Opinion

15

A breakdown in the systems we use to moderate and manage comments appearing on our website occurred this past weekend, with the result that some unacceptable comments were posted. The offensive comments included some that far exceeded the boundaries of civil discussion that we require, and in allowing them to be posted at all or to remain up as long as they did embarrassed The Times and more broadly many in the Vineyard community. This was a management failure on my part as publisher, and I apologize to you all.

As a bit of background, The Times employs a system that moderates online comments after they’ve been posted, consciously favoring immediacy and a light editorial hand instead of reviewing a queue for posts before publication. In conjunction with a recent change eliminating anonymous postings we have been extremely pleased with the balance that’s been struck.  Our story regarding President Obama’s upcoming stay in Chilmark, however, exposed the comment feature of our site to substantial pressures and the protocols we had in place were inadequate to the task.

As a result of our experience this weekend we’ve taken several steps to strengthen our internal moderation protocols. Coupled with more vigilance (and a bit less dependence on the positive trends we’ve seen in recent postings to our site) I believe we’ll do a much better job managing the comments without suffocating the feature with excessive rules and reviews.

  • We’ve applied a new set of filters which should help screen out blatantly         offensive language;
  • We’ve adopted a formal internal management system for reviewing comments;
  • We’ve been unable to find a check-system allowing direct feedback within the comment section but we’ve created a single email address — comments@mvtimes.com— to which all concerns, questions, complaints and    suggestions regarding online comments should be directed (multiple messages and destinations actually hinder us);
  • We are leaving the article and attached comments up, and will be especially watchful regarding future comments;
  • I’ve been vividly reminded to anticipate and prepare for the potential challenges that a particular subject matter may engender.

We remain committed to an effective, useful comment function. Despite our confidence in the measures we’re taking, though, we expect our systems will continue to be tested from time to time; we don’t imagine that we’ve created a perfect set of protocols.

And, there are compromises necessary. For one thing, if we decide we need to remove a comment the entire thread — all the responses and conversation generated by that comment — needs to be removed as well. This means a well-stated rebuke will disappear from the discussion, not because we edited it out but because it was attached to a comment we excised. And also, because moderation is labor-intensive and costly, we can’t promise immediate attention as a matter of routine; we’ll do our best, but we’ve set an outside boundary of 12 hours to moderate, and if necessary, delete, offensive comments from the site. We hope to do better than that, as often as possible.

To be clear, this embarrassing episode resulted from a management lapse on my part, and not from any disregard for the standards we set for ourselves or the sensibilities of our readers. I believe we’ve learned important lessons and made significant improvements.

Peter Oberfest, Publisher

1

Thursday night, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will review a proposal by the Island Housing Trust (IHT) to build a six-unit rental apartment building between the Stop & Shop Supermarket and AA Car Rental Company, a stone’s throw from Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. The 3,600-square-foot building containing six one-bedroom apartments would replace a derelict house.

The MVC will review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). Why? Because they can.

The MVC could have voted to take a pass and send the project back to the town. IHT has a responsible track record developing affordable housing. The plan was developed in close consultation with the Tisbury Planning Board, Historic Commission, and Affordable Housing Committee. It is still subject to review by the zoning board of appeals.

There will be six 600-square-foot apartments, three of them handicapped accessible ground-floor units and three on the second floor, each with one bedroom and one bathroom. Photovoltaic panels on the southern roof will help reduce energy costs. There will be one parking space for deliveries and handicapped accessibility.

The commission voted on June 19 that the project required a public hearing because of its location near Five Corners. It is hard to understand the regional impact that may be attributed to six new tenants living near Five Corners unless the MVC has so broadened the definition of regional impact to include a Chilmarker having to pause to allow one of the new tenants to get out of the crosswalk.

In a report dated March 11, 2003, titled, “Looking at the Commission, Review of the Operations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and Recommendations for Improvements,” newly hired MVC executive director Mark London observed that many of the people he spoke to thought that the commissioners were too involved in the minutiae of projects — work that could more appropriately be done by the towns and by MVC staff.

“The net for referring projects to the MVC is too fine and requires referral of too many projects that don’t have a significant regional impact,” Mr. London wrote.

