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Oak Bluffs selectmen

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Funding approval for clearing the little bridge channel appears imminent, but other projects face further scrutiny.

FEMA officials are expected to fund dredging the north channel into Sengekontacket Pond. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Town administrator Robert Whritenour presented Oak Bluffs selectmen with a good news/bad news update on the status of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding for Hurricane Sandy repairs at their regular meeting on Tuesday night.

“We’ve received verbal determination that the Little Bridge dredging project meets the public benefit threshold,” Mr. Whritenour said. “One big change: we can’t use it for beach nourishment at Inkwell and Pay Beach.”

Little Bridge crosses one of two channels that connect Sengekontacket Pond to Nantucket Sound. The two popular public beaches are approximately one mile north of the dredging site.

Mr. Whritenour said that FEMA guidelines for dredging funds require the most cost-effective disposal of the dredge spoils, which in this case means depositing the material on State Beach. He added that when the formal written approval comes through as expected, the dredging contractor can do the work within 30 days.

Selectman Walter Vail noted that FEMA will only cover 75 percent of the project and asked how the town would cover the remaining 25 percent. Mr. Whritenour said the town dredge account would cover the balance. The work will be done in October or November, if all goes as planned.

While things are looking up for Sengie, the funding forecast for another project under FEMA review, the reconstruction of the North Bluff, is not as promising.

In an August 22 letter to Robert Grimley, FEMA region 1 disaster recovery manager, Mr. Whritenour wrote, “The second critically time-sensitive project is the reconstruction of the North Bluff seawall that has been degraded to very poor condition as a result of Hurricane Sandy. In its current condition this seawall is no longer capable of protecting the adjacent coastal bank or the public roadway and we shudder to contemplate the risk of failure we face in the next major coastal storm.”

Mr. Whritenour also provided FEMA with an August 21 memo from CLE engineering consultant Carlos Pena, who wrote that the seawall, which was built in 1940 with inferior cement, “has a strong risk of failure during a major coastal storm” and needs to be completely rebuilt. FEMA officials has so far maintained that the less expensive option of reinforcing the existing wall can adequately protect the town. The North Bluff seawall runs from Oak Bluffs harbor entrance to the Steamship Authority terminal.

Other projects for which the town has applied to FEMA for Hurricane Sandy funding include repairs to Sea View Avenue bulkhead, restoration of beaches and jetties at Pay Beach, Jetty Beach, and the Inkwell, and East Chop bluff restoration. Mr. Whritenour suggested that the town consider appropriating funds for additional engineering studies on East Chop bluff, since they can be used to apply for funding from other state and federal agencies in the event FEMA does not award hurricane Sandy funding, which seems more likely in his estimation.

Cheers and jeers
In other business, the selectmen gave patrons of The Ritz Cafe something to celebrate with a unanimous vote to officially transfer the year-round, all-alcohol liquor license from Janet King, former co-owner of the Ritz for 31 years, to Joseph L. Stallings, president of BB&L management. The bequeathment was presided over by attorney Howard West.

Eastville Beach seasonal residents were again out in force to fight the proposed oyster farm that received preliminary approval from the selectmen in March after the proposal garnered the unanimous support of the shellfish committee and shellfish constable David Grunden. Chairman of the selectmen Greg Coogan told those assembled that the fate of the aquaculture project currently rests with the Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries (DMF), and selectmen cannot act until that decision is made. Mr. Coogan assured the concerned residents that the board was taking in both sides of the debate, and he showed a thick stack of letters to that effect.

Selectman Gail Barmakian said a recent site visit to Eastville Beach gave her a better understanding of the group’s concerns. Eastville residents also asked for improved communication from the town during the off-season, including email blasts on upcoming decisions. Mr. Whritenour said that tailoring emails to specific groups is a large undertaking and is not in the town budget. He added that all taxpayers in Oak Bluffs can keep abreast of developments by checking the town website. Selectman Michael Santoro said that improving the town’s Internet infrastructure and social media is a high priority for the capital committee in the coming months.

Mr. Whritenour informed the selectmen that for the town to maximize insurance benefits to cover repairs to the fire damaged transfer station, a declaration of emergency had to be passed. Selectmen endorsed the move unanimously.

