Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick
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The only access road to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision has been battered by recent storms. —Photo by Steve Myrick

The Chilmark town committee on Squibnocket charged with finding a solution on how best to restore Squibnocket Beach and provide access to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision in the face of increasing storm damage and sea level rise has proposed the construction of a low, one-lane causeway set back from the shoreline and parking along the road that leads to the popular beach.

The draft plan calls for removal of the current boulder revetment and beach parking lot, to allow the shoreline to return to its natural state.

The Chilmark commitee on Squibnocket's preferred alternative is a low causeway.
The Chilmark commitee on Squibnocket’s preferred alternative is a low causeway.

The solution, hammered out over months of discussions with opposing camps, requires the town to acquire two small privately owned parcels of land, abutting the town parking lot and Squibnocket Pond.

An informational session for town residents is scheduled for December 18. Town committee chairman Jim Malkin said that after hearing from residents, and considering their suggestions, the committee will issue a final recommendation. A special town meeting is scheduled for February 9, where voters will decide whether to accept the final recommendations.

“It’s the committee’s hope that, as reasonable and concerned citizens, they see the committee’s recommendation as being in the best interest of all concerned,” Mr. Malkin said in a telephone conversation on Tuesday. “It’s not as if everybody is getting half a loaf instead of no loaf; it’s almost like everybody is getting seven-eighths of a loaf. It’s our hope, and strong feeling, that things can be worked out.”

Last week, the administration of governor Deval Patrick announced a grant of $280,000 to the town of Chilmark, as part of a program to help communities deal with the impacts of climate change and coastal erosion.

Committee work

TheSquibnocket Farm Homeowners Associationincludes residents along the coastline, whose access to their homes is threatened by the current causeway, which is deteriorating and vulnerable to ocean storms. The Friends of Squibnocket include many property owners from the Blacksmith Valley neighborhood, situated on a hill overlooking Squibnocket Pond and Squibnocket Beach, who are concerned about the view and environmental issues.

At annual town meeting, a long and emotional debate concluded with a decision to shelve a plan endorsed by selectmen and the homeowners association to build a 15-foot-high bridge to provide access to the Squibnocket Farm subdivision.

At the request of voters, town moderator Everett Poole appointed the seven-member committee in May to bridge the gulf between members of the homeowners association and the Friends of Squibnocket, who wanted to construct an artificial dune and a new road.

The committee recommendation incorporates elements of plans proposed by both organizations.

Mr. Malkin said the seven-month process of reviewing studies, researching property options, and listening to all the stakeholders was thorough, open, and exhaustive. He said he was pleased with the committee, “none of whom have a horse in the race or an axe to grind.”

Compromise solution

The town committee labeled its draft recommendation unveiled last week a “preferred alternative,” and described it as a one-lane roadway close to Squibnocket Pond, with parking to the south of the new roadway. Committee members recommended the part of the roadway that passes over wetlands be a low causeway, clad in wood or other native material, perhaps four to five feet in elevation. The committee estimates a causeway of that height would experience several washovers each year. If there are more washovers than anticipated, the committee proposed constructing an artificial sand dune to further protect the roadway, but initially, the plan does not include a protective dune.

“We looked, ultimately, at eight different access alternatives,” Mr. Malkin said. “We looked at six different parking alternatives. We have engaged our own consultants. They, also with the committee, evaluated the facts on the ground, the data, and the submissions of each of the experts.”

The committee suggested that the town pursue its preferred alternative for 90 days, and if no agreement is reached, the committee recommended what it called a “second alternative.” That plan is essentially the same proposal submitted by the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association before the annual town meeting — an elevated bridge spanning more than 400 feet from Squibnocket Road to a point near the current location of the gated entrance. One difference is to locate the bridge north of the original plan, closer to Squibnocket Pond. The other difference is that the committee’s second alternative would locate parking along Squibnocket Road. The second alternative would require no negotiation for property. The homeowners association already owns the land, or rights of way, necessary to build the bridge, and is ready to finance the $4 million project on its own.

A good start

The response from theopposing groups was measured.

In a statement reviewed by members of the Friends of Squibnocket, and emailed to The Times, the organization described the committee recommendation as a good start.

