Opinion

It is that time of the year when we ask, what do we get for our county tax dollars? Reporting on the annual county spending plan can be yawn inspiring, but it is wise to ask the Dukes County commissioners and the Dukes County advisory board that question. It lets them know we are interested.

The problem is too few taxpayers ask the question. The county budget has become the spindly rhododendron in the yard that you water, and not because it generates many flowers, or is even attractive. It is in the yard and you don’t want to dig it up and move it, or cut it, so you water it.

Dukes County taxpayers will chip in $500,000 to fund the $1.5 million county budget that begins with the new fiscal year on July 1. Their sizeable contribution will come in the form of individual town assessments.

Unlike a town budget that appears on an annual town meeting warrant and is reviewed on town meeting floor where interested voters (too few, we think) may question department spending, the county budget process occurs pretty much out of sight, and far from the consciousness of most taxpayers. County money comes right off the top of the tax dollar pot.

As Steve Myrick reports in this week’s issue, on May 21 the county advisory board (CAB) approved the county budget. The CAB, made up of one selectman from each town, rejected a hike in the assessment each town pays to the county and requested the county return $150,000 to the towns from surplus county funds. It was a good start.

Under the equalized valuation formula, Edgartown taxpayers this year paid $179,374. Chilmark, with the next highest assessment, paid $89,687, followed by Oak Bluffs ($69,825), Tisbury ($69,331), West Tisbury ($64,644) and Aquinnah ($18,998). That’s a lot of dough.

The need to reference county as opposed to Island taxpayers rests on the town of Gosnold, which includes Cuttyhunk, the one portion of the Elizabeth Islands that is inhabited year-round. It is part of Dukes County.

If Island taxpayers ought to question what they get for their money, how about the residents of Gosnold, who will be asked — no, strike that — told to chip in $6,908. It is not a lot of money, but it is likely that the fewer than 100 people who live on the islands year round would prefer to take that money and send out for pizza several times over the long winter months. That would at least provide something for their tax dollars they could bite into.

Longtime Edgartown selectman and finance board chairman Art Smadbeck has worked hard over the years to pare the county budget. Smart and ever optimistic, Mr. Smadbeck sees the county glass as half full.

Asked by Mr. Myrick what taxpayers will receive from the $1.5 million county spending plan, Mr. Smadbeck described the need to water the plant.

“We have a political entity that we’ve all inherited, that costs money to operate,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “It costs less money today than it used to cost. We’ve been getting the cost down. The value of the political entity is just that, it’s a political entity that can be used for rescuing the MSPCA if that’s necessary. It’s a regional entity that can be used for regional purposes such as finding a home for the Center for Living. Statutorily, we have to have the county, we have to pay for the county.”

Of the fourteen counties in Massachusetts that made it to the administration of Governor William Weld (1991-1997), four county governments were abolished outright. Five transformed into regional councils of government. Only Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Norfolk and Plymouth county governments remained substantially unchanged.

Asked the same question as Mr. Smadbeck, Melinda Loberg, newly elected Tisbury selectman and former county commissioner, ticked off veterans services, the county treasurer’s accounting services, and the parking clerk. And initiatives, nominally under the county umbrella. She also emphasized the benefit of the county structure which, she said, “will provide an opportunity for towns when they choose to do so, to work together like we’re hoping to do with the Center for Living.”

Of course, Island towns are capable of providing regional services and funding regional programs and even crafting inter-municipal agreements outside the county umbrella.

In recent weeks, determined to do what no county manager before her has done before and show the county has a useful purpose, county manager Martina Thornton has been making the rounds of selectmen meetings to seek support for special legislation that would allow the county to organize the regional purchase, funded with town dollars, of the former Vineyard Nursing Association building, now on the market for $1.6 million, for use by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living.

The Center for Living is an Island-wide organization that offers care and services for residents aged 55 and over, including a supportive day program for frail elders, as well as Alzheimers and dementia patients. The building is too large for their needs, but there is the thought that excess space could be rented out to help pay the freight.

There is no question that the center should have a permanent home. There is a question whether the VNA building is the right building and whether the county, or an Island social service organization should organize a purchase. It is not too early to ask questions.

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However accustomed to the rhythms of life we think we’ve become, unimaginable events intrude and overtake our faculties and our capacity for comprehension and expression. Pat Gregory, a man of rare centrality to Vineyard life, has been mindlessly taken away from us; we are angry and diminished and chilled, reminded again that we borrow but never own the instruments of civility which nourish and protect our community.

Pat Gregory’s individual acts of kindness, the range of his interests, his sacrifices to the public exercise of citizenship, and his grace and humility made him of our community in a unique way. Ever the teacher, Pat’s legacy is not the hole that his death has left behind, it’s the caring friend and neighbor he’s shown we each can be.

What follows is a selection of the more than 70 reader comments posted to MVTimes.com.

