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West Tisbury

“There is a veil over this town and this Island.” That is how a friend described the loss of Pat Gregory. I asked if I could use her quote. It seemed a perfect description.

Skipper Manter made the announcement at the beginning of the Public Safety Building open house on Saturday afternoon. It has dominated all conversation, all thought. Chief Rossi said he would have cancelled the open house had he known in time, but I was glad we were all together, and I felt that Pat would have wanted his town together as we so often were when he stood at the podium leading us through our town meetings.

Whatever we learn about what happened to Pat in that park in California, it will never make sense. He was a truly good guy. He was a part of so many of our lives and the life of West Tisbury. My heart goes out to Dorothy, their children and grandchildren, their many friends, to our town, and to our Island.

There will be a memorial gathering at Abel’s Hill Cemetery to remember Penn Kimball, who died last November. Julie, Laura, Lisa, and John invite us all to join them at 4 o’clock on Monday, May 26, to tell stories and reminisce about our longtime Chilmark friend.

The Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club will hold their annual sale this Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25, 9 am to 2 pm, at the Old Mill.

The Polly Hill Arboretum begins Saturday morning with a walk for early-birds at 9 am, followed by their plant sale from 10 am to 2 pm. Walking the Arboretum is a good way to learn about unfamiliar plants and their requirements.

All the galleries will be hung with artists’ new work, ready for the summer. Allen and Lynne Whiting will open The Davis House Gallery this Saturday, May 24, 1 to 6 pm. The gallery will remain open on Saturdays and by appointment through June.

Kara Taylor will open her gallery at the former Stan Murphy Gallery on South Road. Look for her sign, her plantings, and her array of paintings.

The Granary Gallery is open year-round. The Field Gallery is open now, with paintings on the walls and sculptures dancing in the field outside.

I will open Hermine Merel Smith Fine Art this Saturday with woodcuts by Ruth Kirchmeier, my oil paintings, and I welcome Leslie Baker, who is showing a selection of small landscapes, many done when we painted together on our outings to favorite spots around the Island. My gallery will be open Thursdays through Sundays through the summer, 11 am to 5 pm.

The Family Planning Benefit Art Show opens at the Ag Hall with a preview party Thursday evening, 6 to 8 pm, $50 per person. Free admission Friday through Sunday, 10 am to 6 pm.

Ted and Sue Powell came from Canton to spend Mother’s Day with Ted’s mom, Rosalie Powell. Jim called Rosalie from Utah and sent her a corsage to celebrate the day.

Karen Colaneri has returned from “a wonderful family trip to Richmond, Virginia,” where her niece, Abby Goethals, graduated cum laude from the University of Richmond with a degree in Leadership Studies. The family was hosted by Karen’s brother and sister-in-law, Al and Marion (BB) Goethals. Abby’s parents, Sam and Edie Goethals, her brother, Matt, her sister and brother-in-law, Lauren and Joe Merry, with their two-month-old son, Liam, all attended the graduation and festivities. Abby’s grandparents Rip and Clara Grossman came from Scottsdale, Arizona. Also, her aunt and uncle, Mary Goethals and Corky Poster, from Tucson. Abby was surprised when her Uncle Al, a professor at The Jepson School of Leadership at the University of Richmond, ascended the podium to present her with her diploma. Congratulations, Abby.

Island Montessori has planned fundraising events for next Saturday, May 31. Flyin’ MV starts the day from 11 am to 2 pm at the Katama Airfield with flights for $5/person. Grownups can attend a special evening at The Field Club, Fly Me to the Moon, which will include dancing, cocktails, small plates, and an auction from 5 to 7 pm, $30/person. For more information, look on the website: vineyardmontessori.com, call or email Deborah Jernegan at 508-693-4090 or director@vineyardmontessori.com.

The West Tisbury Library is looking for volunteers to paint the Alley’s playhouse. Anyone interested, please call Doug Ruskin at 508-687-9301. We also welcome two new part-time circulation assistants, Ann Quigley and Olivia Larsen.

Our historical buildings are a gift, so I was interested to learn from Herb Ward that the Federated Church plans to open for tours from 1 to 3 pm every afternoon, May 26 to August 31. The tours are free; no appointment needed. Hosts will be available to answer questions and share some of the history of this beautiful 1828 building.

The Supportive Day Program benefit bike ride scheduled for Saturday, May 24, has been cancelled.

