Editorial

Years ago, after more than a decade of debate and dithering, and under pressure from the state, Tisbury constructed a purposely hobbled wastewater treatment plant. The thought was that constructing a limited system would check growth.

It was wishful thinking, akin to thinking one could stave off an expanding waistline by purchasing the same size pants year after year.

The plant was constructed to primarily serve the downtown commercial area and waterfront district, which includes the building that houses The Times. A limit on the number of users meant that any increase in the cost to operate the plant would not be offset by new customers hooking into the system.

To the extent that building a smaller system insured businesses would find it more costly to operate in Tisbury, the plan to check development worked just fine, if the goal was to maintain a generally stagnant waterfront and downtown district.

This week, Janet Hefler reports on the challenges rising system costs — fees have increased 95 percent in two years — pose to two year-round anchor businesses and to the Dukes County Housing Authority, to name just a few of the users impacted.

The Mansion House hotel will see its sewer bill increase by more than $50,000, said Joshua Goldstein, a manager in his family’s business.

Mr. Goldstein told voters at town meeting last week the town could not continue to thrive under the weight of continuing increases.

J.B. Blau, an astute restaurateur who owns and operates the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. and Sharky’s restaurants in Oak Bluffs and Sharky’s in Edgartown, and who leases space in the Mansion House, where he operates the popular Copper Wok restaurant, one of Main Street’s only year-round restaurants, said he pays two to three times more for sewer services in Tisbury than in the other two Island towns. Mr. Blau said he would consider leaving the town when his lease expires.

In each case, these are year-round businesses that provide jobs and benefits for Island residents, and generate tax revenue for the town. Of equal concern, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority Executive Director David Vigneault said the proposed increase would double his sewer bill for four apartments on Lagoon Pond. Those costs would need to be subsidized by other properties.

In a recent discussion in the offices of The Times, Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, and its board president Richard Leonard, highlighted the continuing pressure infrastructure costs add to the costs of developing affordable housing. Density is one key to lowering construction costs in order to generate needed rental stock, but that must be balanced by environmental considerations, they said, in particular wastewater. Cost-effective sewering is part of the solution.

At the behest of Tisbury selectmen, who said more planning was needed, voters at town meeting turned down a request to extend the sewer system to the Vineyard Haven library and a boat pump-out facility at Owen Park.

Plans are also on the drawing boards to expand the capacity of the wastewater plant to help reduce nitrogen loading in Tashmoo Pond by extending sewering to the B-2 business district, which includes the State Road corridor up to Cronig’s.

The decision to build what former finance committee chairman George Balco described as “the smallest, most expensive system we could make” was a mistake. It is time for Tisbury officials to muster the energy and political will to rectify it.

Saturday afternoon, the members of the Vineyard Classic Brass Band assembled in a corner of the rustically elegant Martha’s Vineyard Rod and Gun Club, overlooking Sengekontacket Pond in Edgartown.

They were there on a warm, beautiful, sunny day to celebrate the life of Ladislav “Ladi” Navratil of Edgartown, a native of the Czech Republic who died Feb. 14 at the age of 36 of a rapidly-progressing illness.

It was a quintessentially eclectic Vineyard gathering that reflected the strengths of our community. Islanders of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities, assembled in a clubhouse rooted in the Vineyard’s hunting and fishing traditions, to say goodbye to a man born thousands of miles away who arrived on these shores and made the Vineyard his home.

Members of the West Tisbury Congregational Church, where Ladi sang in the choir, stood in the middle of the room under the frozen gaze of a deer, a moose, and a striped bass, among other creatures, and sang “Let the Life I’ve Lived Speak for Me,” an American spiritual by Joe Carter.

Friend and co-worker Stephen Hart played two original compositions, one on Native American flute and another on guitar.

Saskia and David Vanderhoop, salsa dance instructors, took to the floor with members of their dance group, not to entertain, Ms. Vanderhoop explained, but to dance in honor of Ladi, one of their group.

The formalities began that afternoon with a performance by the brass band of which trumpet player Ladi was a member.

Edson Rogers of Edgartown, Island trumpet player for all occasions, announced that the first song would be our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The second would be the national anthem of the Czech republic, “Kde domov můj?” — in English, “Where is my home?”

“Kde domov můj?” is not on the play sheet of the Vineyard brass band.

Frank Dunkl of Chilmark, bandleader, found the music and organized rehearsals. “We thought it was appropriate,” Edson Rogers said when asked about the choice of music. He added, “It is the best you could possibly do. Music is the universal language.”

The Czech nationals in the room sang along. There were some tears.

A Christian hymn, Native American flute, Latin beats, a stuffed moose head, and “Kde domov můj?” … much is made of the Vineyard’s natural beauty and attractions. It is in the quiet corners of Vineyard life where we so often understand the strengths of our community. When death knits us together.

