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Oak Bluffs

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Traffic will flow inland from Seaview Ave. beginning Wednesday.

Selectman Kathy Burton was on the fence about whether to vote to make Canonicus Ave. a one-way street. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Oak Bluffs selectmen set an endurance record that will likely stand for some time, after their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday went for nearly five hours. After interviewing the final candidates for the Council on Aging administrator position, the board conducted two public hearings, and, after almost postponing a repeatedly postponed vote, finally decided to make Canonicus Avenue a one-way street on a trial basis.

Two years for one-way vote

Michael Santoro, who was recently voted board chairman and is also chairman of the roads and byways committee, was not at the meeting due to travel delays, prompting discussion to delay the Canonicus vote once again. Discussions and hearings for the change go back two years, and the final vote was delayed by a blizzard in early February, and again in March to allow for more neighborhood outreach. Due to Mr. Santoro’s absence, Selectmen Kathy Burton and Walter Vail considered delaying the vote once again, but Selectman Greg Coogan strongly opposed further delay.

Almost on cue, Police Chief Erik Blake notified the selectmen that he’d just received a text from Mr. Santoro asking the selectmen to go ahead with the vote.

Mr. Vail steadfastly opposed the change. “I sympathize with the neighbors, and I understand the speeding issues, but I haven’t gotten the overwhelming feeling that this is the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve looked closely enough at what the unintended consequences might be.”

Local residents have described Canonicus Avenue as a tragedy waiting to happen, because cars and trucks often use the road as a shortcut to or around downtown, and often travel at high speeds around two blind curves.

Ms. Burton said she’s been on the fence about the change since the debate began. “Originally I felt the way Walter does, that curve is really dangerous,” she said. “We also don’t know how this is going to affect Nantucket [Avenue].

“This has gone on for a couple of years; I think we should give it a try,” Mr. Coogan said. “We can do it on a trial basis; if it doesn’t work, we change it back. But we have to get it in place now for the summer.”

“The local community came to us to make this change,” Police Chief Erik Blake said. “I agree we should do this on a trial basis. We may find that people go even faster. The traffic studies will tell the tale.”

Selectmen approved the temporary change 2 -1. Ms. Barmakian recused herself because she owns property on Canonicus Avenue.

Highway Department Supervisor Richard Combra said the change will go into effect Wednesday, May 20.


LoFT gets a warning

Continuing a public hearing from their last meeting, selectmen weighed the fate of LoFT, the bar and adult game room on the second floor of the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. that was cited with nine infractions on a spot check made by Oak Bluffs Police Detective James Morse in late March, shortly after the grand opening.

Most of the infractions were due to permitting issues. In his report, Detective Morse cited LoFt for not having a change-of-use permit. Before its current incarnation as an adult game room with full bar and food service, LoFt had been a concert venue for three years.

“This was not a case of ‘we’ll build and take care of things later,’” attorney Sean Murphy told selectmen. Mr. Murphy was representing building owners Mike and Mark Wallace, principals of C Vivor LLC, and proprietor J.B. Blau. “It was not intended to slip under the radar or avoid permitting requirements.”

Other permitting infractions in Detective Morse’s report included incomplete entertainment-license application, failure to post occupancy load, failure to post fire-inspection certificate, failure to post OUI warning signs, failure to apply for new occupancy permit, and six counts of unlicensed pool tables. Many of the permitting infractions were addressed before Tuesday night’s hearing, Detective Morse told selectmen.

The alteration-of-premises permit and entertainment license are the two unresolved permitting infractions. Selectman Walter Vail questioned if LoFT should be allowed to operate until the permits are issued. “I’m so surprised you did this,” he said. “You know the rules in town.”

“We were under the assumption that Dreamland [the permit] was operational,” Mr. Blau said. “We didn’t realize it rose to this level.”

“All due respect, it was a case of ‘we did it and now we’re asking forgiveness,’” Chief Erik Blake said. “Those things should have been in place.”

There were two infractions for alcohol served to impaired patrons. Detective Morse also noted that the manager eventually asked both patrons to leave.

“Our opening had a far greater response than we anticipated,” Mr. Blau said. “We didn’t have enough bartenders or security. We immediately hired more people.”

Detective Morse also cited LoFT for serving one person a pitcher of beer, or “service of malt by pitcher to less than two persons.”

Mr. Murphy told selectmen the proprietors also hired a consultant, and the entire staff was recertified in TIPS [Training and Intervention Procedures for Servers of Alcohol]. “They understand these are important violations,” Mr. Murphy said. “They have stayed on top of the staff. They’ve doubled the number of bartenders and security.”

Selectman Gail Barmakian took Mr. Wallace to task for lack of disabled access to LoFT. “The application to the Architectural Access Board was supposed to happen three years ago,” she said. “It’s a great place, but it really bothers me that somebody that’s handicapped can’t get in there.”

Building inspector Mark Barbadoro told selectmen his concerns — strengthening the back deck and back stairs, and raising the guard rail — had been addressed. “The fire chief is happy with it,” Mr. Barbadoro said. “If he were here today, they’d have the C.O. [certificate of occupancy]. When he gets back tomorrow, we’ll sign it.”

Mr. Vail said he was inclined to shut down LoFT for one week, but that given the time of year, a warning was the most appropriate course of action.

