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Dave Merrit, Steamship Authority. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Oh, Christmas. That traditional day of home, hearth, family, and presents under the tree. But for those who provide essential community services, there is work to do even on Christmas Day.

Last week, The Times spoke with a variety of individuals, all with different jobs and levels of responsibility, who will be working this Thursday, December 25. All of those interviewed said they enjoy working on Christmas Day.

Many do it in the spirit of gift-giving, to allow co-workers or employees to enjoy the day with family. They also said they enjoy the day’s special energy and the joy of interacting with the public.

Kara Best, Cumberland Farms. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Kara Best, Cumberland Farms. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Kara Best

Ms. Best is a veteran of Christmas Day at Cumberland Farms at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven where she has worked as a sales associate for six years. She’ll work the late afternoon shift on Christmas Day.

“We switch off from year to year so we all get a Christmas off,” she said. “I don’t mind working. I had last year off and working the later shift still allows us to have a family Christmas and open presents. Our son Christian just turned four so he’s just getting the concept.

“This is the busiest place on the Island on Christmas. There aren’t a lot of stores open. We get people coming in for everything, things they forgot. But then it really slows down around five or six o’clock when people are at home, settled in.”

Nikisha Ferguson, Xtra Mart. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Nikisha Ferguson, Xtra Mart. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Nikisha Ferguson

Ms. Ferguson is a sales associate at Xtra Mart on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. She has worked at the convenience store and gas station for the past three years. She’ll be working Christmas Day, and she said she enjoys it.

“People call up or come in and they are so grateful that we’re open,” she said. “I volunteered to work this year because my boss and his wife have a one-year-old baby so this will be their first family Christmas. I’ll be off by 2 pm, so we’ll have Christmas then with my mother and my brothers and sisters. I don’t mind working: it’s kind of special to see your regular customers and to watch people’s faces light up when they see we’re open. Everyone is jolly on Christmas.”

David Merritt

Mr. Merritt is a veteran of 29 Christmas holidays with the Steamship Authority (SSA). He now works in Vineyard Haven.

“It’s been part of my schedule in the past,” he said. “I chose to work this year so more guys and women can have time with their families. I’ll still get time with my folks. We just start a little later.

“You know, working on Christmas isn’t a bad idea. It can be a really nice time. I grew up here, more or less, and I have a lot of friends I get to see, coming home for the holidays — people I don’t see all year. I saw a guy this week that I haven’t seen in 15 years. Mostly it’s just a hello on the dock, but it’s good. People are happy.”

Mary Holmes, Windmere. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Mary Holmes, Windmere. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Mary Holmes

Ms. Holmes is the memory care program coordinator at Windemere Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Oak Bluffs. She and colleague Betsy Burmeister, recreational therapy director at Windemere, take turns making Christmas a joyful day for the residents.

Along the way, they have made Christmas at Windemere part of their own families’ holiday tradition. As they have in past years, Ms. Holmes’s daughter, Elinor, 15, and son, Robert, 13, will help Santa (Robert Brabyn, Windemere’s maintenance engineer) make sure that every resident gets a Christmas present.

“We do it every yea,” she said. “We ask staff to get a gift for clients and everyone gets one. It’s really very touching. The clients love it. We wrap the presents, Santa greets them and the kids help with delivery and unwrapping if anyone needs help. Later in the day, we go home and have our family Christmas with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. The kids are older now, so it’s easier to have stockings later in the day.”

Will Bishop, Edgartown Police Department. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Will Bishop, Edgartown Police Department. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Will Bishop

Edgartown police officer Will Bishop, a 2004 graduate of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, will be on patrol from 8 am to 6 pm on Christmas Day.

“I’m on the schedule this year, but I’ve tried to step up and work it in the past so the older officers who have families can have the day with them,” he said. “Actually, It’s kind of nice to drive through town in the morning and see everything so still. The morning hours are pretty quiet on Christmas, then towards the middle of the day, it becomes a normal day with the calls you normally get. I’ll spend Christmas Eve with my fiancée and her family and have a late dinner with my parents in Edgartown on Christmas night after I finish at 6 pm.

“I would say it gives me a little more perspective on the community and the job I have. I get to work in the community I grew up in. It’s good to help out and some day it’ll be my turn to have Christmas off.”

