Authors Posts by Tony Omer

Tony Omer

Tony Omer

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Artists David Wallis (left) and Ken Vincent are the new tenants of the former West Tisbury Police department building. —Photo by Susie Safford

West Tisbury selectmen last week chose Vineyard landscape artists Kenneth Vincent and David Wallis to be the new tenants of the former West Tisbury police station building next to Mill Pond on the Edgartown Road. They will lease the building for five years at $600 per month.

There were five bidders in total interested in the 1,000-square-foot, weathered building vacated when the police moved into their new station house on State Road in March. Selectmen chose the two painters at their December 17 meeting over Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) MV. The continuing education group proposed to use the space as its main office with a full-time staff of one and several part-time staff. The vote was two to one in favor of the Island artists.

At the Wednesday meeting, selectman Richard Knabel spoke in favor of renting to ACE MV because of its value to the community as an educational group. He said the choice between the two bidders “was essentially a draw.”

Selectmen Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter and Cynthia Mitchell voted in favor of the two artists, who they said contributed to the cultural goals of the town, and offered more money and a longer-term lease. The ACE MV bid was for 3-year term at $500 per month.

New canvas

The artists will use the old station as a painting studio and have no plans to display or sell their work there but hope to begin a mentoring program for a few select young artists in the future. Both men exhibit their work at the nearby Granary Gallery on Old County Road, where Mr. Wallis is the gallery manager.

In conversations with The Times both artists expressed surprise and elation with the news of their winning bid.

“When we applied I thought we didn’t have a chance to get it,” Mr. Vincent said. “We were just taking a stab in the dark. I am super excited. It is heated, and has natural light and ventilation and is only a mile from my home. I have only painted above ground one year in my career. It is a beautiful spot and we will be across the street from Rez Williams.” Mr. Williams is a well-known painter.

Born on the Island, Mr. Vincent’s Vineyard family roots go back many generations. He studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and paints primarily in oil. He also illustrates children’s books in addition to the landscapes he is best known for.

He lives in West Tisbury with his wife and two children. For the last three years he has taught art at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School at the junior high and high school level.

Mr. Wallis said he and Mr. Vincent were “stunned” to get the space. “It’s a dream come true,” Mr. Wallis said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled. We feel like we have won the lottery. We hope we will be able to stay there forever.

“Imagine being an artist and being represented at one of the finest galleries on the Island and then having your studio at the Mill Pond where you could lean a fly rod at the corner of the building and say, you know, I’m just going to stretch my legs and cast a few after the trout have been stocked in the pond.”

Mr. Wallis studied commercial illustration at Syracuse University and moved to the Vineyard in 1992. He is the president of Vineyard youth soccer and lives in Oak Bluffs with his wife and two children. He has painted from a garage studio on Stonewall Pond in Chilmark for 20 years. “It has been a long commute,” he said.

The artists expect to move in sometime in January after the paperwork with the town is completed.

The bidding

Selectmen issued a request for proposals (RFP) to rent the building in October. The minimum monthly rent was set at $500. Lease terms included no residence, no kitchen, and an occupancy limit of an average of four persons daily on an annual basis. There is parking for only three vehicles on the .32-acre parcel of land. The RFP asked that bidders provide a service to enhance the cultural, environmental, and recreational needs of the town and the Island.

Selectmen excluded two of the five bidders based on traffic. Dr. Judith Fisher, a primary care doctor at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, proposed leasing the space for use as a health consultancy office that would be home to a physician, administrative staff, and potentially one medical assistant or home care nurse.

Artist Robert Hauck proposed a work-studio with a public dimension. The building would have been a place where artists could meet and interact.

The fifth bidder, Peter Johnson of Vineyard Haven, was excluded from further consideration because he did not provide the town with the required tax compliance certification. Mr. Johnson, a fisherman and owner of the well known Robert’s Lures, proposed using the building to assemble, package and ship his products.

In other town business Wednesday, selectmen voted unanimously to increase the hourly pay of election workers, constables and the warden from $8 and $9 to $9 and $10 respectively, in 2015 and to $11 and $12 in 2016. Town clerk Tara Whiting presented the proposal and said the town pays less than any other Island town. She said the poll workers had not had a raise in at least 10 years.

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Town officials are considering several options, including replacement, for the highway storage barn. —Photo by Susie Safford

West Tisbury selectmen learned last week that the town public works building on Old Courthouse Road in North Tisbury may be too far out of date to be a suitable candidate for renovation and might best be replaced.  Once used for town meetings and later as a fire station, the mid-19th century building is now used primarily as a garage for highway department equipment.

At the Wednesday, December 10, selectmen’s meeting, highway superintendent Richard Olsen explained the situation. “My intent was to redo the building, if that was possible” he said. “We weren’t looking for a whole lot, but I think from what Joe [building inspector Joe Tierney] has told me, in order to bring it into compliance [with the building codes] it’s probably better to build a new building, at the same location.”