“Based on our initial review, we believe the committee has recommended an approach that is similar in many ways to what we have proposed over the past three months,” wrote Charlie Parker, speaking for the Friends of Squibnocket. “As a blueprint for future discussions, it is a good start. We do feel the town has come up with an intriguing solution and we will participate in the next phase of the town’s process with an open mind.”

Larry Lasser, president of the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association, spoke favorably about the committee’s recommendation. “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,” he wrote in an email statement. “We intend to work within the guidelines established by the committee if they are approved by the voters at the town meeting in February.”

The committee’s recommendation is also favored by David Damroth, a former Chilmark selectman and resident of the Blacksmith Valley neighborhood who was a vocal critic of the original bridge proposal.

“I’m in favor of it,” Mr. Damroth said. “One never knows how it’s going to wind up at town meeting, but if it’s in this form, I will be supporting it. They’ve pulled the bridge back, and that has a lot of advantages. It opens up the possibility for different things to happen at the shoreline. The original proposal would have put the shoreline under the bridge.”

Mr. Damroth also said he was pleased to see parking proposed at a higher elevation along Squibnocket Road, rather than the original plan to locate a new lot closer to the shoreline.

Land issues

The Chilmark committee on Squibnocket's preferred alternative (left) is a low causeway. The committee's second alternative is at right.
The Chilmark committee on Squibnocket’s preferred alternative (left) is a low causeway. The committee’s second alternative is at right.

A key element of the committee’s draft recommendation is the town’s ability to lease or buy two small parcels of land, where the beginning of the road proposed in the committee’s prefered alternative would be located. One parcel is owned by Peter Weldon. The other is owned by Wendy Jeffers and Tony Orphanos, both prominent throughout the committee process as part of the Friends of Squibnocket organization.

The Friends of Squibnocket promoted a plan that included a roadway, protected by constructing a dune to prevent overwash during most storms. According to their final proposal, the lot owned by Ms. Jeffers and Mr. Orphanos would be available only as part of the solution proposed by Friends of Squibnocket.

“Our parking plan is bundled with the Dune Solution and is not available if Squibnocket Farm decides to pursue the Bridge Solution,” the Friends of Squibnocket wrote in their final proposal dated Sept. 16 to the committee.

The committee acknowledged the complexity of getting agreement between the owners of property that the town must acquire, the opposing groups of homeowners, and the town.

“Mr. Weldon has indicated he is pleased to work with the town on a solution,” Mr. Malkin said. “To date Orphanos/Jeffers said their lot would only be available if we adopted their solution.”

Ms. Jeffers and Mr. Orphanos responded to a question from The Times about whether they are willing to sell or lease their land for the town committee’s solution with a short statement.

“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.

New study

In addition to extensive consultation with their own coastal geologists and engineers, the committee reviewed the work of experts hired by the two opposing homeowners groups, as well as other stakeholders.

Among them was Duncan Caldwell, an Aquinnah homeowner who first appeared before the town committee to propose a solution that included creating artificial reefs by sinking two barges off the shoreline to redirect the flow of sand shaping the beach. Later he submitted another proposal, which questioned the solutions offered by both the Friends of Squibnocket and the Squibnocket Farm Homeowners Association.

“My investigation led to the discovery of a number of weaknesses in previous analyses for FOS and SFHA. Some of these defects led to inaccurate projections and design flaws that could be extremely costly,” Mr. Duncan wrote in an email to The Times.

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The Japanese pagoda tree, shown in this file photo taken in October, is one of the oldest and largest of its species in America. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Thomas and Mary Folliard, the owners of a home at 29 South Water Street, notified two Edgartown boards last week that they will change their building plans, to leave a beloved 177-year-old pagoda tree undisturbed.

The tree, carried back from China in a flower pot by sea captain Thomas Milton in 1837, is among the oldest and largest pagoda trees in the United States.

The pagoda tree has become a town landmark. —Photo by Michael Cummo
The pagoda tree has become a town landmark. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The town conservation commission first approved, and then bowing to public pressure, voted to reconsider plans for a new two-story, two-car carriage house style garage to go along with a large home restoration project and a new pool on the quarter-acre lot currently assessed at $7.7 million. Mr. Folliard is the CEO of CarMax, Inc. Although consultants had assured town board members that the tree would be adequately protected and had devised an elaborate system to nurture its root system, town residents remained fearful that the tree might be harmed.