Peter Oberfest
Publisher

Madeline Fisher

Dear Gregory family, My heart goes out to you as family…this is an incredibly terrible loss and my prayers are with you.

Sandie Corr-Dolby

Always a Gentle-man, with a smile and caring nature that was sincere. I’m so sad, we have lost one amazing man!

Laurie Welch

This is an outrage. I am so sad for the Gregory family and the Island community. My heart aches. I am so sad. You are all in my thoughts and prayers ♥

Sara Piazza · Owner at Sara Piazza Photography&Music

This is unfathomable. It makes no sense whatsoever. May God grant strength and comfort to Pat’s family and to all of us.

Ellen Northrup · Marthas Vineyard Regional High

I am so sad. He personified decency.

Fifi Gabel-Jorgensen

Heartbreaking, senseless, devastating. God bless him, I wish, wish, wish with all my heart that this wasn’t true.

Mary Gould ·West Tisbury, Massachusetts

I hope I’m dreaming. What crazed animal would rob and then kill such a good human being?

Alice Robinson

We are all the richer for having known Pat and all the poorer for losing his gentlemanly presence. He showed us that it is possible to remain civil to one another when there are so many examples of the opposite in our world. My heart goes out to Dorothy and all their family & friends.

Frank Flanders · Marthas Vineyard Regional High

My heart goes out to this wonderful family. Pat has always been a very personable individual whose caring seemed unending. The family and all whom he was involved with have lost a great friend. May you rest in peace my friend and may your family find comfort. You will be greatly missed. My heart aches at the loss of such a gentleman.

Bill MacKenty · Director of Technology at American School of Warsaw

This is a terrible tragedy, meaningless and wrenching. I remember Pat in Educomp, what a decent, good, kind man.

Adam Darack · Semester at Sea

Beyond horrible. There was not a nicer, more genuine, universally beloved person than Pat. Though I don’t know his family but if they are reading this, please know that I am one of thousands here in your community thinking of you, here for you, and mourning Pat. I’m also reminiscing about some funny conversations we’d have when randomly bumping into each other on Main St about how technology is supposed to work but, even as computer people, how sometimes we’d shake our heads at how it refused to cooperate. This is a tragic loss and the shock is impossible to measure.

Robert Abbey · Design Committee Volunteer at Gardiner Main Street

Pat Gregory was always a terrific supporter of the Island schools and actively advised and helped us implement then unknown technologies. He was able to work with anyone in such a friendly and engaging way. It’s hard to make meaning from this, but Pat’s life was truly of note.

Melinda Loberg · Smith College

So very sad! The island has lost one of its finest citizens and friends. God rest your soul Pat. You will be missed and remembered with love and respect.

Jan Pogue · Follow · Edgartown, Massachusetts

Speechless with sorrow

Larry Greenberg · Owner/Clinician at Greenberg Physical & Hand Therapy Associates

What a decent, gentle, kind, compassionate, intelligent and fine man. Struggling with such a senseless act. Heartfelt sympathies to Dorothy and their children. Pat was the best example of humankind.

Island Images

So shocking that such a decent, kind and upbeat person should be lost in such a senseless way.

Jyl Manning · Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

My sincere sympathies to the “Gregory” family. I have known Pat through soccer when his grandson, Jack, played with my grandson. Pat pitched right in and helped coach! I previously knew him from the Tribe, and the computer tech work he did with and for us. I am a loyal customer to his store as well. He will be so missed by the West Tisbury community, and the Island. I am filled with grief for his wife and family, and just to say: This world was a better place for Pat being in it. My prayers are with his family at this time. I am so very sorry.

Five years ago, Yvonne (Berube) Sylvia of Edgartown walked into the office of The Martha’s Vineyard Times carrying a large blue scrapbook. On the cover was a piece of tape, on which she had written: “Brother Edmund J. Berube. Born August 18, 1918. Killed March 3, 1945.”

The book, its pages frail and yellowed over time, contained photos, letters, documents and clippings Mrs. Sylvia had assembled to preserve the memory of her brother and to document his accomplishments.

By all accounts, Edmund Berube was a gifted athlete who excelled at track and basketball. He co-captained Edgartown High School’s 1935-36 championship basketball team and was president of his senior class. He worked at the Colonial Drug Store, owned by Len Henrickson.

He entered the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in the spring of 1941. Just as in high school, Mr. Berube was very popular with his classmates and was elected president of his senior class. He expected to finish college and to return to Edgartown to work at the Colonial Drug Store.

As the fighting on all the war’s fronts grew in intensity, there was a dire need for men with the type of medical training provided by the College of Pharmacy. In 1943, Mr. Berube and the 72 other members of the class of 1944 learned that there would be no break, but that they would attend classes and graduate on October 27 as part of an accelerated wartime program.