The Gatchell family’s Christmas light extravaganza is bigger than ever but donations for the Food Pantry lag far behind last year’s haul.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus help the Island celebrate Christmas at the Gatchell's house. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Islanders in need of a spark of Christmas spirit need only to drive past 148 County Road in Oak Bluffs, where Rob Gatchell’s annual light display is bigger and brighter than ever. Mr. Gatchell has been lighting up the Oak Bluffs night for the past 33 years. Each year, the display grows a little bigger, and a little brighter and it is all for a good cause, the Island Food Pantry, and this season he could use some help.

“I started doing it when my son Kyle was born,” Mr. Gatchell told The Times. “It’s grown every year since then.” In addition to illuminated reindeer, snowmen, Santas, candy canes, a toy train, a choir, penguins, a homemade igloo and a 40-year-old nativity set, over 25,000 lights festoon his home, which he built himself in 1977. The lights go on Thanksgiving night and will go dark at 8 pm on New Year’s eve.

A licensed contractor who specializes in Victorian restoration, Mr. Gatchell draws on all his skills to create the holiday panorama. “I start working on it in the middle of October,” he said. “This year I had to take down two trees that had died before I could get started. Then I get to work with the bucket lift and get up the high stuff.” Mr. Gatchell said he does about 90 percent of the work himself, and his wife Lynn helps with the ground displays.

“This year a woman gave me a bunch of lights that her husband had used before he passed away. It took two 10-hour days to test all the bulbs and fix the bad ones, but it was worth it. Today, I got a Winnie the Pooh Christmas blow up. When I get  home tonight I’ll figure out where to put it.”

The variety of the decorations has increased over the years. – Photo by Michael Cummo
The variety of the decorations has increased over the years. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Mr. Gatchell said he appreciates the decoration donations, but he’s more interested in donations of food and money for the Island Food Pantry. He said that this year Islanders have been rather Scrooge-like with their donations compared to Christmases past.

“Last year we got about $1,000 in cash donations and 28 cases of food, which is about 1,400 pounds,” he said. “This year, I am way behind. I have nine cases of food, about 450 pounds, and money donations are also way down.”

There are donation boxes in front of Mr. Gatchell’s house. Food donations should be anything that can be stored in a pantry. He said past donations of frozen strawberries, opened cans, and food that was years past the expiration date did not help the cause.

In addition to food and cash donations for the Island Food Pantry, Mr. Gatchell said Islanders can help the cause by going to the B101 radio website to vote for his display in the station’s Christmas light contest.

Rob Gatchell lights up the town for the Island Food Pantry. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Rob Gatchell lights up the town for the Island Food Pantry. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Santa visits Christmas Eve

Santa Claus has confirmed that weather permitting, he and Mrs. Claus will be at the Gatchell display at 5:30 pm on Christmas eve.  As always, Santa will have his magic key that can unlock any door, to assuage the concerns of any children who live in homes without a chimney.

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From left, Jacob Walbert, Oleg Nikolaev and Mark Blair shuck scallops in the “shucking room” at Menemsha Fish Market. —Photo by Michael Cummo

In a cold back room of Stanley and Lanette Larsen’s Menemsha Fish Market, Jake Walbert and Oleg Nikolaev are busy. They stand at a stainless steel table parting bay scallops with shuck knives, skimming their guts, and scraping the thumb-tip-sized plugs of muscle into food pans. It’s four in the afternoon and they still have bushels to work through.

“To be quite honest we can’t keep up with the demand,” said Mr. Walbert, a Texan living in Chilmark, to a Times reporter on one cold December day. He’s confident he’ll be at shucking at that table until April. “That’s what Stanley keeps telling us,” he said.

The knife each of them uses doesn’t have the menacing, shiv quality of an oyster knife. With a short, stubby blade, it actually looks tame enough to spread pate.

“It’s special for scallops,” said Mr. Walbert. “It’s like a shorter butter knife that’s a little sharper.

“You can also use it for shucking clams,” said Mr. Nikolaev, a Russian national living in West Tisbury. Unlike Mr. Walbert, who is two months into this type of work, this is Mr. Nikolaev’s second season. He considers opening scallops pretty easy as compared with oysters, but monotonously easy.

“Every oyster is like a puzzle. You need to find a way to open each one,” he said.

“Each one is different. These [scallops] are all the same – same movements. Kind of boring, actually.”

Shucking for science

Christopher Schillaci, a biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, who in addition to being the vibrio parahaemolyticus program coordinator, does a lot of shucking.

