Opinion

The list of Martha’s Vineyard agencies prepared to react immediately in a major Island-wide emergency includes six town police departments, six town fire departments, airport fire crews, four ambulance services, the State Police, and Coast Guard Station Menemsha. These hundreds of men and women are bound by a singular dedication to protecting our Island community — and connected by the radio each responder holds in his or her hand in the midst of an emergency situation.

On Jan. 11, first responders from Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury participated in a training exercise intended to mimic a fire at the Lampost on Circuit Avenue. Over the course of three hours on a Sunday morning, volunteer firemen battled the “blaze,” searched the four-story structure for victims, and rescued a fellow firefighter.

In a follow-up assessment, Oak Bluffs Fire Chief John Rose told The Times the drill highlighted the glaring inadequacy of the radio-communication system. “This has been an Island-wide problem for a while now,” Mr. Rose said. “We knew it was an issue, but we didn’t realize the extent of it until today. There were times I couldn’t get commands to my men because their radios weren’t working properly. When the rapid-intervention team went in on a mayday call to save a fellow firefighter, they weren’t able to communicate with him, and we couldn’t hear where they were. That’s completely unacceptable.”

Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling also expressed concern about a radio-communication system he said was designed in the 1960s.

The down-Island fire chiefs and fire department volunteers are to be commended for organizing a drill for an Island-wide emergency that imagines an all-too-real situation. Learning what did not work is just as important as learning what did. One day, the mayday call may be for real.

The Island has been fortunate, and very lucky when we consider the outcome in recent fire emergencies.

On July 4, 2008, a fire broke out in Cafe Moxie on the corner of Spring Street and Main Street in Vineyard Haven. Firefighters rallied quickly, despite the holiday, and contained the blaze. Although the fire caused considerable damage to the adjacent Bunch of Grapes bookstore, there were no injuries. Light winds that day and a quick, professional response were important factors that helped minimize damage to the downtown business district.

Two years later, on July 12, 2010, a fire destroyed the Coast Guard boathouse and numerous boats in Menemsha Harbor. Again, thankfully, there were no injuries. But for a fortuitous wind direction that blew the scorching flames across the water rather than into the harbor shacks, and a quick response by firefighters from across the Island, all of Menemsha might have gone up in flames.

Chief Rose is correct. The situation is completely unacceptable. First responders must be able to communicate effectively.

The current radio network is a hodgepodge of VHF equipment. There is no standard radio. One department uses one radio brand, another department a different brand. Many of the radios do not meet modern state standards. Cross-department communication is cumbersome.

On Friday, Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCormack hosted a meeting of Island public-safety officials and representatives of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to discuss the radio problem and possible solutions. It was a good start.

Island public-safety officials must work together to create a communications system that is dependable in all circumstances and under all conditions for the volunteers and professionals that man the front lines. Achieving that goal will take regional leadership on a technical and political level. Where will it come from?

The hub of the current system is the Island Communications Center, located at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport and under the control of Sheriff McCormack. Nine full-time telecommunicators staff the center seven days a week, 24 hours a day, skillfully and professionally dispatching help as needed around the Island.

Radio scanners make it possible for any citizen to listen in on most radio traffic. It can be an eye-opening experience for those unfamiliar with the level of activity that often occurs behind the scenes. Listen for any length of time, and you will hear the dispatcher say, “Call unreadable,” meaning the dispatcher was unable to clearly hear the first responder in the field. Unreadable is unacceptable.

Good job

The blizzard struck late Monday and lasted through Tuesday night. Throughout the storm, Island first responders — police, firefighters, EMS, and highway department crews — responded to numerous calls for medical assistance.

Unfortunately, their job was made more difficult by the poor judgement of those who decided to venture out during the height of the storm. First responders spent time Tuesday looking for a woman on skis in Long Point thought to be in distress, pulling drivers in stuck cars out of snow banks, and removing cars stuck in the middle of the road and blocking traffic.

In some cases, driving was difficult, and drifting snow made some roads and driveways virtually impassable. That did not stop the first responders. In each case, they found a way to reach those in need of help. Hats off to the first responders.

On Tuesday, the members of the Steamship Authority (SSA) met in Woods Hole for their monthly business meeting, and politely listened to the backers of an online petition who have called on the SSA to repeal or suspend rate hikes that went into effect on New Year’s Day. The members, on the recommendation of boatline management, took no action on the request.

The petitioners made the case that the cost of fuel was one of the factors in the SSA’s need to raise an additional $1.9 million in revenue in the new year to cover increased operating costs projected for 2015, which also included vessel maintenance, employee salaries, health care benefits, and pension benefits. The drop in fuel costs, they argued, undercut the need for rate hikes.

Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said that if the authority does end up with a larger surplus than anticipated next year, the extra money will automatically flow into the SSA’s special-purpose funds to be used to pay for the cost of its capital projects, which will help keep rates lower in the future. Big projects in the pipeline that need to be paid for include a $40 million boat and a $60 million reconstruction of the Woods Hole terminal.

Petition backers pointed to their success in gathering almost 3,000 signatures. It is an impressive number and indicative of the power of social media to rally people to a cause, but their success should come as no surprise. Who would not want to see SSA fares drop? Or for that matter, plane fares, cable bills, grocery prices, and the cost of an ice cream cone in the summer?

These petitioners are going after the wrong fix. It would be as if a heart surgeon asked a patient who gets no exercise and eats sausage morning, noon, and night to cut back on the doughnuts at breakfast — it is not a matter of if, but when and where the future clog will occur.

