t think so.”

Second time around

Mr. Kidder is one of the founders of the FARM Institute, and heads a charitable foundation that has provided generous support to a number of Island institutions that include Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. He purchased the land for $3.6 million in 2005, according to assessors’ records. It is currently assessed at $1.1 million. Mr. Kidder submitted a slightly larger development proposal to the Edgartown planning board in 2005, but subsequently withdrew his application in the face of strenuous opposition from area residents, which included a petition submitted to the MVC in 2006 to declare the neighborhood a district of critical planning concern (DCPC). Such a designation, which would have been unprecedented for a specific neighborhood, would have allowed for the imposition of a layer of regulatory control above and beyond that which exists at the town level. The MVC rejected the designation.

Mr. Kidder, doing business as MRK Mullen Realty Trust, submitted a new development application to the planning board on Nov. 19, 2014.

The application sparked a blizzard of correspondence. At Tuesday’s hearing in town hall, attended by about 20 people, the board presented copies of 10 letters in support of the project, and eight opposed. Also distributed were letters from the chief of police, fire chief, board of health, water department, wastewater department, and selectmen, expressing support for, or no opposition to, the plan.

The location of the planned development is shown in this map.
The location of the planned development is shown in this map.

Water Superintendent William Chaplain wrote that a new eight-inch water main would be a considerable improvement over the current four-inch main.

“While this approach to the design and construction may require the developer to incur additional costs over the original design, this approach will serve the community in a better and more reliable fashion, [and] may afford the residents with a reduction in homeowner insurance rates,” Mr. Chapman wrote.

David Young, a Mullen Way seasonal resident, spoke in opposition at Tuesday’s hearing, and submitted a letter outlining his objections. “It is important to note that the very modest homes on Mullen are frequently rented in summer, and there are always a good number of children of all ages on the street,” Mr. Young wrote. “When our grandchildren come, we rent another house, as ours is too small for them. Obviously we’re looking at a dangerous personal-safety situation as well as emergency-vehicle and fire-safety issue along with the dramatic degradation of a classic Edgartown neighborhood.”

Road warriors

The objections of Mullen Way residents about the adequacy of the narrow road to accommodate more traffic held little sway for board members, despite the case made by Ms. Kaplan. She noted that Mr. Kidder recently sold two adjacent house lots that are no longer part of his development proposal, but may also bring more residents to the neighborhood.

“It is almost double the amount of homes, it is at least double the amount of bedrooms,” Ms. Kaplan told the board. “The road as it exists with no turnouts is insufficient and incapable of handling the resident traffic and the service-provider traffic. You’re going to have more landscapers, more cleaning people, more FedEx trucks.”

Lawyer Martin “Skip” Tomassian, who represented Mr. Kidder, countered with large pictures of several Edgartown roads in congested neighborhoods that he said were considerably narrower than Mullen Way.

“This isn’t an unusual situation,” planning board member Michael McCourt said. “Narrow roads exist all around the Island, with plenty of houses on them. I can’t vote against this project because of the width of the road.”

Ms. Kaplan also argued that the project triggers several provisions that require mandatory MVC review, including a provision that requires referral of any land subdivided into 10 or more lots, even though one of those lots is to be designated open space in perpetuity. “I would suggest you deny the project, but at the very least it should be referred to the MVC,” Ms. Kaplan said. “That’s where it belongs.”

Chairman Fred Mascolo disagreed about the need for review by the Island’s powerful regulatory and planning agency, which has wide authority to reject a development or impose conditions.

“So you’re saying this is regional impact?” Mr. Mascolo asked. “I’m really kind of sick of people saying that. We are a town board. I think this is an Edgartown decision. I don’t see this as regional impact, where somebody from West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah needs to weigh in.”

The project still needs approval from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species program (NHESP), because it lies within protected habitat. Mr. Tomassian assured the planning board that after more than a year of consultation, NHESP has given preapproval to development plans.

The project also needs approval from the town conservation commission.

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The Army Corps of Engineers will put off a project to widen and deepen the channel into Menemsha Pond due to permitting delays.

he Menemsha jetty and the facing Lobsterville jetty are scheduled to be repaired this winter. – Photo by Michael Cummo

A Rhode Island marine construction firm is scheduled to begin work this week on a $1.3 million federal project to repair the two stone jetties that guard the entrance to Menemsha harbor and Menemsha Pond. The jetties were damaged by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

The channel will be dredged next year. –U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map
The channel will be dredged next year.
–U.S. Army Corps of Engineers map

RC&D Inc., of Pawtucket, R.I., the contractor awarded the bid for the repair work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is working within a tight window because of environmental restrictions and the desire of Chilmark town officials that the work not interfere with the summer tourist season.

Construction on the west jetty on the Aquinnah side of the channel must be completed by March 31, to avoid interfering with the migration of piping plovers on Lobsterville Beach and adjacent dunes. Work on the east jetty in Chilmark can continue through May 21, until the town needs full use of the town parking lot. The work will involve transporting heavy construction equipment, armor stone, and other project materials to Menemsha, much of it by water.

The Army Corps of Engineers will supervise the project. “The repair work will involve reconstructing both the east and west jetties to prestorm conditions,” said Craig Martin, project manager for the Army Corps New England District. “Approximately 1,950 tons of armor stone will be placed for the project.”

“Displaced armor stone will be retrieved and reused where applicable, and new stone will be set in place to fill existing gaps in the jetties,” the Army Corps wrote in a news release on Jan. 5. “Repairs will require substantial moving and rehandling of existing stones to obtain the required interlocking placement and construction tolerances.”

