Opinion

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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.

This map prepared 24 years ago labeled "Design Concept for Vineyard Haven Port Redevelopment and Transportation Hub" shows a new terminal on Beach Road and a town park and marina where the present terminal is located.

Having lived for better than 80 years (40 full-time on this Island) I know climate changes. I was here for the blizzard of ’78, and plenty of hot humid days since. And I was also here when the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) began. So I am a little put off by last week’s commentary (“A weighty choice awaits the MVC”) by the directors of 350 Martha’s Vineyard Island (350MVI) that the most important thing for the next director of the MVC to deal with is “climate change/global warming.”

The MVC is a regional organization. Can our Island region change climates? Or cool the earth?

According to Steamship Authority (SSA) traffic reports, we are toting about 1 percent more people to this Island every year — people you can count — not just computer-modeled temperatures. Now that seems to me to be a regional issue. What are we going to do with all those people?

The answer is simple; we will crowd them on to ever smaller lots. But how will we feed them? Not with local farms alone. How will we heat all those houses? Fuel all those cars and pickups and SUVs? The SSA will just have to do it — more boats — bigger boats — more trips per day.

I am sure that Stop & Shop, UPS, and all the other transporters can make bigger trucks, longer trucks, and plenty more of them. The problem is, what will we do with them when they arrive? Will we remove the Vineyard Haven Post Office so a wide curve can be made at Five Corners for the ever-longer trucks (or the articulated truck trains) to make the turn up the hill?

Will we be stuck in ever-longer lines to get up the hill or down Beach Road ourselves, in ever more cars or shuttle buses? Since these turns must be negotiated before we can eat, I think we have come upon a real “regional” issue. It perhaps is not as sexy as climate, but it is a damn sight more realistic an issue for the MVC.

So what is the answer? Move the Steamship terminal, of course. Where? Down Beach Road past Packer’s terminal, where traffic can exit both ways on the straightaway. Will it be easy? Of course not, but compared to slowing climate change it will be a slam dunk. Cost? Have you seen the national budget lately? It’s full of local projects like this.

And once the SSA has vacated that area, Vineyard Haven would have an opportunity to create a charming, income-producing town marina that incorporates eateries and shops along the waterfront, which would draw residents and visitors alike to shop, to stroll, to enjoy the area, while some of the land becomes available for badly needed parking. Is that a natural, or what?

This is not a new idea. Almost 24 years ago the MVC produced a drawing of a design concept of the move by John Schilling Sr., a member of the planning staff at the time who also served on the Tisbury board of selectmen. Will the Commission noodle around for another 24 years talking about changing the climate, while something doable here at home deteriorates further into deleterious fuel-spewing gridlock? Why not prioritize finding a new director who will work with Tisbury’s visioning effort and assist the Commission in worthy work which will win accolades from Islanders and visitors for decades to come?

J.B. Riggs Parker of Chilmark is a former Martha’s Vineyard member of the Steamship Authority, Chilmark selectman and planning board member.

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The founding goal of 350 Martha’s Vineyard Island is to facilitate collaboration to address climate change. We recognize that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) holds a unique position of opportunity and responsibility for how the challenges posed by climate change are handled. Therefore, understanding the unique history and potential of the commission, we regard the search for an executive director as a pivotal milestone in determining the future of our Island.

In this spirit, we offer the following input and urge the selection of an individual who is ready and equipped to lead the MVC with the implementation of its already existing Island Plan to combat the climate changes resulting from global warming.

To quote Oak Bluffs conservation agent Elizabeth Durkee, “Climate change is the most critical issue facing the Island. And, as our regional planning agency, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has a responsibility to aggressively address its short and long-term impacts. Just about every issue facing the commission is affected by climate change.”

We believe this to be an important and accurate assessment. As stated in the MVC’s Island Plan, “It is now clear that the Earth has entered a period of considerable climate change, threatening our coastline, ponds, farmland, wildlife habitats, buildings, and economy.”