 

Community Chorus, community gift

The generosity of year-round and seasonal Islanders comes in many forms. We take care of our friends and neighbors when they are ill, we rally around when they grieve, and we write checks and volunteer countless hours to support the rich assortment of human, civic, and cultural services underpinning life on Martha’s Vineyard.

A clarion reminder of the latter occurred this past weekend at the resplendent Old Whaling Church. Glowing with sunlight and bedecked by Margot Datz’s remarkable trompe l’oeil paintings, the Old Whaling Church is itself a tribute to generous giving and the wise stewardship of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The Edgartown landmark passed from beautiful to transcendent this past weekend, though, as it provided a stage for the 90 voices (plus, for their spring concert, a string quartet and a tenor saxophone) of Island Community Chorus.

Imagine the precision an ambitious choral performance requires, and you’ll get an idea of the rigor and dedication music director Peter Boak and pianist L. Garrett Brown share with chorus members in order to make such wondrous sounds. Now in their 19th season, the chorus’ dedicated and talented Vineyarders volunteer countless hours learning and rehearsing and joyously performing rich, complex, and inspiring programs three times each year. The music, the setting, and the time and money needed to enrich Island life are a very great community gift.

We can all agree that the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living and the Supportive Day Program are excellent programs. The staff members are caring, giving people who work quite hard. No question about it.

The Center for Living serves frail and elderly Island residents, including those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, in a supportive day program, and provides other social services. The center currently uses borrowed space at the Edgartown and Tisbury Council on Aging buildings, and has been searching unsuccessfully for a new home large enough to serve all the people who need services.

Island demographics, we are told, point to an aging Island, one that will require more services. Advocates for the elderly are right to push us to address future needs now.

None of that should preclude a thoughtful examination of the county-engineered request to purchase the former Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) building in Tisbury off State Road at a price of up to $1.6 million to provide a permanent home for the Center for Living.

Questioning that deal, and even rejecting it, as the finance committees in Oak Bluffs, West Tisbury, and Tisbury did, does not mean the members of those committees have no understanding or appreciation for the program, or its importance.

Edgartown National Bank took the property in lieu of foreclosure at a listed sale price of $1,155,000, after the VNA ceased operations in March of 2014. The building purchase would be financed by a bond issued by Dukes County. The six Island towns would be solely responsible for the purchase price, interest on the loan over a term up to 30 years, and future maintenance.

Under the county formula outlined in a PowerPoint presentation, Edgartown taxpayers would pick up the lion’s share. The low estimate is $493,120, followed by Oak Bluffs ($335,360), Tisbury ($301,600), West Tisbury ($240,480), Chilmark ($177,440), and Aquinnah ($52,000).

The county says it would rent out excess space in the building at fair rental value and use that income to reduce the maintenance cost of the building, but it reserves the right, with the approval of the County Advisory Board, to make space available for less than fair value, or rent-free, “for use by a department, board or committee of the county or of one of the towns, or by a non-profit corporation.” There is no information on who those prospective tenants might be.

County taxpayers currently shell out a total of $491,739 in the form of the county assessment. That is money that comes right off the top and is not subject to a town meeting vote. In FY 15, Edgartown taxpayers shelled out $179,389, followed by Chilmark ($82,491), Oak Bluffs ($69,844), Tisbury ($69,414), West Tisbury ($64,577), Aquinnah ($19,076), and Gosnold ($6,944).

County taxpayers have every reason to question what they get for that money.

In the run-up to annual town meetings, we rely on the members of town finance committees to spend time examining the details of municipal spending plans. Those details may be overlooked by voters who haven’t the time, inclination, or understanding to dig down into the nuances of where their hard-earned tax dollars disappear. It is no easy thing in a small community to say no, when it is so much easier to say yes to a raise for employees, a new vehicle, another hire, or a program that all acknowledge does much good.

We count on our town finance committee to make the tough calls and provide an explanation of how they arrived at their decisions. The final spending decision rests with the voters. Very few, as it turns out.

In 2014, voter turnout ranged from 5.7 percent in Tisbury to 19 percent in Chilmark. For example, in Oak Bluffs, 282 voters out of an electorate of 3,655 spent $25.7 million. In Edgartown, 190 voters out of a total of 3,262 spent $30.6 million.

Next week, likely a small percentage of all registered voters in four of the six Island towns will attend annual town meetings and collectively spend more than $100 million to run town governments and fund municipal services in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1. Much of the money will not even belong to them. It will be tax dollars chipped in by seasonal property owners, whom we voters expect to support our schools and other services for which our seasonal friends have no need — and subsidize our discounted ferry rates too while they are at it.

In that regard Vineyard residents are luckier than most in communities that rely solely on property taxes. We can spend knowing others must help pick up the tab.