SSA fare hikes are part of a never-ending cycle with no end in sight. And there is nothing in the past history of the SSA to suggest that had this hike not gone into effect, there would not be one in the future.

What is the solution? One petition signer called on the SSA to give year-round Island residents a break at the expense of tourists and seasonal residents. These would be the same seasonal residents — let’s call them the Island’s golden geese — that support our schools, paid for our $50 million hospital built without one Island tax dollar, and who subsidize our discounted excursion fares to the tune of more than 60 percent of the allocated costs, according to an SSA analysis.

Another petitioner suggested limiting the number of vehicles, to slow the growth of Island traffic. Of course, that would mean fewer geese on the ferries and a bigger budget hole that could only be fixed with a rate hike.

An online petition may provide a barometer of sorts, but it provides no basis on which to run a boatline, or any business. That takes planning and careful analysis, not just of immediate circumstances but of future trends. The last serious planning effort was a short-lived exercise that began in January 2001, when then SSA general manager Armand Tiberio presented an 11-page outline titled “SSA Future Ferry Transportation Service Model, a framework for discussion,” to the members.

In Mr. Tiberio’s model, ferry operations to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket would have become part of a larger transportation network in which short-term Island visitors would be pressed to leave their cars on the mainland in favor of fast ferry transportation to the islands. Mr. Tiberio described the service model as an integrated approach that balanced concerns over growth and cars on both islands with a need for the SSA to address rising operating and maintenance costs, aging vessels, and a growing year-round population’s transportation needs. Sound familiar?

Mr. Tiberio’s proposals were designed to shift the transportation focus of the boatline from vehicles to passengers, to make wider use of barging of petroleum products, and to use off-Cape ports, in particular New Bedford, in the reorganized service plan.

Nantucket member Grace Grossman was unwilling to consider change, and skillfully generated vehement opposition to any model that included the port of New Bedford, in the process scuttling any significant discussion of that plan or any other. The political blowback was an irritated legislature’s decision to give New Bedford a seat on the SSA board. File that one under unintended consequences.

Mr. Lamson saw the scalding Mr. Tiberio took. A careful and considerate man, he is focused on running the boatline, not making waves. The only remnant of Mr. Tiberio’s plan is private seasonal New Bedford fast-ferry service: a stepchild if there ever was one, generally ignored by the SSA, not embraced as it should be as part of a wider model.

Instead of trying to claw back a few dollars, or shift costs, the petitioners, and Island officials, ought to be pressing the SSA to hire a competent consultant to take a serious look at its operating model, which now is based on big boats and fare hikes whenever it predicts a budget shortfall. It is time to look decades down the watery road.

Five Corners remains a clogged transportation artery. Is it possible to move the terminal up Beach Road? The Martha’s Vineyard Commission first raised that option, and ought to apply some of its transportation-planning horsepower to another look. The South Coast Rail project would extend service to New Bedford. How would that fit into a transportation model? What will be the cost of the next big boat, and what might be an alternative? It is time for the SSA to undertake a serious and far-reaching look at its service model and how to best accommodate growth, which all trends point to as unavoidable in the future.

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Many Martha’s Vineyard residents experienced sticker shock when they opened their most recent electric bill this month. In December, the cost of electricity for residential customers, measured as the price per kilowatt-hour (kWh), jumped from 8.892 to 15.371 per kWh. That is a whopping 73 percent increase.

For Islanders who rely on electricity to heat their homes, the hike is a budget buster. For example, one Vineyard Haven family that heats with propane saw their electric bill increase from $74.57 to $136.58. A family that relies on electricity for heat saw their bill jump from $327 to $657. Even accounting for a son home from college over the holidays, it was a shock, said the dad.

According to representatives of the Cape Light Compact, a municipal power-buying group made of Cape and Island towns that negotiates for the best price for its residential and commercial customers, the cost of natural gas for the New England region’s electric generating plants is driving the electric price.

Natural gas is now used to generate 56 percent of New England’s power. As the reliance on natural gas has grown, the pipe-delivery infrastructure has not, and In the winter months, when demand for natural gas to heat homes is at its highest, the price rises. This winter’s rates are the highest seen, and analysts say the factors driving price spikes are likely to continue.

In its waning minutes last week, the Patrick administration released a study that provides little reason to think that winter electricity pricing will drop or even remain stable.

According to a report by Bruce Mohl in CommonWealth magazine, the study by Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge said the state is likely to continue experiencing sharp spikes in natural gas prices during the winter months for the next four years, because of insufficient pipeline capacity coming into the region. Peak demand for power will be met by other fuels, primarily oil, according to the Synapse report.

In his inaugural address, Gov. Charlie Baker noted that families and businesses are “being hit with unprecedented increases in their energy and electric bills, at exactly the same time energy prices across the rest of the country are falling.”

Massachusetts residents will have to wait and see if Mr. Baker is able to tackle a problem that has been years in the making and will not disappear soon. In the meantime, outside electricity suppliers see a chance to profit from the spike, and in some cases take advantage of consumers who are understandably mystified.

One of the realities of modern life is the proliferation of utterly incomprehensible bills. Trying to make sense of a cable bill, a phone bill, or an electric bill is enough to give a person a headache that will send him or her to the hospital emergency room — and wait until you see that bill.