Funding for the project comes from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, a $60 billion program authorized by Congress.

Dredging delayed

Another phase of the Army Corp’s project to repair Hurricane Sandy damage, a $2 million plan to dredge the Menemsha channel, was scheduled to begin this winter, but will be delayed until next winter because of delays in securing the necessary state and federal permits. The dredging project will be limited to the months of October through January.

“Unfortunately, because of the extremely limited window to complete dredging,” Mr. Martin wrote in an October memo, “we are not going to be completing the dredging project this year. We simply couldn’t fit what we expect to be 2 to 2.5 months of work into a 1.5-month period left after the contract award and mobilization of equipment.”

The Army Corps was also concerned that it might not be able to find a company able and willing to take on the dredging project this winter. A similar-size project in Cohasset did not draw a single bid when it was offered last September.

“Due to all the Hurricane Sandy work from other districts and states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, we are finding a saturated market in the hydraulic dredging sector,” Mr. Martin wrote.

The federal government intends to push forward with a request for bids in the early months of this year, so the dredging can begin in October.

Depth of unhappiness

In 1945, Congress authorized periodic maintenance dredging and repairs to the jetty, to insure safe passage of vessels seeking refuge from storms. The current project is designed to restore the channel between the jetties to a depth of 10 feet above mean low water, and eight feet deep along the 1.2-mile channel into Menemsha Pond. The Army Corps says parts of that channel have shoaled to depths of less than three feet, creating hazardous conditions for commercial and sport fishermen as well as recreational boaters. Sand dredged from the project will be placed on Lobsterville Beach, to reduce the impact of coastal erosion. Under the planned terms of the dredging project, the contractor will be allowed to work 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

The dredging project does not have the support of Chilmark selectmen. The town of Aquinnah and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) both favor the dredging project, as a way to improve the health of the pond by increasing water circulation, and to allow vessels access to Menemsha Pond.

Chilmark officials are worried about the effect on the scallop fishery and the potential for more and larger boats to use the federally designated channel to enter the pond. However, those town concerns were not enough to outweigh the Army Corps mandate to protect navigation through the federal channel.

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Voters will decide how to fix a $100,000 budget shortfall at special town meeting Wednesday night, January 7.

Aquinnah will hold a special town meeting January 7 to help plug a hole in the town budget.

A series of financial missteps, underestimates of revenue from fees, licenses, and fines, and late property tax payments combined to create a $101,564 budget deficit for Aquinnah in the current fiscal year, a shortfall town officials hope to resolve at a special town meeting on Wednesday, January 7. The deficit amounts to 2.6 percent of the town’s $3.8 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year that began July 1.

Voters will be asked to dip into the town’s stabilization fund or, as an alternative, enact a series of budget cuts in combination with a withdrawal from the stabilization fund, to balance the books. The special town meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 pm in Old Town Hall.

The first article on the warrant asks voters to withdraw the entire amount of the shortfall, $101,564, from the stabilization fund, which currently has a balance of $208,784.

The second article, offered as an alternative to the first measure, would withdraw $57,743 from the stabilization fund, and make up the rest of the deficit with $43,821 in budget cuts from town departments, including $11,578 from the police department, $7,114 from public works, $7,000 from the town’s budget for data processing, $4,000 from the fire department, and smaller cuts from nine other departments.

Approval by two-thirds of the voters present is required to withdraw funds from the stabilization account.

In an executive summary that accompanies the special town meeting warrant, Jim Newman, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the shortfall “will put the town in a position where it won’t be able to cover all its bills by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2015). When this was reported to the state Department of Revenue (DOR) as part of setting a tax rate for the rest of the fiscal year, they instructed the town to not send out its third quarter tax bills until the matter had been resolved.”

Town administrator Adam Wilson, who described the shortfall as a “perfect storm” of financial issues, said two articles will appear on the warrant, to give voters a choice.

“If the town voters agree to take the entire amount out of the stabilization fund, the problem is solved,” Mr. Wilson said. “If the town voters don’t want to do that, the second article asks voters to enact a series of budget cuts. I wanted them to see that the department heads took this seriously and dove back into their budgets.”

Financial misses

The financial problems came to light as the town worked with the DOR to compile its tax recapitulation statement, a requirement of all Massachusetts towns. That revealed tax payments to the town were coming in at less than the amount projected for the fiscal year 2015 budget.

“The DOR said our projected revenue from property taxes looked off,” Mr. Wilson said. “We simply didn’t have the same amount of property taxes coming we had in the previous year. As a result of that, we’re over budgeted.”

Mr. Wilson also cited a transition in town hall. Town treasurer Judy Jardin and town accountant Margie Spitz both retired recently. The transition to new treasurer Peter Graczykowski and new accountant Kimberly Brown resulted in some problems in town finances.

Among them was a mix-up in payments on a short-term loan issued to fund ongoing repairs and maintenance on town hall. In 2011, the town borrowed $100,000, but paid $15,000 in 2012 and 2013 to reduce the amount of the short-term note. The town budgeted $15,000 to reduce the amount of short-term borrowing in the current budget.

According to Ms. Brown, in fiscal year 2014, instead of paying the budgeted $15,000 to reduce the amount of the note as intended, the entire $70,000 balance was paid off, leaving a budget deficit of $45,288, the amount already spent on repairs to town hall.