In his DRI recommendations, Mr. London wrote, “The commission should review fewer projects, but carry out the review in a more comprehensive way with a better process leading to better projects. The MVC should ensure that only projects of a truly regional impact are subject to the full public hearing process.”

This page agrees. The MVC should expedite the Water Street project and let IHT get back to the business of providing affordable housing.

In the broader context, Five Corners figured large in the MVC’s consideration of Stop & Shop’s proposal for a new market. One year of regulatory review and process and nothing to show for it. The regional planning agency would do well to examine what might be done to unravel this traffic Gordian knot, and come up with a plan for Five Corners.

Honoring the Fourth

In a Letter to the Editor published July 3, Nick Van Nes of West Tisbury claimed that the government was hiding the truth in its official account of 9/11. Mr. Van Nes said evidence of controlled demolitions “was overlooked by the government.”

The letter attracted sharp criticism. Several readers were highly critical of The Times decision to publish the letter.

Don Keller asked, “Why does this deserve publication? Nick is accusing our government officials and many other American citizens of murder … I understand that The Times wishes to allow for free expression of opinions, but there is a line. And this letter clearly crosses it. ”

Helene Brown commented, “Disappointed with MV Times that they would publish such an inflammatory and unsubstantiated letter, especially on the eve of July 4th.”

R. Scott Patterson wrote, “The MV Times owes everyone an explanation and an apology for publishing this letter! It is a joke and beyond reprehensible!”

The Letters to the Editor section is intended to be a forum for ideas and points of view

underpinned by respect for one of our country’s most cherished rights enshrined in the First Amendment, freedom of speech.

Presenting the views of letter writers to public scrutiny and comment, even those we might disagree with and consider not worthy of comment, is in line with the values we honor on July Fourth. Censoring those views is not.

2

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” pamphleteer and wordsmith Thomas Paine declared five months after the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence 238 years ago. The war against Britain looked bleak even though the Declaration was a radical not a revolutionary document. Written principally by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration set forth the reasons for Americans to separate from the British Empire, but it did not advocate the overthrow of King George III or Parliament. Still, the odds were against the Americans: Britain possessed the most formidable, professional military force in the world.

Skirmishes between the Americans and British had already taken place, notably in Boston on Breed’s Hill (often confused with Bunker Hill). Paine went on, “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Many Americans had been debating the issues, especially whether Parliament had the authority to tax Americans when they were unrepresented there. Others had simply tossed out local British officials and set up their own town governments. Yet, no one set out the argument as sparklingly as Paine did. “’Tis time to part,” he proclaimed in Common Sense. The Americans have the power “to begin the world over again.” They have the opportunity “to form the noblest, purest constitution on the face of the earth” because “the birth-day of a new world is at hand.”

Historians remind us that only about one-third of the Americans favored independence. Another third wanted to reconcile all differences with Britain. A final third waited to see which side would win. One theme that Paine set out was the importance of American unity.

“Independence,” he wrote, “is the only Bond that can tye [sic] and keep us together.” But unity was a scarce commodity in 1776.

The Declaration declared that states have the right “to be free and independent,” not only from the empire, but from each other. They “have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.” It was no wonder that the Americans called their individual political entities “states,” a term then and now that means a nation-state.

When the Continental Congress named George Washington commander in chief, he worked hard to build a true national army, but he had to rely on the states to send men and money. When he asked New Jersey militiamen to pledge their allegiance to the new United States, they agreed on condition that they first pledge their allegiance to their “nation of New Jersey.” States contributed money to the war effort only as gifts. Congress had no authority to tax any entity. He complained that he had insufficient funds to pay his men or for supplies.

Washington worked out a military strategy known as “a war of posts,” meaning he avoided direct encounters with the enemy unless he knew he had the upper hand. On Christmas night, 1776, he crossed the Delaware to defeat sleeping Hessian troops, whom Washington called “base hirelings and mercenaries.” They might have been recovering from too much Christmas revelry.

At the end of the following year, the American General, Horatio Gates, defeated the British at Saratoga, demonstrating to the French that the Americans had a chance to win. France, Britain’s traditional enemy, soon sent money, men, ships, and weapons to support American independence. Victory would not have occurred without them. We ought not to forget that more French soldiers and sailors than Americans were present at the final battle at Yorktown in 1781.