I am typing this column on a MacBook laptop that Pat Gregory sold me several years ago. We were sitting at a desk downstairs at EduComp, discussing the relative merits of different models. Pat, fascinated by his gadgets and their possibilities, was taken aback at my lack of interest. “I just need something to write my column on, maybe do email or look at something online.” He told me all I needed was the smallest, least expensive model, which I bought. Pat seemed amused throughout the transaction, and unfailingly polite, as was his way. We talked about dogs and beach walks. He and Dorothy were dog-sitting for Shannon’s black lab. Whenever I saw Pat in the years since, he often laughed about my lack of computer curiosity and I always reassured him that he had sold me just the right one.

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With dredging Mill Pond off the table for now, the town will take a look at the big picture.

The new West Tisbury town flag will soon hang in the Massachusetts State House. — Courtesy West Tisbury

West Tisbury selectmen once again dove into the contentious issue of the Mill Pond. With dredging the Mill Pond sidelined by a vote at annual town meeting on April 8, on April 16 selectmen voted, 2-0 with one abstention, to form a seven-member Mill Brook Watershed Management Planning Committee to oversee a watershed study and to draft a watershed management plan by the 2016 annual town meeting.

Voters at town meeting narrowly defeated an article to fund design and permitting in preparation for dredging Mill Pond and agreed instead to add $15,000 to the $15,000 appropriated in 2012 to study the watershed.

The issue has been divisive. Advocates of maintaining the scenic pond, which has accumulated a deep layer of silt, want to increase the average depth of the shallow, murky artificial water body from 1.7 feet to four feet.

Advocates of removing the dam and allowing the stream to revert to its natural state point point to the health of the complex ecosystem and several native species, that include wild brook trout, thatare at risk due to high water temperaturesand the harmful effects of numerous impoundments.

Last Wednesday night, selectman Cynthia Mitchell proposed that a committee be created to study the watershed. Selectman Richard Knabel, a supporter of the effort to dredge the pond, questioned the propriety of the selectmen not consulting with the members of the long standing Mill Pond committee, before it created a new committee.

Ms. Mitchell said she had reviewed meeting minutes and town meeting votes on Mill Pond over the last six years. Every annual town meeting warrant during that period has included an article pertaining to the study and/or dredging, she said.

“Taken together, the minutes’ excerpts and the town meeting votes clearly reflect the piecemeal, very politically charged approach on the part of the board of selectmen that really hasn’t gotten us any closer to settling the question or completing the watershed study,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The discussion grew as heated as the pond in July when Mr. Knabel asked Ms. Mitchell if the new committee meant the elimination of the long standing Mill Pond committee. “More or less,” she answered.

Newly appointed selectman chairman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter opened the discussion to the dozen or so members of the public in attendance. He suggested that the research done by the Mill Pond committee could be a valuable source of information for the new committee and that they could coexist.

“We have not handled the watershed study well and could use help,” Mr. Manter said. He compared the situation to that the town hall building committee faced when it faltered in its first attempt to build town support to renovate the town hall, but ultimately achieved success in 2008 after more than ten years.

“I see this evolving,” he said. “The pond committee has done a good job, but we need a new approach. They could share their knowledge with the new committee. It is the only way we will get anything done.”

Mill Pond committee member Barbara Day, a supporter of dredging the pond, said it would be important to appoint unbiased people to the committee.

Committee member and civil engineer Kent Healy, who has studied the pond and the watershed and is opposed to dredging, offered his view. “The pond and the brook are uniquely connected,” he said. “You must pay attention to the watershed.”

Prudy Burt, a vigorous supporter of removing the Mill Pond dam and allowing the brook to revert to its natural course, said the unanimous vote to conduct the study at the town meeting reflected the unequivocal support of voters for the study.

Mr. Knabel said a study would not change the condition of the pond now.

When the vote was called Mr. Knabel abstained.

The new committee will include one selectman, a member of the conservation commission, the emergency management director, three at large members with professional grounding in the subject area or record of participation in similar work groups, and an abutter to the watershed.

Raise the flag

In other business Wednesday, selectmen voted to advertise to fill the position of treasurer following approval at town meeting to move from an elected to an appointed treasurer. The ad will state that there is a strong in-house candidate, meaning current town treasurer Kathy Logue.

The town now has its own flag. Selectmen approved a design that has the town seal in the middle of a green background with “West Tisbury” above and “Massachusetts” below.

The flag will be presented at the State House in June where it will hang with flags of the other towns of the Commonwealth.

Selectmen signed an agreement with NSTAR to purchase the 47 street lights in town for $1. Town ownership will allow the town to put in cost-saving bulbs.