As Steve Myrick explains in this edition of The Times, the electric bill is made up of several components. NSTAR bills Islanders for the power it delivers (delivery charges) into their homes. The actual power that turns on the lights and stove (generation charges) is sold like a commodity, and here, unlike the delivery charges, Islanders have a choice — they can buy their power through the Cape Light Compact or find another power supplier. These so-called suppliers, middlemen really, contract with various power generators to dump electricity into the New England pool from which we all draw our power.

Last week, outgoing Attorney General Martha Coakley announced that Just Energy Group Inc., a competitive retail electricity supplier in Massachusetts, had agreed “to pay $4 million to settle allegations of deceptive marketing and sales that promised savings but charged significantly higher rates, entered consumers into agreements without their consent, and charged costly termination fees.”

The AG’s office said that Just Energy, through a third-party telemarketing vendor and door-to-door agents, “engaged in deceptive marketing and sales that misled consumers into signing contracts based on attractive introductory pricing, only to later increase their electricity supply costs.”

According to the settlement press release, “Just Energy sales representatives allegedly failed to disclose complete and accurate pricing information to its customers by promising savings or representing that they could help consumers keep their electricity bills low. Instead, consumers were charged rates that were higher than the rates for the electricity supply provided by NSTAR and National Grid. Just Energy also allegedly induced elderly and non-native-English speaking consumers by continuing to offer electricity supply services even after it became clear that they did not understand the terms of the proposed contract.”

Consumers are increasingly under assault by unscrupulous salespeople well versed in how to take advantage of people who may not fully understand their utility bills. Not every offer rises to the level of a scam; some may offer savings. However, Island consumers are well advised to be cautious, and when in doubt, ask questions and seek advice from someone they trust.

The AG’s consumer hotline number is 617-727-8400. Consumers with questions can also contact the consumer division of the Department of Public Utilities at 877-886-5066.

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Newspapers, including small community newspapers, have a particular duty to observe the deaths of journalists around the world as they do their jobs. The stories that 40, 50, and 60 journalists a year are killed while working on may seem remote, and the publications they work for may seem obscure, but the safety of journalists everywhere to do their work is a universally acknowledged cornerstone of fair and just societies. We make a social contract to protect a free press in order to help preserve our liberty, and we are all weakened when this privilege is assaulted.

So there is an acute anguish attached to watching and reading accounts of the slaughter in France this past week, leaving 17 people dead, beginning with the executions of four satirical cartoonists at the offices of the Paris-based magazine Charlie Hebdo and ending, for now, in a crowded kosher market in a Jewish section of the city.

Charlie Hebdo is a predictable target of outrage, and in fact was the site of a firebomb attack in 2011. Its ’60s and ’70s-era satire was intertwined with the social upheaval of postcolonial, post-World War II France. Defiance of authority and humor at the expense of the powerful were essential if destabilizing steps in French modernization.

Charlie Hebdo is generally beloved, but is also showing its age. Increasingly controversial for drawings and prose meant to provoke and ridicule just about anyone in its sights (and not always the powerful and the pompous) at any cost, its satire increasingly tests the limits to which freedom of expression should be taken. Not all of us would make the same choices that Charlie has made.

But terrorists don’t get to define acceptable speech, and the machine-gun execution of satirical cartoonists, armed only with wit and pen, provides stark testimony to the ascending dissolution of all restraint separating social and religious frustration and anger from slaughter-as-remedy. We need, more than ever, an unencumbered press of all sensibilities, to discover, to illuminate, and most of all to get the story out. We are not “all Charlie,” but we need to all be journalists.

Peter Oberfest is the publisher of The Martha’s Vineyard Times.

Annually, Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard (Hospice MV) presents the Spirit of the Vineyard Award to a person, in its words, “whose work has made a difference to individuals and the community as a whole.”

The most recent award, presented at a well-attended ceremony in the West Tisbury library, honored John Early of West Tisbury for his many years of community service.

Were one to apply the same criterion — work that has made a difference — collectively to an Island organization, the fitting recipient would be Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard. Quietly and with no fanfare, often in the most emotionally challenging times of life that an individual and his or her loved ones will face, Hospice MV is there to provide comfort and support. It may be a reassuring hand to hold through a difficult moment, medication meant to ease pain, or advice for those navigating life’s currents.

The four nurses, two bereavement counselors, and approximately 35 volunteers of Hospice MV provide this support seven days a week, at all hours of the day and night.

Since its inception in 1981, its stated mission has been: “To meet the unique physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all who are facing advanced illness and loss, and to give them hope, comfort and compassion. From the beginning, through the journey.”

That Hospice MV does this for free is a testament to its dedicated staff, led by executive director Terre Young, and the generosity of the Vineyard community, upon which it relies for support. No one is denied succor because he or she does not have insurance or the ability to pay.

In turn, by not relying on insurance, Hospice MV is able to provide care unfettered by insurance requirements, and fills a large gap in the health care delivery system.

End-of-life decisions are difficult. Postponing those decisions, or even not talking about them, can have significant consequences for individuals and family members.

At the invitation of the Island’s various councils on aging, Hospice MV leads a conversation on advanced directives and end-of-life care. “That is part of our outreach to the community, and we are very excited to be part of the conversation,” Ms. Young told The Times.

A 500-page report released in September titled “Dying in America” by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that end-of-life discussions become part of the normal course of health care conversation.

That is not now the case. A national survey in 2013 found that 90 percent of Americans believed it was important to have end-of-life care discussions with their families, yet less than 30 percent had done so.