Town officials said the revenue from local receipts, miscellaneous items such as licences, fines, penalties and interest from late tax payments, and other items fell short of projections, in part because the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Pond is closed to commercial scalloping this year. In a normal year, the town would realize $6,000 to $7,000 in commercial license fees.

Late taxes

Delinquent tax accounts are a recurring issue in Aquinnah. In recent years voters appropriated money to hire a part-time employee to research accounts and begin proceedings against delinquent taxpayers. According to Mr. Wilson, that resulted in an increase in tax revenue during the previous fiscal years. He speculated that paying off large tax debts may be contributing to the current shortfall.

“We have increased effort on the tax title, which causes people to pay the taxes which are overdue for a long time,” Mr. Wilson said at a December 9 meeting of the board of selectmen. “When they pay these old taxes, they sometimes don’t pay the new taxes, which also have a lot of interest and penalties because it’s not current.”

Taxpayers who have not paid bills issued for the first two quarters of the current year, or have paid only part of the amount owed, are not considered delinquent.

According to tax records, as of December 29, there are 82 tax accounts from 2014 currently delinquent. The delinquent accounts total $49,423.

There are currently 75 properties in tax title, a process that allows the town to put a lien on the property, and charge increased penalties. Under state law, properties in the tax title process are subject to a 16 percent interest charge on the unpaid balance. The current tax title properties in Aquinnah total $1,554,737. If those properties are ever sold, the back taxes must be paid to the town before the sale can be completed. If the taxes are not paid six months after the property is placed in tax title, the town can take legal action in the Massachusetts Land Court. After a sometimes lengthy and costly process, if the Land Court finds taxes are due, it will issue a finding and set a time frame for the taxes and penalties to be paid. If they are still not paid, the town can move for foreclosure of the property. If the Land Court issues a foreclosure judgement, the town takes ownership of the property, and the taxpayer loses all rights in the property.  The town may then sell the property to recover the debt.

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About 60 people stepped off in a New Year's Day march organized by the NAACP of Martha's Vineyard. Richard Shephard and Joyce Rickson hold a sign, one of many, that proclaimed "All Life Matters." — Photo by Michael Cummo

Some people held signs that read “Black Lives Matter,” some held signs that said “All Lives Matter,” and three people, that included Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake, carried a large sign that said “Police Lives Matter.”

As a group of about 60 people gathered at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven in preparation for a march through downtown Vineyard Haven on New Year’s Day, Chief Blake, president of the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard, sponsor of the march, asked rhetorically, “Isn’t that a mixed message?”

Chief Blake answered his own question. “Absolutely not. We celebrate the fact that we’re all different. That’s a real clear message.”

From left, Colleen Morris, Laurie Perry, ML Terrelonge and Mrs. Stewart hold  signs up to passing cars.
From left, Colleen Morris, Laurie Perry, ML Terrelonge and Ardelia Stewart hold signs up to passing cars.

The march was organized against the background of the controversy and protests surrounding the high profile deaths of two unarmed black men by police officers, one in Ferguson, Missouri, and the other on Staten Island, New York, and the decision of grand juries not to indict either officer.

Shortly after noon the marchers stepped off walking behind a Tisbury police cruiser. Several police officers were on hand to redirect traffic, and another cruiser followed the marchers. Under sunny skies the bundled up group walked up State Road, onto Main Street and ended at Union Street. The wind chill factor was 20 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Chief Blake said he was pleased at the turnout on such a chilly day. He said the idea for the march came during a discussion at a recent NAACP meeting.

“We certainly don’t have our heads in the sand,” Chief Blake said. “The protests (elsewhere) have gotten ugly, I think the messages got skewed. We want to highlight that the silent majority of protestors is just that, it’s silent, but we want change. We want to see real progress.”

Chief Blake said he was surprised when a grand jury did not indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo for manslaughter in the case of Eric Garner who police arrested for selling loose cigarettes on a Staten Island street corner. The grand jury evidence included a widely circulated video of Officer Pantaleo and several other police officers arresting Mr. Garner.

“I actually thought they would come down with an indictment of manslaughter,” Chief Blake said. “Just looking at it, I thought for sure they would. The fact that he used a choke hold and the guy ended up dying, I figured they would at least let it go to trial.”

In Ferguson, police officer Darren Wilson scuffled with, and then fatally shot Michael Brown, an 18-year-old robbery suspect. A grand jury decided not to indict the police officer. Both cases sparked massive protests across the nation under the rallying cry, “black lives matter.”

Asked if the Ferguson police officer should have been indicted, Chief Blake said it was the grand jury’s job to make that decision.

“The questions are being raised, what was the relationship like between the law enforcement community and the minority community in that city that made this spark so out of control so fast,” Chief Blake said. “Hopefully, our relationships between law enforcement and the community here, that if something like that happens, we would put the brakes on it. I use the word legitimacy. People follow the law because they believe its legitimate. They trust in their police department and their government because they believe it’s legitimate. If they don’t believe that, then you’re going to have what you have in Ferguson.”

Tensions in New York City and elsewhere escalated on December 20, when a man with a history of mental illness and gun crimes ambushed and killed two New York City police officers sitting in a cruiser. Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who later took his own life, cited the deaths of Mr. Garner and Mr. Brown in social media messages prior to the shootings, as a motive for his actions.

Chief Blake said the deaths of the two officers spurred him to help organize the march. On Friday, Chief Blake helped carry a banner that said, “Police lives matter.”

