West Tisbury leaders hear plans to replace bridge over Mill Brook at North Tisbury
After electing John Early chairman and Glenn Hearn vice-chairman, the West Tisbury board of selectmen, including newly re-elected selectman Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter," got down to work. They considered, among other matters, plans for a new bridge in North Tisbury and an offer from the Howes House Writers to act as a screening committee for the town's poet laureate.
The bridge at North Tisbury
County engineer Stephen Berlucci brought plans from Massachusetts Highway for a replacement bridge on State Road just up-Island from the Vineyard Food Shop, an area still known by old-timers as "the ford," where wagons and stock crossed Mill Brook before there was a bridge, and later where stock were driven through the brook and watered on the east side of the bridge.
Work will begin to repair this North Tisbury bridge after Labor Day, 2008. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Town officials have been requesting for several years that the state widen the dangerous narrow bridge and replace the inadequate guard rails, which are periodically damaged. A new bridge is now officially in the works, though plans are only at a preliminary stage. Mr. Berlucci guesses that the work may actually be done after Labor Day in 2008. State Road will be closed for about six weeks, and traffic from down-Island will be detoured via Old County Road, not a small inconvenience for residents of the North Tisbury area. Mr. Berlucci commented that it is even possible the State will be working at the same time on the big and little bridges in Oak Bluffs and the Lagoon drawbridge, making a nightmare construction period for Island traffic.
The new bridge will rest on two sets of rectangular pre-cast concrete culverts. Mass. Highway plans call for straightening the road as it crosses the bridge to eliminate the existing awkward corner and for slightly widening the bridge, from 18 to 22 feet. The plans do not include a sidewalk. The selectmen, William Haynes, representing the town paths committee, and Mr. Berlucci, representing the county, all agreed that there should be a sidewalk separated from the roadway, similar to the ones planned for the Oak Bluffs bridges.
A further objection to the state's plans is to the standard steel guardrails. Mr. Berlucci said that in the case of the Oak Bluffs bridges, the state has been persuaded to use wooden guardrails containing hidden steel reinforcement, which cost three times as much. He hopes that the town and the county can successfully request a similar accommodation for the North Tisbury bridge.
Mr. Early commented that if the state is going to widen the road to 22 feet and add a sidewalk (another 5 feet), it may as well widen the road to a more standard 24 feet.
Maria MacFarland, representing the town conservation commission, asked if the project would be subject to her commission's review. Mr. Berlucci replied that Mass. Highway is exempt from local review, but it will be vetted by the state department of environmental protection, which will try to ensure that the Mill Brook will not be damaged at the construction site or downstream. Others in the room noted that the endangered cardinal flower grows next to the brook within sight of the bridge.
Executive secretary Jennifer Rand will draft a letter from the selectmen to Mass. Highway noting the concerns. The next step in the process is for the state to present "25 percent complete" plans at a public hearing. Mr. Berlucci commented that the "25 percent" hearing usually displays plans that are nearly finished, and that this early notice is the best time for town and county officials to weigh in with Mass. Highway.
Selecting a poet laureate
At the annual town meeting on April 11, voters created the honorary and unpaid position of town poet laureate and authorized the selectmen to choose a committee to assist in the selection. Cynthia Riggs, the author and chief proponent of the citizens' petition which proposed a town poet, was on hand last week to deliver an offer from the Howes House Writers (HHW) to serve as the nominating committee. She also brought a vase of poet's narcissus to decorate the selectmen's table.
The HHW, an Island-wide group that meets weekly to share and discuss their writing, are the founders and editors of Martha's Vineyard Writing, a twice-yearly literary journal about to issue its second installment. The HHW does not presently include a poet, and therefore no member is a candidate for the honor.
Ms. Riggs also presented a set of criteria for selecting the honoree. According to the HHW, the West Tisbury laureate should be a legal resident of Massachusetts and of West Tisbury for at least two of the past five years; should have published at least ten poems in newspapers, journals, or magazines (or be self-published); should be recognized by "the literary community" as having made significant contributions; and should be willing to help raise public awareness of the importance of poetry.
On behalf of the HHW, Ms. Riggs also presented the selectmen with a list of the honoree's duties, and application (or nomination) guidelines.
The selectmen's reaction was lukewarm. Mr. Manter objected to some of the requirements, saying that the rules might discourage young writers by placing the post out of their reach. Mr. Hearn and Mr. Early objected to the makeup of the HHW, which is Island-wide (only three members of the HHW are from West Tisbury). Mr. Manter wondered if the selection committee shouldn't be the town representatives to the Martha's Vineyard cultural council. The selectmen warmly thanked the HHW for all their work, and they took the matter under advisement.
Assessors update and other business
Cynthia Mitchell, assessors' liaison to the board of selectmen, reported that the assessors have encountered no need to pursue new cases before the state Appellate Tax Board in the past month and therefore have not spent any of the $1,000 the selectmen authorized for that purpose. She commented that from now on the assessors have a specific town-meeting appropriation and a line-item in the 2007 budget, and if they need more money for legal services, they will go to town meetings for it.
Ms. Mitchell also reported that on Thursday, May 4, at 4:30 pm at the Howes House, the assessors will hold the first of several public meetings to explain to taxpayers how that town department works. Topics tentatively scheduled include assessing basics, specific examples of different types of property, and general concerns raised by the Graham case.
In other business, the selectmen voted not to exercise the town's right of first refusal on 20 or 30 acres on the south side in the estate of Leonard Athearn, which the heirs have decided to sell to the Land Bank. The Land Bank acquisition is a complicated proposal which will later come before a public hearing and was not the subject of the selectmen's vote. Because the town held the right of first refusal, the Land Bank did not want to proceed until the town signed off. After a brief discussion, the selectmen voted 2 to 0 not to pursue the town's right. Mr. Manter abstained because his mother is an abutter. During the public comment time at the end of the meeting, James Alley commented that he disagreed with the selectmen's action, saying that other uses for the land should have been explored, such as affordable housing, before the town gave up its right. Mr. Hearn replied that whenever possible, the Land Bank now makes some of its acquisitions available for affordable housing.
In further actions, the selectmen authorized the board of health to hire legal counsel to sue a landowner for failure to repair a failed septic system, and asked Ms. Rand to notify a tenant that the town will not renew a lease on town land at the dump when the current lease expires in December 2007.