Key findings in the report include the fact that people nearing the end of life often experience multiple and apparently preventable hospitalizations:

“Of people who indicate end-of-life care preferences, most choose care focused on alleviating pain and suffering. However, because the default mode of hospital treatment is acute care, advance planning and medical orders are needed to ensure that these preferences are honored.”

Incentives under fee-for-service Medicare result in more use of services (hospital days, intensive care, emergency care), more transitions among care settings, and late enrollment in hospice, all of which jeopardize the quality of end-of-life care and add to its costs. In addition, payment silos contribute to fragmentation of care, hinder coordination across providers, and encourage inappropriate utilization.”

The IOM report said, “Efforts are needed to normalize conversations about death and dying. Several social trends suggest that the time is right for a national dialogue on this issue, including health care consumers’
motivation to pursue high-quality care for themselves and their loved ones; a growing willingness to share stories about end-of-life care experiences that resonate across diverse groups; and emerging leadership in local communities as well as national coalitions and collaborations.”

The IOM committee said it “believes a person-centered, family-oriented approach that honors individual preferences and promotes quality of life through the end of life should be a national priority.”

Hospice MV has its priorities in order.

John Early: Vineyard spirit

Intertwined with what you do is who you are. In recognizing John Early’s remarkable array of contributions to our community’s life, extending for more than 40 years — selectman, volunteer fireman and EMT, board member — with the 17th presentation of the Spirit of the Vineyard Award on Dec. 26, Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard celebrated John’s character as well as his service.

As Rich Saltzberg reported last week (Dec. 31, “John Early honored with Spirit of the Vineyard Award”), John’s public contributions have always shown a bias toward getting things done — housing units developed, trails built, land conserved — but never at the expense of careful and thoughtful listening. He has also has been a first responder for 40 years. Watching John discreetly take a call while out to dinner with friends and then slip quietly away to rush to an automobile accident or a fire, knowing the suffering he would have to mediate on behalf of families and friends, was a lesson in community service at its most human and fundamental.

In accepting the 2014 Spirit award, John attributed the long list of challenges he has undertaken to his failure to realize that “no” could be a complete sentence. While that was appropriately self-deprecating, it’s not that John is a pushover; it just isn’t in his nature to turn aside a chance to be useful.

As we bid goodbye to 2014 and anticipate the promise and challenge 2015 holds for Martha’s Vineyard, New Year’s Day provides an opportunity for Island leaders to take stock — if only at halftime — and consider the course they will chart moving forward. For some it will be full speed ahead; for others, a change may be advisable.

Almost one year ago the board of the Vineyard Nursing Association, faced with mounting debts, made the sensible decision in January 2013 to sell the agency to the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNACC), part of Cape Cod Healthcare, a $700 million operation that is the leading health care provider on the Cape.

Ultimately, the deal collapsed. The VNA ended operations on March 11, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod picked up the pieces, insuring stability for a critical component of the Vineyard health care delivery system, one that serves the Island’s overwhelmingly aging population.

The challenge now is how to knit together the network of services that the Island’s aging population will require. The Dukes County Health Council’s Healthy Aging Task Force is grappling with the problem. It will not be easy on an Island with six towns and six of most everything else.

In a year-end essay, part of a collection of essays that appear in this week’s MV Times, Paddy Moore of West Tisbury, co-chairman of the Healthy Aging Task Force, described the dimensions of the challenge. “It is expected that 70 percent of people who reach age 65 will need long-term care at some time in their longer lives, usually for an average of three years,” Ms. Moore said. “This means the Vineyard must strengthen home care services to enable elders to age in their homes, and establish more assisted living facilities, and more nursing home beds.”

Windemere, the Island’s only nursing home, will not be able to meet the need. Ms. Moore said it is time “to explore and develop new models of nursing homes, such as the much-praised Green House model of small cottages with private rooms, private baths, mixed funding, and unusual staffing.”

She is correct. But the task force will be hard-pressed to move forward without significant cooperation from Island agencies and boards. There is an opportunity in 2015 for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which too often is focused on the natural landscape, to direct some of its planning horsepower and $1.4 million budget to the Island’s equally important social landscape.

As we move into 2015 and glance in the rearview mirror, we see the decrepit fixture of the Stop and Shop market in Vineyard Haven. This project was one of Tisbury’s missed opportunities in 2014.

The company wanted to construct a new two-story market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. The company agreed to provide much-needed parking, pay to move a house that no one had paid any attention to but suddenly took on historic importance, and at the request of town officials contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements. The project in its entirety would have transformed a block badly in need of a magic wand.

But in May, after one year of planning, meetings, squabbling, and an excruciating public hearing process that oftentimes resembled a game of “I’m thinking of a number; what is it?” Stop and Shop withdrew its application before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The town and the larger Island community were left with nothing to show for this exercise. In a vague corporate statement, Stop and Shop said it would “remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the Town of Tisbury.”

Tisbury selectmen and planning board members have an opportunity to exercise leadership and extend an invitation to Stop and Shop executives to return to the Island and move forward in partnership in 2015. The status quo is unacceptable.

A far less visible battle took place in 2014, one that will continue to play out in 2015 in federal court in Boston with potentially significant ramifications for the entire Island.

On August 6, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled from the bench that the town of Aquinnah and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association Inc. (AGHCA) may intervene in a lawsuit Governor Deval Patrick filed to block the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from building what the tribe has described as a boutique casino in its unfinished community center on tribal lands.