After the war against Britain, states continued to behave like mini nation-states, carrying out their own foreign policies, entering into border disputes with each other, and even having separate currencies. The original U.S. constitution, the Articles of Confederation, established an alliance of states, held together only by the glue of war. Once the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war in 1783, a few Americans, led principally by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, set out to form “a more perfect Union,” as the preamble of the Constitution declared. It was not easy to persuade the state conventions to ratify the new document.

Today, Americans face their own “times that try men’s souls.” We constantly hear echoes of too many federal taxes, too much federal snooping into our affairs, too much federal regulation of business, too much federal involvement in foreign wars. American politics has now become so politically polarized that the current Congress may have the worst record for passing laws. Its poll numbers are below 25 percent approval rating, and the president’s are hardly much better at 41 percent.

President Obama, in his 2012 inaugural address, drew inspiration from Thomas Paine by quoting his words: “Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.” The president, though in vain, attempted to spur Americans to unite so they might confront the many problems they now face.

A seasonal resident of Aquinnah, Jack Fruchtman teaches constitutional law and politics at Towson University in Maryland. He is the author of several studies of 18th-century figures, including books on Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin.

0

This Fourth of July, in spite of deep and unsettling differences, most of us should put aside political differences and complaints to celebrate the existence of a nation that at its birth had little chance of survival. That it was born, and endured a cataclysmic civil war to remain 238 years later, an example — not perfect or without flaws — of hope for people around the world is a feat that deserves a national birthday party.

On Friday, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, edifices that honor George Washington, our first president, and Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, will provide the backdrop for a spectacular fireworks display in our nation’s capitol. The mood will be festive, as it should be.

Throughout the year, a visit to the Lincoln Memorial provides a particularly sobering experience for any American. The immediate observation for one visitor was the number of people speaking in a variety of different languages, all in hushed tones which lent to the sense of reverence the memorial commands.

Today, Islanders will prepare with the rest of our country to celebrate the birth of a nation blessed by providence. It is easy to forget that our country once stood on the precipice of failure. When the issue was in doubt, there was a George Washington, there was an Abraham Lincoln, men of high-minded character who helped guide us forward.

Elsewhere today, we watch as Iraq disintegrates, Ukraine fractures, and cobbled together nations led by mendacious leaders across the globe spiral out of control. We can only pray that one day other people will be as fortunate as we are, and that our fortune will continue.

0

For most hours of the day this summer, the Vineyard Transit Authority buses that ply Route 1 between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown will no longer run on a fixed schedule. The VTA has added a fourth bus to the route, and keeps in radio contact with the drivers to time their trips so that ideally, as two buses pass near the roundabout, the other two are departing from the endpoints.

In the transit business, this way of scheduling buses is called headway mode. What it means for riders on the Island’s most important commuter corridor is that the new service might not be as precisely predictable as before, but you should never have to wait more than seven or eight minutes for a bus.

Adding that fourth bus involved an expense, says Angie Grant, administrator of the VTA since 1996, but the good news is that public funding for transit systems has recently become more reliable. The model is shifting from funding in arrears to funding in advance, which means that administrators like Ms. Grant can spend more of their time figuring out how to serve their riders better and less worrying about what to do if their expenses aren’t covered.

No public service on Martha’s Vineyard has rocketed from nonexistent to indispensable with anything like the speed of the VTA. Year-round bus service here didn’t exist before 2006. In the fiscal year that ended just a few days ago, the VTA was on track for a record ridership of more than 1.2 million on its fixed bus routes.

Last August, the VTA carried 303,175 passengers, an increase of nearly 30 percent for that month since 2006. But even more dramatic is the doubling in ridership the VTA has seen in the dead of winter: to find a month when the service carried fewer than 20,000 people, you have to go back to February 2011.

Here’s another indicator that puts the growth of this Island service in perspective: At present, Massachusetts has only three public transit authorities operating seven days a week, year-round. They are the MBTA in Boston, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (serving two dozen towns and cities in the Springfield-Amherst region), and the VTA.