“In collecting oyster samples from four areas throughout the state, about 25 oysters per sample, I shuck a hundred oysters at least every week, if not more than that,”

he said in a phone interview. “I’m generally shucking scientific samples so I don’t want to stick the knife into the hinge like a lot of people do, because there’s a lot of dirt and grim in the hinge and I don’t want to force bacteria into the oyster. So get it from the side,” he said. “A lot of folks will basically stick the knife in the hinge and break the hinge and that renders the abductor muscle useless. Then you can just slice off the bottom of the abductor muscle and open up the oyster. And that’s really what you’re doing when you see oysters in the half shell, is you’re removing the abductor muscle from its attachment point and then you have the whole oyster inside of one shell.”

Why so shucking difficult?

Mr. Schillaci pins the technique for opening either bay scallops or eastern oysters squarely on a type of muscle they share in common, the abductor, essentially a little biological jack that opens and closes the creatures’ shells. Although they both have strong abductor muscles and are both classified as bivalves —  two-shelled mollusks — the toughness of oyster and scallop shells, as anyone who has picked shells for a driveway knows, are not at all the same.

“Scallops don’t need as hard of a shell because they can use that abductor muscle to actually swim away [from predators],” he said. “Scallops are actually one of the few bivalve shellfish species that can actually get up and move if they want to. The same way an oyster uses that abductor muscle to close really tightly, a scallop uses the abductor muscle to open and close its shell to actually propel it. Because they’ve evolved with the ability to move they don’t need to protect themselves in the way an oyster does that can’t move.”

Unlike the scallop shell, the oyster shell isn’t known for its beauty. It makes up for its homeliness with durability. Clinging to rocks or layers and layers of its dead ancestors on an oyster reef, the oyster deals with smashing surfs, temperature swings, tidal rips, the open air and all the wildlife that can reach it in the open air — threats and conditions that would (and does send) the bay scallop cowering into the mud and eel grass of relatively calm ponds and coves.

“Oyster shells are pretty incredible they way the [crystal] matrix is actually formed,” Mr. Schillaci said. “You have these layers of calcite crystals that are each one-hundredth of an inch thick. There’s a group that’s making body armor using the same concept as oyster shells. Basically if you were to damage an oyster shell instead of cracking along a fracture line, it really just reshapes the crystals inside of it and it might change the shape of the shell, but the shell itself remains intact.”

Even inside, oysters are tough. Though their shells are air- and water-tight when closed, they don’t protect it against cold, but part of its internal chemistry actually does. “These things have a sugar in their cells that acts like an antifreeze,” Mr. Schillachi said.

Don’t write off scallops as thoroughly dainty, however. Even though it takes about 20 pounds of force to pry open an oyster, it actually has a smaller abductor muscle than the scallop. With an oyster you’re eating the whole creature.

“What you’re eating in a scallop is just the abductor muscle,” said Mr. Schillachi. “It’s much larger than in the oyster’s.”

But the struggle is worth it

Scallops are most popular cooked. Oysters are frequently eaten raw and that may lend enhanced nutritional value to them.

“Oysters are an incredible source of magnesium, zinc, and protein,” said Mr. Schillaci. “They’re full of omega fatty acids. I think there’s also some research that shows you retain more of that when you eat it raw versus cooked. But oysters are still good for you, whether they’re cooked or raw.”

Mr. Schillaci pointed out scallops can be, and are, eaten raw — even whole like oysters. With sea scallops served whole and raw, the term is roe-on. Attached to the alabaster muscle is a coral lobe that’s a shade darker than say shade row – evidently quite a delicacy. When bay scallops are eaten raw, it’s more often the abductor muscle alone. In a New York Times Magazine article written by Mark Bittman from June of last year, six illustrated recipes for raw bay scallops are given.  Mr. Bittman calls “true bay scallops — possibly the best and certainly the priciest…”

Island oyster growers are being rewarded for their efforts with similar priciness.

“You have an incredible quality of oyster on the Vineyard,” Mr. Schillaci said. “Many of the guys on the Vineyard are getting a higher price for their oysters because of the quality. I’ve enjoyed working with all of them.”

Menemsha Fish Market has been selling their bay scallops for between $22 to $28 a pound. That’s sans guts.

“A lot of folks will actually eat the guts as well,” said Mr. Walbert, “even raw, but the majority of the people like just the [abductor] muscle. It lasts a little longer too when you package it and send it across the United States.”