Selectmen agreed, with a 4-0 vote, to give LoFT a warning, and to allow the establishment to stay open. The warning will also be filed with the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC).

“We absolutely dropped the ball and for the record, I’ll take the brunt,” Mr. Blau said. “We have no animosity, no frustration. This was a good thing. In a weird way I’m saying thank you.”

Police cited numerous infractions in a March compliance check.

This file photo shows the interior of the LoFT and several of the many games they have. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Updated Thursday, 11 am.

Oak Bluffs Police Detective James Morse presented selectmen with a long list of code violations by LoFT, the bar and adult game room on the second floor of the Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co., during a public hearing convened at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Detective Morse told selectmen that he first learned of the new establishment, formerly Dreamland, in a story published in The Martha’s Vineyard Times. Mr. Morse said that in following through on his duties as a license compliance officer on March 20, he found the blueprint on file listed no amusements, and that neither a change of use permit nor an entertainment license had been issued. Mr. Morse said his search also showed that no certificate of occupancy had been issued by the building inspector. Likewise, a fire inspection certificate signed by Chief John Rose was not on file.

Mr. Morse said he made a spot check of the bar/adult game room on Saturday evening, March 21. In addition to a number of minor infractions regarding the display of certificates, he told selectmen he saw alcohol served to impaired patrons — one who was boisterous and stumbled “in a serpentine manner,” and one who was drifting in and out of consciousness. He noted that the manager eventually asked both patrons to leave.

Building inspector Mark Barbadoro expressed concern about the staircase to the rear entrance to LoFT. “The back exit is what they use for a loading dock,” he said. “The stairs were built so that they could take it apart and move things in, and then reassemble it. The last time I went there, [the staircase] had not been reassembled, which is very troubling.”

Mr. Barbadoro said he spoke with the building owners about it, and that as of yesterday, the staircase had only been partially reassembled. “We have to come up with a plan for rebuilding it,” he said.

The building is owned by C Vivor LLC, which is owned by Mark and Mike Wallace.

Selectman Walter Vail asked, given the extent of the violations, why LoFT had not been closed. Det. Morse said it would take “a riot” for the police to shut it down, but that the fire chief or the board of health could close it immediately if they saw fit.

LoFT proprietor J.B. Blau was not able to attend the hearing due to illness, Mr. Whritenour said. The Wallaces also did not attend. Office administrator Alice Butler said a certified letter was sent to the Wallaces regarding the matter, but the town had received no response prior to Tuesday night’s meeting.

“It seems to me these people have been in business a long time and should know better. Right or wrong, I feel like we’re being avoided tonight,” Mr. Coogan said.

Police Chief Erik Blake said there was no excuse for the lack of a change of use permit. “He’s been in business 28 years; he should know better,” he said.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said due to the “far-reaching” nature of violations, the hearing should be kept open to allow for additional testimony.

Speaking with The Times by phone on Wednesday, Mr. Blau said a number of the violations had already been addressed. “We will continue to work with the selectmen and the police to make everything right,” he said. “That’s always our goal.”

The selectmen voted to continue the hearing on Thursday, May 7.

Oyster farm ploughs ahead

Brothers Dan and Greg Martino gained final and unanimous approval from the selectmen for an aquaculture license that will allow them to operate a two-acre oyster farm off Eastville Beach. Although the selectmen voted 4-1 to approve the license in September 2014, a lawsuit filed by seasonal resident Jeff Ludwig in Suffolk County superior court on Oct. 15 put the final outcome in doubt. The complaint alleged that the selectmen failed to conduct a comprehensive review of the project, and cited concerns about safety for swimmers and boaters, and excessive noise, as well as aesthetic concerns. In negotiations with town counsel Michael Goldsmith, the litigants, through their attorney, agreed to drop the appeal if the Martinos agreed to a set of conditions related to summer hours of operation, noise mitigation, and emergency contingency plans. The Martinos had agreed to the terms prior to Tuesday night’s meeting. It will be the first commercial oyster farm in Oak Bluffs.

“This is certainly a relief to everyone involved,” Mr. Coogan said.

In other business, selectmen unanimously chose Michael Santoro to be the next board chairman. Upon his acceptance, Mr. Santoro nominated Gail Barmakian to be vice-chairman, citing a long and productive relationship with Ms. Barmakian. The board voted unanimously to appoint Ms. Barmakian.

“Hopefully that means you’ll be chairman next time,” Ms. Burton said to Ms. Barmakian.

“I think the vice-chairman should become chairman,” Ms. Barmakian said. “That’s the proper way, even though it hasn’t always worked that way.”

An earlier version of this story referred to LoFT as LoFT 21+. The correct name is LoFT.

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From left: candidates Ray Taylor, Abe Seiman, Brian Packish, Kathy Burton and Greg Coogan.

Oak Bluffs voters can see a replay of the April 9 debate among candidates for town selectmen on Wednesday at 8:30 pm and Thursday morning at 9. The debates will air on channel 13, or viewers can see them by going to the MVTV website.

The debate was co-sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Times and MVTV.

John Tiernan of the Dockside Inn, at the Massachusetts Lodging Association's recent Stars of the Industry Awards.

John Tiernan, manager of the Dockside Inn on the harbor in Oak Bluffs, was named General Manager of the Year by the Massachusetts Lodging Association (MLA) at its Stars of the Industry Awards for his outstanding leadership at the Martha’s Vineyard boutique hotel.