Bren Grandizio holds a sign that reads, "Police Lives Matter." — Photo by Michael Cummo
Bren Grandizio holds a sign that reads, “Police Lives Matter.” — Photo by Michael Cummo

 

As she waited to step off at the head of the march Thursday, NAACP vice president Carrie Tankard of Oak Bluffs said she would march in solidarity with protestors across the nation.

“Ours is going to be smooth, quiet, and peaceful,” Ms. Tankard said. “It has happened so much, I’m just tired of it. Like Dr. King said, this is what happens when you feel as though you’re not being heard. You protest. What else can you do.”

The marchers represented a diverse group, and included people from several Island towns, permanent, as well as seasonal residents, children, older residents who marched the route with the help of canes, and most every age in between.

“It’s such great diversity here,” said Bill Adams, a longtime seasonal resident of Edgartown who will move to the Island permanently soon. “It’s not a bunch of crazy people, it’s a bunch of concerned people, out to say somebody’s got to pay attention.”

I think it’s great that it’s coming from the chief of police and the NAACP together, because the solution is together,” said Peter Palches of Oak Bluffs.

Like many of the marchers, Ardelia Stewart, a seasonal resident of Vineyard Haven, has had experiences which shaped her view of community relationships with police officers, and prompted her to turn out for Thursday’s march. While she said she has never experienced harassment on Martha’s Vineyard, a long ago incident near her Pennsylvania home still bothers her.

“I can remember my husband got promoted to vice-president of an international pharmaceutical company,” Ms. Stewart, an African American, said. “In celebration, we bought a new car. We went up (to Princeton University) to take our son out to dinner, and as we’re going up the highway, we’re pulled over. For no reason, the policeman had the nerve to ask us, ‘What do you do for a living?’ It had nothing to do with the car being pulled over. He said, ‘I just wanted to know what you did to afford a car like this.’ It left a sour taste in your mouth. No matter how insignificant some might think it is, I still remember it.”

She said she was glad to see people marching, with the support and cooperation of local police officers. “When you look at the diversity on this Island, you understand what it means, all lives do matter. To come out on a cold day like today, layered, hardly able to move, it’s great. Police policy, law enforcement policy has to change. It just cannot go on. This thing that racism is over, or it’s being handled, no it’s not. Until we change attitudes in the home, where it starts, nothing will change, it will just be bubbling to the surface every once in a while. I’m no less than anybody else, and my children aren’t, and we’ve all been subject to some harassment. It’s not fair. We’re taxpayers, we’re citizens. But I felt good about coming out here.”

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Edgartown water department personnel used pumps to draw down the flooded area of Upper Main Street.

A water pipe break flooded Upper Main Street in Edgartown Monday morning, disrupting traffic and leaving local businesses and homes without water service. Water department crews quickly located and repaired a faulty coupling and by 5 pm water and traffic were flowing again.

Police, fire, and water department personnel responded just before 10 am, as water from the broken pipe flooded the street in front of Sharky’s Cantina and Donaroma’s Nursery. Water was hip deep when they first arrived, and continued to bubble out of a deep hole just off the roadway. Water department crews brought in pumps to remove the standing water and heavy equipment to locate the break. The water did not flood any nearby homes or businesses.

Police kept one lane open by diverting traffic onto a narrow, uneven shoulder.
Police kept one lane open by diverting traffic onto a narrow, uneven shoulder.

Police kept traffic flowing into the downtown area by diverting vehicles onto the narrow shoulder on the north side of the roadway, and began planning for a long-term project. “We’re prepared to build a new (temporary) road to keep the lanes open,” police chief Tony Bettencourt said as crews got to work.

Water department personnel shut down water service to a wide area of Upper Main Street, until they could locate and diagnose the specific problem.

Chris White, co-owner of Edgartown Pizza, was one of the many businesses who were without water. “We’ve got pots of water on the stove boiling, but I’m waiting to see what happens,” she told The Times Monday afternoon. “We’re playing it by ear.”

Arthur Fundeklian of North Andover was one of several Vineyard Transportation Authority (VTA) riders who were temporarily delayed, because the large VTA buses could not traverse the uneven shoulder that became the temporary travel lane around the water-filled street.

Passengers traveling into Edgartown were dropped off at the Dark Woods parking lot.

“There’s a small bus that’s supposed to come pick us up, at some time in the future,” Mr. Fundeklian said, sounding not at all sure he would reach his destination. But within minutes, a smaller VTA vehicle arrived and shuttled the passengers through the work zone.

By noon, work crews had drained most of the water from the street, and began repairing the broken pipe. Traffic flowed along both lanes, except for brief periods when work crews occupied one lane with a front end loader and trucks.

Edgartown water superintendent Bill Chapman said the crews located a failed coupling that joined two 12-inch pipes together.  “It’s not terribly old; there are certainly older parts of the distribution system that I would think would be more prone to problems,” he said. “The pipe composition, it’s inherent for these failures. The pipe was a good option at the time of its installation, but there is more reliable and durable pipe that can be installed now.”

The repair was made to the pipe and water service was restored about 2 pm.

“We like to minimize the area of the shutdown,” Mr. Chapman said. “In this case it was a series of five valves we had to shut down. It turned out to be a larger area than I would have liked, but as soon as we had the repair done, we restored water so people had water and fire protection.”

By 5:15 pm, crews completed work to make sure the roadway was not compromised, filled in the excavation, and traffic returned to normal.

The day was not without humorous elements as people made the best of the situation. J.B. Blau, owner of Sharky’s Cantina, sent a social media message to customers, along with a picture of the flooded roadway in front of his restaurant. “We’ve installed a lagoon outside of Sharky’s Edgartown and will be renting out jet skis and motor boats for your holiday pleasure!” he wrote.