What’s that smell?

Jacob Walbert scoops the scallop out of its shell at Menemsha Fish Market. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Jacob Walbert scoops the scallop out of its shell at Menemsha Fish Market. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Mr. Walbert has found a productive use for the guts that involves serving them up, just not to people.

“First I’ll chum with the guts. Then I’ll put one on the hook. I’ve caught striped bass, tautog, all kinds of different things. Normally very quickly, too.”

Shucking rolls on at the Menemsha Fish Market where Messrs. Walbert and Nikolaev have yet to even pause. They’re averaging six to seven pounds an hour (shucked). As liquid from heaps of shells and guts trickles into a drain in the concrete floor, the chilled air doesn’t completely stifle the baity aroma hanging in the room. “The smell kind of gets too you and it starts makin’ you sick,” Mr. Walbert said. “I take an India pale ale and kind of sip it along and it makes the smell of the scallops kind of appetizing.”

She shucks seashells by the seashore

Professional shucker Aretha Brown tells it like it is.

I learned how to shuck oysters and clams while working at Larsen’s fish market. I did eight summers there, so I got pretty good. Isaiah Scheffer is the fastest shucker I’ve ever seen. I used to work elbow and elbow with him at the raw bar for the starving masses that line up out the door for the good stuff. You have to be fast to satisfy these people!

There are lots of shucking competitions in the region but not really any that take presentation into account. Any ol’ brute can open a clam, but can you open it without slaying through the belly? Can you plate it without spilling the liquor? Can you do all this quickly? That’s what really counts. Product knowledge and presentation are just as important as the shellfish you’re shucking.

My parents used to scallop in the winters. I’m pretty sure they were scalloping Menemsha pond for winter work. Maybe bartering, definitely some personal consumption. Probably all of the above.
I remember them cutting down in the basement. I have tried my hand at scallops but I need much more practice. I can do it, but I can’t do it with the speed needed to actually make opening them a worthwhile endeavor.

Shucking oysters and clams for weddings and functions is the way to go. Maximum hourly wage for only three or four hours of work start to finish.

Plus, it’s fun to have people sidle up to the raw bar who don’t often get to enjoy fresh raw shellfish. They go “ohhhhh so gooooooood” and they’re so appreciative and thankful that you’re doing all the work. There are very few things I do in life where people are so grateful.

Scallops are indeed easier to open in terms of the amount of strength required. The knife kinda slips into a corner and then you swipe the blade up and across the roof of the thing as not to sever the meat. I can open them, but because I have only ever done 200 or so in my life, I don’t have that finesse that it takes to shuck say… one every 5 seconds.

Some people say oysters are the hardest, probably because they aren’t all the same shape, and they all have their own unique twists and turns and curves. You have to wear a glove so you don’t cut your hand on the sharp edges of the oyster. Sometimes the amount of pressure you put on the tip of the knife to “crack the seal” can be enough to break the shell and your hand can jam into a sharp broken shell and that’s how you cut yourself if you’re not careful.

There are several ways to open an oyster. You can enter from the side; you have to look at the natural folds on the side of the oyster and this takes some practice, and then you put the tip of your knife in the “sweet spot” that you’ve found to crack the seal. You can do this with just the tip of the knife. Oyster knives are long, dull, and very firm with no flexibility to the blade, where a clam knife is sharp and offers more flexibility so you can bow it inside the clam so you don’t sever the meat. I wish I could give you a visual explanation of this: I’m afraid some seasoned shuckers are going to laugh at these descriptions. The other technique where you pop the hinge at the point (which I’d call the bottom) of the oyster. Either way, once you break the seal you can shimmy your knife in there and detach the muscle first from the top shell, and then slide the knife under the oyster to detach the rest of the muscle from the bottom shell so the whole oyster slides off smoothly and intact. You also have to keep an eye out for shell bits that break off during opening and scoot them out of there so someone doesn’t get a bite of crunchy shell and get totally turned off from raw shellfish. (I even lose my appetite when crunching into a little piece of clam shell while eating a white clam sauce).

Any shellfish will be much, much easier to open if they’ve been iced for at least 30 minutes prior to stating opening them. The colder the better. Fridge temperature just makes twice as much work. When I find an oyster I can’t open easily, I either let my ego take over and destroy myself trying to open it (and usually win)… or I set it aside to a place on the raw bar where it can sit in ice a little longer and I try again later.