Lewis Lappas of Boston, valedictorian of the first class of 1943, described the disruption the war had created in the professional and personal plans of his classmates as part of his graduation oration delivered that February. “We must lay aside our plans for further study, our hopes for marriage, for homes, for professional careers,” he said to his fellow graduates. “Undoubtedly these things will come to most of us in time, but not immediately; and they will come to none unless we gladly postpone them now in order to do our share in the re-creation of the kind of American world in which such things will again be possible.”

Two months after he received a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy, Mr. Berube joined the Navy.

The scrapbook contained 15 letters Mr. Berube sent to his sister between the time he arrived in the Pacific and landed on Iwo Jima with the Third Marine Division. The first envelope was dated October 7, 1944, the last, February 15, 1945.

Mr. Berube was with Marines who had already had experience fighting the Japanese. If he was worried or concerned because of what he had learned and consequently what he might expect, he never shared such anxious thoughts with his sister.

On February 13, five days before the first wave of Marines landed on the black volcanic soil of Iwo Jima, Mr. Berube sent his last letter to his sister. He criticized some of the movies shown to the troops but wrote not a word of the upcoming battle or non-stop bombardment of the island that he witnessed. He wrote about photos he recently received. “I really like your picture and also the one with Albert [her husband]. They really made me feel wonderful all over, it took me back to the days when you were in school in Boston and all the fun we had. That of course is one of the things we have to help us though blue days. I do not like to look back, but rather ahead to the future when everything can be done as you want and have your good times as normal humans. I hope some day I can walk into someplace out here and meet someone from Edgartown.”

Mr. Berube’s unit landed on Iwo Jima, on February 22. On March 3, a Japanese sniper shot Edmund Berube as he was crawling over a stone to help a wounded Marine. He was 26 years old and one of the 6,800 servicemen killed in a battle defined by its unrestrained ferocity.

At the request of his mother, his body was returned from Iwo Jima, in April 1948.

Edmund Berube is buried in Edgartown cemetery next to members of his family.

Last Tuesday, in Texas, Command Sgt. Maj. Martin R. Barreras, 49, of Tucson, Ariz., died at San Antonio Military Medical Center from wounds sustained when enemy forces opened fire on his unit May 6 in Herat province, Afghanistan.

Mr. Barreras was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. He had completed several combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2013, Mr. Barreras was assigned as the senior enlisted adviser for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, and deployed to Afghanistan in December 2013.

Command Sgt. Maj. Barreras is survived by a wife, two daughters and a son.

His was the most recent combat death in a 13-year-old war that began in 2001 and has now claimed 2,322 lives and added to the sad weight of scrapbooks in homes across America.

Memorial Day is set aside for the nation to honor men and women who died in the military service of the country. On Monday most of us will go about the business of enjoying holiday activities but it would be well, if even for a moment, to remember the sacrifice Memorial Day is meant to commemorate.

On Thursday last week, in an email to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), Stop & Shop withdrew its application to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. It is likely that Stop & Shop executives read the tea leaves and decided that the MVC’s scheduled June 5 vote, always expected to be close, might not go their way.

But why withdraw? Wait one more month and you get to call and see the other fellow’s cards. A withdrawal earns no MVC bonus points next time, if there is a next time.

After eight months in the Island’s salad spinner of a public permitting process it is understandable that Stop & Shop might wilt. Once upon a time they probably thought their willingness to invest in a moribund block of buildings, provide parking, jobs and contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements would be welcomed.

Whatever prompted the decision to withdraw it was not because Stop & Shop’s Dutch corporate bosses looked at Five Corners on Google Earth, or were moved by the comments of petitioners late to the fight. There was a corporate calculus in their decision. Whether it holds any benefit for Vineyard residents is still unknown.

Last week, opponents celebrated. Supporters groaned. And Stop & Shop resisted the urge to tell Vineyard Haven leaders their port entrance would remain as is with all the architectural charm of a Soviet-era block construction site for the next decade.

In a prepared statement, Joe Kelly, President of Stop & Shop New England, said, “Following the close of the public hearing on May 1, 2014, Stop & Shop has decided to request a withdrawal of the current proposal from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to digest all of the comments, questions and concerns related to the project. Stop & Shop is a vested partner of this community, and will remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the Town of Tisbury.”

Now is a good time to take stock. The MVC began the process of considering Stop & Shop as a development of regional impact (DRI) in July 2013. The review included eight public hearings (which consumed about 36 hours), six land use planning committee meetings (another 8 hours) and staff time (more than 800 hours). Tisbury selectmen spent many hours discussing the project and drawing up a memorandum of agreement that turned out to be no agreement. The planning board spent hours deciding it could not support the plan and the parking lot redesign committee came up with another parking lot redesign.