In appearances before the historic district commission on December 2, and the conservation commission on December 3, architect Patrick Ahearn said the owners had scaled back their plans, and now intend to rebuild a one-car garage on the existing foundation. The new plans will not require any digging or disturbance of the soil around the massive tree’s roots.

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White shingles and black shutters adorn Water Street in downtown Edgartown. —Photo by Steve Myrick

The board of assessors told Edgartown selectmen at their regular Monday meeting that the real estate tax rate will drop by about 6 percent next fiscal year due to an increase in the value of town property. The current rate of $3.70 per $1,000 of assessed value, will be lowered to approximately $3.44 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“The tax rate goes down because the amount of taxable property goes up,” assessor Alan Gowell said. “While last year we had $6.6 billion of taxable property in Edgartown, this year we have $7 billion. We’re a valuable place.”

The assessors recommended that the town continue its practice of taxing residential, commercial, and open space property at the same rate.

Selectmen deferred a vote until the Massachusetts Department of Revenue can certify the town’s valuation.

Also Monday, selectmen voted to appoint veteran firefighter Andrew Kelly as assistant fire chief, on the recommendation of the town’s board of fire engineers. Mr. Kelly will replace assistant fire chief Scott Ellis, who announced his retirement earlier this year.

In other action, Don Hatch, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District, presented plans to reorganize the regional waste disposal facility on Edgartown–West Tisbury Road to separate the residential drop-off from the commercial facility. The refuse district wants to borrow $2.5 million for the project, after its current $2.5 million bond is paid off next summer. Edgartown’s share of the bond would be 69.5 percent, or $1.7 million plus interest, over the life of the bond. Voters in Edgartown and West Tisbury will decide whether to approve the borrowing at their annual town meetings. Chilmark and Aquinnah, the other two towns in the refuse district, already approved the measure at special town meetings this past fall. All four towns must agree to borrow the money.

Selectmen voted to continue participation in the Community Development Block Grant program, by applying for another grant. Grant administrator Alice Boyd told the selectmen that she will apply for between $800,000 and $900,000 in federal funds, which are distributed by state officials. The money is slated for energy-efficient home repairs and child care subsidies for Island residents who qualify according to income levels. Edgartown serves as the lead town for the grant, which also includes benefits for West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aqunnah.

Also Monday, Sam Hart, executive director of Adult Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV), asked selectmen to support an appropriation of $15,425, for the organization, a proportional share of $50,000 ACE MV is requesting from all six Island towns. Annual town meeting voters will decide whether to approve the spending.

Mr. Hart told selectmen that private fundraising is up more than double the amount raised last year, and new courses are generating additional revenue, allowing ACE MV to reduce its request for support. The six Island towns appropriated $90,000 last year for adult education classes.

Selectmen approved a recommendation from the shellfish committee that will allow fewer harvesting days for commercial scallop fishermen, but is intended to help protect the fishery. Scallop harvesting will now be restricted to days when the temperature reaches 30 degrees by 10 am. Previously, the allowable temperature was 28 degrees. At that temperature, undersized or seed scallops can freeze and die on deck before they are culled and returned to the water.  “Twenty-eight degrees is exactly the temperature that salt water freezes, it’s right on the line,” shellfish constable Paul Bagnall told selectmen.

Bagnall told selectmen that the 30-degree threshold will help protect young scallops for future harvest.

Finally, chairman Art Smadbeck read a letter from Comcast that alters the original requirement for the cable company to provide service to Chappaquiddick residents.

Under a deal that took more than two years to negotiate, Comcast agreed to extend its cable infrastructure to Chappaquiddick if 270 households paid an advance construction deposit of $2,139 each. Chappaquiddick community leaders predict that only about 200 residents will sign up by the December 19 deadline, but Comcast now says it will allow the Chappaquiddick Community Fund to make up any deficit with private fundraising.

Chappaquiddick resident Woody Filly said the adjustment to the original requirements may convince undecided homeowners that the project will go forward.  

“We hope that anyone who is sitting on the fence, deciding to sign up, this is it, this is the final act,” Mr. Filly said. “We’re hopeful that people who have been on the fence will make their decision.”

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Police displayed cash and money seized from two men arrested on drug charges Friday.

Members of the Oak Bluffs Police Department and the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force arrested two men and seized illegal prescription narcotics worth an estimated $9,000 on Friday, December 5, police said in a news release.