Visiting the website of the transit authority this week, I found this on the FAQ page: “Q: Do I need to bring my car to Martha’s Vineyard? A: No.” This little exchange should be a favorite for anyone who suffers the summer crawl through Five Corners in Tisbury or Upper Main in Edgartown. In fact, the VTA has an excellent page of advice for visitors interested in seeing the Vineyard in a single day without the hassle of bringing a car or the risk of renting mopeds and adding the hospital to their itinerary.

The VTA is a rural transit system for nine months of the year, and an urban system for three. Because it’s impractical to own two fleets of buses, and because the VTA has to be equipped to handle the peak load, there are times in winter when the rolling stock isn’t an ideal match for the demand — and Ms. Grant does hear occasional complaints in January about big buses with few passengers inside. But she rightly points out that even a bus with only half a dozen passengers is burning less fuel per passenger-mile, and putting fewer pollutants into our air, than if those riders were driving cars.

(The environmental benefits of public transit, by the way, are steadily improving: Today’s bus engines emit 85 percent fewer particulates than those the VTA was using just six or seven years ago.)

Looking to the future, says Ms. Grant, the VTA will continue to look for ways to improve its service to its more than one million riders each year. One of the biggest changes likely in the years ahead, she says, will be the jump to buses twice an hour on the system’s up-Island corridors during the busy season. “It’s a big jump,” admits Ms. Grant, “but it’s the next logical step.”

Meanwhile the seasonality is intense, the mix of users is diverse, and the challenge for the VTA is always to strike the best balance.

“This is an essential service, as much as we might not want to admit it,” Ms. Grant says. “We have a lot of ‘choice’ riders here, and we’re fortunate for that, but there is a transit-dependent population on Martha’s Vineyard. They might be elderly, they might be disabled, they might just not be in a position to own a vehicle because of the economics of it.”

In the end, the biggest group benefiting from the services of the Vineyard Transit Authority might be those of us who use the buses rarely or not at all. The next time you’re behind the wheel, inching into Edgartown one car-length at a time, consider how much more unpleasant your trip might be if that VTA bus ahead of you were three dozen individual cars.

The seven elected Dukes County commissioners are upset with the performance of the members of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, who they accuse of behaving badly in the conduct of several meetings, principally focused on airport employee and management personnel issues.

In a letter dated June 19, signed by county commission chairman Leonard Jason, Jr. of Chilmark, the commissioners called on the county appointees to reflect on their past behavior and think about a new line of civic service. Presumably, the call to clear out only extends to five of the seven airport commissioners.

In April, the county exercised its appointing authority to show its displeasure with the airport commission — not for the first time — and rejected the applications of Benjamin Hall Jr. of Edgartown, and John Alley of West Tisbury to three-year terms on the airport commission. Mr. Alley, who is also a longtime county commissioner, had served on the airport commission for more than three decades. Mr. Hall, an Edgartown businessman, was finishing his first term.

Instead, the county commissioners self-appointed Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, a county commissioner who had not sought the job but was available to jump on board, to the airport commission. They also appointed Richard Michelson of Oak Bluffs, a former airport employee turned EMT and frequent and vocal critic of airport management, in particular airport manager Sean Flynn. Not surprisingly, sparks flew immediately.

There is reason to be unhappy with the airport commission which has the statutory responsibility for the care and custody of the county airport. Chairman Norman Perry of West Tisbury is responsible for controlling the meetings in a fair and impartial manner and maintaining order and decorum among the members. By all accounts, Mr. Perry, appointed in January 2004, has failed to meet those responsibilities.

Despite the benefit of experienced legal counsel, recent disciplinary hearings that resulted in a vote to fire one employee were clumsy, mismanaged affairs. Last week, a meeting in executive session ended with an announcement that airport manager Sean Flynn would take a medical leave of absence.

Prior to the meeting, Mr. Perry sent each member of the airport commission a copy of an Edgartown police report detailing the arrest of Mr. Flynn’s wife on a charge of domestic assault. Although the report contained accusations that Mr. Flynn had abused painkillers, police did not charge Mr. Flynn in the incident. It was fair to ask Mr. Flynn about those accusations. Whether Mr. Perry’s decision to send out the police report prior to the commission discussing it in executive session will have repercussions in future contract negotiations remains to be seen.

Unhappy with recent events, the county commissioners rode into the good government breach.