Ten months, hours upon hours of meetings and planning, additional pounds of studies, letters to the editor upon letters and what do we have to show for it today? Not much. A plan that failed to win the support of most Tisbury leaders and generated little enthusiasm among commission members. Lots of process, but not much of a result.

Tisbury and Island residents will benefit from a vibrant, new Stop & Shop and the additional jobs, competitive grocery pricing, and contributions to the community it could provide. Locating a parking and truck delivery lot on the bottom level remains a good idea.

Stop & Shop and the Water Street neighborhood is vital to the Tisbury community. Expecting Stop & Shop to solve every planning and traffic issue within a half-mile radius, and help fund those solutions and build a new market is an unfair burden to impose.

Now is not the time for town leaders to sit on the sidelines and wait for Stop & Shop to make the next move, whenever that might be. The Tisbury selectmen and planning board ought to take the lead and invite Stop & Shop representatives to sit down and work together to find a redesign that will win support. After 10 months, the status quo offers nothing.

For many Islanders and certainly their seasonal neighbors, spring and the approach of the summer season, with its prospect of shedding the gray, wet, cold winter mantle — also known on the Vineyard as early spring — is a relief. It is exciting to imagine warm, sunny days and everything else the summer months offer.

But for one segment of the Vineyard population, this is the anxious season, as the weeks tick away and winter leases expire. It is the familiar Vineyard shuffle that individuals, couples, and families all too routinely make between affordable off-season rentals and high-priced summer housing, or no housing at all. And, as Jack Shea reports this week, a meeting Saturday at the Oak Bluffs Library, attended by many of those in the eye of the shuffle storm, explained that a strengthening economy has made finding summer housing much more difficult.

Jason Claypool and Mellisa Zaccaria organized the meeting. In a letter posted on social media, Ms. Zaccaria described the situation: “We have been homeless since Friday of last week and have been religiously searching through Facebook housing groups, both Vineyard newspapers, Craigslist, and word of mouth since before Christmas of last year. This is not due to a lack of money, but to a lack of housing opportunities.”

Mr. Shea reports that the group of attendees included many longtime Islanders, people with roots in the community, who now find themselves on the brink of seasonal homelessness.

Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director David Vigneault said that for several years the slowdown in the housing market added 50 to 60 rental units to the Vineyard stock. With the real estate market back, he said, many of those rental properties are off the market.

The solution is to create more year-round rentals. And not just for those who fall under median income thresholds. There is a need for quality year-round rental housing for members of this community who may exceed those income limits, but may, for a variety of reasons, be unable or not inclined to buy a house.

In a Letter to the Editor that appears on this page, Chelsea Counsell of Oak Bluffs, administrator of a social media group called “MV Home Solutions,” asks, “Why is Island housing so difficult to find?”

The answer lies in our resort economy. Land prices are high, construction costs are high and property owners, who have their own bills to pay, take advantage of summer to realize the most return on their investment.

Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, tells The Times he has been hearing about the rental shortage for months. “Now it is crunch time,” Mr. Jordi said, “and people are getting desperate.”

It is hard to imagine that the best efforts of the Island’s hard-working affordable housing advocates and nonprofit agencies would be able to meet the need any time in the near future. Increased taxpayer subsidies paid to landlords to bridge the affordability gap will not be enough and offer no long-term solution.

Mr. Jordi rightly points out that agencies like the Housing Authority target a specific problem. “The question really is,” Mr. Jordi said, “why don’t we have more market rate rentals, year-round? Why are we having such a problem with people who can pay, not being able to find rental units.”

Mr. Jordi suggest it is the marketplace at work. The numbers do not work. And few developers want to take on the added burdens of property management.

Island planning and housing leaders along with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to invite private developers to sit down and describe what towns and the Island’s powerful regulatory agency might do — incentives, zoning changes, streamlined permitting —  to create an environment in which builders would create market-rate, year-round rental housing. The building trades are pillars of the Vineyard’s year-round and seasonal economy. Many of the members of that community may relish the opportunity to create housing they or their children might one day occupy.

In memoriam

At 11 am, this Saturday, Megan Leland, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2005, will help dedicate a black granite bench, bought with the help and support of the Island community. It will be set on the high school campus, between two flowering crabapple trees. It bears the inscription, “In loving memory of David Furino and Kevin H. Johnson, Class of 2005.”

With this effort, Ms. Leland will make good on a promise she made 10 years ago, following the deaths of her classmates in an auto accident, and she will affirm the tight bonds among members of the Vineyard community, in good times and bad. As students prepare for the prom this weekend, we are sadly reminded of the message printed on bumper stickers that appear on vehicles around the Island, a message that does not expire with the passage of time: “Buckle up for K.J. and Deebo.”

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Today’s issue of The Times is the last that will emerge from the particular calculus Doug Cabral has brought to newspapering on Martha’s Vineyard. Doug has been editor of The Martha’s Vineyard Times for 28 of its 30 years, an owner for 25, and Barbara’s and my partner (with his wife Molly) since 1996.