People definitely eat raw scallops! Our bay scallops are so sweet, “they taste like candy.” I have heard these words uttered so many times by my grandmother and others.

Only once or twice have I had a raw bar customer who requested raw bay scallops at their bar. Part of that might be because the raw bar season and the bay scallop season don’t have much overlap (raw bar season = wedding season, basically). But it is done, and they look gorgeous laid out next to oysters and littlenecks.

Champions? The Larsen sisters [Christine and Betsy]! They both make it look easy. Too easy. Deceptively easy. They can probably shuck with one hand tied behind their backs (lol).

Aretha Witham Brown is a shucker with Vineyard Sound Raw Bars, a full-time dispatcher for ABC Disposal, and mother to 4-year-old Fiona. She lives in Chilmark.

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Delores Barza, pastry chef at Isola Restaurant, let her festive spirit — and talent — shine this holiday season with this gingerbread and candy replica of the restaurant’s Edgartown location. Ms. Barza took photos of the building, and scaled the gingerbread walls to size. The project took about 40 hours, a full work week, to complete. This grown-up gingerbread house was detailed down to the shingle, and guests to the bar area, where it is now on display, agreed that it looked good enough to eat.

Ms. Barza also creates gingerbread houses for private homes, as decorative centerpieces. “I have a passion for baking,” she told The Times. “It’s a way for me to express myself, and make other people smile.”

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Blazers Jeremy Regan passes to a teammate.

The Oak Bluffs School Blazers eighth grade boys basketball team traveled to Edgartown Friday to face off against the Edgartown Eagles. Despite a valiant effort, the Blazers could not match the Eagles scoring power and defensive pressure.

Edgartown's Michael Habekost drives to the hoop.
Edgartown’s Michael Habekost drives to the hoop.

The final score was 58-37. Nahuel Munoz led all players with 22 points and Lukah Viera notched 20 for Edgartown. The Blazer’s Tim Wallis led the way for his team with eight points.

Oak Bluffs Blazer Kaio Reis drives through Edgartown Eagles defenders as Aidan Araujo (right) looks on.
Oak Bluffs Blazer Kaio Reis drives through Edgartown Eagles defenders as Aidan Araujo (right) looks on.

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Martha's Vineyard Hospital and first responders have a new system that relays critical medical information to waiting emergency room doctors. —Photo by Ralph Stewart

In case of a heart attack, improved recovery rates — even survival — are dependent upon how quickly a patient receives treatment. This is critically important on Martha’s Vineyard, where patients must be transported to a mainland facility for advanced treatment.

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and the Island’s emergency medical first responders now have a new tool in their medical arsenal that is designed to provide critical medical information to waiting doctors even before a patient arrives in the emergency room (ER). LIFENET System software from Physio-Control, Inc., connects EMS teams anywhere on the Island as soon as paramedics have reached a patient with heart attack symptoms.

Data from the ambulance’s cardiac monitor/defibrillator is automatically fed to the ER over an innovative web-based network. The emergency room team can now see the patient information on the hospital computer screen in real time. This direct connection has several benefits, according to Dr. Jeffrey Zack, chief of emergency services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.

“We are able to more quickly interpret subtleties in the electrocardiogram and give much better guidance to the EMS team in the field before they even transport the patient to us,” he told The Times.

Before the launch of LIFENET, first responders spoke with emergency room doctors by phone in order to provide a preliminary picture of a patient’s condition. This was dependent on a dedicated medical mobile-phone network. Paramedics read the results of an EKG over the phone to a doctor who was waiting for diagnostic information. Not only was this voice communication sometimes compromised by weak wireless connections in one of the Island’s many dead zones, it could also be difficult because of the emotional and sometimes chaotic scene at the location of the call. As a result, it could be challenging for the doctor to know with certainty which were the most appropriate immediate treatments to recommend for the person in distress.

Door to balloon

When a severe heart attack occurs, treatment options may include placement of a stent or a balloon angioplasty. Martha’s Vineyard patients must be transported, most often by MedFlight helicopter — or in the case of really bad weather, by the Coast Guard — to an advanced cardiac operating room in Boston or another mainland location. It is up to the ER doctor to plan these next steps, and decide how to route the patient. It can often take up to 30 or even 45 minutes for an ambulance crew to reach the hospital from the far reaches of the Island, so providing a clear and detailed picture of the patient’s situation during the early stages of a heart attack is absolutely critical to a successful response.