Vote no in Oak Bluffs

Last week, The Times published a Letter to the Editor undersigned by 17 Island physicians and dentists, in which these respected members of our community urged Oak Bluffs voters to continue to keep the town water supply fluoridated and vote no to the ballot question: “Should the Town of Oak Bluffs cease adding fluoride to the drinking water?”

Voters should follow the advice of those they entrust to keep them healthy.

In Tisbury, vote yes on Article 7

As this page argued following the failures in communication and execution in the aftermath of the late-January blizzard (Feb. 18, “Blizzards and town government”), Tisbury selectmen are inexplicably unaccountable for the town Department of Public Works (DPW) and its performance. Supported unanimously by the town’s Finance and Advisory Committee, a yes vote on Article 7 would replace the current elected DPW board with an advisory one appointed by the selectmen, and would make DPW’s operations and personnel the direct responsibility of town management.

As if this winter hasn’t been dulling enough, here’s a dark suggestion for a conversation starter to try out at your next community gathering: Ask your fellow revelers if they can explain the interests and conflicts involved in the decades-old airport/county commission fracas, and then ask this follow-up question — Why should we citizens really care? It’s unlikely you’ll get answers beyond “Beats me,” but this is a costly and avoidable political fiasco of our own making.

The airport drama was probably foreordained when the federal government gifted Dukes County with the Island’s wartime Naval Air Training Station. The county’s government has floundered over the years, and has little to do and a track record of indifferent performance. More than half of the counties in Massachusetts have given up a government function altogether, and Dukes is the only county in the state to own an airport.

The Times has published more than a dozen articles centered on airport commission/county litigation in just the past 15 months, most recently last week (“State aviation official scalds Dukes County commissioners”), chronicling the struggle for political control between the county commission and its quasi-autonomous airport commission, along with occasional instances of personnel strife and expensive management salary negotiations. To be sure, nothing productive comes of the squabble.

A competent airport matters greatly to us. It’s every bit as much a lifeline as is the ferry, if with smaller numbers. Islanders needing access to specialized health care services, time-sensitive cargo, general aviation traffic, and almost 60,000 commercial passengers a year pass through the airport. Importantly, if less visibly, our business park is operated by the airport commission. Given how little commercial space is available on the Island, available supply there is every bit as important to development as is the capacity of the airport to support — or not — additional visitor traffic.

Having the airport we want and the accountability we require should be simple. Our goal is to have a safe and properly functioning air-travel facility serving the needs of Islanders and visitors. It should achieve efficient and cost-effective operations; fair dealings with employees, business park tenants, and customers; responsiveness to the needs and wants of our community of year-round and seasonal residents and business owners; informed consideration of future requirements; and conformance to federal and state regulations and requirements (airports are heavily regulated and part of larger transportation systems). And to support oversight on our behalf, we want transparency in decision-making and clear public accountability.

These seem modest enough objectives, and shouldn’t be hard to achieve. After all, the basics of airport management are well understood: There are about 14,000 airports in the U.S., and more than 200 in Massachusetts, and there is a professional trade and accreditation association with about 5,000 airport executive members. For most of us, this appears pretty straightforward, and operating a successful airport along with our only business park on its 600-plus acres would seem to require diligence and trustworthiness but not extraordinary gifts.

The governance structure we need to support our airport objectives is familiar and should work well, as long as the basic components — specialized knowledge of airport operations on one hand and necessary public accountability on the other — are in reasonable balance. We are the owners, but we understand that we need to delegate the representation of our interests to a smaller group with specialized knowledge and a bent for selfless public service. So we establish committees or boards, and set them to work for us, and we keep a watchful eye out. It’s how we achieve effective policing and fire and EMT services, and it’s how we successfully operate schools.

In the airport’s case, though, the principals charged with this task are an outdated, functionally unnecessary county government clinging to political life, an airport commission with a significant portfolio of operational and real estate responsibilities but with an accountability chasm owing to county government’s dysfunction, and a faceless bureaucratic state agency with regulatory jurisdiction but no local political accountability. Given these players, a thoughtful, functional approach to airport management and governance is not in the cards.

At the heart of the endless squabble is the highly ambiguous nature of airport control. To county government it’s a project and a revenue stream to latch onto; to state bureaucrats it’s a highly regulated small cog which must fit within a much larger air-system wheel; to the airport commission it’s a specialized oversight board accountable to the state for technical performance while meeting with the public on its own terms. In the end, the state gets what it needs, the county commissioners get nothing but legal bills and further marginalization, the airport commission gets to operate as a management fiefdom free of meaningful local oversight, and we the people get the residue, simply hoping that nothing bad happens.

Since an acceptable solution won’t come from the status quo, how do we get out of this bind? Ultimately, by taking the county commissioners out of the equation. They won’t go quietly, of course, and the state can’t easily help. And the opportunity to reconsider the fate of county government altogether isn’t on the horizon.