The awards recognize outstanding accomplishments in the lodging trade. According to a press release, Mr. Tiernan, nicknamed “Chief of Comfort,” has earned a reputation for treating guests and employees like family and for his signature enthusiasm and pride for his hotel.

“The owner, John, picked us up in his vintage Rolls Royce and showed us around town, pointing out all the stops we needed to make,” wrote one guest in support of his nomination. “He made us feel so important as we drove around town! We made great conversation with John along the way, and he even had the bartender give us a round on the house once we settled.”

For more information, go to DocksideInnMV.com.

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Slightly tardy when compared with the three other down-Island towns, on Thursday, April 30, Oak Bluffs voters will be asked to vote on a request to help fund the construction of a new administration building for the Martha’s Vineyard public schools.

Selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday voted 5-0 to hold a supplemental special town meeting to decide whether or not to authorize a 20-year bond that has been approved by the regional school district committee. Four towns must approve the bond for it to be approved. Although the warrant article doesn’t give a specific total for constructing and equipping the new building, the total is estimated at $3.9 million.
“It might be helpful to keep in mind that the first debt payment isn’t due until January 1, 2017,” school superintendent James Weiss told selectmen Tuesday.

Town payment on the bond would be $98,812 in 2017, and would decline steadily to $60,159 in 2037.
The article was not on the annual town meeting warrant because of an administrative disconnect between the school administration office and town hall. On March 4, Mr. Weiss sent a registered letter to town hall, informing Chairman of the Selectmen Greg Coogan that the MVRHS district committee had approved the bond issue. However, the letter was stamped “received” by the selectmen’s office on March 16, four days after the deadline for selectmen to approve and forward ballot measures to the town clerk.

If Edgartown, Tisbury, and West Tisbury, which vote April 16, and Chilmark, which votes April 29, approve the article, it will pass regardless of the Oak Bluffs vote on April 30, leaving the possibility that the supplemental special town meeting will have no bearing on the outcome. However, selectmen agreed that the town should proceed, regardless.

“The finance committee will be vetting it this week,” Selectman Kathy Burton said. “I definitely think the voters should have a crack at it.”

“If we don’t do anything, we’re essentially saying yes, so we’re saying let’s go in front of the voters to make sure they are informed,” Chairman Greg Coogan said. Mr. Coogan said if the project moves forward, a debt exclusion would be the most sensible way to pay the town’s share. That decision will not have to be made until town election 2016.

Town clerk Laura Johnston estimates that the special town meeting needed to cement the deal would cost the town less than $300.

Fire station on track
In other business, Selectman Walter Vail told selectmen that construction of the new fire station is still on schedule, despite the arctic winter. The steel frame construction is ahead of schedule, and the station is on track to be operational by late September.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted town clerk Laura Johnston that a special town election would cost less than $300.  Ms. Johnston said a special town meeting would cost less than $300.

The crowded field reflects a vigorous contest over town leadership.

Oak Bluffs voters will decide a five-way race for two seats on the five-member board of selectmen when they go to the polls on Thursday, April 16. Incumbents Kathy Burton and Greg Coogan will attempt to retain their seats in the face of challenges from Brian Packish, Abraham Seiman, and Raymond Taylor.

Kathy Burton
Kathy Burton

Kathy Burton, a selectman for six years, is seeking re-election to a third term. She is a member of the intergovernmental task force to the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was a member of the Cottage City Historic District Commission for many years, and serves on the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Committee. She and her partner have lived in Oak Bluffs year-round for 22 years and raised a 19-year-old daughter, Annie, now a sophomore at UMass Amherst majoring in chemical engineering.

She is currently a branch manager for Santander Bank in Edgartown.

Greg Coogan
Greg Coogan

Greg Coogan is seeking his fifth term on the board of selectmen, which he currently chairs. The former Tisbury School math teacher is retired following a more than 30-year career in education. He has served on the conservation commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Brian Packish
Brian Packish

Brian Packish, a lifelong resident of Oak Bluffs, is chairman of the planning board and chairman of the streetscape master-plan project. He also serves on the joint Tisbury–Oak Bluffs Lagoon Pond committee, the roads and byways committee, and many other town and civic groups. He is the father of a 13-year-old daughter, and he owns and operates a landscape company in Oak Bluffs.

Abe Seiman
Abe Seiman

Abe Seiman and his wife have been homeowners in Oak Bluffs since 1962, and retired here six years ago. Prior to his retirement, Mr. Seiman was a pharmaceutical statistician and health care administrator. Currently he serves as a member of the finance, personnel, and affordable housing committees, and on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Healthy Aging Task Force.

Ray Taylor, a Navy veteran and former police officer for the town of Wellesley for 10 years, works full-time for Cape Cod Express on-Island as a CDL class A driver. The father of two daughters, ages 20 and 26, he says community service is an important part of his life. He is vice chairman of the Oak Bluffs finance and advisory committee.

Ray Taylor is one of the candidates for a selectman's seat in Oak Bluffs.
Ray Taylor is one of the candidates for a selectman’s seat in Oak Bluffs.


Q and A

The Times posed a series of questions to each candidate and asked that they respond in writing. The questions and their responses follow.

Why did you decide to run for election (or re-election) to the board of selectmen?