“Saving 30 minutes is not inconsequential,” Dr. Zack emphasized. “No one in this situation has an infinite amount of time. Our goal is to diagnose and stabilize the patient, mobilize appropriate resources in the hospital, and consider the issue of transportation as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

D2B (Door to Balloon) is a term used in medical circles to measure speed of treatment for heart attack victims. This means simply the time it takes after EMS reaches the door of the patient until that patient receives a stent or begins an angioplasty procedure. Reports in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology report that hospitals stays are shorter and patient outcomes are “significantly improved” when the D2B is held to 90 minutes or less. This means that especially in an island community, anything the doctor can do to organize resources and tasks in parallel will help slash otherwise wasted minutes.

Knowing whether and when to call for a helicopter is a key part of the decision-making process, as launching that resource is certainly not without cost or risk to the flight crew as well as the patient. In the case of a severe heart attack, where Boston-based care is the necessary next step, already having the data at the hospital early in the cycle and before the ambulance arrives can mean the helicopter is already in the air and approaching the Island. Furthermore, that same data can be quickly forwarded to the team that will begin surgery, it is hoped within the hour.

New protocols

The ability to demonstrate improved patient outcomes is also an increasingly important component of reimbursement for doctors and hospitals in the brave new world of health care financing. More and more often, insurance companies, especially Medicare and Medicaid, are moving to a model of increasing fee payouts only when doctors and hospitals meet defined targets and goals for improved health care. The 90-minute D2B standard has become an important quality measurement for something as fundamental as licensing and accreditation.

According to Dr. Zack, the LIFENET program was tested and rolled out earlier this fall, but has been in the planning stages for many months. Alex Schaeffer, deputy Edgartown fire chief, and his EMS team led the efforts to identify a source of funds, submit a successful grant proposal, and coordinate efforts with other towns’ EMS departments and the hospital.

Mr. Schaeffer told The Times the Edgartown Fire Department spearheaded the successful $476,000 FEMA grant proposal.  “We reviewed technical requirements each month with other Island towns during our ongoing coordination meetings at the hospital,”  Mr. Schaeffer said.  “Physio-Control assisted with implementation and walked us through the detailed use of the system. Once everything was a go, our final rollout occurred prior to Thanksgiving.”

Physio-Control, Inc., is headquartered in Redmond, Wash., and is an international supplier of cardiac monitoring and defibrillation equipment. The company’s experience with EMS personnel and field requirements led to its interest in adding software solutions like LIFENET to its product portfolio.

In serious heart attack cases on the Island, the best-case scenario has these main characteristics: The appropriate emergency room personnel are ready and waiting; the doctor is certain that a helicopter is needed, and it is already in flight; the Boston hospital team is on alert and ready to operate; and all this has taken place while the ambulance is still on its way to the emergency room. With the LIFENET system in place, Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and its EMS partners in the field expect to make great progress in successfully challenging the 90-minute D2B window for victims of a heart attack.

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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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Fence posts impaled the Corvette. Despite the damage, the driver walked away from the crash. —Photo courtesy Edgartown Police

Responding to a report of a car crash, Edgartown police, fire and medical responders arrived at Katama airfield off Herring Creek Road just before 11 am on Sunday morning where they found a heavily damaged 1996 Chevy Corvette that had smashed through a fence — but no driver.

One fence post impaled the Corvette's trunk and passenger seat. —Photo courtesy Edgartown Police
One fence post impaled the Corvette’s trunk and passenger seat. —Photo courtesy Edgartown Police

“The back window of the car was smashed,” police wrote in their report. “Wooden beams from the fence in which the Corvette had crashed through had impaled the car in multiple areas. There was however, no blood in the vehicle, or signs of injury within the car.”

An immediate search of the area turned up no driver. Police identified the owner of the vehicle, a 74-year-old Norwood woman, and learned that the family owned a home on Craft’s Field where they found 39-year-old Oulton A. Hues Jr.

“Oulton admitted to operating and crashing the Corvette,” police said. “He informed Officers that he was racing up and down Atlantic Drive. He then turned inbound on Herring Creek Drive and sped up to a speed around ‘75 mph.’ He then stated he lost control of the Corvette, colliding with the fence before ending up in the airfield. Oulton stated that he then walked to his house and called a tow truck.”