Our best recourse lies, as it usually does, with the political power we have at hand: continued pressure from the towns to proscribe county government activities and expenses, a concerted effort at town and community participation in airport commission meetings to keep airport business visible, and support for county commission candidates committed to ending the county’s airport fantasy. Vain, wasteful, and ineffective governance isn’t a biblical affliction, it’s a choice; we get what we deserve.

Spring weather will eventually arrive. The river herring will too, although in numbers greatly diminished from the 19th century, when Islanders eagerly looked forward to an annual harvest from one of several runs that provided the fish with a path to the freshwaters of their birth.

The remarkable return of these fish in the face of a precipitous decline is a testament to the sense of guardianship Vineyarders have demonstrated over the years for the Island’s few remaining runs.

In a story published May 12, 2005, Jo-Ann Taylor, coastal planner for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, described the herring run that once existed at Tashmoo, and is now a faint shadow of the past.

Ms. Taylor wrote the Wampanoags called the outlet of Lake Tashmoo “Ashappaquonsett,” meaning “where the nets are spread.” It was clearly an important fishing area for the indigenous people. The Europeans shortened the name to “Chappaquonsett,” and apparently took up their nets with much the same enthusiasm. One early report is of some 155 fishing shacks on the beach, with the occupants employed in the seining of herring.

Just how important the herring was in the lives of early Vineyarders is revealed in a letter written in 1842 that was addressed to Dr. Brown and signed by Seth Daggett, which contained a poem that begins, “To Chappaquonsett’s bounteous stream what praises shall we give, when we reflect how many does by its resources live.”

The poem, which may have been written by an earlier Daggett family member, is appreciative of the arrival of the herring at a time when most larders were empty, “when beef and pork is entirely gone and people have no butter.”

The poem, available at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, contains a description of an idyllic scene of fisher folk gathering to harvest herring, and the tensions that soon arose over individual claims.

“Then off each setts with pole and netts and baskets filled with pine, then to the creek each takes his stand, some Tories and some Whigs, each one declares he will see them d—-d before he will lose his digs. Then some they fight with pole and stick, and some by throwing stones, the old men gets thrown in the creek, and boys gitts broken bones …”

The poem, Ms. Taylor said, describes the intensity of the fishing effort, even on Sunday when many Vineyarders were in church, by men identified as Joe Harvey and Joe Norton. It ends, “Now of those two it’s hard to know which of them is the keenest, but neighbors say that warden Joe most surely is the meanest.”

Vineyarders still jealously guard their fishing rights, and they compose poems, though few provide such keen observations on day-to-day Island life.

A modern-day poet extolling the virtues of herring would find no meanness and much good in the efforts of West Tisbury herring warden Johnny Hoy and civil engineer and Tisbury Great Pond steward Kent Healy. They, along with the two other pond stewards, determine the timing for the opening in the barrier beach, and take a great interest in insuring that the herring born in the upper reaches of the Great Pond can return, after several years in the ocean, to spawn.

Last year, Mr. Hoy and Mr. Healy were instrumental in the installation of a new fish ladder, designed to provide a route for returning fish over the archaic Mill Pond dam, a no longer useful barrier that has created an attractive mud puddle out of a free-flowing stream that was once capable of supporting herring, white perch, native brook trout, and American eels.

Two species of fish in coastal Massachusetts are collectively referred to as river herring. They are the alewife, which spawns from late March to mid-May, and the blueback herring, which spawns from late April to June.

Herring numbers have declined precipitously along the New England coast. The reasons include overfishing, environmental degradation — that would include dams — and the loss of natural runs.

The diminishing numbers of returning herring, even by modern standards, prompted state fisheries managers in 2006 to prohibit the possession or sale of herring, effectively closing all herring runs in the state. That closure has remained in effect despite some recent modest rebounds noted at some of the state’s larger runs.

A critical manmade element in the entire natural equation that governs Tisbury Great Pond is the timing of the opening in the beach that separates the pond from the Atlantic and the duration of the opening. A backhoe is no match for Mother Nature.

In 2014, spring storms closed the opening soon after it was cut, and the herring had no free passage until May.

Each year, pond stewards contend with a variety of competing interests and environmental regulations — property owners and shellfishermen all take a keen interest in pond levels and openings — but their paramount focus is on the natural environment and the herring.

“I’m watchin’ it,” Kent Healy said, when asked about the arrival of the herring.

We and the herring are in good hands.

 

Oak Bluffs political and business leaders have been hard at work developing plans and strategies to reinvigorate their town, and improve on the qualities and attractions that make the downtown district popular with visitors and Island residents.