Ms. Burton: I am running for re-election to the board of selectmen to continue the work this board has begun. This board has worked diligently with the town administrator, the finance committee, school representatives, town departments, and voters to dramatically improve our town finances from the negative to the positive. Our Standard and Poor’s bond rating has gone from AA- to AA+, which is a two-step increase, further demonstrating financial stability. We need to continue to practice fiscal responsibility as we balance many pressing needs facing Oak Bluffs, to include rising school budgets due to increases in our student population, much-needed infrastructure improvements, measures to improve and protect the health and quality of our saltwater ponds, and more.

Mr. Coogan: I am now in my 12th year on the board, and I feel my job is not done. I think my strength on the board is coming to every meeting with an open mind. It is a difficult process sometimes to reach a consensus with all the parties involved, and I believe that my contribution helps to make that happen. We regularly have complex problems that come before us, and we are more often than not the final decision maker. Calm, reasonable approaches are necessary, though not always popular with some; still, we must make those decisions in the best interests of all the people of Oak Bluffs. I feel that I have done that and my record shows that to be true.

Mr. Packish: My decision to run for selectman was developed over a lifetime. I grew up in Oak Bluffs, attended the Oak Bluffs School and now reside in Oak Bluffs with my family. Growing up Oak Bluffs is a privilege. I love seeing many of the same people I remember as a child both summer and year-round, and have grown to have friendships with them as an adult. My daughter, Tyla, is now being afforded the same opportunities.

I attended every town meeting growing up, and have always had a desire to serve. I slowly became involved in governing the town of Oak Bluffs in various ways over the years. My passion for Oak Bluffs and the residents continues to grow today.

During my involvement as chairman of the planning board and chairman of the streetscape master-plan project, I have had the opportunity to speak directly with the people on an up-close and personal level. I have learned so much from them. These discussions have given me insight that I believe can be valuable to the town and its people.

It is my belief that I can bring a fresh perspective, a strong work ethic, and a voice for the taxpayers of Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Seiman: I decided to run for election because, although I admire the progress that the administration has accomplished in the past six years, I feel that it is time for adding some new ideas, integrating more residents in the decision-making process, and placing the greatest attention toward providing for their needs. While all of the candidates support these goals, I am the only one, thus far, to provide a practical plan to accomplish these goals, as stated on my campaign card.

Mr. Taylor: I decided to run for selectman because in order to effect any real change within town government, one must start at the policy decision-making table. The town has come a long from the financial mismanagement of the past. Therefore, it has to remain committed to its stated strategic goals of sustainable budgets and living within its means. That means living with the limits of Proposition 2.5.


What would you suggest be done to reduce the pressure on town taxpayers?

Ms. Burton: To reduce pressure on town taxpayers I suggest we continue to practice fiscal responsibility; that we work with our legislators and the governor’s new Community Compact Cabinet, created to “protect local aid,” to ensure a positive “local aid” rather than $150,256 in negative local aid; that we work to protect and increase local revenues. With community support, I suggest a park and ride at the old landfill, incorporating solar panels to reduce the town’s energy expenses. We face many challenges as we carefully increase staff and administrative support. I suggest that the next budget include an administrative support position to research and write grants, offsetting taxpayer costs for necessary projects. We have many talented department heads who successfully apply for grants. I can only imagine that we would be able to secure more with a grant writer on staff.

Mr. Coogan: First, we are very lucky to have such a strong tax base from our real estate. We get no real outside help from the commonwealth. In fact, we owe them more than we receive from them in any subsidies. We have to find ways to control school and insurance costs. We still give our children the great education they deserve, and provide adequate health care to our employees. The rest of our departments had minimal increases (if at all) in their budgets this year. It continues to be very difficult to live within the confines of Prop 2.5 when some costs exceed that with single- and double-digit increases.

Mr. Packish: It is my belief that only through proper planning, public outreach, and respect for the taxpayer’s voice can we reduce the pressure of taxation on the town’s people. A solid, well-represented process will reduce costs and administrative load. Projects and initiatives can be done faster and cleaner with less cost. If we embrace a process, for the people by the people we will strengthen our community and create an environment of participation. By doing so, we will reduce the tax rate and improve the quality of life for our citizens one step at a time.

Mr. Seiman: As a member of the finance committee, which along with the board of selectmen and town administrator is responsible for producing the budget, we all have come to realize that many of the items that make up the budget are beyond our control. For example, the yearly, increasing, unfinanced requirements demanded of our school systems, the negative state aid, and costs of goods and services. Massachusetts allows for a yearly 2.5 percent increase in the property tax (Prop 2.5), and

for the past several years, we have managed not to exceed that amount with the exception of 2014. This was accomplished by minimizing the amount allotted to each department. However, the possibility of increasing summer revenues, especially amounts arising from tourism, could be the answer to avoid further tax overrides in the future. Some suggestions: increasing marina fees, metered town parking, and increasing the penalties for parking and speeding tickets, littering and alcohol/drug-related driving.

Mr. Taylor: The very best way for an Oak Bluffs taxpayer to reduce the pressure on their property tax bill is to support leaders that are committed to balanced budgets without overrides. The pressure from negative state aid, fixed contractual obligations, unfunded liabilities, state mandates, local infrastructure needs, and an aging population are going to put real fiscal strain on the town’s operating budget. We will need leaders who understand these issues and more.