In April, the town appropriated $10,000 for needed repairs to the building. A major rebuilding project would be subject to a capital improvement committee feasibility study before any more money would be committed.

Mr. Olsen said the logical location for a new highway department would be on the grounds of the new police and fire stations on State Road but “there are too many variables at that site.” He said a new building would require a new septic system for which there is no room.

“I think we are stuck where we are. Which is fine,” he said. “In order to bring this up to code there is so much to do, the windows, the insulation. Regardless of what we do we need a new well and a septic system.” He said that his department could use more room so that an addition might be in order.

Mr. Tierney said he consulted with West Tisbury civil engineer Kent Healy on the condition of the building. “There are a lot of structural issues with the building from the foundation to the second floor,” Mr. Tierney said. “So the amount of money we would have to dump into it and the fact that it may not meet his [Mr. Olsen’s] needs when we got done. That’s why we were searching for other locations.”

Mr. Tierney said he thought it would be a better investment for the town to build a new building either on the present site or on a new site.

Selectman Richard Knabel asked if there were any hard numbers to accompany the various alternatives.

Mr. Tierney said that he and Mr. Olsen, wanted to speak to the selectmen and seek some direction before they proceeded further.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said that the deed on the land is not clear and should be cleared before any work is done on the land to be certain there are no deed restrictions. “I may need to spend some money on a title search,” she said. “What we have found to date would make us believe that there are probably no restrictions.”

Mr. Healy said it is a small site but there is room for a septic system and a new well. “The building is really of limited value,” he said. “The best way to replace it would be a new concrete slab and put a new building on top of it.” He said that he thought a new metal building might be the most economical way to deal with the situation.

Mr. Knabel asked whether the building has any historic significance.

Ms. Rand said she would investigate the history as well as the title and restrictions issues. Mr. Healy volunteered to get prices for replacing the building and installing a new well and septic system.

Rich history

Prior to its use to store highway department equipment, the parks and recreation department used the building for equipment storage. It was also where town residents went to purchase town beach stickers in the summer. The sign on the front of the building still reads West Tisbury, Parks and Recreation Committee, Community Hall.

Mr. Knabel told The Times in an email the building was formerly called “Association Hall.” The owner of record in 1884 was the Vineyard Literary Association.

Former selectman and county commissioner John Alley, a lifelong resident of West Tisbury, told The Times that he remembers when town meetings were held in the building. “There were rows of benches, a stage and a ballot box,” he said. In 1959 when town meetings were held in the Grange Hall, then called the Agricultural Hall, the town voted to turn the building into fire station number two. It was at that time that the old wooden floor was replaced with a concrete slab and the front was replaced with two large garage doors.

“The building was never a courthouse,” he said. “The road is named ‘Old Courthouse Road’ because it once went all the way to the present intersection of Scotchmans Lane and Old County Road and on to the current intersection of Old County and the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road where there was a courthouse.”

Ag Hall events under review

In other town business last Wednesday, Mr. Tierney told selectmen that after reviewing events held at the Agricultural Hall at their request, he found most were in compliance with town zoning regulations. “For the most part this year the activities have been mostly compliant. There are a lot of grey areas.”

Mr. Tierney said he and outgoing building and zoning inspector Ernest Mendenhall recommend that selectmen require an event permit for events at the Ag Hall. He suggested the permit application be submitted four weeks prior to an event so that he could determine, with advice from counsel when necessary, whether the grey area events met the zoning regulations.

“Ninety percent of the events will probably not be a problem,” Mr. Tierney said. He said the four-week lead-time would give the town time to make a determination.

Ms. Rand said, “Many of the things that go on at the Ag Hall do not currently get an event permit; and have never had an event permit.”

Selectman chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said that the event permit interpretations would pertain to zoning regulations only and not to deed restricted activities.

The Vineyard Conservation Society and the town jointly hold an agricultural preservation restriction over the property that limits use of the property to the “full-range” of nonprofit and educational activities the Ag Society “has historically pursued,” as well as limited commercial activities that “relate directly to the nonprofit and educational function of MVAS.

The selectmen agreed to consider the permit suggestion when they discuss the definition of events requiring an event permit at a future meeting.

Fenced in

West Tisbury selectmen learned that $75,000 is not enough to replace the fence around the town cemetery. —Photo by Michael Cummo
West Tisbury selectmen learned that $75,000 is not enough to replace the fence around the town cemetery. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Also last week, selectmen discussed the town cemetery fence. The one bid received in June in response to a request for proposal (RFP) to rebuild the cemetery fence exceeded the $75,000 approved at April town meeting for the entire fence. The bid price ranged from $83,520 to $92,470 depending on options offered by the bidder, Landmark Fence of Eastham.