The central issue and major hurdle in the tribe’s long-running battle to build a casino, either in southeastern Massachusetts or on tribal lands, is the Settlement Agreement, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987, which stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time.

The tribe did not oppose intervention by the town, but did object to intervention by the AGHCA. In his remarks from the bench, Judge Saylor said the only real question was whether the town or the Commonwealth could adequately represent the association’s interests.

Judge Saylor said, “They are both political entities with different interests that may change over time, depending on the interests in part of the elected officials who are the decision-makers.” He noted that the association, by contrast, is made up of private landowners with private economic interests.

And he continued, “To flesh it out a little bit and to look ahead, one of the questions here — it’s not directly raised yet, and it may not be raised — but if the Settlement Agreement is not valid or not enforceable, the question is, what then? As I understand it, private and public property was transferred to the Tribe as consideration for the Settlement Agreement. I don’t know what happens at that point. Maybe things are left where they are. Maybe there’s some issue of unjust enrichment or taking or something. I don’t know. But, in any event, depending on the twists and turns of this case as it develops, it’s possible that private landowners may have a very different interest than the governmental bodies in the future; but certainly at the present, their interests are sufficiently divergent that intervention is appropriate.”

Stay tuned in 2015.

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At a recent Donors Collaborative meeting of nonprofit executive directors, Betty Burton, who runs the Family to Family Holiday Meal Program, told the group that if they wanted to see a great example of collaboration, they should come to the program’s Thanksgiving distribution. It was, she said, an incredible effort by a long list of donors and volunteers that included Island farmers, Island Grown Gleaners, the FARM Institute, Vineyard Committee on Hunger, Reliable Market, Cronigs, Stop and Shop, the First Baptist Church, preschoolers from the First Light Day Care Center, 10 members of the high school football team, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School faculty and students, members of Daybreak Clubhouse, and the financial donations of hundreds of Islanders.

Collaboration is a buzzword in the nonprofit world that elicits varied reactions. Donors and foundations encourage it because they believe it gives their gifts more impact, and they see it as a solution to a glut of nonprofits, many with overlapping missions, which would benefit from merging. Nonprofits can feel threatened by large-scale collaborations or mergers because change can be scary and people’s jobs are at risk. Nevertheless, Vineyard nonprofits have been finding ways to work together, mostly through joint programming and marketing efforts, but donors and foundations are insisting more be done.

So how can we overcome the natural forces that impede the community benefits of larger-scale collaboration? One way is to learn from those who are doing it.

Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone and chairman of the recently formed Arts Martha’s Vineyard, the Island’s arts & cultural collaborative, said she was skeptical about the benefits of collaborating with competing arts and cultural organizations until she attended a meeting several years ago where they were all brought together to discuss how they could address common issues. She has been astonished at the camaraderie and business they’ve developed. Also, they aren’t going to the towns for money but instead are getting state and national grants because they are collaborating. She’s passionate when encouraging others to not be afraid to collaborate. “We have to get the elephant out of the room, focus on what’s good for M.V. and the entire Island,” she said.

Julie Fay, executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, said her organization started two new large-scale collaborations after identifying critical gaps in services for Islanders.

Working with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, they filled a gap in addiction and mental health treatment by establishing an on-Island community crisis stabilization program (CCSP) on the hospital grounds. This will help reduce the number of Vineyarders who have to be sent off-Island for hospitalization for acute distress due to addiction or mental health issues. It will also reduce treatment costs.

Community Services also helped form the Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC) to address the sharp increase in the demand for youth-oriented mental health services on the Island and the lack of resources to handle it. They plan to better coordinate the efforts of Island clinicians and provide specialized training, along with increased outreach and prevention programs for kids and parents. The IWYC is comprised of members from the public schools, the hospital, the YMCA, the M.V. Youth Task Force, and private practitioners. This collaborative effort was impressive enough that it received a larger-than-requested grant from the Tower Foundation: up to $300,000 a year for two years.

Foundation money will continue to drive collaboration on the Vineyard. The recently formed MVYouth plans to invest a remarkable $1 million a year in youth programs and have made it clear collaboration is a key criterion.

The Vineyard also has issues at the other end of the age spectrum, as the bubble of baby boomers reach their golden years, and more and more seasonal residents retire here. The Island will feel this impact much more than the rest of Massachusetts and the country: the 65-plus population of the Vineyard is predicted to grow 134 percent by 2030, while the U.S. elderly population grows only 81 percent and the state 61 percent.

These numbers raise big questions about town budgets for the Councils on Aging and the Center for Living, and about future needs for housing, transportation, assisted living, homecare, and basic health and human services. To address these issues, the Donors Collaborative helped put together the Healthy Aging Task Force (HATF), a group of more than 36 health, human services and municipal organizations that provide services to Island elders, working to address the needs of our growing elder population.

It is clear that to succeed, the HATF will need to develop new models of service delivery and patient-centered care, which will require large-scale collaboration and major changes in the way things are done. Our doctors, the hospital, the VNA, Elder Services, home health care organizations and others will need to work together as a team, sharing information and responsibility for managing individual patient-care plans.

The needs of our growing elder population do not stop at town lines, and the big elder issues of affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure, and workforce development clearly require Island-wide solutions. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission needs to add social services to its planning agenda, and the six towns through the four Councils on Aging and the Center for Living need to have a unified mission and plan for meeting the growing needs of Island elders if they are to improve the efficiency, quality, and quantity of services offered.