Please describe the state of Oak Bluffs.

Ms. Burton: Oak Bluffs is recovering from a very difficult time. Our finances have improved, and are stable. With consistent attention and oversight, they’ll continue to improve. We have completed projects important to our town, such as the universal-access fishing pier and the revenue-generating harbor fuel facility. I am looking forward to participating with town boards, town departments, and our town administrator in the oversight of town goals such as the completion of our fire/EMS station, the North Bluff seawall reconstruction, the boardwalk, downtown improvements, and the implementation of projects necessary to improve the quality of our important saltwater ponds.

Mr. Coogan: I love living in Oak Bluffs. We have a very complex culture within our town. The seasons bring us such diversity with our population and with our various interests. We are the town that needs to serve all interests from our beaches to both of our education institutions to the many nonprofits that lie within our borders. We are not a wealthy town, yet we strive to help all the people of the Island because we are in many ways the center of the Vineyard both culturally and geographically.

Mr. Packish: After a long period of time without a town accountant in place, the economics are beginning to improve. We are still in need of restoring services to the taxpayers, and have many projects the residents are pleading to have accomplished. The town beaches are a jewel to our community; access and condition should be a priority. Our ponds need to be prioritized, and Little Bridge desperately needs our help. If elected, these are a sample of items I would work diligently to resolve.

Mr. Seiman: Oak Bluffs retains its character of untouched natural beauty, most popular beaches, and center for entertainment. It is a mecca for the arts, such sports as hiking and fishing, quiet walks, and historic sites. This is particularly true during the spring, fall, and even winter, when Oak Bluffs is less crowded and the all-year-round population has a greater chance of partaking and appreciating all of these advantages of living in Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Taylor: The state of Oak Bluffs is that of a town in flux. Residents know how far we have come financially, but have we ignored the security, serenity, and sanity of local residents? Some might say the town hall currently has too much of an off-Island feel to it. I personally love the unique characteristics of Oak Bluffs residents. The board of selectmen should be a representation of the whole community we love.

Students of the Oak Bluffs School impress at their annual talent show.

The exciting 17th annual Oak Bluffs School talent show took place last Friday and Saturday, featuring students ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade, and even a few teachers and parents. This year’s show featured singers, dancers, harpers, cellists, violinists, guitarists, and more.

Highlights over the two evenings included Hayleigh LeCoq belting out a rocking version of “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” Aiden Weiland playing his haunting original fiddle composition “Distant Rain,” the always eagerly anticipated tae kwon do demonstration from Team Blitz, and Ali Dyke performing a fantastically impressive gymnastics routine. Several student singers demonstrated further talent by accompanying themselves on guitar, including Robert Hanjian with his rendition of “Fade Away,” Leah Hairston wowing the crowd with her powerful vocals on “House of the Rising Sun,” Victoria Searle duetting with Sarah Lytle on “Viva la Vida,” and Skylar Hall with his reggae-inflected “I’m Yours.” Others sang while accompanying themselves on piano, including Ruby and Klara Reimann with their dramatic and beautiful rendition of “Oceans.” It was also a family affair for many acts, such as Kaya Seiman’s inspiring rendition of “No One’s Stopping Me” accompanied by her father Rob Oslyn on the guitar, Emily Mello singing “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” to the sounds of her father Rick Mello on guitar, and Owen Atkins’ spirited “Crossroad Blues” with his father Neil Atkins also on guitar. At one point the entire Weiland family was onstage together, playing the traditional Celtic tune “Aranee Ghelbee,” featuring Avalon on harp, Liam on cello, Brian on guitar and flute, and Aiden and Jennifer on violin.

As usual, the live house band accompanied all of the acts, which included Paul Thurlow on bass, Island string teacher Nancy Jephcote on violin, and Liam Weiland on cello, drums, and guitar.
The purpose of this event is to help students discover and participate in the joy and excitement of real old-fashioned live music performance and that joy was apparent on the faces of both the performers and the audience members last weekend.


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Officer Millerick taking the oath of office from Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake. –Photo courtesy of Oak Bluffs Police Department

In front of family members and friends, newly appointed Oak Bluffs Police Officer Timothy Millerick was sworn in at the Oak Bluffs Police Station on Wednesday, March 18.

Officer Millerick is a native of Whitman, and a 2007 graduate of the South Shore Vocational Technical High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Utica College in New York, where he played Division 3 college football.

Officer Millerick has been a special police officer for the department since the summer of 2012. He graduated from the Plymouth Police Academy in February 2015.

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AKA the bicycle man, Mr. Anderson helped create a wall of protection against nuclear threat, starting with Chilmark's Peaked Hill.

Bill Anderson helped protect our shores from Cold War threats. – Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Sixty-nine years ago this month, in 1946 in the Westminster College gymnasium in Fulton, Mo., Sir Winston Churchill warned about encroaching Soviet totalitarianism in Europe in what has became known as “the Iron Curtain speech.” Many historians say that the Cold War began that day. In the decades that followed, legions of Americans — both in and out of uniform — used their skills in technology and intelligence to erect a wall of vigilance and protection that would prevent either side of the Iron Curtain from triggering nuclear conflict.