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An Edgartown dog groomer uses her creative talents to turn the family pooch into an art form with four legs.

Mr. McGoo, owned by Edgartown animal control officer Barbara Prada, was creatively groomed as a Panda for this year's Christmas Parade. – Photo by Lynn Christoffers

From the time she was a little girl, Ellen Blodgett always liked to color. She still does. Except now, rather than crayons and markers she uses “blow pens,” vegetable-based dyes, and soon, she hopes, an air brush. Instead of coloring on paper, she colors dogs.

Ellen Blodgett holds her dog "Millie," creatively groomed for the holiday season.
Ellen Blodgett holds her dog “Millie,” creatively groomed for the holiday season.

Ms. Blodgett owns Dog Gone Pretty, a dog grooming business in Edgartown. Most of her work is pretty routine, clipping, shampooing, and grooming a menagerie of canine clients that parade into her basement shop.

But every once in a while, she gets to indulge in what is known in the trade as “creative grooming.”

“I’m not an artist and I can’t draw well, but I can color my dogs,” Ms. Blodgettt said. “They’re my art work.”

Through a combination of grooming, trimming, and dying, she has created dogs that look like the children’s toy My Little Pony, a panda bear, and a dinosaur.

A Standard Poodle in the spirit of the season, painted by Ellen Blodgett. – Photo courtesy Dog Gone Pretty
A Standard Poodle in the spirit of the season, painted by Ellen Blodgett. – Photo courtesy Dog Gone Pretty

Holidays often provide a theme for her work. Using stencils, dyes, and even hair extensions, she has created dogs with Christmas themes including candy canes and Christmas decorations, as well as a doggie Santa Claus. One of her canine subjects sported green shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day, and another colorful eggs at Easter.

Creative grooming is a growing phenomenon. There is a professional association for creative groomers, trade magazines, and even competitions. Ms. Blodgett won a third-place ribbon at the New England Pet Grooming Professional Association contest in Rhode Island last fall.

Her own dog Millie is quite a willing subject. Ms. Blodgett said the tiny but energetic Shih Tzu-Maltese mix stands perfectly still for the extended time it takes to trim and dye her hair, but when the styling is done, she wants to go for a walk.

“She rushes for the door, she wants to show off,” Ms. Blodgett said. “They get more attention. She’s happy because she knows people are going to stop.”

Painted-Dog-2.jpgNot everyone is enthralled with creative grooming. Ms. Blodgett says she occasionally encounters someone who thinks it harms the dog. She assures them she uses only products that are non-toxic. She is also careful to choose the right dog.

“If a dog doesn’t like it, I won’t do it,” Ms. Blodgett said. “If a dog hates attention, I wouldn’t do it.”

Glitter toenails, feathers, and dog earrings have become quite popular lately. The earrings sometimes cause a stir because they are so realistic that people think she pierces the dog’s ears.

“I do not pierce dogs ears,” she said. “We have little glue-ons. I don’t use anything that would hurt anybody.”

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A prized bounty, the fruits of this harvest ripple through the Island economy.

Edgartown scallopers shoot the breeze following a morning on the water. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Aquipecten irradians, the scientific name for the bay scallop, is a species in low supply but high demand on dinner tables across the Island and country. Utilizing a lot of science, a healthy dose of ingenuity, and some help from Mother Nature, fishermen and town shellfish departments, supported by a considerable investment of more than $700,000 in taxpayer dollars this year alone, help sustain a bay scallop fishery on Martha’s Vineyard that is worth more than $1 million annually, sometimes much more.

Last year, commercial scallopers hauled 8,814 bushels baskets of the tasty mollusks out of local waters, according to figures reported by town shellfish departments in the five Island towns where scallops are harvested. The catch was worth $846,144 at an estimated wholesale price of $12 per pound of shucked scallops.

Depending on the size of the eye, or scallop muscle, on average one bushel produces about eight pounds. The price at wholesale and retail levels fluctuates dramatically during the season, as demand rises and falls.

Thousands of recreational scallopers used dip nets, scallop drags, snorkels and scuba gear to harvest another 1,131 bushels of bay scallops. At an estimated retail price of $18 per pound, that’s $162,864 worth of scallops that went into freezers, straight onto the supper table, got bartered for other goods and services, or were given as a cherished holiday gift.

The 2013 annual town reports provide a breakdown of commercial and recreational (family) shellfish license sales. Recreational or family license holders are generally limited to less than one bushel of clams, oysters or scallops per week. Fees vary for residents and non-residents.

Edgartown issued 20 commercial shellfish permits ($350 fee) in 2013, and 33 free commercial permits to residents over the age of 60; 306 resident family permits ($50 fee), and 632 free family permits for residents over the age of 60; 129 non-resident family permits ($250) and 119 one week non-resident licenses ($50).

Oak Bluffs issued 10 commercial licenses ($350 fee); 323  resident senior licenses ($5), 220 resident licenses ($40 fee), 47 free family licenses to veterans;  and 79 combined non-resident permits for various time periods that ranged in cost from $30 for one week to $400 for one year.

Tisbury issued 25 commercial shellfish permits ($350); 284 resident family permits ($40); 196 senior permits ($5), 5 non-resident family permits ($400) and an additional 190 non-resident weekly and monthly short-term permits.

Chilmark issued 22 commercial shellfish permits, and 162 resident recreational permits.

West Tisbury issued 15 commercial permits, and 55 recreational permits.