Mr. Manter suggested that the community preservation commission be asked to rewrite the RFP to allow for work to a portion of the fence for the $75,000. Mr. Knabel and selectman Cynthia Mitchell agreed with the suggestion but noted that the change will require a vote at town meeting.

Selectmen voted to go into executive session to discuss the possible acquisition of a triangular piece of land at the intersection of Indian Hill and State Road. Mr. Manter would not say what the selectmen had discussed as uses of the land.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that selectmen learned of the fence bid on December 10. Selectmen have been aware of the bid amount since June.

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Inscribe them with names or messages, and help raise money.

The West Tisbury Library has raised almost $100,000 by selling bricks to Islanders, who can inscribe them with greetings, or the names of loved ones. – Photo by Susie Safford

Sometimes used as a foundation material, bricks have become a material source of funds for the West Tisbury Library Foundation. For $150, a donor can buy a brick inscribed with three lines of type that will become a permanent part of the walkway leading to the recently renovated library.

More than 750 bricks have been purchased and almost $100,000 raised since 2011, when the project was started. The money goes to help fund unfinished library projects, such as the landscaping, beyond the building construction budget, according to Wendy Nierenberg, a retired educator who heads up the brick campaign.

“We also hope to build an endowment that will produce income every year to help offset library budget items,” she said. “Buying a brick is an exciting way to leave a permanent mark in the town and support the library at the same time. The inscriptions often honor family members. New births, grandchildren and memorials are high on the list as are appreciations of family and friends and of West Tisbury in general and the library in particular.

“People call from all over the country to buy bricks. It is just lovely. Some have placed orders from foreign countries. Almost everybody who has purchased bricks has an Island connection of some sort, but there have been several purchases from people buying bricks for people they know on the Island.”

The library reopened on March 22 after a $6 million dollar renovation. The old 5,640-square-foot library was enlarged to 13,000 square feet. The library foundation ultimately raised more than one quarter of the construction costs. The town picked up almost a quarter and almost half of the project’s cost was funded by matching funds from the state.

Ms. Nierenberg said there is plenty of room for new donors. “We have sold about half or our bricks. We have room for about 1,500 when we are done.”

The walkway is paved with the names of Islanders and memorable messages. – Photo by Susie Safford
The walkway is paved with the names of Islanders and memorable messages. – Photo by Susie Safford

Many bricks contain names of old Island families — Mayhew, Whiting, Norton — as well as summer residents. There are names of well-known authors and Island businesses and tributes to pets and some with just names in support of the library. There are cryptic slogans and praises for the library and its staff.

“With fond memories of summer reading,” reads one. Another from a ten year old says “Be a bookworm.” “Thanks for the memories,” reads another and an encouragement to read, “Readers live a thousand lives,” is on another. “Reading is breathing.” And the simple but heart-felt “We love this library.”

“There is no frigate like a book to take us worlds away.” And a tribute to a spouse “You are my brick.” “Our favorite place to read and learn.” “ For the love of reading.” And a nod to digitization, “Thanks for keeping the books.” And to the library director, “You planted the seed and the library bloomed.”

Cathy Minkiewicz, treasurer of the library foundation, decided to honor her four-legged friends. “My pets, dating back to childhood — Ariel, Osa, Obi, Becket, Krakus, Belle, Sinbad, and Aza — all fit onto one brick,” she said.

Asa Allen Ruel had a brick purchased on the occasion of his birth in July. – Photo courtesy Lynn Whiting
Asa Allen Ruel had a brick purchased on the occasion of his birth in July. – Photo courtesy Lynn Whiting

“It’s amazing, the number of people I see on the pathway just looking at what people have written,” Ms. Nierenberg said. There are so many bricks that the library staff has a folder at the front disk with the bricks plotted on a map with numbers and names so they can be found by brick hunters.

Each brick may contain up to three lines of 20 characters. Brick orders can be made on line at the library foundation website or by calling Ms. Nierenberg at 508-693-0800.

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The Mill Pond in West Tisbury
The Mill Pond in West Tisbury. —MVTimes File Photo

ESS Group, an environmental consulting and engineering services company, submitted the only bid in response to a request for proposals to study the Mill Brook watershed, West Tisbury selectman Cynthia Mitchell told her fellow board members at their meeting on December 3. Ms. Mitchell is a member of the Mill Brook watershed planning committee that is overseeing the RFP.

The ESS bid was $45,000, considerably higher than the $30,000 allocated for the study at town meeting. Ms. Mitchell said that ESS, with offices in Waltham, Providence, and Virginia, expressed an interest in working with the town and other organizations to conduct the study within the set amount.