There is much to like about Oak Bluffs. It has a lively and inviting harbor; public beaches a short walk from town; Ocean Park and its picturesque bandstand; and the ready availability of a slice of pizza or ice cream cone, which makes the perfect accompaniment for an evening stroll up Circuit Avenue for some people-watching — and there is always plenty to watch.

Last summer the Oak Bluffs Downtown Streetscape Master Plan Committee surveyed visitors, seasonal residents, and Islanders to help identify the town’s strengths and weaknesses. A report by consultants from Horsley Witten Group, presented in September to the public, identified a number of areas of concern. Among other topics, parking was high on the list.

It is not a concern unique to Oak Bluffs. Edgartown, Vineyard Haven, and Chilmark have all sought answers to the problem of too many drivers vying for a limited number of parking spaces. There is no perfect solution, and each town has its unique set of challenges.

Edgartown and Tisbury established park and ride lots to help siphon off local employees, and in the case of Vineyard Haven, provide parking for long- and short-term ferry travelers. Chilmark continues to wrestle with sunset gridlock that begins in the late afternoon. An underutilized shuttle service has not made a dent in the nonstop rotation of vehicles through Menemsha.

Oak Bluffs has proposed the creation of a park and ride lot on land already owned by the town at the corner of Pacific Avenue and School Street, behind the Catholic Parish Hall and adjacent to the town hall and library. The proposed park and ride route would run between that lot and Ocean Park downtown.

Last month, under pressure to meet Vineyard Transit Authority schedule printing schedules, selectmen moved quickly to put the plan into effect. Too many details were left unresolved. Most important among these: addressing the concerns of neighbors who understandably do not want to have their peace and tranquility affected by vehicles coming and going late into the night.

The goal is laudable. The challenge is to find the right formula, one that balances and assuages all concerns. Employers need to be on board so they will encourage employees, perhaps with incentives, to park in the lot.

Employees need to be able to count on regular and predictable shuttle service. Neighbors need to know what to expect and be assured that problems will be readily addressed.

Last week, selectmen discussed the need to form a committee of all stakeholders. They were right to tap the brakes. A poorly thought-out park and ride that results in empty buses traveling back and forth from an underused lot is no solution to the Circuit Avenue crawl of cars.

On a separate but related topic, in place of a decrepit building this summer, Oak Bluffs will boast a new bowling alley and sports bar/restaurant that will bring jobs and entertainment to upper Circuit Avenue. The developers have asked to be allowed to hook into the town’s sewer system, and offered to pay to run a sewer line from Circuit Avenue to their building.

The bowling alley is not on a street approved for sewer hookups. Wastewater commissioners have pointed to the current limited plant capacity and planned future expansion. They have expressed concern about reserving capacity for homes and businesses that have a right to hook up and setting precedents.

Those issues will always be present. The three-member wastewater commission has the authority to issue a special permit to allow the hookup and benefit a new year-round business that would help bear a share of the wastewater system cost. The alternative is an advanced and costly septic system designed to reduce nitrogen, the original proposal presented to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

For any number of reasons there are those who would be happy to inflict every bit of pain on this project, and co-developers Sam Dunn and Robert Sawyer, before the first ball rolls down the alley. It is one of the Island’s quainter customs.

Putting personalities and old grievances aside, the question the wastewater commissioners and town leaders ought to answer is would it be better for the town and the environment to dump the bowling alley wastewater into the ground at the top of Circuit Avenue or into a pipe and a system designed for just that purpose.

Martha’s Vineyard residents and visitors benefit from a number of private, nonprofit organizations. Most rely on a dedicated core of volunteers who are willing to do the heavy lifting, and they derive the majority of their financial support from a small percentage of Island seasonal and year-round residents, but promote missions that benefit all who live and visit here.

The more public organizations readily spring to mind. Walking trails, open vistas, fishing derbies, and sporting events organized to support a good cause are tangible enjoyments with which we can all identify. A series of lawsuits in state and federal courts? Not so much.

But make no mistake. The decades-long, and costly, legal battle the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association (AGHCA) has waged to force the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head to adhere to the terms of the settlement agreement it signed is of vital interest to all Island residents, because it ensures that zoning restrictions agreed to by town voters may be enforced on tribal lands.

Since its founding in 1973, the Gay Head Taxpayers Association, later renamed, has repeatedly gone to court to protect the terms of the 1983 settlement agreement between the town, the state, the tribe, and the nonresident taxpayers of what was then Gay Head. That agreement helped untangle land claims that had tied real estate transactions in the town in a knot.

Ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987, the Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1987, which all parties signed, provides that the settlement lands “shall be subject to all federal, state, and local laws, including town zoning laws, state and federal conservation laws and the regulations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).”

Individuals may chafe from time to time over zoning restrictions. This page has from time to time criticized the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for declaring a project a development of regional impact when the regional impact is hard to discern. But it is those zoning regulations, formulated over time and approved on town meeting floors, that Island citizens have relied on to preserve the quality and character of Martha’s Vineyard.