“Our duties as public servants often causes us to wonder why we do the things we do,”  Mr. Jason wrote in a letter headed: Airport Commission’s performance.  “It is an awesome responsibility that requires us to reflect on our attitudes, motives and performance in the discharging of our duties. The county commissioners believe the time has come for the airport commissioners to reexamine their behavior, their actions, and their conduct in their meetings.”

Mr. Jason, who last week called for the airport commissioners to resign but tempered his language at the request of his fellow commissioners, wrote, “Perhaps the time has come to channel your energies in pursuit of a different endeavor.”

The county commissioners asked for a response by July 1.

In a letter dated June 19, airport and county commissioner Todd, in the tone of a supplicant and not an independent appointee, responded to her fellow county commissioners. “I would respectfully like to continue in my efforts as Airport Commissioner to best serve the Airport, its personnel and the public of Dukes County,” she said. “I fully intend to continue my pursuit of honesty, integrity, respect and transparency in this governing board of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.”

This page has often wondered what causes the county commissioners to do the things they do. Mr. Jason’s letter is the latest addition to a long list of curious actions. It is patronizing, and if the performance standard is set by the county’s past actions, the bar is low.

The county commissioners, whose history of bobbles is long, are in a poor position to lecture another, independent government body that includes, in this instance, men and women with long careers of public and private service: former Tisbury selectman and pilot Denys Wortman of Tisbury; retired Edgartown town manager Peter Bettencourt; James Coyne of West Tisbury, former president of a general aviation lobbying group; and Constance Teixeira of Tisbury, an advocate for the homeless.

More importantly, the county letter fails to acknowledge the county’s own part in this mess.

The county commissioners are responsible for appointing the members of the airport commission. Most of the current members have served several terms.

There is enough evidence to suggest that the airport commissioners ought to consider a leadership change. That is their decision to make. But the airport commission, as court decisions have made clear, is an independent body beholden only to the county commission’s appointing authority.

It remains to be seen if any of the airport commissioners will take the county commission up and fly away. And if they do, whether the commissioners will appoint themselves to the airport commission, as they have done in the past.

Over the years the county commissioners have repeatedly bypassed candidates for the airport commission who had extensive business and aviation experience in favor of individuals thought to be more favorable to the county viewpoint, including their fellow county commissioners. We live on an Island with a depth of aviation and business talent. Looking forward, the county commissioners ought to attempt to appoint the best people available, not the only people available.

3

This morning, Oak Bluffs town leaders and representatives of several state agencies, including the Office of Fishing and Boating Access and the Division of Marine Fisheries, are scheduled to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Oak Bluffs fishing pier. Islanders and visitors have already begun to make good use of the handsome structure, which expands on the town’s already inviting waterfront boardwalk and strolling opportunities.

The state picked up the cost of construction, about $1 million, using a combination of funding sources that included Mass saltwater license revenues and federal Wallop-Breaux Trust funds, money generated through excise taxes levied on sport fishing and boating equipment.

Under the terms of its agreement with the state, Oak Bluffs is responsible for day-to-day maintenance, public safety, and policing.

The idea for a fishing pier began with the rebuilding of the Oak Bluffs Steamship Authority terminal. The original idea was to incorporate a fishing platform into the pier. That plan disappeared after 9/11, due to security concerns, but not the idea.

For several years, a group of fishermen led by David Nash of Edgartown quietly pressed for a fishing pier. They found support among Oak Bluffs town leaders and in the Office of Fishing and Boating Access, led by longtime director Jack Sheppard, a man who has worked mightily over the years to provide public access to the state’s waterways for all citizens.

The fishing pier project ties in with efforts by Oak Bluffs leaders to revitalize the downtown area and generally enhance the town’s welcoming atmosphere. Work will soon begin on a multi-million dollar plan to rebuild the entire seawall and add a boardwalk at North Bluff.

In the years to come, Island fishermen will take advantage of the pier to introduce kids to the fun of catching a scup, lovers will stroll along its length in quiet conversation, and visitors will be able to sit on one of the many wooden benches and admire the view.

Today’s ceremony marks the end of a long navigation through a series of local, state, and federal permitting agencies. In all, the project took more than a decade, but the end result was well worth the effort. Oak Bluffs can take pride in the latest addition to its public projects and the entire Island will be the beneficiary.