“ESS expressed a willingness take some of the tasks in the RFP out of the mix giving some of the tasks to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), who has looked at it and has agreed to participate,” Ms. Mitchell said. Carl Nielsen, an aquatic biologist and a vice president of ESS who met with the committee, will consider managing the MVC participation and the participation of any volunteers who might want to help with the study, she said, adding that he would be willing to work with the committee to help scale down the project to meet the monetary limits of the RFP.

“He seemed quite willing to entertain all kinds of local partnerships,” Ms. Mitchell said.

Ms. Mitchell said Sheri Caseau, MVC water resources planner, attended the committee meeting with a proposal for doing part of the work. Representatives of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish group also attended the meeting.

Selectman Richard Knabel said that he is concerned that the project be a professional study.

“One of the non-negotiables is that the contractor would be responsible and would oversee the work of any local partner,” Ms. Mitchell said.

A similar RFP, issued last year, prompted only one response, due in part to the unspecific nature of some of the conditions and a cost limit of $15,000.

The study will look at the entire Mill Brook watershed ecosystem, including all streams and ponds, and establish baseline readings for determining the water quality and general health of the Mill Brook watershed and its impact on Tisbury Great Pond. The goal of the study is to collect data over the course of one year, from January 2015 to January 2016.

In 2012 ESS presented the results of a study of the Mill Pond, one part of the Mill Brook watershed, and submitted three options for dredging Mill Pond.The plans ranged in cost between $240,000 and $700,000.

The question of whether to dredge the Mill Pond, and the cost associated with that project, has roiled the town’s political waters for several years. There are those who want to maintain the man-made pond and its placid vista. Others want to remove the dam used to create the pond and allow the stream to return to its natural state, a change they say would enhance the spawning habitat of native fish, including herring, white perch, and eels, and allow free passage of brook trout.

The next watershed management planning committee meeting is at 5 pm, Monday, December 15, at the town library.

In other town business last Wednesday, selectmen voted unanimously to renew beer and wine licenses for two town restaurants, the Plain View at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport and State Road in North Tisbury.

Mr. Knabel noted that the town selectmen’s holiday party, a potluck, will be at the Agricultural Hall from 5 to 8 pm, on Thursday, December 11.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the next meeting of the watershed management committee would be in town hall on December 15. It will be in the town library.

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The Ag Hall is a popular Island venue for a variety of events. —File photo by Lynn Christoffers

At the West Tisbury selectmen’s meeting on October 29, selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter asked the town zoning inspector to verify that the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society (MVAS) is not scheduling more events at the Agricultural Hall than current zoning allows.

The use of the large barn and the 23-acre grounds, the site of the annual Dukes County Fair, is limited by the town’s zoning bylaw and by an agricultural preservation restriction (APR) placed on the property when the previous owners, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Newhall Woods, sold the land to the MVAS in 1991.

“I do believe they rent it beyond the number of uses they are permitted,” said Mr. Manter, a lifetime member of the Ag Society who resigned from the Ag Society’s board of directors a year ago for personal reasons. “I do not believe they are in violation of the APR, but I believe zoning should be looked at. I do not think they are doing what they agreed to do.”

Selectman Richard Knabel pointed out that town counsel Ronald Rappaport clearly stated the use conditions in a July 1998 letter to selectmen.

“Maybe we could use this opportunity to review the zoning and move it forward,” selectman Cynthia Mitchell said, “to see if the zoning should be amended or changed.”

Turning people away

The Ag Hall is a popular venue for a variety of activities, including weddings, parties, craft fairs, memorial services, dances, dinners, and lectures.

Ag Society board president Dale McClure told The Times in a phone call that Mr. Manter was the group’s use watchdog before he resigned from the board. “I think he is still doing that job now as selectman,” he said.

Mr. McClure said that Mr. Manter’s request could spark a redefinition of how the property is used. “We really want to get the zoning changed to accommodate the needs of the society,” he said. “When we built the place we never dreamed the old story ‘build it and they will come.’ We built it and they are coming. It’s not really a West Tisbury institution. It’s a Vineyard institution. Its like a community center and everybody wants to use it.”

Mr. McClure said one option is to seek a zoning change at town meeting in order to accommodate the MVAS and the town. He added that he would like to see the town create a special zoning district for nonprofits, including the adjacent Polly Hill Arboretum. He agreed that a reinterpretation of the APR may also be required.

“We feel like we are always on the fence,” he said. “We are turning people away we don’t want to turn away.”

The APR limits use of the property to the “full-range” of non-profit and educational activities MVAS “has historically pursued,” as well as limited commercial activities that “relate directly to the non-profit and educational function of MVAS.”

A sharp increase in the number of requests to rent the Agricultural Hall prompted a discussion among the selectmen and Ag Society officials on June 15, 2011, about the possibility of expanding both the number and the types of events allowed.