Following what was described as a coordinated investigation, police arrested Joel C. Rebello, 24, of Oak Bluffs, and Donald S. Berube, 24, of Tewksbury following a vehicle stop on Monroe Avenue in Oak Bluffs. A search of the vehicle turned up 150 oxycodone pills, according to police.

“The pills were found concealed inside an Orbit plastic gum container that was tucked under the carpet near the back of the driver’s seat,” Oak Bluffs police detective Jeffrey LaBell said in a news release. “Mr. Rebello, who was a passenger in the vehicle, was observed by an officer reaching toward the location where the pills were found just prior to the motor vehicle stop being initiated. Neither Mr. Rebello or Mr. Berube have a prescription for oxycodone.”

Police seized $470 in cash from Mr. Berube, according to the news release.

Police said Mr. Rebello has been the target of a two year drug task force investigation into the illegal distribution and use of prescription narcotics on Martha’s Vineyard.

At their arraignment in Edgartown District Court Monday, both Mr. Rebello and Mr. Berube  were charged with opium trafficking, and conspiracy to violate drug laws. The court entered not guilty pleas on all the charges, and ordered them back to court on December 29 for a pre-trial hearing. Both men were released after posting $500 bail.

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Comcast has agreed to an adjustment that will help the community reach its goal to bring cable service to Chappaquiddick.

The island of Chappaquiddick on the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard, is without cable service. – Bill Brine

Comcast has agreed to bend a bit on the terms of its original proposal to bring cable television and Internet service to Chappaquiddick, a development that will help the project succeed, according to community leaders and town officials.

Under a deal that took more than two years to negotiate, Comcast agreed to extend its cable infrastructure to Chappaquiddick if 270 households paid an advance construction deposit of $2,139 each. The original July 21 deadline for the deposits was extended by agreement between the town of Edgartown and Comcast to December 19.

The group of Chappaquiddick residents who led the effort to bring cable service to the remote community expects to fall about 70 customers short of the 270 household requirement.

But according to town administrator Pam Dolby, Comcast has now agreed that if the number of new customers falls short, the company will allow the Chappaquiddick Community Fund to make up the difference. The organization has already begun to raise funds.

“The support from the Chappaquiddick community is overwhelming,” said Lionel Spiro, one of the residents who has worked with the town and Comcast toward the agreement. “I have no doubt that we will be able to raise the money required. It’s going to happen.”

If the community falls 70 customers short, the organization would need to raise more than $149,730 to make up the deficit.

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A group of Oak Bluffs parents is raising funds to build a new playground in Niantic Park, adding to the town’s effort to revitalize and rebuild the entire park off Wamsutta Avenue.

At special town meeting in November, 2013, voters approved spending $400,000 in Community Preservation Act funds to restore Niantic Park, and then authorized the town to borrow another $350,000 to complete the project.

Neighborhood residents were involved in planning and design of the new park, but they felt the plan fell short on new playground equipment.

“As we learned more about the overall project, it became clear that only a small portion of the budget had been set aside for the actual playground,” the group wrote in a fundraising letter. “The playground portion of the overall project only included the replacement of the five pieces of surface equipment that are currently in use at Niantic Park. The Niantic Park Playground Project believes we can and should do more.”

The group hopes to raise $46,000 by January 31, 2015. In the first weeks of the fundraising effort, donors and fundraising events yielded $2,215. The money will be used to purchase equipment and materials. The group will get together for a “community build” next spring, and hopes to complete construction in June of 2015.

The Friends of Oak Bluffs is handling donations, which can be mailed to Friends of Oak Bluffs, PO Box 1281, Oak Bluffs, MA, 02557.

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The tiny lot known as the "mini-park" on Main Street in Edgartown. —Photo by Steve Myrick

The Edgartown Community Preservation Committee scheduled a hearing for Thursday, December 4, to review proposals for projects funded by the Community Preservation Act, including a $2.1 million plan to gain control of Alfred and Marjory Hall Park, known by most as the mini-park, in the center of the Main Street business district. The hearing is scheduled for 4 pm at town hall.

The town has leased the vacant land from the Hall family or a trust controlled by the family  since 1979. It is a tiny oasis for tired shoppers, a spot to sit with an ice cream cone or a brown bag lunch, and a base for local organizations holding charitable bake sales or raffles.

This is at least the fourth time in the past two decades that town officials have taken steps to purchase or take the land by eminent domain, according to town records.