In my experience Doug is a reserved fellow, economical in conversation and favoring direct expression and only modest displays of emotion. He’s also consistent (stubborn?) in his point of view. He says he’s had a good time getting The Times out, but that 28 years is enough, and that it’s time to do something different. I take him at his word.

He shouldn’t, though, get to slip out the door without notice on these pages. Such a long regime and the event of this transition deserve a bit of expansiveness, because after all these years what we are as a community newspaper, team effort notwithstanding, is a function of where Doug has taken us. And since beginning today we proceed without him, all the more reason to think a bit on what The Times sets out to do each day.

Publishing and editing serious community newspapers and websites like ours is a complicated exercise. It requires commitment to practicing the craft and profession of journalism at the highest possible level, tolerance for managing in a difficult business environment, and passion for finding relevance in the chaotic new order of digital content. For chain-owned newspapers or for those with narrow social, political, and constituent interests, reliably delivering on these essentials has proved daunting enough.

Doug understood early on, though, that for there to be a valuable role for The Times in the Vineyard community, professionalism, opportunistic business strategies, and a nimble web presence were necessary but not in themselves sufficient, especially for a community newspaper consciously setting out 30 years ago to challenge and disrupt the seemingly closed media ecosystem of Martha’s Vineyard. To be legitimate, The Times needed to perform an essential community job.

Being useful editorially has meant maintaining a clear vision of the inescapable interdependency of all Islanders and all of the systems and institutions making up a healthy Vineyard community. And also of course maintaining the intellectual rigor needed to look at each incremental public choice through that lens. Doug defined The Times’s usefulness by insisting on treating Islanders — seasonal and year-rounder alike — like a real community, multi-layered and messy. Doug’s editorials were never intended to find and then amplify conventional wisdom and Vineyard clichés. They were intended to help us see our choices through the many sensibilities our community encompasses.

Trying to characterize our view of editorial leadership and the opinions we publish for your consideration in terms of ideology and the passions and language of narrow issues — liberal or conservative, development versus conservation, pro-this or pro-that — is tempting but ultimately unhelpful, however resonant each issue may be for one or another Times constituent. We could entertain fellow believers or tease those who differ, but in our view single issue polemics don’t on their own do much to illuminate our community and our choices.

In the course of crafting perhaps 1,500 Times editorials, Doug did his best to make sure that we were always posing the same question — what does this warrant article, or proposal, or project, or candidate, or for that matter this obituary — what does this mean for all of us, for the whole Vineyard community? Sometimes channeling his inner H.L. Mencken, sometimes E. B. White, Doug prodded and chided so we would take it all in.

For 28 years this vision and discipline (have I said stubbornness?) have been all Doug’s, and while we may have sometimes disappointed you, or failed to make a perfect case, Doug has known, and tried to teach the rest of us, what a truly useful newspaper should be.

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I was diagnosed with mild high-frequency hearing loss as a child, probably related to early ear infections and fevers. I remember a specialist telling my parents, “He’ll be fine, but he should stay away from loud machinery.”

I went on to spend 24 years at the Vineyard Gazette, logging thousands of hours in the production room where the four-unit Goss Community press, once brought up to speed, shakes the building and sounds like a locomotive under throttle.

In June of 2006, I took a job in a quieter setting, at the Edgartown Library. That summer a parade of people came to the front desk and asked for help in their best library voices. My responses were variations on the theme of “Could you speak up, please?”

My library colleagues suggested, in the kindest terms, that I have my hearing checked — and soon I was fielding patrons’ questions more nimbly, thanks to a pair of hearing aids that set me back a month’s pay but have served me ably now for almost eight years.

Several of my Island friends, noticing the new wires and the tiny Oticons behind my ears — I will admit to being inordinately proud that they’re made in Denmark — have asked me about them, and have ended up being fitted for hearing aids themselves. And several of their spouses have made a point of thanking me. Because hearing is one of the most profoundly social senses, and when hearing is improved the benefits accrue to both the listeners and the people who speak to them.

Hearing aids have improved greatly over the past decade, but they still can’t do for hearing what eyeglasses can do for sight. You can enjoy 20/20 vision with the right optics, but even the best hearing aids don’t restore the acuity of human ears at their youthful, healthy best. I’ve become an aficionado of acoustic spaces, because one of the greatest challenges to my hearing is background noise. When we go out for dinner together, my wife and I pick restaurants as much for their quiet, which means we’ll be able to enjoy our conversation, as for their cuisine.