The Times reported that town officials leaned heavily on a July 8, 1998, legal opinion that Mr. Rappaport provided to Lenny Jason, the acting town zoning officer at the time. Mr. Rappaport concluded that the use of the property is limited by the town zoning bylaws and the APR.

Mr. Rappaport highlighted the controlling language in the APR. The property owner had the right to conduct or permit only the following: “The use of the property, and the construction or placing of buildings or structures, for non-profit and non-profit educational purposes only, and for non-profit agricultural purposes and such limited commercial agricultural purposes as may be directly related to the permitted non-profit and non-profit educational uses of the property.”

Focusing on town bylaws, Mr. Rappaport said the Ag Hall could be used for events that are “customarily incidental to a permitted use.” For example, concerts and similar activities solely for raising funds for the MVAS, provided the impact on the neighborhood is limited.

Addressing the bylaw but not the APR, Mr. Rappaport said, “We are of the opinion that a small number of weddings could be deemed permitted on the property under the bylaw as an incidental use.”

Among other restrictions, he recommended that only five weddings be permitted in a calendar year; only weddings of a MVAS member in good standing for five years be permitted; a member of MVAS be present at each wedding at all times; and at least four weeks’ notice be given to selectmen and the chief of police.

In addition, he said, three additional activities per year, for example the Vineyard Nursing Association auction, a birthday party, and the family Planning Art show could be deemed as incidental uses, he said.

Lots of requests

Eleanor Neubert began working for the Ag Society as the fair manager 30 years ago, a job she still has. She is now also a member of the board and is responsible for booking the use of the hall and grounds. She said that the town has requested a copy of the calendar she uses to book the events.

“We get calls from people who want to hold weddings all the time,” she said, “about 50 or 60 every year, but we can only allow six a year.” All six slots are filled for 2015 and two have been booked for 2016. The hall costs $4,000 for weddings.”

Ms. Neubert said there were six memorial services this year, including the Pat Gregory service that drew an overflow crowd.

There are dozens of events every year that fit within the APR definitions that are sponsored either by the Ag Society or local agricultural groups like Island Grown Initiative, Native Earth teaching farm, MV Horse council, and Slow Food. These include dinners, meetings, lectures, monthly board meetings, horse shows and classes, and the Dukes County Fair.

In addition, this year the West Tisbury Congregational Church used the hall Sunday mornings when their sanctuary was undergoing renovations, and the church also meets there on Easter and on Christmas Eve to accommodate the large crowds.

Annual events held in the hall this year included The Family Planning Art Show, Youth Hockey dinner, Windemere auction, West Tisbury School 8th grade graduation, All-Island library youth reading kickoff, MV Savings Bank dinner, Artisans Festival, town parties for Halloween and the holidays, and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital dinner.

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A photo from Music on Martha's Vineyard: Sally and Ben Taylor perform at the Grange Hall in 2013. —Photo by Peter Simon

“Music on Martha’s Vineyard” by Tom Dresser and Jerold Muskin, copyright 2014 from The History Press, Charleston, SC. Paperback, 188 pages. $19.99. Available at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, Edgartown Books, and online booksellers.

Music-on-MV-cover.jpgOne of the most enjoyable parts of Music on Martha’s Vineyard, a new history of music on the Island by Tom Dresser and Jerold Muskin, is the interviews with local musicians. While the book is replete with stories and photos of the well-known and famous, it is the interviews with the locals — and there are many — that give the reader a solid sense of the shared love of music that drives both the listening public and Island musicians, most of whom have day jobs to support their music habit.

In his interview, Island folksinger, songwriter, shingler-carpenter Joe Keenan summed up his take on the subject. “The best thing about being a musician on the Island over the years is that most people are supportive in subtle ways,” he says. “We have such a strong community of artists and artisans that people make room for the vagaries that accompany the drive to play out. It is the support we get from others that makes it possible for us to pursue our artistic endeavors.”

Mr. Dresser is a former journalist and now author of seven books covering various aspects of Island history. With Mr. Muskin, a music lover and musician, he has compiled a history of music on the Island that is rich with world class musicians and composers, folk and rock stars, choral groups, both sacred and profane, bands playing Souza, and original blends of heavy metal, blues, and American roots music. The writers touch on stage musicals and open-air concerts, chamber groups and late night bar bands, bluegrass groups and town bands.

The authors admit that what they have assembled is not an exhaustive history of music on the Island, but a first attempt at a comprehensive look at an important part of Vineyard life for many Islanders.

It is a fun read that has the power to re-ignite memories of concerts with internationally known performers like James Taylor, shows at the Oak Bluffs dive, the Ritz, with local bands like Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, and Island choirs and concert groups. It gives perspective for today’s music-loving Islanders.