The application for funds came from the town conservation commission and has the support of selectman Margaret Serpa, who is also chairman of the Community Preservation Committee (CPC). The CPC evaluates applications and chooses projects to present to voters at town meeting.

“I think it should belong to the town,” Ms. Serpa said. “Town meeting will decide.”

But the owners of the property say the valuable real estate is not for sale.

“It’s interesting that we have to read about it in the paper,” said Benjamin Hall Jr., an attorney

who represents the Hall family, in a phone interview with The Times. “If they plan on buying it, they should have a conversation with us.”

New use?

While Mr. Hall declined to put a value on the property, he said $2.1 million is not a sufficient amount. Several town officials who did not want to be quoted said they assume the only way the town can acquire the property is through eminent domain, a legal procedure that allows a town to take ownership of private property for a public use, after paying a fair price to the owner. Putting a value on property taken by eminent domain is tricky business, and it sometimes sparks costly litigation.

In 1990, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) approved the Hall family’s plan to build a new theater on the property. Though all local building and zoning permits were in place, the theater was never built. In recent years, the Hall family has discussed other uses, which would require a new round of permitting.

“Downtown Edgartown on Main Street is some of the most valuable property on the Island,” Mr. Hall said. He added that his family has discussed the possibility of creating new retail space in a two-story structure on the rear part of the lot, and has, “sketched out possible use of the upper stories for hotel rooms or suites. It’s just never appeared to be exactly the right time to step into that particular use,” he said. He said that when and if the project is built, the trust hopes to grant an easement to the town so that the front part of the lot remains in use as a park open to the public, in exchange for some form of tax break.

Lease increase

At Edgartown town hall, a two-inch-thick file of leases, proposals, billing records, and sharp correspondence traces the history of the mini-park.

The tiny lot, just .16 acres, 1,680 square feet, was once the site of the Playhouse Theater, a movie house also once known as the Elm Theater. The building burned down in 1961. The lot has been vacant since. It is currently assessed at $1,645,300.

According to town records, Edgartown first leased the land from Alfred Hall in 1979 for an amount equal to the real estate taxes owed.

In 1980, the town paid base rent of $1,000, and additional rent in the form of an amount equal to the real estate taxes owed. Over the next two decades, the base rent increased, until 2002, when the owners set the amount at $10,000. In 2002 and 2003, the town paid only $5,000 in base rent, but in 2004, paid $14,235 to cover back rent, and agreed to a new five-year lease.

The new lease, which began in 2005, began with a base rent of $11,301, and increased to $14,801 in 2009. In 2011, the town agreed to a lease covering the years 2010 to 2015, which began with a base rent of $15,751, increasing each year until it ends next year with a base rent of $22,491. Every year, the town paid additional rent equal to the amount of real estate taxes owed. The tax bill has ranged from $2,569 to $5,667, as property valuation rose and fell over the years.

The current lease is signed by Ms. Serpa, Art Smadbeck, and Michael Donaroma, all members of the current board of selectmen, who also held office when the lease was signed in 2011. The property is now owned by the Playhouse Theater Realty Trust, a trust controlled by members of the Hall family, according to Benjamin Hall Jr., who must all agree on actions taken by the trust. The lease is signed by Charlotte Hall, as a member of the trust.

Record of dissent

Under the most recent leases, the town is responsible for all maintenance of the park, outlined in nearly two pages of detail, including the height and circumference of nearly every tree and shrub on the property.

A 2001 letter to the town conservation commission, signed by Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall, sharply chastised the town for what he called the town’s “negligence and inaction,” in maintaining the park.

“The sums for rent have been and are so ridiculously low, that I cannot believe you would risk being asked not to use the park anymore,” Mr. Hall wrote. “I continue to be distressed at the failure of the town, through your board, to keep the premises maintained and safe as set forth under the agreement.”

Even the name of the park has been a point of contention. While it is known informally by most people as the mini-park, several clauses in the leases insist that the town refer to it only as the Alfred and Marjorie Hall Park, and not by any other name.

Park history

As early as 1982, according to town records, town officials considered taking the park by eminent domain.

The prospect of an eminent domain taking has surfaced several times over the years, most recently at the 2005 annual town meeting. A warrant article that year asked voters to appropriate a sum of money to purchase or take the property by eminent domain, to be held in the care of the conservation commission. The article authorized the town to accept gifts or donations to fund the transaction, and authorized the town to borrow money to pay for the mini-park.