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said specifications for bids to rebuild the town cemetery fence will be posted on Tuesday. The town voted to spend $75,000 for the project at town meeting.

To the Editor:

The Friends of the Mill Pond thank the West Tisbury selectmen’s Committee on the Mill Pond for their hard work over the past six years on behalf of the maintenance and care of the town owned Mill Pond. The committee members, Bob Woodruff (chairman), Anna Alley, Barbara Day, Kent Healy, Rez Williams, and Craig Saunders have volunteered countless hours and effort studying the two town consultant reports concerning the state and future of the Mill Pond, conducting in situ testing, deliberating, and advocating.

Regretfully, their efforts to date were not supported by West Tisbury voters at town meeting which narrowly defeated the Community Preservation Act committee’s request for funding the next step toward restoring the Mill Pond. Nonetheless, their dedication and commitment deserve to be recognized and praised.

On behalf of the Friends of the Mill Pond,

Barbara de Braganca

Margo and Tony McClellan

Beatrice Nessen

West Tisbury

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At annual town meeting Tuesday, voters narrowly rejected a request for money to design and permit dredging the scenic pond.

Flanked by West Tisbury town officials, moderator Pat Gregory led voters through the warrant. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Following nearly an hour of passionate debate at their annual town meeting Tuesday evening, West Tisbury voters narrowly defeated an article funding design and permitting in preparation for dredging Mill Pond. After moderator Pat Gregory declared a voice vote inconclusive, a show of hands defeated the article, 119-100.

Voters approved money for several projects outside of West Tisbury, including Little League fields, affordable housing, and preservation of the Gay Head Light.

They also gave a green light to measures affecting detached bedrooms, solar energy installations, and fertilizer use.

Judy Crawford, left, and Dan Cabot counted votes on Article 32, a request to begin the process to dredge Mill Pond.
Judy Crawford, left, and Dan Cabot counted votes on Article 32, a request to begin the process to dredge Mill Pond.

A total of 221 voters were officially counted as voters and began action on 43 warrant articles shortly after 7 pm. That represents nine percent of West Tisbury’s 2,446 registered voters. The meeting was adjourned at about 9:30 pm.

Town elections are scheduled for Thursday, April 10, but there are no contested races for town offices. Polls are open at the Public Safety Building on State Road from 12 noon to 8 pm.

Mill Pond battle

The carefully worded Mill Pond article asked voters to authorize spending $30,000 from Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds “for design and permitting in preparation for dredging to preserve Mill Pond.” Another $20,000 was pledged in private donations, to complete the $50,000 project. The warrant article also said the design and permitting process would be conducted in tandem with a watershed study approved at last year’s annual town meeting. Earlier in the meeting, voters agreed to spend an additional $15,000 to complete that watershed study, which is an assessment of all the water sources that feed into and drain out of Mill Pond, but does not cover the pond itself. The article said dredging would not proceed without a further vote of the town meeting.

Supporting the article, Anna Alley read a statement for the majority of the members of the town’s Mill Pond Committee, who stood to the side of the West Tisbury School gymnasium. The committee cited two previous studies as evidence that the Mill Pond is filling with sediment and being overtaken by invasive vegetation.

“I’m sure many of you saw the algae blooms last summer,” Ms. Alley said. “It was the worst I’ve ever seen it, and it will continue.”

She said private donors quickly gathered pledges to supplement the CPA funds for the design and permitting. “They need a signal from the town that we do intend to preserve the pond,” she said. “Please vote yes to preserve your pond.”

The Mill Pond issue has deeply divided town voters, and the chasm of public opinion was never better illustrated than the location of the seat committee member Kent Healy chose, all the way on the other side of the auditorium from his committee. Mr. Healy is caretaker of the Mill Pond Dam, a Mill Brook historian, and a respected civil engineer. Across the expanse of passionately committed voters, he offered a spirited dissent. Citing the same two studies, he said the pond is in good health and not getting shallower.

“Making the pond deeper by dredging would only increase leakage into the sand and gravel on the bottom of the pond,” Mr. Healey said. “Dredging is unnecessary to preserve the pond. Dredging would be a messy, expensive, and risky proposition.”

Nancy Dole, speaking for the West Tisbury Historic Commission, urged voters to approve the design and permitting. While expressing her respect for Mr. Healey, she said many disagree with his assessment of the pond’s health.

“Experts in the field don’t agree with him,” Ms. Dole said. “We hope the outcome will be a vote to move ahead. I’m not an engineer, I can’t tell how deep the pond is. But I do know that last summer it was covered with scum.”