A salute to Edson Rodgers

Islanders who attended the Flag Day concert by the members of the Navy Band Northeast from Newport, R.I., at the Tabernacle on Saturday night enjoyed quite a treat. The band performed a medley of tunes to the great delight of the audience, many of whom waved small American flags, purchased prior to the concert from entrepreneurial Boy Scouts.

American Legion Post 257 in Vineyard Haven organized the free concert as part of a celebration earlier in the day to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Veterans Memorial Park. The evening began with neighbors greeting neighbors and the excited chatter of children. It was a quintessential Island event that reflected the spirit and patriotism of our small community.

Wielding a conductor’s baton and smiling broadly, Lt. Commander Carl J. Gerhard stood erect in a finely tailored, white dress jacket and led the Navy band through its paces with the precision of an aircraft carrier takeoff. But the star of the show was retired Navy chief Edson Rodgers of Edgartown, who conceived of and organized the band’s Island visit.

It was no small task, given the logistics and paperwork involved. Navy Band Northeast is attached to the Naval War College at Naval Station Newport. The group performs over 500 engagements annually in an 11-state area. Band members travel in four 15-passenger vans and carry their equipment in a 26-foot truck.

Mr. Rodgers served with the Navy Band Northeast before he retired in 1987. Lt. Cdr. Gerhard, who will retire in two months, worked with Mr. Rodgers when he was one of the senior instructors at the Naval School of Music in Virginia. His affection for his former teacher was obvious when he invited Mr. Rodgers to bring his trumpet on stage and perform with the band.

At the conclusion of the performance of “My Way” — done “The Navy way,” Edson Rodgers said —  Mr. Rodgers received a standing ovation from the crowd and a salute from his former pupil. Both were well deserved.

3

What do the main streets in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven have in common? If you answered eyesores in prime business locations owned by the Hall family, you would be correct.

Let’s take inventory.

There is the “yellow house” on the corner of Main and Summer streets in Edgartown, a location in the heart of town that would quicken the pulse of any high-end retailer looking for a spot to catch the attention of the summer crowd. Instead of welcoming shoppers, it is inviting only to termites.

The house, built in 1850 and currently assessed at more than $2 million, has sat vacant since 2003, when a wrangle between the Halls and the town over the removal of a grand, old shade tree began. The Halls wanted to cut the tree. The town said no. We will spare you the details of the court case — which the Halls lost in July 2013 — and the expressions of good faith and a desire to work together and the names of architects engaged. One decade later and there it sits, neglected in one of the state’s wealthiest towns.

How is that possible?

In Vineyard Haven, moviegoers no longer regularly line up outside the Capawock Theater on Main Street to see the almost latest release. For years, in summer and winter, Islanders treasured the neighborhood experience of meeting friends in line and catching up on local news before the lights dimmed. The Capawock is a labor of love for Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall, projectionist, ticket-taker and family patriarch. His efforts to keep it alive deserve our gratitude. For now, it is mostly unused. A sign on the front advertises it as space for hire.

Tisbury selectmen would do well to question what is to become of this crumbling Main Street linchpin.

Then there are the Strand and Island theaters in Oak Bluffs. Islanders with fond summer memories of a movie and a stroll along Circuit Avenue with an ice cream in hand must cringe at the sight of these buildings.

There is no question that changes in technology and the business model have altered the neighborhood movie business for good. It would be unfair to fault the Hall family for closing the doors on a money-losing operation. But it is fair to ask, what next?

Oak Bluffs leaders have embarked on an effort to revitalize their downtown. The state of these buildings and the lack of action by the Hall family have given way to frustration.

“I’m fed up; we’re all fed up,” Oak Bluffs selectman Walter Vail said at the conclusion of the May 27 meeting of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, as Barry Stringfellow reports in this week’s issue.

The Hall family assures town leaders that they are doing their best to address structural and cosmetic issues with both buildings but continue to encounter unforeseen problems. Plans are in the works, engineers consulted, but there they sit, two sizeable buildings in the Island’s most vibrant tourist town left to crumble. Instead of anchoring the business district, they drag it down.