But voters weren’t having it. After some discussion, they voted to send the article to a study committee, and the issue did not come up again at the 2006 annual town meeting.

“This comes up every few years,” Mr. Hall said. He said the funds would be better spent on other uses allowed by the Community Preservation Act (CPA). “That could really go a long way, $2.1 million could go a long way toward a lot of families, whether it’s rental subsidies, or affordable housing.”

While the question of whether the town would negotiate a purchase price or take the property by eminent domain has yet to be decided at this point, the CPA specifically allows CPA funds to be used for eminent domain takings, provided the sale meets all the other requirements of the act.

Katherine Roth, associate director of the statewide CPA Coalition, could recall only one other case, a CPA project in Newton, where it happened.

“It’s very rare,” she said. “It’s not often done under CPA.”

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Craig Whitaker, a New York City architect and urban planner who has a home in Tisbury, updated Edgartown selectmen Monday on a plan to create a “highway manual,” a document that would guide future road projects on Martha’s Vineyard, as well as guide improvements and maintenance on current public roadways. Preliminary work on the concept got underway last year, funded by a $10,000 grant through the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), according to Mr. Whitaker. He said that such a manual, effectively a contract between Island towns and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, would allow local officials to influence highway projects and create roads appropriate for the Island.

Mr. Whitaker invited selectmen, and the public, to a meeting of the MVC Island Roads Committee, at Edgartown town hall on Wednesday, December 3, at 5 pm. “He who holds the pencil has the power,” he said. “It’s a chance for us to be proactive. It’s a chance to initiate rather than always be on the defensive.”

The highway manual would govern road features such as lane width, shoulders, barriers, drainage, utilities, lighting, vegetation, and maintenance, according to Mr. Whitaker.

The Island Roads Committee met throughout the summer and selected a consulting firm which will make a presentation at Wednesday’s session. Mr. Whitaker estimated the cost of creating a highway manual at roughly $150,000. He said state Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) money could fund the project.

Edgartown highway superintendent Stuart Fuller advised caution. He said he sometimes feels like a lone voice on the issue of safety and functionality.

“I do feel like a lone voice with having our roads be functional,” Mr. Fuller said. “It has to meet safety criteria. You would be a fool to put the Vineyard at risk legally.”

Art Smadbeck, chairman of the Edgartown selectmen, said the board has faith in Mr. Fuller.

“You’re not the lone voice, you’re the lead voice,” he said.

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In yet another county-airport skirmish, Dukes County treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders is not processing airport invoices, airport official claims.

The Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission is seeking payment on overdue bills. —File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC) chairman Constance Teixeira said that Dukes County treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders has refused to process invoices the airport authorized for payment despite a preliminary injunction Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin issued August 7 ordering her to pay duly authorized airport bills

The 17 invoices, totaling approximately $42,000, are for routine airport expenses, and are either approaching overdue status or already overdue.

“We received communication from the county treasurer that once again, and despite a direct court order, she was refusing to process airport invoices for payment,” Ms. Teixeira said in a statement read at an airport commission meeting Friday, November 21.

Under strict state and federal funding rules, airport revenue may only be used for airport-related aviation projects. Though there is no legal requirement to do so, the county-owned airport hires the county treasurer to process airport bills, an arrangement that funnels airport revenue into county coffers.

Airport manager Sean Flynn told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday that the airport is evaluating additional legal action, which could include filing a complaint asking the court to hold Ms. Mavro Flanders in contempt of the preliminary injunction, or negotiate an out-of-court resolution to the latest dispute.

A woman who answered the phone in the treasurer’s office Tuesday morning told The Times that Ms. Mavro Flanders was unavailable for comment. Asked if the treasurer was in the office or could be contacted later, the woman repeated that the treasurer was unavailable for comment.

Payment procedure

The county treasurer takes a unique approach in order to calculate how much of her office’s time is devoted to airport affairs. Rather than an hourly rate, the office calculates how much to charge the airport based on invoice inches, according to Mr. Flynn.

He said the county treasurer allocates the airport’s share of the county’s total cost for accounting services, by measuring the length of submitted airport invoices, including invoice pages that have nothing to do with billing amounts, against non-airport invoices.