Absent the settlement agreement, the tribe would be free to develop its lands as it sees fit. The tribe has argued that its own land-use regulations mirror those of the town of Aquinnah, and are every bit as stringent. It is a claim that is hard to reconcile with two successive votes by the tribal membership to turn an unused community center erected with taxpayer funds into a boutique casino. All Islanders have a stake in the AGHCA fight, and the AGHCA ought to be able to count on their support.

The AGHCA won a significant victory last month. In a decision dated Feb. 27, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV said that the tribe remains bound by the terms of the settlement agreement, and knowingly waived its sovereign immunity with respect to tribal lands.

The context was a lawsuit filed in December 2013 by Governor Deval Patrick to block the tribe from moving forward with a gaming facility on Martha’s Vineyard. The Patrick administration argued that the tribe forfeited its right to tribal gaming on the Island when it signed the settlement act.

The question still to be answered is whether the the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) signed in 1988 trumps the settlement act. That answer is likely years and many more legal bills down the road. But one may infer from Judge Saylor’s decision that irrespective of whether the tribe is allowed to go into the gambling business — a gamble at best — it will still be required to abide by local zoning regulations.

The Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, Inc. was not formed solely to engage in legal fights. Over the years it has generously supported a number of activities, including those of the tribe, and most recently has lent considerable support to the effort to move the Gay Head Lighthouse back from the brink of destruction.

Ideally, tribal leaders would honor an agreement signed in good faith and upheld by state and federal judges, and the AGHCA could begin to devote the group’s energy and money to community endeavors and not lawsuits.

If thoughtful Islanders are asked to identify critical community problems and challenges, the shortage of affordable housing for all of our year-round community will likely rank at the top of the list. It’s hard to imagine a supportable argument that shelter for the families and individuals who live and work here is somehow optional.

Barry Stringfellow’s recent report (Feb. 19, “Martha’s Vineyard housing shortage reaches critical mass”) is the first installment in a multipart series about this complex and frustrating challenge, and the hard choices and decisions we’ll need to make if we want to be a healthy and inclusive community.

The facts and statistics of our affordable-housing failure are stark: “virtually nonexistent” year-round market-rate leases, according to Dukes County Regional Housing Authority (DCRHA) Executive Director David Vigneault; 235 individuals and families on a waiting list for year-round housing and rental assistance (against an inventory of 79 units and little turnover); estimates from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s (MVC) 2013 housing-needs assessment that more than 2,200 Island households, about 30 percent of Islanders, may meet income qualifications for assistance; waiting lists of 12 to 14 years for federal Section 8 funds; and effects in all quarters of the Island, extending to teachers and young professionals as well as seasonal and underemployed workers and their families. With Martha’s Vineyard house prices exceeding what an Island family with the median household income can afford by more than $200,000 (second only to Nantucket among Massachusetts counties), conventional home ownership seems an unlikely remedy.

Attention to our severe affordable-housing shortage is longstanding, going back at least to the 2001 assessment done under MVC auspices. Since that report was published, many Islanders have labored long and hard to provide buffers against market forces and community-lifestyle preferences. The DCRHA, the Island Housing Trust, the now-inactive Martha’s Vineyard Housing Fund, the six Island towns, and the MVC have all contributed to a range of program efforts, and the tangible results — such as DCRHA’s managed rental units and Morgan Woods — are bright spots in a grim picture.

Yet we remain seemingly as far behind as always: terribly urgent and moving individual stories, impossibly long waiting lists, well-intended and passionate public and private agencies and organizations strapped for funds and for land, and the notable absence of consensus on how to climb out of the hole we’re in.

At its heart, our affordable-housing problem isn’t about greed or indifference; it’s the natural result of multiple market forces inexorably playing out, in our case pummeling hundreds or more of our neighbors who are unable to compete for high-priced housing. Inescapably, Martha’s Vineyard’s shortage of affordable housing is the result of a distorted and flawed market that fails our community.

The laws of supply and demand apply here, of course, but our supply of homes for sale or rent is limited (and apartments are almost nonexistent), and the pace of demand is set by vacation and second-home buyers. And nonresident homeowners, understandably taking advantage of the very high seasonal rents they can command, don’t put their properties into the year-round rental pool at all. In the face of severe supply constraints, nonresident demand easily pushes market prices beyond the means of many of our neighbors.

In the mists of the past — through the 1990s, before the new gilded age began to land on Vineyard shores — local and off-Island demand for resources like housing coexisted well enough. Stories of yurts, tepees, and school buses providing summer accommodations for locals just seemed to add to our safe bohemian charm.