A breakdown of permits issued in Aquinnah was not available.

Commercial scalloper Mike Maseda arrived at Tisbury's Lagoon landing with his daily commercial limit, three bushels. – Photo by Steve Myrick
Commercial scalloper Mike Maseda arrived at Tisbury’s Lagoon landing with his daily commercial limit, three bushels. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Money in mollusks

The estimated value of the commercial and recreational harvest last year, according to estimates, was just over $1 million, from a season considered poor to average by fishermen and shellfish constables in most towns.

For every dollar that goes into the pockets of scallopers, as much as $3 ripples into the Island economy, according to economic multiplier estimates used by state fishery regulators.

“The multiplier factor on fisheries is extremely high,” said Rick Karney, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group (MVSG). “Fishermen tend to live here, buy gas here, get groceries here, get their boats fixed here.”

Paul Bagnall, shellfish constable and biologist for Edgartown, valued the bay scallop fishery another way. “Priceless,” he said.

Each year, Islanders wait with anticipation and hope as the season begins.

“Bay scallops — people go crazy,” Danielle Ewart, shellfish constable for Tisbury said. “Absolutely nuts.”

About nine out of every ten pounds of scallops harvested in Vineyard waters is shipped off-Island to mainland fish markets and restaurants, according to people familiar with the market.

At The Net Result fish market in Vineyard Haven, Louis Larsen and his crew ship 400 to 500 pounds of bay scallops to Boston distributors every day during the first two months of the bay scallop season.

“We’re starting to slow down now,” Mr. Larsen said Monday, three days before Christmas.

He said bay scallops are in high demand in the first few weeks of the season at his retail counter. “It’s a good seller when it first happens.”

His brother, Edgartown Seafood owner Danny Larsen, deals only in local retail sales. He buys directly from scallop fishermen. “I got a few guys that catch me really nice scallops, I buy from them,” Mr. Larsen said.

Mr. Larsen said demand is the biggest factor in setting a price. He said scallops are probably the most popular item this time of year.

Stanley Larsen, owner of the Menemsha Fish Market in Chilmark, said he buys directly from six or seven scallop fishermen. “They’re all getting their limits pretty quick, it’s a good crop this year,” he said. “A little bit more affordable for the consumer.” Mr. Larsen sells locally and ships.

Helping hand

Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are among the few places left where a sustained bay scallop fishery still exists. In other areas, such as Long Island Sound, Buzzards Bay, and Cape Cod, the once plentiful bay scallop harvest is sporadic and small. Even here, the harvest is a fraction of what it once was. This year, Aquinnah closed its commercial scallop season due to a lack of adult scallops.

“I started working for the town in 1984,” said Paul Bagnall, Edgartown shellfish constable and biologist. “We routinely sold about 180 licenses. Now we sell 80 to 100 licenses. Back in those days, a really good year was around 20,000 bushels. Now a good scallop year is around 5,000 to 6,000.

Beginning in the late 1980s the bay scallop fishery declined precipitously. No one is quite sure why, but Mr. Bagnall and Mr. Karney strongly suspect it has something to do with a decline in coastal water quality.

Over the years, the MVSG and town shellfish departments have developed propagation programs, growing bay scallops in a controlled hatchery environment, and releasing them in local waters. When bay scallops were plentiful in New England waters, Mother Nature helped smooth the boom and bust cycle in local fishing areas. Scallops in an early developmental stage could be carried in on tides from other areas, to repopulate a local fishery after a poor year. That does not happen any more.

“Scallops only live to be two years old,” Mr. Bagnall said. “So if you have two bad years in a row in the ponds, you’ve lost your scallop spawning population in that pond. If you put spawning stock out, by manipulating them in the hatchery, a couple million seed adds up, if it’s a bad year like last year. That’s when you really need a propagation program, because that’s when spawning stops.”

Paying the cost

Propagation programs come at a cost, but Vineyarders love their shellfish, and have shown a willingness to pay for the privilege of recreational and commercial shellfishing. Town meeting seats are sprinkled liberally with family and commercial permit holders.

In 2014, Island towns each contributed $35,000 to the MVSG, which also receives grants and state funds.

Mr. Karney said the group spends about $300,000 annually on various shellfish propagation programs, about $200,000 of that on bay scallops. Last year the group distributed more than 20 million scallop seed. Biologists don’t know how many survive to harvest size.

Taxpayers in the six Island towns contributed more than $786,000 this fiscal year to fund shellfish departments. Only West Tisbury does not have a scallop fishery. Local shellfish departments are responsible for propagation programs that, depending on the town, include clam and oyster programs, and enforcement of regulations.

For example, in the current fiscal year Edgartown budget, salaries for the three full-time and two seasonal workers total $201,012, and expenses for the department total $25,760. In separate warrant articles at their April town meeting, voters authorized $48,500 for a new oyster propagation project in Sengekontacket Pond, as well as $35,000 to fund the town’s share of the MVSG.

The price of bay scallops at the wholesale level, or at the fish store, is easily quantifiable. But those involved in the fishery say it is difficult to put a value on being one of the few places in the nation where anyone can get a recreational shellfish permit, and with a little (or a lot) of hard work, put a meal of bay scallops on the table.

“It’s historically boom or bust,” Mr. Karney said. “There’s a lot of excitement around that. It has kind of that gold rush aura about it. For a lot of Islanders, it represents independence, making money that’s not tied to catering to anybody else.”

Island towns issue more than 2,000 family or recreational shellfish permits each year. For some it is a cherished part of summer vacation to harvest clams for dinner; for others, it is several meals a week in the lean winter months when income is scarce.