Bill Anderson (third row, second from left) graduated from an Electronic Fundamentals course with the Air Force in May 1955. – Courtesy Bill Anderson.
Bill Anderson (third row, second from left) graduated from an Electronic Fundamentals course with the Air Force in May 1955. – Courtesy Bill Anderson.

Oak Bluffs resident Bill Anderson, known to many as the man who runs Anderson’s Bike Rentals on the harbor, was a radar technician working in Europe — and in Chilmark — to help protect us. He recently shared his Cold War memories with The Times. When Bill was 14, he said, he lost his father to a heart attack; after high school graduation in 1954, he could have avoided the draft by claiming he was needed at home in Grand Haven, Mich. But he felt a sense of duty, he said, and he wanted to see the world. A boss on a summer job suggested the Air Force, where he might get specialized training that would be useful in a future career. At basic training, he signed up for radar training. “I picked radar because I was good in math,” he said. “Plus, it was interesting because it was fairly new at the time,” he said.

He scored so well on his tests that the Air Force sent him to Biloxi, Miss., where he trained at Keesler AFB, and he said, squeezed four years of training into nine months, graduating at the top of his class in repairing ground radar.

His superiors took note and sent Bill to Hanscom AFB in Bedford, where his security clearance was boosted from Confidential to Secret. They told him that, as part of a special research project being conducted by MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, he would be going to an island with a “gap radar site,” a type of radar installation that covered low-altitude holes between the coverage of other radar sites — holes a plane or missile might exploit.

Bill Anderson in Venice.
Bill Anderson in Venice.

“Now, I’m 19 years old. First thing when somebody mentions an island to you, you think of palm trees and girls with grass skirts,” he said. “I’d never heard of Martha’s Vineyard before. I didn’t know what it was.”

He came to the Vineyard as a corporal, replacing an outgoing staff sergeant in what was a decidedly un-Polynesian environment atop Peaked Hill in Chilmark.

“Bill Anderson was my replacement,” said Oak Bluffs Wastewater Commissioner Bob Iadicicco in a telephone interview, adding that the few days he and Bill were together on Island before Bob went off to college in Philadelphia were sufficient to spark a friendship.

“Bill’s still a good friend,” he said.

SAGE operation atop Peaked Hill, Chilmark, circa 1961. –Courtesy the Online Air Defense Radio Museum
SAGE operation atop Peaked Hill, Chilmark, circa 1961. –Courtesy the Online Air Defense Radar Museum

Bill spent the next two years working on Peaked Hill in a pair of drab trailers. One housed the radar equipment, the other a handmade computer and a device he likened to a primitive fax machine. Both relayed information to civilian overseers at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory for a research project known as the Cape Cod System, the prototype for a radar-based integrated defense system called SAGE (an acronym of semi-automatic ground environment;see sidebar) which would eventually become a key defense system for U.S. airspace.

Bill and the other airmen on Peaked Hill lived in a cottage atop the hill, bought their own groceries and cooked their own meals, preferring, as Bill recalls, First National to Cronig’s because of the cheaper prices. Their shifts ran from 8 am to 4:30 pm, with nights free.

In 1955 Bill went home for Christmas, and his older sister asked if he’d met any girls. He said he “hadn’t seen any good-looking girls on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Bill spotted his future wife, Maureen (center), when the Oak Bluffs High School cheerleaders took the floor in 1955.–Photo courtesy Bill Anderson
Bill spotted his future wife, Maureen (center), when the Oak Bluffs High School cheerleaders took the floor in 1955.–Photo courtesy Bill Anderson

When he returned from vacation, he attended a basketball game at Oak Bluffs High School. The cheerleaders took the floor, and one of them caught his eye. “That’s a good-looking cheerleader,” he said of Maureen Fisher, a girl from Vineyard Avenue.

“You just saw me and it was over,” Maureen Anderson recently said to her husband during a visit with a Times reporter.

Bill grew up near Lake Michigan, was Dutch Reform, of Swedish-Dutch descent, and was used to going to church three times on Sunday back home. Maureen grew up near Vineyard Sound, was Catholic, of English-Portuguese descent, and “went off to confession on Saturday morning and Mass on Sunday,” Maureen said, and added, “I’m a Democrat, he’s a Republican.”

Evidently, it was a balanced equation. By 1956, they’d married in Our Lady Star of the Sea in Oak Bluffs. Soon after that he got a transfer order to Italy.

With his wife back on the Vineyard, Bill reluctantly traveled to Manhattan Air Force Station in Brooklyn, en route to Europe. After a hard-to-follow series of train rides across the continent, including through neutral Switzerland, Bill and his companions found themselves in Udine, Italy, where they would be stationed.

“It was a funny thing going through the Italian towns. They were built like Vineyard Haven. They had one main road and the buildings were right up on the street,” he said. As they passed by, people would gather along the road to watch as the trucks downshifted, then backfired, creating reports that sounded like gunfire. “The echoes off the buildings were tremendous,” he said. In the five months he spent in Italy, he wrote his wife almost daily.

scan_1_turkeyBy the time Bill moved on to his next post in Adana, Turkey, his security clearance had been upgraded to Top Secret. He soon found himself in a room with the other radar personnel he’d flown in with.

“A full bird colonel came along and said, ‘We have something you never saw in your life and we don’t talk about it, so we’re not talking about it.’”

The first morning in Turkey his roll call took place next to the flight line. He saw a glider-like plane that made a funny engine noise take off and ascend at an unusually steep angle.