While demand and prices rose with accelerating impact on our affordable-housing supply over the recent decade or two, we zealously continued to limit the Island’s supply of housing through low-density zoning, and, however unintentionally, through aggressive conservation efforts. We fretted about too many housing starts, and experimented with moratoriums. We worried over defining mansions. We preserved the style and undeniable attraction of rural vistas and small villages (and thus added to our draw for suburban and urban refugees), but failed to connect the dots to see the unintended effect our aesthetic preferences would have on the affordable-housing supply we need.

To be clear, the problem doesn’t stem from the values we favor about views and lifestyle; it stems from failing to expand on those values to reflect their ultimate social cost — our inability to simultaneously maintain housing alternatives for folks who live and work here. We can’t punt on the harder work: zoning and development policies to encourage the affordable-housing supply we need.

Scale and values matter, of course, and communities around the world arrive at their own calculus. New approaches here — selective high-density zoning, developer incentives for building market-rate and subsidized units, a reversal in thinking about secondary dwellings on home lots (including relaxed zoning and homeowner incentives), assured ongoing town support, so-called millionaire taxes on high-end real estate transactions, and other ideas this creative and desirable community can devise — need to be part of a larger public discussion.

Adequate housing is a fundamental marker of a healthy and whole community, and if we don’t deliver — if we let the market take its course and try to mitigate its exclusionary effects at the margins — we need to know that we’ve failed our community by choice.

The prospect that life might return to the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs and the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven is good news. These stars, now dimmed, have been removed from the Island’s constellation of good times too long.

As so often happens on the Vineyard, someone had a good idea and decided to act on it — in this case, Mark Snider, co-owner of Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown, who picked up the phone and made a call months ago to Benjamin Hall Jr. of Edgartown, co-owner of the Strand and Capawock theaters and attorney for Lucky 7 Realty Trust, the family company, to talk about how the two buildings might be revived.

Mr. Snider has formed the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation (MVTF), and is embarked on a mission to raise $1 million in donations to renovate both buildings.

Martha’s Vineyard residents and Island visitors with good memories will remember the pleasurable sound of the clatter of the ancient film projector, and the smell of freshly cracked popcorn and melted butter in the lobby, of the iconic Capawock, built in 1913. Greeting friends outside and in the foyer of the movie theater was as much a part of the Island’s social fabric as a Sunday trip to the dump.

The newest member of the theater renovation board, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Carly Simon, described her memories of the Capawock to reporter Barry Stringfellow: “I saw lots of teddy bear movies here. I saw lots of Disney movies here; I saw E.T. for the first time here. I also saw Heartburn here, which I wrote the soundtrack for, and Working Girl, too.”

Vineyarders have proven time and again they will generously support the arts. Look at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, which opened for its 32nd season last summer following a two-year, $2.5 million renovation project, or the state-of-the-art Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, just a glimmer in the eyes of film buffs back in 1999 when they formed the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society.

Of course, the details of the arrangement and Mr. Snider’s ability to convince Island residents and seasonal visitors to invest in this project will determine its ultimate success. Islander are right to ask tough questions. Why should the public invest in properties owned by the Halls when the Halls have not? It is reasonable to ask just how many movie theaters one Island can support. And it would be wrong to discount the potential effect on Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown, the Island’s stalwart year-round commercial movie house, and a supportive member of the community.

Mr. Snider has a big job ahead of him. But he seems equal to the task, and it would be unfortunate if Islanders were to turn their backs on this endeavor at the outset, given its significant potential for the future.

“We want this to be more than just movie theaters,” Mr. Snider told reporter Barry Stringfellow. “We want to have lecture series, live performances, and school shows. We want it to have diversity so we can reach new audiences.”

The Island has big venues and small venues, but medium-size ones capable of hosting lectures and performances are scarce. The two newly renovated theaters could fill an important niche. They could also help smooth relations between the Halls and exasperated public officials.

The Hall family is one of the Vineyard’s largest private owners of commercial and residential properties, and hold a valuable real estate portfolio that includes anchor buildings in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven. In recent years, the Halls have attracted considerable criticism from town selectmen over their stewardship of downtown properties, most notably the long-vacant “yellow house” property on Summer Street in Edgartown, and the deteriorating Strand and Island theaters in Oak Bluffs. There has been talk of eminent domain in Edgartown and outright talk of demolition in Oak Bluffs.

It is long past time to look down the road past the lawsuits, the acrimony, and the excuses and accusations on both sides. We want to believe that the Halls want what is best for their family and the Island’s interests. Over the years, the continued operation and existence of the Capawock has been a labor of love for family patriarch Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall, at any given time the theater’s projectionist, ticket taker and concessions seller.

Thanks to Mr. Snider’s outreach, there is an opportunity not to be lost to forge a public-private partnership that will benefit the community as a whole and return the movie theaters to operation.