The book is filled with interviews and information sifted from the Island’s newspapers and other sources. The photos of Island musicians are numerous and fun, but all in black and white. It is a compendium, a collection of anecdotes and meandering memories of events and musicians. The narrative follows the train of thought of those interviewed, and this is part of its charm.

A second edition would benefit from a more complete index. Many musicians are talked about but relatively few made it to the index. The book ultimately does justice to an important, creative part of the Island’s past, and it will bring back fond memories for both those who have enjoyed the music that has been made on the Vineyard and those who have made the music.

This is Mr. Dresser’s seventh book, either as sole or co-writer, for the History Press, a publisher that promotes local histories. His books include Women of Martha’s Vineyard and African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard, and his previous book Martha’s Vineyard in World War II, written with Herb Foster and Jay Schofield. Mr. Muskin is a poet, a former university professor, truck driver and trumpeter.

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Swans, an invasive species, have become a part of the Mill Pond landscape. —Photo by Michael Cummo

West Tisbury animal control officer Joan Jenkinson asked selectmen last week for their support to put a gate and fencing between the Mill Pond shoreline at the entrance of the Allen M. Look Memorial Park and the old police station building on the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road to protect wandering swans that have taken up residence at the pond.

Well-known for her tender and caring attention to all animals and wildlife, Ms. Jenkinson regularly feeds the swans and ducks that congregate on the scenic pond. In general, wildlife officials discourage feeding waterfowl for the dependency it creates on human handouts.

Ms. Jenkinson told selectmen last Wednesday that the gate would help keep swans and ducks from wandering out onto the road but also allow access for visitors.  “Now that the police station isn’t there, cars go faster than they ever did,” she said. “I would like some support on this because I and the police have had to pick up dead swans and dead ducks.”

Ms. Jenkinson is primarily concerned about one young swan, which she named Rocky, that is recovering from the bite of a snapping turtle. She took the swan to a veterinarian for surgery in August.  “I don’t want him going out into the road,” she said. “He is like a baby. He will fly away some day. I’m there twice a day and he waits for me right by the road.”

Ms. Jenkinson said that she and her husband, Pat, would pay for the materials and that Pat has volunteered to do the work.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell and Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter agreed that ducks on the road are sometimes a problem. Mr. Manter said the town should pay for the gate, not the Jenkinsons. Selectman Richard Knabel said that he would not want a gate to keep people from using the park.

Selectmen said the gate proposal should be brought up before the Conservation Commission and the Historic District Commission before a decision is made.

Live pond

Ms. Jenkinson told The Times in a phone conversation that she feeds the swans and ducks that congregate on the pond at least twice a day, and that she is sometimes at the pond four times a day to check on Rocky. Volunteers fill in for her when she is away.

Although the waterfowl come to the edge of the pond when they see her car, she does not think she contributes to the traffic mortality problem. “The ducks would cross the road anyway to get to the Mill stream and Tisbury Great Pond,” she said.

Ms. Jenkinson said the feedings contribute to the scenic nature of the pond, which is created by a dam.  “If I didn’t feed them the swans wouldn’t be there,” she said. “We would have a dead pond. This is the entry point for the town. We don’t want a dead pond.”

She said she did not think the risk of wildlife dependency was an issue because she does not feed the waterfowl everything they need and they are still wild.

Ms. Mitchell told The Times that selectmen have not discussed the issue of feeding the ducks and swans at Mill Pond. “I have not given it any thought, not that it shouldn’t be discussed, necessarily,” she said. “The general sentiment is that it is kind of nice that Joan is doing it. No one in recent memory has ever objected to it. Not that there aren’t objections to be made.”

Ms. Mitchell said that the selectmen do not consider the feedings to be part of her job. “She and her husband, Pat, have gone over and beyond her job, especially taking care of the injured swan. It is a kind and wonderful thing. Her love of animals is one of the things that distinguishes her as an animal control officer.”

Misguided compassion

Birder and naturalist Matthew Pelikan, who writes a regular column for The Times about Island ecology, said the swans that have become a fixture of the Mill Pond landscape are mute swans, an introduced, non-native, species that competes very aggressively against native waterfowl for nesting real estate.

“Swans also feed heavily on submerged vegetation,” he said in an email to The Times. “Between their size and their long necks, which mean they eat a lot and can feed in deep water, they can damage populations of underwater plants, create opportunities for undesirable plant species to get established, and contribute to problems such as fecal contamination and loss of water clarity due to suspended sediment.”

Mr. Pelikan said that actively encouraging the local swan population “doesn’t make much sense ecologically.” He pointed out that many states and municipalities in the Northeast are taking measures to control mute swan populations. “In particular, given the evident concern in West Tisbury about the health of the Mill Pond, encouraging a mute swan population there is a puzzling course of action,” he said.