“It took us about one minute to figure out that was what we were told we don’t talk about.”

Unbeknownst to Bill Anderson, he’d arrived at one of the most secret places in the world, the home of Detachment B, a unit of the CIA’s U-2 spy plane program. Furthermore, he’d arrived in the midst of Operation Soft Touch, a series of reconnaissance overflights described in declassified material from the Agency’s Center for the Study of Intelligence as “the high water mark of U-2 operations against the Soviet Union.”

“The guys guarding the hangers that the U-2s were in weren’t U.S. soldiers. They were Turkish soldiers,” he said. He was told that “you better not goof with these Turkish soldiers, because they shoot first and ask questions later.”

– Photo by Lynn Christoffers
– Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Along with 15 other airmen, Bill helped secure the airspace around the base by setting up a long-range radar system. Some mornings, Bill and his friend Jim Stockwell would test the radar and found themselves inadvertently tracking U-2s after takeoff. But because the planes climbed to extraordinary altitudes, they would vanish off the scopes.

There were other unusual happenings. “I saw civilians walking around with sidearms, and you don’t see that on a military base,” he remembered. In retrospect, he assumed those were the pilots — any one of whom may have been Francis Gary Powers, the pilot whose U-2 was later shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Mr. Powers reportedly flew regularly from Adana.

Bill spent 40 days in Adana, a place he said was so dry, electrical grounding rods disappeared into the earth when hammered down, unless he soaked the ground first. “There wasn’t a green thing in sight,” he said.

He was glad when he was finally able to ship out, but not so glad that he would be leaving in a Fairchild C-119, nicknamed by servicemen “flying boxcars.” After cramming in as much sightseeing as he could during an overnight layover in Athens, he departed for Rome. He sat next to a lieutenant and, oddly enough, a “hound dog” that was apparently somebody’s pet. Bill immediately fell asleep. Somewhere near Rome, Bill awoke to a storm. He was told that turbulence was expected and to put on his safety belt. He already wore a life jacket and parachute.The plane suddenly dropped.

“When we started to fall, I was watching that dog up on the ceiling,” he remembered.

The lieutenant next to him had opted not to buckle himself in. “His backside was over my head. He was holding on to the bar [of the seat] or he would’ve been up on the ceiling.”

Somebody yelled that there was fuel leaking.

“I always said to myself I would never jump out of an aircraft. But right then I would have jumped. I was so damned scared it wasn’t funny.”

The plane recovered, as did the dog. Bill discovered later they had dropped thousands of feet. The fuel leak was storm-driven rainwater that had penetrated the fuselage.

Bill served a brief spell back in Udine, where the Air Force closed down its base, then new orders sent him to Wheelus AFB in Tripoli.

Unlike Turkey, “There were a couple green things in Libya. But not much,” he said. He couldn’t understand what he was doing at a “big base” that already had a radar site and a complement of radar techs. But after a bus brought him and his friend Jim Stockwell to a storage area full of portable radar equipment, he knew why he was there.

The lieutenant in charge of the portable radar told him he had 24 hours to assemble a portable radar site. There was a truck waiting on the runway, and 40 men scrounged from across the base. Bill and the assembled crew began building the radar at 10 am and by around 8 pm, the work was “95 percent” done.

A review of high-level officers, including three or four generals, came to watch the last phases of assembly.

“They were impressed with what was going on,” Bill remembered.

Bill and Jim Stockwell, however, were not. A master sergeant had taken the opportunity to steal the thunder from Bill’s crew and execute the finishing touches to the portable radar site himself. But the sergeant had attached the antenna upside down. The lieutenant examined the mistake and asked Bill, Jim Stockwell, and another tech to fix it. Two days later, the lieutenant was promoted for having spotted and rectified the mistake. He shared the wealth, so to speak, with Bill and his two colleagues, asking them what they might want.

Bill had just received a telegram from Martha’s Vineyard announcing the birth of his daughter Kate, the first of his four children. Bill asked for leave back to Massachusetts. The lieutenant furnished him with a “very rare” 30-day leave.

His journey was far from easy, but he managed to hop a Lockheed C-121 Constellation out of Tripoli and via Morocco, the Azores, and Bermuda, fly to South Carolina. From there, a train and another plane got him to the Vineyard on Halloween, where he entered his mother-in-law’s house and there, in his wife’s arms, was his baby daughter Kristen, who upon seeing a stranger in uniform, started bawling.

A month later, Bill returned to Tripoli. His lieutenant offered him staff sergeant stripes and $6,000 to re-enlist — more money than he believed most people made on Martha’s Vineyard in a year at that time. It was 1958. With a wife and a baby at home, he opted to take advantage of a military reduction program offered by the Eisenhower administration, and he bowed out from active duty.

He returned to the Vineyard, and he and his wife bought a house on Oak Bluffs Harbor. Bill worked at Alley’s TV in Oak Bluffs for a year, then for five years at Brook Carter’s Electrical in Vineyard Haven. He went on to work for the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard from 1965 to 1985, and while working there, also opened a successful bicycle business at his home in 1971. He worked in that business full-time after his shipyard days.

Bill and Maureen Anderson have been married for 58 years. During that time, he’s frequently reflected on his Air Force days, and sometimes on the terrible realities of the era he served in.