Selectmen also unanimously endorsed the appointment of Jennifer Parkinson to the Council on Aging board of directors. “I think she’ll be a great asset to the council,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “I’m sure she’ll bring some great ideas.”

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Dredge materials were deposited on Inkwell Beach in mid-March with assurances that the sand would bleach out. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Making his second appearance before the selectmen, Phil daRosa of Oak Bluffs won approval by a four to one vote to stage a music and arts festival, “Music on the Rock,” at Waban Park on Saturday, July 12. Selectmen conditioned the vote on approval by the parks commission and the Oak Bluffs police department.

Mr. daRosa said “Music on the Rock” will be a family friendly event, with a diverse roster of bands that will appeal to all ages. He also said the festival will also be a venue where local artists can show their work and where local victualers can sell their food and drink. The event is scheduled to run from 3 to 9 pm.

Mr. daRosa first proposed the festival to the selectmen at their regular meeting on March 25. A majority of selectmen thought his plan lacked logistical details and that it was too late in the year to plan a large outdoor event in July. Selectmen encouraged Mr. daRosa to chose a later date, possibly in September. Mr. daRosa said he chose the July 12 date because there’s typically a swoon in business on the Island the weekend after the fourth of July and that a September date would exclude summer visitors and college students who are integral to the festival’s success.

Police Chief Erik Blake told the selectmen that if Mr. daRosa limited the number of tickets to 3,000, he was confident a detail of 10 officers could effectively handle security. Mr. daRosa promised to work closely with the chief in the coming months to address fencing, neighborhood impact, and parking issues. He had previously agreed to pay the police detail in full before the event.

Selectman Walter Vail questioned his experience to pull off the event successfully. Mr. daRosa, former entertainment director at Dreamland and Flatbread and a musician with Vineyard-based Dukes County Love Affair, said he had organized two successful outdoor events in Chilmark last summer and he would be working in conjunction with San Miguel Sound, a production company that has produced festivals nationwide and recently staged a successful outdoor event in Mexico with three months planning time.

“I agree, there’s a lull in July,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “The time frame of 3 to 9 pm is reasonable. Tell me about the fence.” The ensuing discussion made it clear that the type of fencing required might remain a sticking point.

Selectman Gail Barmakian expressed repeated concerns about parking and the impact on the neighborhood of a 3,000 person event at Waban Park. She suggested that Mr. daRosa consider another location.

Dennis daRosa, Mr. daRosa’s father and an Oak Bluffs businessman, countered that there were events at the Tabernacle last summer that drew over 2,000 and parking was not an issue. “When I was a kid there were circuses in Waban Park,” he said. “I think saying parking is going to be a nightmare is a fallacy. You’re using it as a red herring to mitigate something you don’t want to happen.”

Selectman Greg Coogan was vocal in his support. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I think Waban Park is extremely underused. Bringing culture to the town is a great idea. A lot of this makes sense to me. You should go for the [3,000 person] cap and we should use the park once in a while.”

Ms. Burton made a motion to approve the festival with a cap of 3,000 tickets, and pending park department and police department approval. “Go forth and be successful, son,” Mr. Coogan said.

Ms. Barmakian said she supported the idea in spirit but felt compelled to cast a dissenting vote because of Mr. daRosa’s lack of planning so close to the event.

In other business, outgoing chairman Walter Vail nominated Michael Santoro to fill the seat. Mr. Santoro declined the honor and said he preferred to stay on as vice-chairman due to his extensive business and family commitments. Mr. Vail then nominated Mr. Coogan, who accepted — after a pregnant pause. Ms. Barmakian registered displeasure that she was not considered for the chairmanship and pointedly asked Mr. Vail about his decision making process. Mr. Vail declined to comment. The selectmen approved Mr. Coogan’s nomination with a unanimous vote.

The meeting concluded on a sobering note when seasonal resident Richard Seelig showed the selectmen a sample of the soil that was dredged from the entrance of Lagoon Pond and deposited at the Inkwell Beach. The dredged material, black in color and clay-like in texture also contained various rusted metal objects. The sand substitute has been a concern to many townspeople and it set off a storm of protest on social media in March. Assurances were made by government officials that the dredged material would bleach out by summer. Mr. Seelig’s presentation made it clear that in addition to aesthetic concerns, there were valid safety concerns about the dredge. “This will never bleach out,” Mr. Seelig said, holding up a rusted welding rod.