A consultant’s report titled Circuit Avenue Business District Peer Review and dated December 3, 2013, described part of the problem in Oak Bluffs. “Private investor cooperation is also part of the economic downturn in the Circuit Avenue village business district. New investments, such as the new ballroom, stand side-by-side with vacant movie theaters. These two vacant structures also grace the entry to the village. Dead space detracts from shoppers desires to walk any further. These two structures, located at the end of a rather empty walk from the ferry terminals, deter people from walking into the village. A major public/private partnership is needed to re-energize these structures. Oak Bluffs may even want to consider creation of a redevelopment entity with adequate financial resources to quickly act to ensure vacant structures do not become a drain on nearby merchants.”

In terms of the number of properties, the Hall family may well be the single largest owners of commercial property on the Vineyard. Certainly, they own some of the Island’s most significant properties. The consultant’s recommendation is applicable to all three towns.

It is time to look down the road past the lawsuits and 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. Now is the time for leaders in each town and the Halls to sit down and work to forge a public-private partnership that will benefit the community as a whole.

5

As a war-weary America contemplates the end of major combat in Afghanistan and a conflict with no certain victory lap, just a political off ramp, we recall a day 70 years ago when the nation was united in purpose and American soldiers led the invasion of Normandy that would ultimately free Europe from the horrors of Nazi tyranny and end the ambitions of Adolf Hitler.

Americans are familiar with the grainy, black-and-white newsreel images of D-Day, June 6, 1944. More than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline. By the end of the day, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded. The archival footage provides only a glimpse of an experience that few could have contemplated that day without hesitation about the task that lay ahead.

For Nelson Bryant of West Tisbury, a member of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, now 91, and Fred “Ted” Morgan of Edgartown, a member of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, now 92, the sights, sounds, and memories of that day so long ago remain strong.

Mr. Bryant, longtime outdoor writer for the New York Times, said that as the years go by his memories of the war consume a larger part of his thoughts. In his memoirs, a draft of which he provided to The Times, he writes, “A month or so before D-Day, I was surprised, delighted and deeply touched to be visited by a fellow paratrooper from the Vineyard, Fred B. (Ted) Morgan, Jr. of Edgartown. Ted, against whom I had played high school football on the Vineyard, had already — with the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment — been in Sicily and Salerno. He was there to wish me well and to give me an idea of what lay ahead.”

Nelson Bryant lunged out the door of a shuddering C-47 at about 2:30 am on D-Day. As he described it, “Curving skeins of tracer bullets were hurtling past and after my ‘chute yanked me upright I heard for the first time the tearing snarl of fully automatic German machine pistols, so unlike the slower thumping of our B.A.R.s (Browning automatic rifles) or other automatic weapons.”

His third day in Normandy, while on patrol, he was shot through the chest with a 52-caliber machine gun bullet. Another member of his patrol was killed. After lying wounded for three days in a hedgerow he was transported to a hospital in the Wales countryside. While healing he learned that his unit had returned to Nottingham, and was soon going to make another jump.

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Bryant said, “I never thought I would want to pick up a gun or shoot a gun again. But I couldn’t bear the thought of my buddies going into Holland without me.” Without permission, he left the hospital and joined his unit.

It was a young man steeped in what his notion of patriotism was.”

Nelson Bryant would make the jump in Holland and later fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

Asked about his wartime experience, he said, “I feel that at least once in my life I measured up as a man.”

In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Mr. Morgan, retired from a long and distinguished career in public service, said the events of 70 years ago remain vivid in his memory.

Mr. Morgan, who served as a medic, made four combat jumps, experiencing the horrors of war firsthand. “I saw anything and everything that could possibly happen to the human body and did the best I could to take care of people,” he said. “Many of them, of course, couldn’t live but many of them, I figure, medics like myself, saved their lives.”

Medics carried bandages and medicine, not weapons. “Being on the front lines is an experience very few people in a country like ours experience,” Mr. Morgan said. “The thoughts and the accomplishments and the deeds, they stay with you.”

The sheer number of wounded was sometimes overwhelming, he said, “but you had to do the best you could for each one.”

On Friday, Mr. Morgan will spend D-Day with his wife and daughter at The National World War II Museum, formerly known as the National D-Day Museum, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is a frequent volunteer and will spend part of the day speaking to museum visitors and showing them around.