As 350MVI, we are also very much aware that destructive, chaotic, climate change is arriving much faster than any of the science has predicted. Virtually every week there are new findings that give more cause for grave concern on an Island in these waters. In the words of David Vallee (Hydrologist-in-Charge at NE National Weather Service, June 2014), “We are a tremendously vulnerable region. Planning is of the utmost importance. It must reflect storm events that will undoubtedly far exceed the damage from Irene and Sandy.”

Before those storms, five years ago, the Island Plan had the foresight to state, “The potential sea rise is much greater for Martha’s Vineyard. The Cape and Islands are among many areas around the world where the earth continues to subside relative to sea level.… It is reasonable to assume that local sea level rise may be significantly higher than worldwide projections, meaning that significant public infrastructure as well as private properties on the Vineyard are at risk and will be inundated at some point.” The document also states, “the Island Plan is both a blueprint and a call to action.”

In our waters, the average rise in the past 100 years stands at about 1 foot, mostly since 1950 and accelerating now. Also, in the five years since the Island Plan was launched the suspected threat to our lucrative shellfish industry and our fisheries is ever more real. Many local scientists, including Scott Doney (WHOI Chair of Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry), have warned of the threat posed by nearly one-third of our extra atmospheric CO2 dissolving in and acidifying our oceans is happening to such an extent that shellfish will no longer be able to form their shells efficiently. To quote Doney, “The process of ocean acidification is well documented in field data, and the rate will accelerate over this century unless future CO2 emissions are curbed dramatically.”

Included in the Island Plan’s overall goals is an intent to “Protect the distinct and diverse character of the Island’s six towns, while forging a stronger regional perspective for dealing with Island-wide issues.” Further, the Plan states, “Achieving greater diversity and balance will make a stronger, more resilient community, economy, and natural environment, better able to withstand whatever surprises come our way, from a global financial crisis to global warming. Resolving apparent conflicts often comes down to making sure we do the right thing in the right place.”

Thus, we feel it imperative that fresh MVC leadership will need to make this coming together an urgent priority — to help nurture our towns, our inter-town and inter-agency relationships, and our local collaborations between year-round, seasonal residents and businesses — and to foster intimate cooperation and communication. Surely, on this island “the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

We consider that a commitment to “do the right thing” as part of a united community is crucial if Martha’s Vineyard has any chance to continue as a viable, thriving place to live.

We recognize that the new executive director for whom we are searching needs the skills and character required to handle all the responsibilities entailed in the work of the MVC — but it is clearly essential that she/he have the knowledge, skills, experience and drive necessary to help navigate a course through the climate crisis that is already crashing in on our beaches, bluffs, coastal infrastructure, estuaries, freshwater supply, marine biology, terrestrial ecosystems and human economy.

We look forward to supporting the MVC’s search for a new executive director in any way we can.

Nicola Blake, Mas Kimball, Chris Riger, Antigone Rosenkranz

350MVI directors

Thomas and Mary Folliard, the recent target of some very unwarranted public mudslinging over their plans to build a two-car garage close by Edgartown’s 177-year-old pagoda tree, told the Edgartown conservation commission and the historic district commission last week that they have shelved plans for a new two-story, two-car carriage house style garage as part of an extensive home restoration project taking place on their quarter-acre South Water Street harborside lot. Instead, according to their architect, Patrick Ahearn, they will build a one-car garage on an existing garage foundation that will not impinge on the tree.

Critics of the original garage plan worried that construction, no matter how carefully orchestrated, might damage the root system of the tree. That stress, they said, might prove fatal to the tree. These were reasonable concerns, but they only emerged following an extensive public process that ended with board approvals of the original plan.

The Edgartown conservation commission held four separate public meetings. No member of the public spoke in opposition to the garage or expressed concern for the tree.

Mr. Ahearn’s design left the root system open to the air. And Mark DiBiase, an arborist, devised a plan to water the tree, provide nutrients, and aerate the compacted soil.

The conservation commission unanimously approved the plan on October 29.