So how can we overcome the bureaucratic challenges to changing the status quo that impede large-scale collaboration and regionalization?

Betty Burton also described her Thanksgiving Food program as an “all-Island community affair,” and it is indeed a great example of how the entire Vineyard community comes together to help those in need. Both of our Food Pantries, the Red Stocking Fund, and You’ve Got a Friend are shining examples of this. We do community really well, but need to improve collaboration.

What Julie Fay did, however, is really just the same as what Betty Burton did, but on a larger scale. They both mobilized people, organizations, and resources to help Vineyarders in need, and their focus was on the Vineyarders, not their organizations. Betty used volunteers and small donations while Julie used paid staff and large grants.

Could the solution to improved collaboration be to just think of it as community, but on a larger scale?

Peter Temple is a resident of Aquinnah and the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, an advocacy organization devoted to sustaining the Vineyard by strengthening its nonprofit community.

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GreatPondBluefishIn mid-November of this year, a series of sunny days with light southwest winds moved my partner Ruth Kirchmeier and me to extend the fishing season by going forth for white perch in Tisbury Great Pond’s Town Cove.

In mid-afternoon we paddled our canoe south down the cove from Mill Brook to the mouth of the Tiasquam River (brook) where we anchored. I began spincasting a tiny Hopkins stainless steel jig — its single hook adorned with a small piece of squid — and Ruth got out her pencils and crayons and a sketch pad. A superb woodcut artist, she rarely climbs into a canoe without the tools of the initial phase of her trade.

White perch are one of our favorite food fishes and I had good reason to anticipate success, having caught many of them in the same spot in previous Novembers.

After 20 minutes of casting without a hit my optimism was fading.

A sharp strike startled me and I was startled again when my hooked quarry leapt from the water, something that white perch don’t do.

It was a big snapper — a handsome, gleaming bluefish of about a pound and a half. I caught several more of the same size in the next hour.

Ruth was delighted. She greatly enjoys one of my recipes for cooking snappers of this size. I scale and gut them and make an incision down the lateral line on both sides, brush them thoroughly on both sides with olive oil, season them with salt and pepper and a substantial dusting of garlic-flavored bread crumbs, and bake them for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. It is a good idea to check them with a fork after 10 minutes. If the flesh flakes apart easily, they’ve been cooked long enough.

Tisbury Great Pond is a so-called salt pond, opened to the ocean — typically four times a year — by man. The reasons for these periodic openings include maintaining proper salinity for the pond’s oysters and soft-shelled clams, allowing access by spawning alewives (herring) and spawning American eels in spring, and avoiding the flooding of pond-side fields, marshes, roads, and homes. White perch also enter the pond to spawn, although some members of that species remain in the pond year-round. Low salinity and cold water doesn’t bother them and they can live their entire lives in freshwater ponds, lakes, and streams.

From the Tiasquam River’s outlet south to the ocean, the West Tisbury-Chilmark town line goes down the center of the pond. The pond’s riparian owners — there are about 100 of them — in both towns have formed an organization that is responsible for opening the pond at the proper times. They also annually elect a president, vice-president, clerk, treasurer, and three commissioners. They assess themselves annual dues of $100 each. In recent years, pond openings have cost about $600 each.

In 1839, the Massachusetts Fish and Game Commissioners made formal notice of the ecological need for periodic great (salt) pond openings, and in 1904 the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the riparian owners of all such ponds (save Edgartown Great Pond) in Dukes County to form organizations that would attend to pond openings. The Tisbury Great Pond riparian owners have been doing this for more than a century.

Kent Healy of West Tisbury — a civil engineer who is one of the Tisbury Great Pond riparian group’s commissioners — says that his organization confers with various state agencies about the timing of the openings. As an example of this, Brad Chase of the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries is a frequent visitor to the Vineyard and Tisbury Great Pond.

The day I caught the snappers, the pond was high. It had been last opened in mid-July and had closed a month later. As of December 5, it was still closed. If the health of the pond’s fish and shellfish isn’t being threatened, the pond’s stewards let it fill until it is about 3.5 to 5 feet above sea level.

Snappers enter the pond in early June if it is open. They are usually six to seven inches long at that time, having been spawned offshore in the Atlantic in late spring. In the western Atlantic, bluefish range from Nova Scotia to Argentina. Bluefish can live to be 12 years old. Maximum weight is over 30 pounds, but 20 pounders are unusual. A five-pounder is considered a good fish by Vineyard anglers. The species is found throughout the world in most temperate oceanic waters.

Bluefish reach sexual maturity in their second year. At that time they are from 12 to 18 inches long. A three-year-old female produces from 0.6 to 1.4 million eggs annually.

Large bluefish occasionally enter Tisbury Great Pond, but don’t make a habit of it and rarely range any great distance from the barrier beach. Bluefish are voracious feeders and one of the reasons the snappers enter the pond is to escape predation from other fish, including their parents. Another reason is that ample food for them — including shrimp, crabs, silverside minnow, and young menhaden — is plentiful in salt ponds, bays, and estuaries.

The snapper’s habit of seeking food and shelter in salt ponds sometimes backfires. My son Jeff, his son Sam, and I observed this firsthand a few days after Ruth and I caught our snappers.