Police cited Mr. Hues for leaving the scene of property damage, negligent operation of a motor vehicle and speeding greater than reasonable, and they will seek a criminal complaint for the charges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive reaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Edgartown gets gifts to seniors.

From left, Micah Agnoli, Kara Shemeth, Kyle Carter and Lt. Mike Valenti were one of the several groups out in Edgartown and Katama delivering Christmas presents to the elderly. —Photo by Michael Cummo

On a bright and early Sunday morning just before Christmas, members of the Edgartown Firemen’s Association gather at the fire station. They load dozens and dozens of gift bags — dutifully prepared by members of the department in their spare time — into numerous department vehicles. Their mission for the day? Distribute the gift bags to elderly members of the community. For the next several hours, the firefighters and EMTs will deliver the gift bags to elderly residents of Edgartown, inspired by a long tradition, holiday spirit and community goodwill.

The Firemen’s association consists of current firefighters and EMTs for the town as well as an advisory committee and honorary members. In 1952, the association picked up a gift-giving tradition that the fire department had started in 1938. Since then, the recipients and the gifts have changed. “In 1938 we started giving out stockings to school kids in Edgartown,” said retired Captain Richard Kelly. At some point after school in December, the classes would walk from the Edgartown School to the town hall and each student would get their turn to receive a stocking before heading home. “Grades one through four would go through the town hall and get a stocking from Santa.”

Back then, the stockings contained a banana, an orange and a handful each of candy and walnuts. When the department transitioned to delivering the bags to senior citizens, the contents of the gift bags stayed over, but some problems became readily apparent. “We transitioned to sugar-free candy in the stockings due to concerns that arose with the health needs of some of the recipients, such as those with diabetes,” said firefighter and EMT Kara Shemeth.

Firefighter Kyle Carter knocks on a door with a gift in hand, while Kara Shemeth (left) and Mike Valenti wait. —Photo by Michael Cummo
Firefighter Kyle Carter knocks on a door with a gift in hand, while Kara Shemeth (left) and Mike Valenti wait. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Over time, the firemen’s association decided that the food items should be replaced with items that might come in handy during times of emergency or disaster. In recent years, for instance, the bags contained flashlights that plugged into the wall to charge and could turn on automatically if the power went out.

What hasn’t changed, however, is how the gifts get put together: the hard work of association members and the generosity of town residents. “The Firemen’s Association purchases the items through the funding we receive from the appeal letter,” said Lieutenant Jake Sylvia, a paramedic who is also the current Association President. “It’s one of the best things we can do to give back to the community. The association’s head table gets together and figures out the best items to include in the gift bags.” After the group’s December meeting, members stay late, assembling the items into the bags with care and grouping them to be loaded into the trucks for delivery. While holiday spirit and community goodwill are certainly driving forces behind the program, pragmatic concerns and planning for the work of the Fire Department are also high on the list.

Beyond generating goodwill and generosity, there are tangible operational advantages to going out and making contact with these members of the community at home. Emergency medical technicians might, for instance, make mental notes about how best to maneuver a stretcher to the front door of a residence. Elsewhere, firefighters may notice that power lines running near a house would necessitate careful positioning of the ladder truck if it were ever needed to douse a fire. These observations could prove invaluable in the event of an emergency, and often times they can only be done in person. “The program gives us a chance to locate houses that are off the beaten path,” said Kate Conde, a paramedic and longtime association member.

Through all of this, the association members involved don’t lose sight of the main focus of the program: the people. “Oftentimes we are invited inside, giving us the opportunity to glean a little information on how these folks are living,” added Ms. Conde. A three-minute conversation between the first responders and the residents can provide a bright moment for a resident and valuable information for medical personnel. “It’s community outreach and face time with residents,” said Lt. Sylvia. “We’re also meeting the seniors of the town so they have some familiarity with us if we ever respond to them while they’re in need.”

One crew found out that a resident had undergone a recent surgery. So, if responders hear that address on a dispatch in the near future, they may have an opportunity to use the knowledge gained during the delivery of the gift bag to be better prepared when they arrive on scene and make patient contact. In addition, residents may spot a familiar face among the first responders, which can add a valuable element of comfort to an otherwise stressful and hectic situation. Of course, the members hope they never have to use any information they pick up during the deliveries. But if the spread of holiday cheer can help emergency responses go more smoothly, what’s not to like?