There is nothing in the public record to suggest the Folliards were unwilling to take every precaution to protect the tree. Or had any inkling that the garage plan would stir controversy. They had every reason to think their plan would be beneficial, even appreciated.

David Hawkins, a consulting arborist hired to advise town tree warden Stuart Fuller, reviewed the plan and determined that it would adequately protect the tree. “Both the cultivation/aeration process and the fertilizer application will help improve the soil and the tree’s ability to counteract any negative effects of the construction and encourage root growth in the area,” Mr. Hawkins wrote in his review for the town.

Vineyarders have a long history of coming on board to protest late in the approval process. The Folliards had followed all the rules, survived the approval process, and had every expectation and right to proceed with their plans with no further delays or expense.

News stories, first in the Vineyard Gazette and then The Times generated significant criticism, much of it rooted in emotion rather than botanical science. Edgartown selectmen expressed concern. Online commenters treated the Folliards to lectures on Vineyard taste, aesthetics, manners, class and architecture, and expressed a familiar Vineyard sense of petty resentment toward the wealthy that is absent when the wealthy are being asked to fund community endeavors. The condemnation was unfair and unwarranted.

The wish to construct a grand house on Edgartown harbor is not a new phenomenon. More than a century and a half ago, Thomas Milton of Edgartown took time on one of his worldly voyages to preserve a cutting from a pagoda tree, and carry it back from China in a flower pot to South Water Street where he was building a stately home befitting his status as a successful sea captain.

The Folliards have demonstrated a sense of neighborliness that many of their critics did not.

About that front page photo

Some readers of The Times were unhappy and even offended by the photo of a dead deer on the front page of the issue of December 4.
Each week, The Times staff chooses a front page photo that illustrates life on Martha’s Vineyard. There are many elements that affect that decision-making process, including the quality and strength of the image, photographic elements (framing, color, focus), the news value of the image, and its timeliness. There are basic newspaper rules. People clearly shown must be identified by name in the caption and the photo must not be altered without informing the reader.
The news last week was the shotgun deer hunting season. Hundreds of hunters took to the woods of Martha’s Vineyard. Shots echoed. In a larger context, efforts to control the burgeoning deer herd is part of a public health initiative to reduce tick-borne diseases. State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife biologists staffed a check station in the state forest where they inspected and weighed deer taken during the first week of shotgun season. The information gathered on the health of the Island deer herd factors into future management.
A community newspaper tells and illustrates the community’s stories as clearly and powerfully as possible. The excellent photograph on the front page last week accurately and dramatically captured the reality of the weigh station and the hunting experience.

The year-round community of Martha’s Vineyard is by and large a self-selective one. Most of us have chosen, at some cost and inconvenience, a life a bit removed, a bit more deliberate, a bit less competitive and we believe a bit more nourishing than off-Island living generally allows. We don’t mean to be smug, but we are in fact pretty happy that we can pull it off.

In exchange we give up easy access to the resources that the more densely populated mainland offers. Everything from schools and specialty health care to recreation and cultural institutions and big-scale shopping can be an ordeal to reach. We readily enough make the bargain, though; many of us even embrace the moat-effect the ferries embody, perhaps as a symbol of the modest control over our daily lives we hope for.

We understand that complete control in most things — especially something as complex and dynamic as the cohesiveness of a community — is an illusion. Instead, we’ve arrived at a formula, a series of conventions relying on fundamental mutual respect and generosity among neighbors, as well as on the broad set of similar interests and perspectives we bring with us, to keep community life on the Island within bounds that we can more or less happily live with.

That we prize what we have is made clear because the outside world can intrude with a vengeance. Michael Brown’s killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and its aftermath are a reminder of how complex and disappointing the larger world can be. Quite apart from the pointless death of a young man and the inconsistencies and serial failures on the part of the public officials and police officers responsible in the aftermath, the broader subtext of racism, fear, frustration and anger in Ferguson seems as alien to our lives on the Vineyard as an American community could be.