I’ve also become sensitized to the way hearing loss is treated as a poor stepchild in the family of disabilities. Medicare and most insurance plans generally don’t pay anything toward the considerable cost of hearing aids, which is one good reason why an estimated 80 percent of the more than 35 million Americans with hearing loss aren’t wearing them.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union has its own version of our Americans with Disabilities Act, and it requires that public spaces include a technology most Americans haven’t even heard of. It’s the hearing loop, also called the audio-frequency induction loop or AFIL, and it sends an audio signal into any pair of hearing aids fitted with a telecoil.

In a widely-circulated New York Times story three years ago, the composer Richard Einhorn described hearing a performance of the musical, “Wicked,” at the Kennedy Center in Washington after the center was fitted with a hearing loop system.

“There I was at ‘Wicked’ weeping uncontrollably — and I don’t even like musicals,” he said. “For the first time since I lost most of my hearing, live music was perfectly clear, perfectly clean and incredibly rich.”

Hearing loop systems are ubiquitous in Europe — every London taxi cab has one — and nearly all hearing aids sold there are equipped with the telecoil that receives their signals. But on this side of the water, we’re way behind the curve.

Massachusetts has just a handful of hearing loop systems in public spaces. They’re being used in half a dozen places of worship — the nearest are St. Peter’s Church in Harwich and the Cape Cod Synagogue in Hyannis. The meeting room of the Dennis Public Library uses a hearing loop; so do Logan Airport in Boston and the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline.

On Martha’s Vineyard, any public space would be well served by the addition of a hearing loop. Church halls and performing arts spaces, selectmen’s meeting rooms, library program rooms, senior centers and our district court are among the prime candidates for a technology that promises to deliver clearer sound to the growing number of people with hearing aids. And as the loops become more common, hearing aids fitted with telecoils will become the standard, just as they already are in Europe.

Fortunately, the cost of this new technology is low. Most public spaces can be fitted with a hearing loop for about $10,000 — the price of two pairs of high-end hearing aids. Here’s hoping that someday soon, we’ll begin to see the hearing loop logo in the doorways of Vineyard spaces, promising help for hundreds of listeners in carving out meaning from the background of noise.

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This winter found many of us trying to get inside from the cold, where the comforts of modern life awaited — warmth, lights, electronics, appliances, and a hot meal.

You may not have realized it, but the infrastructure that delivers energy to us, upon which all these comforts depend, was under great stress.

Massachusetts does not produce coal, oil or natural gas. We are at the end of the energy pipeline for all those fuels.  Over the past 30 years our region has shifted more of our energy use away from coal and oil toward natural gas.

Yet our demand for gas, both in the heating and electric sectors, has been increasing much faster than the supply of gas that pipelines deliver us. During this cold winter, we saw spot market prices for natural gas and electricity rise significantly. This not only made electricity generated by gas more expensive, it also meant that as the heating sector used more gas there was less available for power plants. There were times in this past, brutally cold January when our region’s electric grid manager, ISO-New England, needed to run old, inefficient and dirty “peaker” power units just to keep the lights on.

These cold periods that stress our energy infrastructure also tend to be quite windy. We have all seen the meteorologists on TV telling us about the “wind chill effect,” and winter is our windiest season. Massachusetts is not at the end of the wind pipeline. In elevated locations, along the shore and particularly offshore, we have our own vast supply of clean wind energy waiting to be tapped.

Over the past 13 years, our company has been developing America’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, on Horseshoe Shoal. During that time Cape Wind would have provided significant energy, economic, and environmental benefits to Massachusetts and beyond.

During a severe three-day cold snap in January, 2004, ISO New England contemplated the need for rolling blackouts because of the shortage of natural gas for electricity generation.  The U.S. Department of Energy studied the region’s energy vulnerability and noted that during the entire three-day period winds over Nantucket Sound were strong and, had it been built, Cape Wind would have been operating at full capacity during most of that period and provided significant electric reliability benefits.

This past winter, Cape Wind would have eased the stress on the natural gas and electric spot markets and reduced price spikes. Had Cape Wind been operating, National Grid and NSTAR would have also saved millions of dollars this winter under their contracts with us compared with relying upon spot markets. Over time, Cape Wind’s impact in reducing electricity spot market prices will be significant, more than $7 billion over the life of the project, according to a study by Charles River Associates. Wind power consistently reduces electric spot market prices wherever it has already been installed on a significant scale, such as in Europe or in parts of the U.S.

Offshore wind is also particularly valuable during a less windy season, summer. One might think of the “dog days of August” when temperatures are high but winds are calm. Yet offshore, it’s a different story, where the sea breeze kicks in during hot summer afternoons. In fact, we have found that during the highest summer electric demand hours, Cape Wind would double its average hourly electric production.

There is a lot of interest in the direct bill impacts for electricity consumers from Cape Wind.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (MDPU) carried out lengthy adjudicatory proceedings and heard from energy experts and project supporters and opponents alike. The MDPU concluded that Massachusetts residential and business electric consumers will see an increase in the range of one to two percent on their monthly electric bills attributable to National Grid and NSTAR’s power purchase from Cape Wind. As with every other energy technology, the cost of harnessing offshore wind will fall as it is further built out and greater economies of scale are achieved.