“I am a proud veteran of World War II,” Mr. Morgan said, “and I am fortunate to be alive and to do what I am doing.”

Martha’s Vineyard is fortunate to have Mr. Bryant and Mr. Morgan. Anyone who has the opportunity to speak to either gentleman on D-Day, or any day, may count themselves fortunate as well.

5

Maybe you never heard the news about solar power, or it was drowned out by the noise of the 13-year controversy over the Cape Wind project on Horseshoe Shoal.

But if you still think that putting solar electric panels on your roof is a prohibitively costly way to declare your environmentalist bona fides, it’s time to think again.

I sat down for an eye-opening tutorial last week with Rob Meyers at South Mountain Company (SMC) in West Tisbury. Meyers is manager of the company’s fastest-growing department, energy services. Here’s some of what I learned.

The high cost of electricity on Martha’s Vineyard can be a burden or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it. Rates now stand at about 21 cents per kilowatt-hour, and they fluctuate over the short term, but over the past two decades they’ve increased by an average of 6 percent, per year.

Paying some of the highest rates in the nation, NSTAR customers on Martha’s Vineyard see big bites taken out of their pocketbooks for electricity every month. But if you look at that money as capital, here’s the opportunity: You can shift that capital, so that rather than paying NSTAR, you’re paying for the solar photovoltaic (PV) system on your own roof.

The Cape Wind project has been in front of permitting agencies for so long that its core technology has changed: Each turbine in the wind farm will generate three times more electricity than the models Cape Wind originally proposed to use in 2001. Meanwhile, over the same span of years, the changes in the solar power equation — both in the hardware and on the regulatory front — have been even more dramatic.

The Green Communities Act, enacted by Massachusetts in 2008, was a game-changer. It required that utilities and power plants in the commonwealth make renewable energy a part of their mix, and it set up a market system called the Solar Credit Clearing House Auction so power companies can bid for the right to count the electricity generated by home solar systems toward their mandated goal. When the utilities buy your solar energy credits, you get a payment every year.

The Green Communities Act also provides for net metering — allowing homeowners to hook their solar systems to the power grid and actually run the meter backward when the sun is shining. If you own a solar PV system in Massachusetts, your utility company becomes a sort of giant battery: The meter runs in reverse whenever your system is making more power than your home needs, and you collect credits that are worth within a penny or two of your retail electricity rate. At night, when your home has no solar power, the meter draws down the credits your system accumulated during the day.

Then there’s the matter of government rebates and tax credits: Massachusetts and the feds are both generous with incentives for solar home systems, currently covering about a third of a typical installation’s cost.

That covers the regulatory good news. There has also been great progress on the technological front. Expressed in terms of dollars per kilowatt, the cost of solar PV panels has fallen by two thirds in the past five years.

Just in the two years between 2008, when SMC put photovoltaics on roofs at the Jenney Way affordable housing project in Edgartown, and 2010, when the company installed a larger system at the Eliakim’s Way housing in West Tisbury, the installation cost per kilowatt fell by about 40 percent.

What this means for an Island homeowner with a suitable site is that the investment in solar no longer takes 10 years or 20 to pay for itself. Many solar systems can be cash-positive in the very first year.

Given the chance to sit down with a homeowner and talk through the workings and finances of a solar PV system, Rob Meyers said he can usually make that homeowner a customer. South Mountain put just three solar systems on Island roofs back in 2005, the first year it offered this service; now Meyers’s department is by far the Island’s largest provider of home solar systems, installing them at the rate of about one per week.

“Our two biggest competitors,” Meyers said, “are the utility company, and misinformation.”

The take-away here is that you don’t need to be an early adopter or a passionate friend of the environment to consider solar power for your Island home. This is mature technology, and the costs have plummeted. The same SunPower panels being installed across the Island right now are also making electricity for such bastions of industry as Hewlett-Packard, PG&E, FedEx, Del Monte, and Microsoft.

“When the guys in navy blue suits and red ties are saying this is a good idea,” Meyers said to me, “you know the picture has shifted from environmentalism to economics. The environmental benefits at this point — they’re the bonus.”

To state the case even more succinctly: If you own a home and pay an electric bill, you could probably profit from solar power right now.