There are two Fergusons, just as there are dozens of parallel and unequal communities in towns and cities across the country. We can’t bridge the gap without talking about race and crime and fear, but our conversations are stillborn because of the dissimilarities of our realities, what Charles M. Blow, in an Op Ed piece in The New York Times, calls “a canyon of disparity.” As Blow says, we can’t have the conversation until we fill in the canyon.

Because most of us can’t easily relate to Ferguson and because we don’t know how to bring about the changes we wish for, we avert our eyes and move along, disengaged if not untouched. When we look away, though, we put national shame and personal tragedy to waste.

Systemic change is needed, focusing on structure and oversight for local police, on training and education, on transparency and public accountability and, ultimately, on confronting the root causes of racism in America. One can be pardoned for skepticism, though, as we wait for the honest conversation and brave leadership we need; we’ve learned that it’s almost impossible to underestimate the will or the courage of most American politicians and legislators to do the right thing.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard our amity owes much to the great good fortune of largely shared outlooks and a similarity of expectation. Our chasms are small, and more of our own making than not. Our self-interest lies in investing in the structures and enterprises and conversations that sustain a diverse but inclusive community.

Intent on action, President Barack Obama last week bypassed Congress to initiate major changes in how the nation’s immigration laws are administered. Republican reaction to Mr. Obama’s unilateral action, which left even a few Democrats queasy, was immediate and predictably critical, portending months of legislative trench warfare as the president heads into the final two years of his term with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

The effects of Mr. Obama’s “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions,” as they are known, will reverberate across the country and ripple over Martha’s Vineyard, home to hundreds, thousands — there is no accurate way to know — of undocumented immigrants, many, but not all, natives of Brazil.

The White House said the President’s executive actions “crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.”

Of course, the details are what will matter at the local level, where policies meet reality. Just what these changes will mean and how they will affect the daily interactions and relationships that affect our Island community remain uncertain.

Mr. Obama’s new policy allows applications for work authorization and relief from deportation for unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for more than five years and have children that are either citizens or legal residents. The president also expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan, which allows people who entered the country illegally as children to work without fear of deportation.

It is long past time to allow business owners who need hard-working employees and undocumented immigrants who only want to work hard to emerge from the Island’s shadow economy and abide by the same rules as everyone else.

Mr. Obama said the federal government would simultaneously heighten border security and focus on deporting criminals. In the past, under the Secure Communities program, Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCormack shared information including fingerprints of individuals arrested and held at the Dukes County Jail with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Effectively identifying and removing criminals in state and local jails is a critical goal, but it must be done in a way that sustains the community’s trust,” the White House said. The executive order replaces the Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) intended to remove those convicted of criminal offenses.

Whatever the name of the program, repeat drunk drivers, thieves and those guilty of violent crimes ought to be sent packing and not allowed to spend time in the relative comfort, when compared with other facilities, of the Dukes County House of Correction.

Take the case of Jose Matos, also known as Wilson Matos, formerly of Tisbury. The Times reported that at the time of his arraignment in June 2012 on three sexual assault charges in Edgartown District Court (rape of a child by force, indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and assault and battery) he had already been ordered deported.

According to the police report, the child’s parent told police “that Matos is well known in the Brazilian community because in the late 1990s he was arrested for counterfeiting money and jailed for several months before he was deported to Brazil.” The parent said “that Matos then came back into the U.S. via Mexico, and the Brazilian community was well aware that he was back on Martha’s Vineyard as if nothing ever happened.”

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Matos had a Social Security number, a valid Massachusetts driver’s license, and a legally registered vehicle.

If Mr. Obama’s executive order ensures that the likes of Mr. Matos do not return to our community then it will prove its worth.

In a story published October 5, “Martha’s Vineyard welcomes soldier home from Afghanistan,” reporter Janet Hefler described the warm Island welcome home for Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Wender Ramos upon his return from a nine-month tour to Afghanistan as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

He and his sister arrived on Martha’s Vineyard from Brazil in 1994 to join their mother, who moved to the Island a year earlier. He didn’t speak English when he first arrived, but that changed quickly.

He graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1999, attended Bridgewater State College and earned his private pilot’s license. He graduated with a degree in aviation sciences in 2006, and went to work for a company that ran tradeshows.

Pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot and a U.S. citizen, he enlisted in the Army in 2010 and applied for U.S. citizenship. He wanted to become a citizen in the country where he had spent most of his life because, he said, “It just completed living here.”

Whatever emerges from the expected legislative and Constitutional tussle over immigration reform, Wender Ramos offers an example of all that is good about a policy that creates a pathway to citizenship for those who have behaved responsibly.

Many of us capped off an orgy of national election coverage by watching, in solitude or in the company of friends, results trickle and then cascade in to eager newsreaders with dazzling maps and tote boards. Pleased by the actual results we saw or not, one can’t help but be thankful that this expensive, nasty, polarizing sideshow of national and statewide elections has passed for another season. And by contrast, we should all take a moment to thank our lucky stars for the humble, sincere fashion in which local candidacies are carried out.

National mud wrestling

There’s something deeply disturbing about recent national elections where the mood of the voters is most often characterized as anger accompanied by hugely low regard for politicians of all stripes and the political process they control. Daily breathless media coverage sealed the deal: another expensive election cycle of carefully packaged empty calories, much heat, and precious little light.

One might have hoped that collective disenchantment would bring us together — steely-eyed populists in huge numbers, making common cause to take government back from the ideologues and hacks and their cynical moneyed handlers. Instead, we remain pliant and adjust our expectations downward yet again.

These bitterly frustrating campaigns invariably result from the politics of choreographed gridlock — politician- and media-speak for the strategy of cheerfully keeping anything from happening if we don’t get our way. The result is a congressional approval rating of 9 percent, with no plan to do better for the country in sight. Our lack of engagement shows, too. Voter turnout, at around 37 percent, was the worst it’s been since 1942. As a national electorate, we may just be giving up.

Contrary to our self-mythology, this style of American politics is deeply ingrained in our democracy. A recent review by Nicholas Lemann (professor and former Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism) of historian Richard Hofstadter’s 50-year-old book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Columbia Journalism Review, September 2014) helps put our national political spectacle in fascinating historic context.

Whatever one surmises from his title, Hofstadter isn’t proposing that we’re locked in political struggles between smart elites and vulgar commoners; he’s identifying a permanent tension in American democracy between those who see “the continuing process of compromise” as the prize, and those who are “comfortable in the complete self-assurance …of ideologically driven politics” and an insistence on total victory. Those who “shun ultimate showdowns and look upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable” have rarely held sway for very long.

Our political history is one of long periods of strident polarization punctuated by occasional (and grudging) breakthroughs of compromise. As long as we allow it, the politics of ideology and absolute right will trump compromise and leadership every time.

Vineyard dignity

By contrast, consider that contests for Island-wide office on Martha’s Vineyard proceed with a quiet dignity worth celebrating. For the most part we actually experience governance without politics.

Doing the people’s business is of course very labor-intensive, dependent on unpaid, pragmatic volunteers without regard for political prospects to fill positions on several dozen elected and appointed boards and bodies. Given the tasks they take on and the scrutiny they are subject to, it seems miraculous that folks show up to stand for office at all.

Our candidates strike a modest bargain with us: for tasks mostly mundane and often frustrating and conflicting, we neighbors will do our best to find consensus and craft compromise, because these chores need doing and we think we can help. And because we make rules and reach decisions literally in front of one another, we will do our best to remember our commitment to represent the entire community and not narrow ideas.

Performance, of course, matters, and we as a community newspaper — along with lots of interested citizens — assure close critical observation. We can all be thankful, though, because the prevailing modesty of the candidacies and the campaigns we see, and the inclusive and balanced policies and plans we expect, are important measures of a healthy civic culture. We may not always get it right, or get it quickly enough, but we try to favor compromise and inclusivity over simply winning. It’s a happy respite from the larger partisan culture that surrounds us.