During the previous week Jeff and I had been refurbishing our three waterfowling blinds at the outer end of Mill Brook and putting out duck and Canada goose decoys. Because the pond was high, we used an aluminum skiff to get to those blinds. Two or three times an oar dipping into the water produced swirls from fish we judged to be more than a foot long.

We had already noted that the last two downstream pools in the brook were filled with great numbers of menhaden an inch or two long, medium-sized silverside minnows and some half-grown sea robins.

On our return to the landing in our skiff, the light was such that we could see what had caused the swirls: scores of large snapper blues surging up and down the pool. Jeff decided to fish the pool with Sam the following morning which was the opening day of the waterfowling season. (He wanted some snappers for smoking and freezing, and we had already made plans to hunt ducks and Canada geese in that spot the afternoon of the same day.)

A sad and sobering scene greeted my son and grandson when they arrived at the pond.

The bottom of the brook and its shores and the marsh beyond was littered with dead snappers and a much smaller number of sea robins. Gulls, cormorants, black-crowned night herons (locally called “quawks,” my own spelling), eastern turkey vultures, and crows were feasting on them. Most had been eaten by mid-afternoon. I suspect, although we didn’t see one, that otters also took part in the feast.

I should add that we didn’t inspect the remainder of the pond to see if other contingents of the fish had perished. The shallow pond covers about 600 acres when it is low and 800 when it is high. A few days later I learned from Tony Rezendes of West Tisbury that Nick Bayer, who has a home on the pond, had seen dead snappers on the shore in the Tiah’s Cove area.

Whilst duck hunting the east side of the main body of the pond in winter over the past half-century, I had occasionally seen young bluefish breaking water among my decoys, or clusters of them lying frozen on the shore of Tiah’s Cove, but this most recent experience was the only time I had observed schools of them alive one day and dead the next.

I felt that cold water was the major cause of their demise although low salinity would also have been a factor. The air temperature had dropped below freezing on recent nights. Bluefish less than 10 inches long need water temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to survive. Larger bluefish can take a bit more cold. If the pond is open when its waters get too cold for bluefish, they return to the warmer ocean.

The day we found the dead snappers I took the water temperature of the pond at the brook’s mouth. It was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At the same time that day in the ocean offshore of the Vineyard near Nantucket Island, the Nantucket Sound Main Channel 17 Lighted Gong Buoy recorded a surface water temperature of about 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jeff and I assumed that — ignoring the lower salinity they encountered — the snappers and the sea robins had pushed their way into the brook to dine on the silverside minnows and the young menhaden.

Because the snappers we found ranged from 8 inches in length to one that was 18 inches long and weighed 2¼ pounds, we also came to believe that separate young-of-the-year contingents — or even a few from the previous year — had entered the pond.

I have come to think that those responsible for opening the pond to the ocean should include the welfare of bluefish in their endeavors and that all of the salt ponds within the bluefish’s range up and down the Atlantic coast should be similarly regulated. This is a relatively inexpensive way to further protect one of our most valuable food and game fishes.

Nelson Bryant of West Tisbury was for almost 40 years the outdoor columnist for The New York Times. As a young man, he participated in the D-Day invasion with the 82nd Airborne. Later he became managing editor of the Daily Eagle in Claremont, New Hampshire and then a dock builder on the Vineyard, before beginning a career as a columnist that would take him around the world and back again to the Vineyard.

About the artist

Beginning in 1979, Glenn Wolff’s pen-and-ink illustrations accompanied Mr. Bryant’s Outdoors column. The evocative images and attention to detail traced the currents of the written word in a collaboration that delighted New York Times readers for 26 years and was renewed in The MV Times (November 2012, “Writer Nelson Bryant recalls a lifetime in the hunt”). Original fine art, prints, and more information is available at www.glennwolff.com.

Cold weather, gray skies, and rain cannot dim the holiday mood on Martha’s Vineyard this Christmas week. Decorations and lights of all shapes and all levels of grandeur add a festive glow to Island storefronts and houses along the quietest country roads — the Donaroma’s Christmas light display in Edgartown and the Gatchell family house in Oak Bluffs are a treat.

The pleasures of life in a small community during the holiday season were easily seen this week. “How are you? Merry Christmas!” was a common refrain. On the sidewalk, strollers, shopping bags in hand; at the post office, people waiting to mail off presents, or pick up packages; in shops and restaurants, friends embraced friends and exchanged news.

Early Christmas morning across the Island, children — and adults for whom Christmas still kindles childhood delight —  will scramble out of bed to discover what Santa left under the tree. And Santa has been quite busy.

The familiar Santa is a jolly big guy in a red suit who visits one night a year. And then there is the Island Santa. He or she — yes, she — is generally a less flashy dresser, though not necessarily thinner. The hair may be black, brown, red, or nonexistent. That Island Santa, in his or her many forms, has been very busy. Some Santas write checks, some collect them, but all provide a multitude of gifts to the many nonprofits that support our community every day of the year.

For example, one day in November a group of Island Santas rode motorcycles around the Vineyard collecting more than $15,000 in money and toys in support of the Red Stocking Fund. This month a group of Tisbury schoolchildren raised another $3,000 for the same organization.

And throughout the fall, a dedicated group of mostly women collected clothing, food, and toys for needy Vineyard children as they have since the 1930s. Over eight decades, the Red Stocking Fund has brightened Christmas for thousands of Island families. This December, over the course of three days, these Santas and their volunteer elves gathered in the basement of St. Augustine Church to wrap presents that will be found under trees in hundreds of homes on Thursday.