The late-January blizzard brought Islanders misery in enlarged if not wholly unexpected ways. Another major storm, extending this past weekend through Monday, including further wind-whipped drifts and frigid temperatures, has further tested our resilience. Since there has been plenty of warning for these storms, most of us in towns across the Island have come through unscathed, and certainly more favored than many other New Englanders.

Owing to the sheer volume of snow, though, resources were clearly strained, and success in clearing roads and sidewalks, freeing up emergency-vehicle access, and reconnecting neighborhoods with main streets, and then in getting mountainous piles of the heavy white stuff reduced if not removed, played out differently in each town.

Despite our impulse to patience with the immensity of the task, though, it’s hard to ignore the roundly held view in Vineyard Haven that the system here started out particularly poorly. The most dramatic and threatening breakdown in preparedness emerged from Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling’s account of an ambulance responding to an emergency call getting stuck on Franklin Street in mid-storm on Jan. 27. A second ambulance was dispatched, but also became stuck, and was ultimately towed to its destination by a front-end loader.

More broadly, Main Street was a mess, Franklin Street was narrowed and slippery, parking was very slow to be restored, trucks with plows were getting stuck. Residents faced no way out of their homes for excessive periods, and after resorting to calling the Tisbury Department of Public Works (DPW) for information or assistance, were sent to voicemail limbo.

Town officials have so far had two opportunities — a selectmen’s meeting on Feb. 2 and a Department of Public Works meeting on Feb. 9 — to talk to us about what they’ve learned and convince us that they’ll get it right the next time. It looks like there’s a long way to go.

As Rich Saltzburg reported in The Times of Feb. 4 (“Tisbury selectmen review response to January blizzard”), the public discussion at the Feb. 2 selectmen’s meeting gave little indication that anything much went awry. Town administrator John “Jay” Grande did concede that “there were areas where some additional planning and effort would have mitigated some of those [blizzard-related] impacts.”

Selectmen chairman Jonathan Snyder was equally undemanding in his assessment, calling storm preparedness and performance “a work in progress.” These seem overly patient, given the extent of community frustration.

If the few days between the storm and the selectmen’s meeting didn’t allow enough time for a serious assessment, it certainly was a reasonable expectation for the Department of Public Works (DPW) board meeting on Feb. 9. But as Steve Myrick reported in the Feb. 12 Times (“Tisbury DPW response to the snowstorm faulted by residents, town officials”), that meeting was particularly frustrating.

DPW Commissioner Jeff Kristal was willing to step up: “We failed,” he acknowledged. But DPW board member John Thayer, citing the extent of the storm and DPW’s limited resources, disagreed. “I’m not going to apologize for us needing an extra day,” he said. And DPW’s salaried director Glenn Mauk agreed with resident Charles Cournoyer that “there is not a plan in place … My limited time here has identified many different areas where we have a lack of planning. What we found by the second day was the staff was down to four people.”

Mr. Thayer’s deflection doesn’t wash: We need resources and plans to anticipate the big storms, not the ordinary ones. And Mr. Mauk’s bid for rookie status isn’t convincing: With one year (including a full winter season) under his belt, he should have known what was needed.

Admittedly, other factors are at work here, including a tense labor environment and a baffling, persistent confusion regarding responsibility for clearing Tisbury’s many private roads. The most obvious problem standing in the way of clear assignments of responsibility, though, is a structural gap in Tisbury governance big enough to drive a truck (and attached plow) through.

As Selectman Tristan Israel explained at the Feb. 2 meeting, “Under Tisbury’s government structure, selectmen have no authority over the five independently elected public works commissioners.” Selectman Melinda Loberg explained the same thing in an interview with The Times.

Independent boards with extensive responsibility for important public services, such as the Tisbury DPW, aren’t particularly rare. The general argument for divorcing them from broader governance is that it protects professionalism from political meddling. The risk with independent boards is that the performance and the shared accountability we require can be variable and undependable, and we have no easy remedy.

An important opportunity to make progress in Tisbury is coming up soon. The town’s visioning process, which for several months has been engaging many community members in setting an agenda for the town’s future in ways big and small, has identified improving town governance as a major area of interest. And town meeting has approved and allocated funds for a consultant to examine town government and reorganize town departments, hopefully taking a very careful look at the independent-board structure DPW enjoys.

Consulting studies can be important tools in the right hands, or they can gather dust and disappear in the mists of time. But Selectman Loberg reports “more of a sentiment for it now than there has been in a while.” It seems a great moment to capitalize on hard-learned lessons.

Early signs of improved preparedness began to emerge at the end of the Feb. 9 meeting, and are welcomed. And efforts during and following the second round of blizzard conditions this week seem much improved. But this is a moment of greater opportunity, where well-intended folks can give up the turf they hold that almost none of really care about, and remember that what we require is a set of elected officials who understand that their job is to make things better and make things work.

This article is updated to correct the spelling of DPW commissioner Jeff Kristal’s name.