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the sailor cursed because he shot a friendly albatross that had brought his crew good luck describes the plight he and his shipmates faced becalmed under the broiling sun on a breathless sea: “Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.”

Future generations of Islanders may not find themselves quite in the predicament of the Ancient Mariner, but there is no question that the decisions Vineyarders make today will help determine the quality of water everywhere — the coastal ponds that provide abundant shellfish, the aquifer that supplies all our drinking water, and the ocean waters that sustain our local fisheries.

In an OpEd published in this week’s issue, “Smart wastewater management needed,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) executive director Mark London pinpoints the problem as nitrogen pollution.

Mr. London writes, “Most of the so-called manageable portion of the excess nitrogen — that is, the part that doesn’t come from air pollution — is caused by wastewater, or to be more specific, urine being flushed down tens of thousands of toilets, getting into the groundwater, and flowing into the ponds.”

It is not a pretty picture, but it is not one we can easily flush away. Mr. London, head of the Island’s regional permitting and planning agency, sketches out the problem and hints at some remedies, all expensive, like new technologies, restrictions on development, possible limits on bedrooms.

Next Thursday, November 20, the MVC will host a presentation by Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, on his agency’s planning efforts to protect the quality of Cape water systems. “This will give us a head start in our discussions about how best to proceed, from extending sewers and using alternative technologies, to regulatory reforms and monitoring,” Mr. London said. “How can we minimize costs, and what are potential sources of financing?”

Mr. London is correct that now is the time to begin grappling with the problem. The MVC deserves credit for taking a leadership role.

The challenge will be how to engage all stakeholders: businesspeople who rely on Island tourism, members of the construction trades, and young people increasingly priced out of a rapidly aging Island need to buy into the process.

There is nothing glamorous about the language of wastewater management. The issue has its aficionados, but for most of us, the terminology is mind-numbing. Taxpayers, who will pay the bills, and voters, who will approve the options, will need to understand the issues.

The history of the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury wastewater treatment plants is instructive. In each case, quicker action and less foot-dragging would have meant lower capital costs in the long run.

The fear that sewering would open the door to unchecked growth and development has also led to some poor decision-making. In Tisbury, in order to appease opposition to a town sewer system from some community members, the town built a smaller version with a limited capacity to handle only a certain number of downtown properties, so that it would be “growth-neutral.”

Choking growth is not practical and it is not a solution. Many in Tisbury now think it was a mistake not to build more capacity into its system as the town looks for ways to reduce nitrogen loading into Tashmoo and the Lagoon. Oak Bluffs is also faced with too little capacity for too big a problem.

In his introduction to the 21-page executive summary of the The Cape Cod Commission’s updated Water Quality Plan, Mr. Niedzwiecki wrote, “But as one community we are at the crossroads of our environment and our economy. The cost of doing nothing is economically devastating to every Cape homeowner. The window is closing on our opportunity to solve this problem on our terms, sensitive to the diverse villages and neighborhoods that populate this peninsula.”

Next Thursday, Islanders and town leaders have an opportunity to hear how their Cape neighbors are approaching the problem of protecting water quality.

Strike three

Last week, yet again, a Superior Court judge told the Dukes County commissioners they are wrong. Is the third time the charm? We will see, but there is little reason to be optimistic that they will stop doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.

In 2005, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Bohn ruled that the legislation establishing the airport commission trumped the county charter, and the airport commission alone is empowered to expend its own funds to pay salaries.

In August, Associate Justice Richard J. Chin said the county could not place the county manager on the airport commission as a non-voting member. He also told the county treasurer to pay the airport bills and not to meddle in airport affairs.

Last week, Judge Chin told the county commissioners they could not increase the size of the airport commission from seven to nine members. In each case, Judge Chin issued temporary restraining orders but told the county that while they were free to proceed to trial they would most likely lose.

The county wants to mediate. Mediate what?