Mr. Flynn is authorized by the airport commission to approve bills for payment. He said he is frustrated that Mr. Mavro Flanders duplicates the effort of his staff to verify and approve invoices every month.

Mr. Flynn said that in an attempt to make the process more efficient and less costly, invoices now include only the necessary information for Ms. Mavro Flanders to process the bills. “She has been provided with cover sheets which show previous balance, previous amount paid, current charges, current due, and total due,” he said.

Mr. Flynn said he reviews each invoice to make sure the charges were incurred by the airport, and that the charges are accurate, in accordance with his legal and fiduciary obligations. “This is in no way an attempt to be secretive, as to what we’re paying various vendors; this is just to streamline the process to meet all requirements, so that we are providing enough information, but not duplicating effort, not doubling the amount of effort,” he said. “We’re trying to use current technology, current ways of thinking, and not staying with a process that is antiquated, just for the sake of staying with an older process. There are accusations we’re attempting to be secretive. That is absolutely not the case.”

Deja vu all over again

In a series of emails to Mr. Flynn, Ms. Mavro Flanders said she was not refusing to make the payments, but reminded the airport manager that there was insufficient detail in the invoices, a point Mr. Flynn disputes.

She said she would file a formal public records request for the bills, if necessary. As of Wednesday, November 19, the disputed bills had not been paid, according to Mr. Flynn.

The county treasurer’s insistence that the airport provide invoice details and her refusal to process law firm invoices approved by the airport was one of the subjects of a lawsuit filed by the airport commission on July 9.

In his August 7 decision, Judge Chin wrote, “In sum, the County Treasurer believes that she has the legal authority to refuse to pay invoices which have already been duly approved by the MVAC, to obtain privileged and confidential communications between the MVAC and its attorneys without notice to and without the consent of the MVAC, and to release those privileged and confidential communications to the public at large.”

Judge Chin rejected the county treasurer’s claim that invoices approved by the airport commission for payment were lacking detail required by state law.

“Where the MVAC is not using any of the county’s funds to pay its invoices for legal services, it may expend its funds without the county’s oversight,” Judge Chin wrote. The invoices “are not so deficient in detail that they fail on their face to comply with the statute.”

Judge Chin issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the airport commission, and against Ms. Mavro Flanders. “The county treasurer is enjoined from refusing to pay invoices duly approved for payment by the MVAC,” he wrote in his decision.

Judge Chin based his ruling on previous court decisions, state law, and legal documents known as grant assurances which the county approved in exchange for millions of dollars in state and federal funds.

In fiscal year 2012, the airport paid the county $103,396 for accounting services, according to Ms. Mavro Flanders. In fiscal year 2014, the airport paid the county $102,994. In May, just before the end of fiscal year 2014, she said she expected to pay a similar amount for that year.

The seven members of the airport commission are appointed by the elected members of the seven-member county commission. By statute, the airport commission is solely responsible for the airport.

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Members of the Brazilian community celebrated faith and culture at the Whaling Church in October. —Photo by Lynn Christoffers

President Barack Obama took action last week that could lead to protection from deportation and a legal right to work for undocumented immigrants who have been living and working in violation of federal laws on Martha’s Vineyard for many years.

The president’s executive action, long awaited by advocates of immigration reform, and long disputed by Mr. Obama’s political foes, would not provide a path to citizenship for the estimated five million undocumented immigrants who might benefit. It would, in general, allow undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than five years, and who have no criminal record, the right to work legally without fear of deportation for a limited number of years.

“These executive actions crackdown on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation,” the White House wrote in a statement issued just before the president addressed the nation on November 20.

Help for families

Pastor Joao Barbosa of the Mission Calvary Church in Vineyard Haven said he believes the changes in immigration policy will help many families on the Island. “It brings good favor for people (undocumented immigrants) who are receiving help from the government, the economy of the country itself,” he said. “When a family knows more about the future, they can buy houses, they can go to school, they can invest instead of sending money out of the country. A lot of people were stressed or worried, now they can make more plans to stay in the country. They’re just thankful this is happening.”

Bishop Paulo Tenorio, spiritual leader of The Growing Church Ministry in Vineyard Haven, also applauded the president’s action. “There are a lot of people that will benefit,” he said. “It’s the right direction. We have a broken system. It’s something that needs to be faced in the country. He’s giving a little push.”