Mr. Pelikan said feeding waterfowl, a practice banned in neighboring Rhode Island, “accustoms the birds to viewing humans as a resource, which can lead to problematic behavior such as aggression toward humans and it encourages the waterfowl to congregate at much higher density than they normally would, and in different places, altering their social interactions, facilitating the spread of disease, and increasing their local impact on vegetation.”

Decisions like the those concerning the Mill Pond are made often on an emotional rather than a rational basis, Mr. Pelikan said, adding that while he respects the compassion that is behind efforts to protect one swan, encouraging the persistence of swans around the pond is “a misguided approach.”

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West Tisbury selectmen Tuesday voted to allow town hall employees to lock offices doors when alone on a floor. —Photo by Michael Cummo

West Tisbury selectmen last week adopted a new safety and security policy for the town hall under which an employee alone on a floor in the three-story building during regular business hours will be allowed to lock the door to his or her floor and post a note asking visitors to knock. In some cases, the employee could refuse to open the door.

Adopted October 15, the policy states: “If an employee finds that they are alone on their floor during regular business hours they may, if they choose, lock the entrance door to their floor and post a note asking patrons to knock for entrance into the floor. If the employee has reason to feel concerned they may refuse entrance to that individual. If a patron is refused entrance the employee shall notify their department head or board members immediately of the incident. After regular business hours the door from the lobby to the stairwell and the elevator shall be locked unless there is a public meeting taking place in the building.”

The policy did not satisfy Michael Colaneri, chairman of the board of assessors, who initially raised the issue with selectmen in July when he said that an employee who works on the third floor told him she did not feel safe when she realized that she is sometimes the only employee in the building during hours when the town hall is open to the public.

Mr. Colaneri, in an email to the selectmen dated October 7 following his review of a draft of the new policy, noted that the town hall is also a well used bus stop.

“I certainly do not want to make a mountain out of a molehill,” Mr. Colaneri said, “but in these ever precarious and uncertain times, and the town hall now being a bus depot times have changed in West Tisbury and the Island. I believe the town can do better and should do better, with a more comprehensive plan, to possibly include security cameras.”

Mr. Colaneri told selectmen Wednesday that the new policy “is minimal at best and doesn’t do enough to protect town employees.”

Selectman and town police sergeant Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said that he thought a security camera would be a good idea. Mr. Manter said that recordings from a security camera would be used as an investigative tool only in the case of an incident and would not be routinely monitored as a surveillance camera would be. “There is hardly a place you can go today, right or wrong, that you aren’t smiling on a camera,” he said.

Selectman Richard Knabel disagreed and said he is “completely opposed to the idea” of a video camera. “To some extent it seems to me we are looking for a solution that’s looking for a problem,” he said. “I raised the issue of security five years ago when we first moved into this building because of the separation between floors and the lack of easy communication and one floor not knowing who is on the other floors.”

Mr. Knabel said he thinks there should always be someone on the first floor whenever the building is open. “Without going to extreme measures we should see how this new policy works,” he said.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell said that employee input was solicited before the new policy was written.

In a town where many residents do not even bother to lock their doors, there is little to suggest that town hall is unsafe, with or without a bus stop.

West Tisbury police Chief Daniel Rossi told The Times that in his 23 years with the police he does not recall a single call from a town employee regarding suspicious activity in the town hall. “There have been around two calls per summer reporting suspicious activity at the bus stop in front of the town hall,” he said, “but nothing significant happened any of those times.”

Tent permits

In other business Wednesday, selectmen Mr. Knabel and Mr. Manter rejected building inspector Joe Tierney’s request to charge fees for tent permits. Mr. Tierney said fees are charged by most of the other Island towns for the permits that are required by state law for tents over 400 square feet. Selectman Cynthia Mitchell voted for the fees.

Selectmen voted unanimously to continue to team with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to appeal a land court decision denying public access to a part of a traditional walking path known as Old Stagecoach Way. The Massachusetts Land Court ruled that the town’s evidence was too speculative to satisfy the burden of proof in a case tied to an attempt to clear title to land owned by the McKacou Realty Trust.

Selectmen observed a moment of silence to honor the memory of Robert Potts who died on October 11. Mr. Manter said Mr. Potts always had a wise word and was a wonderful man. Mr. Knabel noted Mr. Potts’s contributions to the community through “The Broadside,” his self-published newspaper.  “He had a good sense of irony and knew how to use it,” Mr. Knabel said.

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Martha Hubbell of Lambert's Cove climbs the sand dune at Lambert's Cove Beach to leave. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Some 30 West Tisbury residents submitted a petition to the West Tisbury Conservation Commission Tuesday to ask that a high dune at the entrance to Lambert’s Cove beach be lowered to allow easier access for elderly residents and emergency personnel.

