Oak Bluffs agrees to dredging, finishes meeting
Oak Bluffs voters wrapped up their annual town meeting on April 15, with votes to borrow $500,000 for dredging in Sengekontacket Pond, to strengthen animal control by-laws, and to approve a substantial pay increase for the town clerk. Registered voters numbered 82, when the meeting began, representing 2.6 percent of the town's registered voters. A quorum of 50 is required.
The only article defeated in the special and annual meetings, which consumed two evenings, was a zoning proposal to allow low- and moderate-income residents to build on undersized lots.
The dredging proposal generated vigorous debate. There was little disagreement about whether the dredging of a channel from Big Bridge to Little Bridge was needed, only whether the town could afford to borrow money to do it. For the past two summers, Sengekontacket Pond has been closed to shellfishing by order of the state Division of Marine Fisheries because of higher than acceptable pollution levels. The article was submitted by petition, an effort organized by commercial fisherman Bill Alwardt.
"I've seen in the past we've done numerous studies," said Mr. Alwardt. "We tend to do these studies and not follow through on them. The pond is in dire need of dredging."
"I'm fully in favor of dredging, but I'm adamantly opposed to borrowing half a million dollars to do it," said Terry Appenzellar, vice-president of Friends of Sengekontacket, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the popular saltwater pond.
Selectmen Duncan Ross, also active in Friends of Sengekontacket, supported the measure. "Oak Bluffs needs to do dredging, and we need to do it yesterday, not tomorrow. We cannot afford to continue to ignore it."
Selectman Ron DiOrio pointed out that the town is now paying $2.1 million in interest annually on bonds totaling more than $32 million. "This is not the time for us to go out borrowing," he said.
On a voice vote, more than two-thirds of the voters approved the dredging measure, easily clearing the hurdle needed for borrowing money.
Drawing the line on lots
A complex zoning measure intended to encourage affordable housing met defeat. Submitted by the planning board, the zoning changes would have allowed construction of a single family home on undersized lots for families that earn 100 percent or less than the area median income guidelines.
"The purpose of the bylaw is to allow affordable housing," said planning board chairman John Bradford. "It's to allow somebody to find a lot that wouldn't normally be buildable and build on it."
While many agreed in principle, there were concerns about managing expected growth.
"I read this article, and I thought the planning board had gone mad," said Phil Hughes. "People find amazing ways to circumvent zoning laws."