Letters to the Editor regularly speak to the generosity of Islanders. In a letter that appears this week, Margery Pires of West Tisbury, a foster mother, wrote that due to the generosity of the Red Stocking Fund, three young children, ages 5, 8, and 10, will “have a blessed Christmas.”

Also this week, in a Letter to the Editor, Greg Ehrman, a member of the Niantic Park Playground committee, a group of volunteers working to build a playground in the Oak Bluffs park, described a fundraising challenge — $5,000 for a matching donation — that Island Santas easily met.

And in a story published this week, reporter Barry Stringfellow described the energy that motivates the stunning display of Christmas lights Robert Gatchell has been putting up for 33 years at his house on County Road in Oak Bluffs. It is the centerpiece of a collection effort for the Island Food Pantry. In front of his house Mr. Gatchell has placed a large collection box where Island Santas can donate food and/or checks. Last year, Mr. Gatchell said, he collected $1,000 in cash donations and 28 cases of food.

In one week the year will end, and Martha’s Vineyard will enter several months of what can best be described as a period of Island hibernation. There will be no bright displays or cheerful holidays to break the winter gloom as we stay fixed on the prospect of spring.

This week, despite our individual and varied circumstances, we do our best to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, surrounded by all the gaiety and warmth that our small community provides. Merry Christmas to all.

After years of neglect, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has begun to pay attention to the historic Mayhew Chapel and adjacent Indian burial ground on Christiantown Road in West Tisbury. This effort is welcome and long overdue.

For years, the burial ground was lost in a tangle of briars, brush and poison ivy. In recent months, tribal workers have begun clearing brush from around the simple stones that mark the burial sites of the first Native American converts to Christianity.

In a story published this week, Bettina Washington, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) historic preservation officer, told reporter Steve Myrick that once the landscape is clean the tribe will attend to the condition of the Mayhew Chapel, named for Thomas Mayhew Jr., the first minister to Christianize any of the indigenous peoples of New England, beginning in 1643.

Set on less than one acre, the grounds are all that remain of the “one mile square given by Sachem Josias for a praying town for Indian converts to Christianity.” Their descendants constitute the oldest continuously existing community of Christian Native Americans.

Prior to November 1993, when Dukes County and not the tribe owned the building, elder members of the tribe regularly welcomed visitors to the chapel, which also was used for weddings and other events in keeping with the character of the building and its pastoral surroundings.

More than 25 years ago, Wenonah Silva, former president of the Wampanoag tribal council, lectured each summer Sunday on tribal history at the Christiantown chapel. A plaque outside the chapel directed visitors to the burial ground and a nearby wildflower sanctuary.

The chapel now sits sad and forlorn in appearance, its roof and window sills rotting, paint flaking inside and out. Ms. Washington told The Times that the tribe would like to have the chapel open this summer. The long-term goal is to have the chapel open and staffed by tribal members on weekends.

Deeds, not words, are long overdue from a tribe that has often opined about the value of its cultural heritage, yet has allowed this important place to deteriorate.

One year ago November, Tobias Vanderhoop, former tribal administrator, was elected chairman of the approximately 1,200 member tribe. Asked about the condition of the Mayhew Chapel in an interview prior to the election, Mr. Vanderhoop told The Times, “I am embarrassed by it and saddened by it.”

Mr. Vanderhoop said the tribe needed to do better. We agree and we are happy work has begun.

In that same interview, Mr. Vanderhoop commented on the unfinished community center on tribal land in Aquinnah, which outside investors, with the tribe’s blessing but not the state’s, want to turn into a “boutique casino.”

Mr. Vanderhoop said he had heard from many members that the tribe needed a place where young and old can gather. If elected, he said, “One way or another, that building is going to be completed.”

The community center shell was erected in the summers of 2004 and 2005 by Air Force reservists from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. In all, over six weeks, three squadrons of approximately 20 reservists in civil engineering groups worked on the project.

The 6,200-square-foot structure, erected at taxpayer expense, was to include a gymnasium, kitchen facilities, and meeting space. The fact that nine years later the building sits empty and unused is an insult to the citizen soldiers who built it and undermines the respect that this sovereign nation demands and expects.

Tisbury takes a toll

Not surprisingly, as they have for years, Tisbury selectmen Tuesday voted to dun the town’s non-resident property owners and keep in place the residential exemption under which qualified year-round residents get a break on their property tax bills at the expense of their non-resident neighbors.

No other Island town imposes this inherently unfair policy that is in place in only 13 other municipalities in the state.

The underlying logic is that we year-rounders are under some sort of hardship because after all, we have to live on Martha’s Vineyard all year and tend the place until the seasonal swells return. And as we all know, it is expensive to live here.

Of course, it is less expensive than it might be if our seasonal neighbors had to pay for many of the municipal services they do not use, beginning with Tisbury school costs, $9.5 million in 2015. Or decided to be less generous to the many Island nonprofits that they support.

A total of 1,045, or approximately one-third of the town’s 2,906 property owners, benefit from the discount. There is no question that some residents have trouble making ends meet. And that taxes continue to increase for all of us. But pitting voters who benefit from the tax exemption against non-voters who must pay for it, is inherently unfair.

Some towns have senior work-off programs that allows elderly residents to shave their tax bill. There are towns on the Cape that impose a permit fee on weekly rental properties. Tisbury leaders ought to do better for all the town’s residents.