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Menemsha Harbor issues frame Chilmark selectman's contest
Chilmark's election on Wednesday features only one contest, a head-to-head race for selectman between incumbent J.B. Riggs Parker and political neophyte Karsten Larsen.
Both candidates are familiar figures around the Menemsha waterfront, but their backgrounds are dissimilar. Mr. Parker, 74, is an experienced sailor and pleasure boater with a long record of public service. A former corporate lawyer, he has served on the town planning board and was the appointed Island member to the Steamship Authority, where he championed a strategic planning program that included New Bedford fast ferry passenger service as a way to limit vehicle traffic to the Vineyard.
Mr. Parker responded by e-mail. His answers are printed verbatim. Mr. Larsen asked to respond in person to a Times reporter.
1. This is your first run for elected office. Why did you decide to run for a seat on the board of selectmen?
Mr. Larsen: I'm running because many people asked me to run, and I feel the people in Chilmark aren't being represented right. Having been born and raised here, I feel there are a lot of things I can help with in the town's future. I would especially like the Middle Line Road affordable housing project to get completed as soon as possible and in as an environmentally friendly way as possible. I might not know a lot, but I'll learn. I cherish our town, and I think what we have is special, and I want to keep it that way.
1. Why did you decide to seek re-election?
J.B. Riggs Parker.
Mr. Parker: I believe in public service. During the last three years, I was involved in initiatives to improve town government - by increasing transparency and communication, and delineating town personnel and financial policies and practices. I'd like to continue these efforts in the coming three years.
2. Mr. Larsen, please comment on the criticism directed at selectman Riggs Parker over the enforcement of harbor regulations.
Mr. Larsen: A lot of things are done without the people knowing about them and they are quite costly. We have a beautiful harbor, and I agree we need to expand it, but I don't want it to become like Nantucket. Mr. Parker is hitting on the fishermen to do it. Fishing isn't in his best interest, not like mine. I feel when someone toys with our harbor, it definitely hits home.
2. Mr. Parker, please comment on the criticism directed at you personally over the enforcement of harbor regulations.
Mr. Parker: The 1985 Town Master Plan and its 2002 revision mandate the protection of Menemsha's traditional qualities. It is a small harbor. Menemsha readily accommodates only a limited number of small scale cruising vessels, alongside its commercial fishing activity. Facing increasing pressure for limited seasonal dockage, the selectmen unanimously voted to adopt, and more consistently enforce, harbor regulation updates consistent with their 1996 and 1999 versions and the Town Master Plan. As the selectman liaison to the harbor, I was the messenger, and the criticism fell on me. The new limitation on the size of yachts permitted dockage in the harbor (75 feet) distressed former visitors with larger yachts. Enforcement of a 10-year-old rule limiting stays to two weeks, in order that cruising visitors not be crowded out by "transients" hoping for inexpensive long-term vacation dockage, produced a few extremely vocal critics. Preserving the special character of Menemsha will be increasingly challenging, but the selectmen believe it is important to do so for the town and the Island, whatever the critics with more personal agendas have to say.
3. What do you think are some of the major issues facing Chilmark? What is on your agenda?
Mr. Larsen: The Middle Line Road project, as I mentioned. Hopefully, it will bring people with families or those who want to raise families and bring more children to our school. Also, we have got to take care of our seniors, make sure the working class people get treated fairly and our youth are protected in our schools. I want our youth to know where they came from. One of my main agenda issues is listening to the people in town hall, the people on the boards and the other two selectmen, as well as the people from our town. They mean a lot to me.
Mr. Parker: Completion of the Middle Line Road affordable housing effort; additional affordable housing; shellfish restoration in town ponds; enhanced cell phone service; a financially viable new firehouse plan, in keeping with the scale of our community; completion of a fiscal policy, procedure manual and a functioning capital plan; integration of our emergency management systems with the other towns.
4. In light of the recent West Tisbury vote to remain in the Up-Island Regional School District, what changes if any would you make in the operation of the Chilmark School?
Mr. Larsen: I need to study the issue more. I do know that we're not closing our school. I want our kids to go to our school. It's one of the best schools on the Vineyard. It's a tight-knit community, and I want to keep it that way.
Mr. Parker: I agree with my fellow selectmen that the Chilmark School should be preserved. That said, we're proposing an amended capital costs allocation formula, which recognizes the responsibility of any town having a school to bear a major portion of the cost of the separate building. The school budget should always be scrutinized. This is the job of the school board and the school administrators, with the prodding of the finance committee. But, education of the children must come first. I leave that to the educators.
5. Chilmark's Middle Line Road project is a strike at the affordable housing problem, but is there more the town can and should do? Or, is it unrealistic to think that Chilmark, with its enormous property values and extremely limited economic base, can make gains in affordable housing?
Mr. Larsen: We need the housing to bring in people with families. I do agree with affordable housing, and we want new people. That's what makes our community; we let people come here. They help support the town. I would love to see other affordable housing lots. It's something I have to look into. I am for the kids. I want to see everybody happy. I encourage people to move here.
Mr. Parker: The selectmen are currently examining possible creative projects to increase affordable housing in town, beyond the Middle Line Road effort. Such projects are extremely complicated - financially and from a regulatory standpoint. Solutions are not simple, but they can be pursued, even with our high property values. Projects will probably be smaller than in other towns, because of land costs and our rural tradition.