The petition asked the commission and the parks and recreation department to either lower the dune as in past years or create an alternate, safer route before next spring.

The dune, created by wind and erosion, is an obstacle along the quarter-mile hike required to reach the beach from the town parking lot off Lambert’s Cove Road.

Conservation commission board administrator Maria McFarland said a Bobcat excavator has been used in previous years to keep the dune passable. She said that required state approval for the necessary permit to alter the dune might be difficult to obtain due to the focus of state- backed conservation efforts to maintain dunes. She said that the town neglected to file the permit in past years and that the commission intends to end that practice.

She said the commission will request input from the park and rec department, the fire department, EMTs, the police and selectmen during the process of finding a solution.

“People have talked about putting in a boardwalk since the early 1980s,” Ms. McFarland said. ”That is a possible solution.”

The commission and the parks and recreation department collaborated on a Lambert’s Cove Beach dune restoration project during the winter of 2012. Snow fencing was installed on the water-side of the dune to help capture wind-blown sand in order to build the dune up. Beach Grass was planted this spring to help stabilize the dune.

Both Ms. McFarland and Peter Rodegast, chairman of the commission, told The Times that the fencing was placed far enough in front of the path to build up the width of the dune without adding to its height. “That could make it more difficult for people to climb the dune. We really don’t have a benchmark to determine if the dune is any higher now than last year,” she said. “It is one of the things we will try to establish.”

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Stuart Saginor, executive director of the Community Preservation Coalition, provided a CPA pep talk over a PowerPoint presentation titled, “CPA: What makes it great?”

More than 30 people gathered at the Sailing Camp in Oak Bluffs on a wet fall evening Tuesday to learn about the regional funding possibilities associated with the Community Preservation Act (CPA).

Stuart Saginor, executive director of the Community Preservation Coalition, a statewide group that helped establish the CPA and actively supports its implementation, provided a CPA pep talk over a PowerPoint presentation titled: “CPA: What makes it great?”

The CPA allows towns to add a surcharge fee as large as 3 percent on real estate transfers and receive matching funds from the state for a prescribed list of projects. CPA expenditures must be approved at town meetings. and can be used for open-space and historical preservation, development of affordable housing, and the acquisition and development of outdoor recreational facilities.

Tuesday-night attendees included Community Preservation Act committee (CPC) members from Island towns as well as representatives of groups that have applied for CPA funds. Mr. Saginor said that 155 Massachusetts towns and cities have adopted the CPA to date.

Mr. Saginor said he did not need to highlight the CPA successes on the Island, and instead spoke about large successful projects in several off-Island towns. He said that combined local funds and state funds have generated more than $1.3 billion dollars for CPA projects statewide.

“On top of the money that has been directly raised by CPA, you folks have seen the magic of how CPA funds can be used to leverage all sorts of other funding,” Mr. Saginor said. “This happened here with the [Gay Head] lighthouse and a lot of the housing projects and virtually any project that hasn’t been funded 100 percent by CPA.”

He said that the state matching funds are the key to the program’s success. They come from a state trust funded by a $10 fee on lien transactions and a $20 fee on real estate transactions.

The match has dipped to as little as 26 percent of CPA money raised by the towns because of the addition of new towns to the program and the decrease in revenues with the real estate downturn. He said he is talking to legislators about ways to keep the matches consistently in the 40 to 50 percent range. For fiscal year 2013 the legislature added $25 million in funds from state budget surpluses to the matching-fund trust to help make up the shortfall.

State representative Tim Madden of Nantucket, a staunch supporter of the CPA, spoke about the benefits. “I look at the CPA as a local economic development tool.” he said. “Local builders are getting the work generated by CPA projects. I’m a fan of home rule and local control. There is nothing more democratic. We understood the value of taxing ourselves for our benefit.”

A panel of Islanders who have successfully negotiated the hurdles of applying for regional CPA funds spoke about the benefits of the CPA.

Adam Wilson, Aquinnah town manager, spoke about the value and necessity of regional CPA support for the continuing success of the lighthouse project. He said that the support of all six Island towns was an important factor in helping to generate additional private support to raise the money that is needed.

Island Housing Trust executive director Philippe Jordi described affordable housing projects that have been supported regionally. He said voters have often responded positively when they realize the value of supporting projects that may be outside their own town but may house people who work in their towns.

Questions from the audience centered on methods and procedures for applying for regional CPA funding in a community made up of six towns.

Dan Waters of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum said the present method of presenting requests for funding a project requires presentations at each town’s CPCs and attending the town meetings. He said the last museum request took him to more than 16 meetings.

Several suggestions were floated from the floor for handling regional requests, including a common application and a regional CPC with representatives from each town, similar to the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council formed from individual town cultural councils in 2007. It was suggested that further meetings on the subject could be worthwhile.