Those who scoff at the energy contribution that offshore wind can play ignore key facts.  Denmark today gets 30 percent of its total electricity needs met by a combination of onshore and offshore wind power. Although Cape Wind’s electricity will be sold to electric consumers statewide, Cape Wind’s electricity supply will be consumed almost entirely on the Cape and Islands. Cape Wind’s turbines will produce power 88 percent of the time, and in average wind conditions will supply 75 percent of the average electricity demand of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.

It has been a long road for Cape Wind, but we are now in our financing stage and preparing for project construction. Right now Europe is successfully operating 64 offshore wind farms that were built over the past 23 years, creating 58,000 offshore wind jobs in the process.  Massachusetts has some of the best offshore wind resources in the world and will soon have North America’s first offshore wind farm. Cape Wind will provide greater energy independence and electric reliability while also creating good jobs and contributing to a healthier, cleaner, and more sustainable energy future.

Mark Rodgers is the communications director of Cape Wind, based in Boston.

Let’s put aside — just briefly, because that’s the best we can hope for — the hubbub of broadly and furiously expressed but narrowly based opposition to the Stop & Shop expansion proposal. Instead, this page believes that Islanders will be better served by an earnest, common sense struggle to consider the good and the not so good of this undeniably substantial and highly visible project.

It seems grandly unrealistic to argue that the new Stop & Shop will alter the character of the Vineyard or of Vineyard Haven. Like the Roundabout, which was deplored in the years leading to its construction as a death blow to Island-ness, the new grocery store will look very different from what is there today. The building will be much bigger than the dilapidated market it will replace. It will stand out by virtue of its scope and height by comparison with the buildings it will replace. But, it is not designed as a big box store like Cronig’s State Road Market. Rather the architectural effort has been to mute the building’s visual impact, and the designers have generally succeeded. What Stop & Shop will build to replace the current market, the restaurant next door, and the house — a rundown apartment building that has been exalted in this debate to historic registry status — will be better looking than anything else that now exists along the short stretch of Water Street on which it fronts. And, Island-ness will survive the alteration.

A bigger, better market will attract more customers, and certainly most of those new customers will drive to the store. Still, traffic studies do not suggest that the added auto traffic will crush the circulation of traffic along that jammed road, whose congestion is primarily the responsibility of Steamship Authority service at one end of Water Street and the mess that is Five Corners at the other — neither the responsibility of Stop & Shop. Stop & Shop plans to add more than 40 parking spots beneath the grocery store, an important plus in a neighborhood where parking is miserably difficult and scarce. The removal of big truck deliveries from the north side of the building will be an important improvement, making possible walking paths along the side of the building and landscaping to improve the appearance. The revision of the town parking lot will make it better looking and more efficient, welcoming, and useful for drivers, walkers, and cyclists than it is now.

The financial contributions Tisbury officials negotiated with Stop & Shop will help the town better manage parking and traffic in the neighborhood, and although $2 million would be better than $1 million, the agreed upon contributions will do some good, and the project as a whole — market expansion and parking lot revision, taken together — ought to stimulate Tisbury planners to take a hard-eyed look at what their zoning regulation has wrought along the corridor from the Steamship Authority terminal to the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge. That strip of devastation is a creature of town and regional planning. If the Stop & Shop project spurs a rethinking of Water Street-Beach Road development rules, with an eye to attracting business investment and creating an environment that pleases Islanders and their visitors, it will have done the town a great service. And if the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission would only undertake the planning and political effort to get the Steamship Authority out of town — because Stop & Shop makes sense in downtown Vineyard Haven, but the ferry terminal does not — well, that would be a bit of God’s work.

In sum, this is a good plan — not perfect, not perfectly in tune with every Islander’s world view, not a solution to every existing problem in the Water Street neighborhood, and certainly not a solution to every imaginable problem — but it will do some good for shoppers who will benefit from competition and choice, for businesses in the neighborhood who will consider fresh investment in an area that is rejuvenated, and for a town that has tolerated, and even enforced an attitude of dilapidation, but may recognize an opportunity for healthy change.

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This is the 807th and last weekly At Large column I will write. The series began in November of 1998, and I haven’t missed a deadline since. All by itself, that’s something to be proud of, I suppose. But actually, it was never my plan to begin the column, and I certainly never imagined I’d rumble on for more than 15 years. Figuring that I’d have to say something at least mildly interesting and certainly true in this final installment, I’ve been thinking lately about my lack of a plan, not just for the column, but for all the years I’ve logged as a newspaper writer, editor, columnist, and owner. I didn’t chart a course for any of it. It was all an accident — delightful, as it turned out, but unimagined and unplanned.