“The benefit to the town is the 1,000 family permits that we sell,” Mr. Bagnall said of Edgartown. “Shellfish and natural resources are very high on the town’s agenda. We’re lucky, we have a huge amount of area to be able to develop these things.”

Commercial scallopers Katie Thompson and Mark Sauer enjoy the work and the money. – Photo by Steve Myrick
Commercial scallopers Katie Thompson and Mark Sauer enjoy the work and the money. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Hard work, good pay

Two weeks ago, Katie Thompson and Mark Sauer were waiting somewhat impatiently for the air temperature to nudge up another degree on Edgartown harbor. She is a flight attendant for Jet Blue, he is an Island builder. Both take time off from their regular jobs to scallop.

It was the first day of a regulation change, requiring that no scallop fishermen leave the dock until the air temperature reached 30 degrees. It is a measure to protect seed scallops, which can freeze and die before they are culled and returned to the water. The previous threshold was 28 degrees, the approximate freezing temperature of salt water. The extra two degrees gives the seed stock a little cushion, but that Friday, it was keeping about 10 boats from heading out to Cape Poge Pond to begin the day.

Edgartown regulations allow commercial fishermen to keep three struck 10-gallon wash baskets of scallops per day. The wash basket is slightly larger that the widely accepted steel bushel basket, or eight-gallon crate measure used in other Island towns.

Together, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Sauer can get a limit each day they go out. So far, the season is shaping up pretty well, with most people able to catch their limit in a couple of hours.

“It’s a great income, while it lasts,” Ms. Thompson said. “The (wholesale) price started at $18 a pound, then it went down as low as $11, and it’s back up to $16. In three or four hours, we can make $600 to $700.”

Scalloping is hard work. Very hard work: towing and hauling scallop drags, culling through the haul to separate seed scallops from adult scallops. Anyone can get a commercial license, but not everyone is cut out for a December day on the water when the wind picks up and the temperature dips. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” Ms. Thompson said. “It can be rough out there. When I’m up in the air and it gets really rough, I’m not scared. When it gets rough on the water, it’s a little dicey. It’s not like everybody can do it.”

It can also be a fickle income. If scallops are plentiful, the price goes down. If the harvest is down, they are harder to catch, and there are fewer to sell.

“When it’s good, it can be most of my income,” said John “Con” Conlon, who has fished Edgartown waters for 36 years. “Everybody has to have something else. Two years ago, it was half the price it is now.”

In Lagoon Pond, Mike Maseda had just arrived at the landing with his daily commercial limit, three bushels, to be checked by Ms. Ewart. The recreational limit is one bushel per week.

“They’re getting a little harder to find, but they’re still out there,” Mr. Maseda said.

Managing the scallop population in the Lagoon is a tricky thing. Last year, Ms. Ewart closed a large portion of the salt pond early in the season, because fishermen were pulling up too many seed scallops and not enough adults.

“A lot of people were upset with me, but I had to do what I had to do,” Ms. Ewart said. “They were coming in with large seed, so I closed it down. This year, this is where they’re all fishing, in the area I closed last year. Closing things down lets Mother Nature do her thing.”

Fickle fishing

Aquinnah is a good example of how mercurial the bay scallop fishery can be. For the past two years, fishermen have taken an abundance of scallops out the Aquinnah side of Menemsha Pond, so much so that the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries granted the town an extension to fish well into the spring. This past summer, fishermen predicted another good harvest, based on the amount of seed they observed in the water. But when it was time to open the commercial season, test drags landed very few adult shellfish ready for harvest. The town’s shellfish committee decided to close the Aquinnah side to scalloping.

On the Chilmark side of Menemsha pond, there seem to be plenty of scallops for harvesting, further confounding those trying to figure out what is happening.

“We looked at a lot of stuff, considered a lot of stuff,” Mr. Karney said. “There are very few scallop diseases that would do that kind of a thing. If it was a disease, it would also be on the Chilmark side. It’s possible there could be a toxic spill, but that seems pretty unlikely. The shells I looked at didn’t look like a predation issue. They were concerned about some algae, we sent that off to Roger Williams University, they said there was no indication that it would have any toxic effects.”

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) works in conjunction with the town on propagation programs and management of the fishery. Tribal natural resources director Bret Stearns said the economic impact of the closure is significant.

“The community gets hit by hundreds of thousand of dollars, easily,” Mr. Stearns said. “The trickle down economy of scallopers is actually robust. People are upset, and trying to find other means of income. People set aside time to do it, especially this time of year, and they really depend on that income.”

Mr. Stearns said the length of the scalloping season, predator control, and the amount of seed released in the pond are all issues that need to be examined closely. “We need to figure out how to work more closely together in monitoring throughout the year, not just before the season starts,” he said. “It’s better for people to know early.”

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Chilmarkers gathered at the Community Center Thursday night to hear a recommendation on how best to preserve parking at Squibnocket Beach and access to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision in the face of continuing erosion. —Photo by Steve Myrick

The special Chilmark committee on Squibnocket presented its recommendation for a relocation of the Squibnocket Beach town parking lot and the access road to the exclusive Squibnocket Farm subdivision at a well-attended informational meeting Thursday, December 18, at the Chilmark Community Center. There was applause for the committee’s work, and considerable support for its compromise proposal, from the more than 50 people who attended the meeting.

The committee of seven people appointed by town moderator Everett Poole was formed by a vote of the annual town meeting, a vote that effectively derailed a plan negotiated by selectmen and the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association to build a bridge close to the ocean shoreline for access to the subdivision.