“Back of my mind I knew we could be at war tomorrow. They had nuclear missiles, nuclear bombs. We had the same thing. Maybe the world wouldn’t be here [tomorrow].”

Bill’s grandson, also Bill Anderson, called him up last Veteran’s Day and acknowledged his grandfather’s service in the Air Force. “On Veteran’s Day he called me up and said, ‘Hey Pop, thanks for being a veteran.’” Bill said, “Nobody ever called me up and said that to me in all my life.”

SAGE: Radar on Chilmark’s Peaked Hill protected America in the Cold War

Bill worked on the SAGE operation in Chilmark. –Courtesy the Online Air Defense Radio Museum
Bill worked on the SAGE operation in Chilmark. –Courtesy the Online Air Defense Radar Museum

As a portable gap-filler radar site, the top of Peaked Hill in Chilmark was one of several locations around Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket that not only served as research locations for the development of Cold War–era aerial security, but became fixed radar positions providing surveillance for SAGE (semi-automatic ground environment), a sophisticated defense system that guarded U.S. airspace against attacks by the Soviet Union.

Born from military-funded research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, SAGE was a necessary evolution in aerial tracking, according to Tom Page, historian for the Online Air-Defense Radar Museum.

“When the computer-based SAGE command-and-control system was first developed in the 1950s, it replaced a manual system of humans plotting aircraft tracks on Plexiglas boards,” he said in an email to The Times. “The aircraft-track information was called in to a region direction center by telephone from various remote radar stations, and from ground observer corps (GOC) members with binoculars. As the amount of air traffic increased, this manual system was quickly becoming overwhelmed. Given that the perceived prime threat in the 1950s was manned bombers carrying thermonuclear weapons, the manual aircraft control and warning (AC&W) system was unacceptable.”

Developing and implementing a new system, however, was nothing short of a colossal undertaking.

“The scope of the SAGE Air Defense System as it evolved from its inception in 1951 to its full deployment in 1963,” states MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory web site [ll.mit.edu/], “was enormous. The cost of the project, both in funding and the number of military, civilian, and contractor personnel involved, exceeded that of the Manhattan Project.”

“Early development included the 1953 and 1954 Cape Cod Systems,” Mr. Page said, “and the Experimental SAGE Subsector (ESS) in 1955. The ESS direction center was constructed at MIT Lincoln Lab (adjacent to Hanscom AFB), and several remote radar stations (both long-range and gap-filler) were deployed mainly around southern New England. One of the ESS gap-filler radar sites … was built atop Peaked Hill on Martha’s Vineyard, at the site of the U.S. Army’s former World War II air warning system radar site, AWS No. 6. Later, circa 1956, the U.S. Air Force would build a ‘permanent’ gap-filler radar facility adjacent to the ESS site on Peaked Hill, and named it the “Chilmark Gap-Filler Annex.” This GFA radar reportedly became fully operational in June 1957, and continued in service until June 1968.”

While Bill Anderson was on duty at the portable gap-filler site atop Peaked Hill, he witnessed the construction of the permanent site next door. Late Islander Bob Chapman, a longtime telephone company engineer, worked on and monitored aspects of that permanent site. In a 2002, in an interview conducted by Oral History Curator Linsey Lee for the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, he recalled that the radar equipment for that site was built by the Eureka Vacuum Cleaner Co. Bill Anderson recalled that at least one component, a type of computer, was made by the Singer Manufacturing Co.

Better coverage was the reason for gap-filling radars, according to the Lincoln Laboratory web site.

“A long-range AN/FPS-3 radar, the workhorse of the operational air defense net, was installed at South Truro, Mass., near the tip of Cape Cod, and equipped with an improved digital radar relay. Less powerful radars, known as gap fillers, were installed to enhance the coverage provided by the long-range system. Because near-total coverage was required, the beams of the radars in the network had to overlap, meaning that the radars could be separated by no more than 25 miles.”

In his interview with Linsey Lee, Mr. Chapman elaborated on why Chilmark needed enhanced radar coverage.

“The main radar in Truro had one little problem it could not do,” he said. “It had a blank spot in back of the Island up Chilmark and back of Menemsha. They got nothing out of there. They’d sweep around, come to there, nothing. Blank spot. And that’s because of the hill … They built what they called a gap-filler and that’s just what it was. It was to fill in this blank gap, and they put a radar up there to sweep and search.”

Tim Jones, public affairs manager for the Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS), said in an email to The Times that “[SAGE] was the first large computer network to provide man-machine interaction in real time. The system was gigantic by today’s standards. The AN/FSQ-7 computer system [developed by IBM], for instance, weighed 250 tons and occupied an acre of floor space.”

“SAGE and its successors played an important role in keeping the peace,” said Columbia University professor of international affairs Dr. Robert Jervis in an email to The Times. “Not only did they discourage the U.S.S.R. from attacking, but by giving American leaders confidence that they could not be taken by surprise by a Soviet strike, they decreased the pressures for an American preventive war.”

“The Joint Surveillance System (JSS), a joint United States Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration system, replaced SAGE in 1983,” Major Beth Smith, NORAD’s chief of media operations, told The Times in an email.

To learn more about radar history, visit radomes.org.

To see an excellent video about SAGE: ll.mit.edu/about/History/SAGEairdefensesystem.html