James Reston gave me a job as a feature writer at the Vineyard Gazette in 1972, after someone brought to his attention a story I’d written about living on my little boat with a big dog. A little while later, the woman I worked for left for a bigger, daily publication and a book writing career, and I became the managing editor. The learning curve was steep, but as luck would have it — and there is so much luck bearing on this tale — besides Reston, I worked under the guiding wisdom of Henry Beetle Hough, the Gazette’s hallowed editor, and Bill Caldwell, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary during his career as a columnist at the Record of Hackensack, New Jersey.

Henry’s reputation has over time parted ways with the workaday reality of this gentle but formidable man. He was not a summer visitor. His paper was not conceived as a postcard to summer folk who lived their lives elsewhere for most of the year, hankering all the while for their Vineyard vacation houses. He was a fully committed year-round Vineyarder, a member of the regional school committee, a bank director, the one who, with me, called the funeral directors — there were two in those days — early on Friday mornings to see if they had “anything for us” before the press began rumbling. And, he was the one who sat at the Linotype machine to set the late obituary in type. He meant his newspaper to be a tool for Islanders first, and then for others who loved the place and its land — and seascapes as he did.

Bill Caldwell taught originality and impeccable prose. His copy, which, in an odd and ironic twist, came to me for editing, though it needed none. No X-outs, no punctuation, spelling, or construction errors. Utterly perfect in every respect when he yanked it out of his typewriter and brought it to me.

Reston, the owner and publisher, whose archbishop-like presence led the great and powerful in the nation’s Capitol to genuflect, taught that beginning life as a sports writer and indulging a taste for flavorful sports metaphors and workmanlike, colloquial prose could make a columnist’s analysis of Washington politics and international diplomacy pleasurable and instructive to readers. He also taught newspaper office politics — a fervid, constant pastime in this business — at which he was clever and subtle.

In 1980, I left the Gazette, and it turned out that raising cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, hay, feed and sweet corn was next for me. But, six years later, I had a call from the founders of The Times and an offer. Five years after that, Molly and I bought the paper, and a few years after that, we met Barbara and Peter Oberfest, because our children went to the Vineyard Montessori School together. We and they formed a durable and successful two decades long partnership.

This column wasn’t my idea either. As I’ve told you on other occasions in this space, I began it at Molly’s suggestion. I had been writing a weekly editorial for several years before that — the one across the way on the Editorial page this morning is mine, another and final effort to get you to see things my way — but Molly said back in 1998 they often sounded bossy, and the subjects were boring. Well, no arguing with that. “Why don’t you write something more varied and occasionally fun,” she said. “You don’t want readers to think you’re a bossy, boring person.” (In the end, her hopes may have exceeded my grasp.)

But, as so much else over these many years has been, it was fun, and I enjoyed the unusual and enviable freedom to write what I liked on whatever topic I liked. Best of all, many of you were kind enough to say you enjoyed at least some of them. You stopped me in the market or the drug store or on the ferry to tell me so. On the other hand, some of you objected. A very nice Chilmark woman clipped a copy of one of the columns and mailed it to me with red pencil corrections to nearly every comma, capitalization, and word choice I had used. I’m sure she intended to be constructive, and she certainly was a diligent reader.

Her fading rewrite, pinned to the wall in my office, reappeared the other day as I took down the photos and cards I’d saved over all these years, including the bumper sticker someone gave me that said “MVTimes: Hateful Journalism Every Thursday.”

My colleagues over all these years have been numerous and varied. A few came and stayed. One preceded me on The Times, and she and one or two others have been with me for almost a quarter of a century — excellent, committed people of integrity and, yes, durability. There were tough times as well as triumphs. The ones who came and went quickly left their indelible marks too — the young reporter who, in interviewing for the job, failed to mention that he was dyslexic; the theater reviewer who, inflamed with artistic integrity that brooked no clumsy amateur performances, lumbered the grade school kids acting in the school play; the giggling summer interns who found most of their stories at the beach; the section editor who never met a deadline she couldn’t miss; the other one whose only skill was meeting deadlines; the California website geniuses who built a site that drained our treasury, exhausted our patience, and vanished, leaving us face to face with the fact that we were fools and had been taken to the cleaners.

Today, this happy accident has run its course. Peter and Barbara will navigate the next leg of The Times trip. Molly and I wish them and all of The Times folk great fun, accidental or otherwise. Newspapers by nature are carried along daily in the bouillabaisse of human events: births, deaths, tragedies, triumphs, fire, flood, politics, arguments, crabbiness, euphoria. We are exposed to it all. It’s the job, and thanks to you — readers, customers, newsmakers, colleagues, neighbors, friends, critics — it has been a terrific job to have. There is always smiling promise and great opportunity for someone like me — especially in your neighborly, encouraging, indulgent, and enthusiastic company.