The committee held 24 open meetings over the past six months, reviewed thousands of pages of correspondence, 13 presentations, and five expert reports, committee chairman James Malkin told those in attendance. The members visited Squibnocket several times, including all of the homes near the beach. The committee members reviewed eight access alternatives and six parking alternatives.

After the  committee considered eight access road proposals, they chose "At Grade with Low Causeway" (far left).
After the committee considered eight access road proposals, they chose “At Grade with Low Causeway” (far left).

The committee reached consensus on a plan to create a low, 300-foot-long causeway, connected at both ends by a road at grade level. The access roadway would branch off Squibnocket Road above the current parking lot, connect to the causeway across the wetlands close to the shoreline of Squibnocket Pond, and end near the current gate that leads to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision. The committee recommended that the existing parking lot and boulder revetment be removed, so that the beach will return to its natural state. Parking would be available on both sides of Squibnocket Road, just south of the proposed access road.

Mr. Malkin explained the recommendation in a visual presentation, and Mr. Poole moderated the discussion that followed. Mr. Malkin explained how the committee arrived at its decisions by eliminating various alternatives as impractical, implausible, or too detrimental to the wetland environment.

In response to questions from the audience, Mr. Malkin described the causeway as a low structure, with the roadbed supported by pilings, so the occasional storm surge could flow under it. He noted that at the annual Chilmark town meeting last spring, there were substantially different representations of the height of the original bridge proposed by the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association. Using a bit of humor, he left no doubt about the height of the causeway, as Mr. Poole looked on from a lectern.

“This causeway will be the height of one Everett Poole, maybe with his hands over his head,” Mr. Malkin said.

Positive reaction

Several residents and town officials who spoke following the presentation supported the committee’s recommendation for a low causeway. Among them were selectmen Warren Doty and Jonathan Mayhew.

“Coming from our perspective, that something has to change, I would like to endorse this process,” Mr. Doty said. “I think it was a great process. It came up with an alternative that changes that parking lot and moves it back and it is the way to go.”

“I agree,” said Mr. Mayhew. “I’m very impressed. What you have done is a lot more than the three selectmen did.”

Thomas Bena, a resident who was critical of the original bridge proposal, supported a proposal to build a road behind a protective artificial dune. He asked why the committee rejected that alternative.

“You said a man-made dune doesn’t make sense, while the beach is stabilizing,” Mr. Bena said. “I’m wondering why a significantly more expensive fixed solution does make sense.”

Mr. Malkin said the committee felt that regulatory agencies discourage filling wetlands, and an artificial dune could shift as the beach regresses to its natural state, once the present revetment and parking lot are removed.

“A low causeway has less impact on the wetlands,” Mr. Malkin said, “and is therefore easier to permit.”

He also noted that just hours before the informational meeting, the town was informed in a letter from the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, that habitat around Squibnocket Pond is home to the Northern Harrier, a species of hawk protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act. That triggers a review and permitting process by the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. The town conservation commission has regulatory authority over any project that affects wetlands. The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management has regulatory authority over the ocean shoreline.

Land dilemma

The proposed solution will involve gaining access to privately owned land.
The proposed solution will involve gaining access to privately owned land.

The committee recommendation hinges on negotiation with landowners that the committee members acknowledge is complex and uncertain. The road and the parking proposed by the committee would require the town to buy, lease, or acquire easements for two small lots bordering Squibnocket Road. Both are non-conforming lots under current zoning, and would need zoning variances before any structure could be built on them.

One lot is owned by Peter Weldon. The other is owned by Wendy Jeffers and Tony Orphanos.

“We have indications from Peter Weldon that he will work with the town,” Mr. Malkin said. “We hope that Orphanos/Jeffers will work with the town.”

“I think it’s important to keep the peace,” said committee member Janet Weidner. “Hopefully, the homeowners and the landowners will see the value of the solution.”

Before the meeting, Mr. Orphanos and Ms. Jeffers said they have made no decision yet. “It would be premature to comment until after after we have further discussions with the town committee,” they said in an email to The Times.

Also prior to the meeting, the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association said it was willing to work within the guidelines made in the committee’s recommendation for a low causeway.

“We appreciate the extraordinary effort of the town committee to find an appropriate compromise solution for access to our homes and parking for the town beach while respecting the concerns of our neighbors,” wrote Larry Lasser, president of the association, in an e-mail statement.

The committee first suggested a 90-day period for the town to negotiate any needed agreement among the town, landowners, and the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association, but prior to the meeting, amended that time frame to the deadline prior to town meeting for submitting articles, giving selectmen time to craft a warrant article for a special town meeting, scheduled for February 2.

It recommended that, in the event no agreement is reached on the recommended solution, the town pursue a second alternative, which closely mirrors the original plan proposed by the homeowners association, a higher causeway on land already owned by the town and the homeowners. The committee recommended that the second alternative, if implemented, should locate the bridge as far as possible away from the ocean shoreline, and as close as possible to Squibnocket Pond.

The board of selectmen is responsible for negotiating any agreement with the landowners. Mr. Doty offered an optimistic view of future land negotiations.

“The charge of this committee was to bring to the town and the board of selectmen a recommendation for solutions at Squibnocket,” Mr. Doty said. “As a member of the board of selectmen, if we hear your recommendation is a strong recommendation for a preferred alternative, it’s incumbent on the selectmen to make it happen, and I think the selectmen can do that.”