Others thought the warrant article put the cart before the horse.

“It’s irresponsible to vote $50,000 for a project that we have not yet approved,” said Nancy Cabot. “If we approve the $50,000, it then becomes ammunition later on down the road, because we’ve already spent $50,000. I would rather the decision about dredging come first.”

The Mill Pond Committee has sparked passionate opposition, and several voters were not shy with their criticism.

“The dredging committee dug in its heels, and has refused to hear different points of view,” said Ebba Hierta. “The biggest whopper of all is that the Mill Pond is filling in. It’s not. The case for dredging does not hold water.”

The atmosphere was suspenseful as vote counters carefully recorded raised hands. When Mr. Gregory, the moderator, announced the tally, the meeting collectively exhaled with a mixture of surprise, disappointment, and relief.

A question of money

At the beginning of the meeting, voters unanimously approved the fiscal year 2015 town budget, after very brief discussion. The $15.9 million spending plan represents an increase of 7 percent over the previous year, according to town accountant Bruce Stone. Before the vote, he said the budget would result in a 6 percent increase in the tax levy, which would amount to a hike of about $160 on property assessed at $500,000.

The unusually large increase is the result of debt on the police station and library, increased operating and staffing costs for the new library, and a large increase in education costs.

Late in the meeting, voters approved using $435,000 from the town’s free cash account, to lessen the impact of the budget increases.

Out of town

West Tisbury voters authorized several substantial expenditures from CPA funds to pay for regional projects.

After much discussion, voters approved $65,000 in CPA funds to rehabilitate affordable housing at 14 Village Court in Tisbury.

“We thought it was a really good value for $65,000, if you think how much it costs to build a rental unit in town,” said Dale Julier, a member of the Community Preservation Committee.

Someone who lives or works in West Tisbury, and earns less than 60 percent of the area wide median income, will be given preference for one of six rental apartments in the building. The Island Housing Trust plans to purchase and fix up the property.

“It’s my understanding that the people who are currently living there will be displaced,” said voter Brian Smith. “We are spending taxpayer dollars to put people out of their homes.”

David Vignault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, responded. The housing authority owns three other buildings in the complex and would manage the new affordable units. He said two current occupants of the building will qualify for the subsidized apartments and will stay. Others have found new homes, but some will be displaced.

“People are working where they can, and living where they have to,” Mr. Vignault said. “Folks are pretty desperate out there.”

Voters also authorized $80,738 in CPA funds to pay part of the cost of moving the Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah, which is threatened by erosion. They also voted $25,000 in CPA funds to pay a share of the cost to build new baseball fields in Oak Bluffs, which will be used by Little League players from all Island towns.

An article asking voters to authorize $75,000 in CPA funds to replace a fence around the West Tisbury Cemetery drew substantial opposition. After voters challenged the moderator’s ruling on a voice vote, a show of hands resulted in approval of the article, by a margin of 108 to 102.

Land use

Voters approved two complex changes to zoning laws, including a measure limiting the size and design of detached bedrooms to 400 square feet with one lavatory. The measure prohibits a kitchen or cooking facilities.

They also approved a change in zoning laws to promote standards for placement, design, and construction of solar energy installations intended to address public safety, and minimize the impact on scenic, natural and historic resources.

The town meeting approved new regulations governing the use of lawn fertilizer to reduce nitrogen loading and improve water quality.

“It offers a fairly inexpensive way to get a handle on nitrogen,” said Brendan O’Neill, executive director of the Vineyard Conservation Society. “It sends the right message about this community’s determination to protect our waters, and will quite likely have the effect of reducing the price tag of dealing with the nitrogen problem going forward.”

In other action, the town meeting voted overwhelmingly to change the office of town treasurer from an elected position to an appointed position. The change is contingent on approval at the polls Thursday’s when voters choose town officers.

“Skipper’s” driving habits

One of the first articles before the town meeting provided a measure of comic relief. It asked voters for $33,200 to buy a new police cruiser. Police Chief Dan Rossi approached the microphone.

“I would like to make a motion to postpone the article for the new police cruiser indefinitely,” Chief Rossi said. “The cruiser that’s scheduled to go out of the rotation has close to 90,000 miles on it, but it’s mechanically sound, the body is in good shape. Mainly, Skipper drives it,” he said, referring to Sgt. Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter. “We all know how he drives.”

The motion got a hearty laugh from the crowd, who then voted unanimously to table the article.