Wender Ramos, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot who just completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, said he is happy for the change in policy, but he said it came far too late for him.

He came to Martha’s Vineyard at the age of 13 with his mother and sister, all undocumented. He is now a U.S. citizen, and his mother and sister have legal status to live and work in the United States, while they are working toward citizenship. While he said the latest change in immigration policy won’t affect his family, he said he faced significant barriers as he grew up, went to Island schools, and then college.

“It’s something we could have used,” Mr. Ramos said. “Back when I was in grade school and high school, it would have expedited my life as well as my mom’s and my sister’s. We always talked about it, saying we wished this would happen.”

Programs expanded

Mr. Obama’s action expands the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that he initiated in 2012. The original DACA program was intended to protect children who were brought into the United States illegally as children. Eligible were children who have been in the United States for at least five years, came as children, were in school or have completed school, have no serious criminal record, were born after 1981 and entered the country before June 15, 2007. Those who met those requirements could apply for a two-year period of protection from deportation, and were eligible for work permits. According to U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, more than a half-million people, or about 95 percent of those applications accepted for review, have been approved for DACA status. In Massachusetts, 6,596 applications were accepted for review, and 5,318 were approved.

Under the latest executive action, children who came to the United States before January 1, 2010, no matter what their age now, will be eligible, and the period of deferred action will expand to three years.

The largest group of undocumented immigrants who will benefit from the president’s executive action are the parents of children who were born in the United States, who are legal citizens. In order to qualify, the parents must register with the federal government, pass a criminal background check, and pay any back taxes. If qualified, the parents can apply for a three-year deferred action, and remain in the United States without fear of deportation. They can also apply for work permits.

The president’s executive action does not provide a path to citizenship for anyone eligible for deferred action or work permit status. A future president could also rescind the executive actions.

ICE changes

The Dukes County Jail no longer holds immigrants in custody based solely on a request from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain an individual. The change in procedure follows a federal court ruling in Oregon on April 11 that ruled that practice unconstitutional.

Previously, ICE issued detainee orders that asked local law enforcement authorities to hold an individual in jail for up to 48 hours while ICE decided whether to take the person into federal custody.

ICE issued detainee orders for a wide range of reasons: ICE simply wanted to talk to the person, the person did not appear at hearing, the person was wanted for a serious crime, or the person had already been ordered deported.

In April, U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice M. Stewart, sitting in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, ruled that a detainee order alone is not a legal justification to incarcerate someone. The case involved Maria Miranda-Olivares, a woman who was ordered released on bail by a local court after she was arrested on a domestic violence charge. Local authorities kept her in custody because ICE had issued a detainer. The court ruled that keeping her in custody violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment, and the court allowed the woman to seek damages from the jail.

Immigrants were often held in custody at the Dukes County Jail solely on the basis of an ICE detainee order. This month, Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack changed the procedure.

“We are no longer holding anybody on an ICE detainer, if there is no other reason to hold them,” Sheriff McCormack told The Times. “If we get a hit on a detainer, we will call ICE. But if they would otherwise be able to be released, like they made bail, or they were released by the court, if we have no reason to hold the person except the ICE detainer, then we won’t hold them.”

Mr. McCormack said holding people on ICE detainee orders could leave the jail vulnerable to lawsuits.

“The underlying reason amounts to probable cause,” Sheriff McCormack said. “The actual detainer has no charges on it, doesn’t say anything about having enough probable cause to be holding them. The detainer just says ICE has an interest in them. We can’t take somebody’s freedom just because ICE has an interest in them.”

President Obama, in his executive action on immigration, ordered ICE to stop asking local authorities to detain people arrested for minor offenses. The federal government will now only ask local officials to transfer custody of an arrested person to ICE after he or she has been convicted of a felony, or three misdemeanors. ICE will not ask jail officials to detain people, but they will ask local police to notify federal agents when an immigrant convicted of a crime is due to be released.

The president made significant changes to the controversial Secure Communities program, which authorized local jail officials to transmit fingerprints of anyone arrested to ICE where they could be checked against a database.

The Dukes County Jail did not participate directly in Secure Communities, but they did forward fingerprints of everyone arrested by Island law enforcement to Massachusetts State Police. State Police then transmitted those fingerprints to ICE. That procedure remains in effect, according to Sheriff McCormack.