To view or not to view – a tale from long ago

Londoners Gerard and Sarah Griffin plan to remove these wires to improve their West Chop view. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

To view or not to view, that is the question agitating the hearts and minds of so many MV Times readers, whether to praise or blame Londoners Gerard and Sarah Griffin for spending a lot of money to get poles and wires out of their West Chop water view.

Taking down three poles and burying the cable along 300 feet of road, running them upwards of $100,000. That’s counting the cable, the conduit to run underneath the road, resurfacing the road, what with professional plans and permits, oh probably more than $300 a foot. Just to free their view of poles and wires.

Some Times readers applaud the Griffins, but some call them elitists, for spending so much money, just for a view.

All this foofaraw put me in mind of when I dealt in poles and wires and views. Five poles did not get taken down; they were never put up. A thousand feet of cable disappeared underground. The view, not just mine, but for neighbors then and to come, remained pristine. And not for $300 a foot, not for $100,000. No, for a measly $4,000, $4 a foot, tax and tips and plans and permits, not withstanding, just with digging.

And some mental agony.

This was back in 1974 (oh, I know prices have gone up since then), it was not in West Chop, it was in Gay Head, where Emmett Carroll was building me a little camp, in off Moshup Trail. It had a little, small, very small, blue ocean view. Without poles and wires.

The power company, not Nstar, Cape & Vineyard, would put up four or five poles along the Trail, from where their poles ended, two lots down from where my house was going up. Then they would put up one more pole on my road. Cable included. They’d pay for all that.

But that 600-foot stretch of road without poles and wires did look kind of nice.

Even if Cape & Vineyard was going to let me bury my own cable in their right of way along the Trail, which they were not going to do, I’d still need all kinds of permits.

Permits from Dukes County, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (after all, a project of regional impact), the Massachusetts Power Commission, the Department of Public Works, even the Gay Head board of health. It could and probably would be a federal case.

I was stubborn. No poles, no wires, no how.

It was my friend, Bill O’Gorman, who laid out the plan and got me the cable at a bargain price.

I’d go over private property. Two lots I didn’t own to cross, and then under my road to the house.

The first thing was the cable. We didn’t worry about conduit. Who needed conduit? What was conduit? We weren’t going under public road. We were going under private property, and our cable was the same as the power company was stringing from pole to pole in the view. We would be legal.

Bill had found a thousand feet of cable. Cape & Vineyard insisted on 25,000 volt cable. As Bill said, only 5,000 volts was going into Gay Head. But we’d be prepared for 25,000 volts, just in case, for the centuries to come.

That cable was thick as my wrist and weighed a ton wrapped around its spool, waiting at the house site. Bill had found it on sale, out of season. I think it was 87 cents a foot. Maybe $1.27. Still, a tidy sum. A thousand feet of cable, but nowhere yet to put it.

Had to get the right to cross two lots. They belonged to a woman in California. Had to be legal. I got upset when her lawyer on the Island laid out the legal problems. I pounded the table.

“No poles, no wires,” I shouted. “Her lots won’t have any poles or wires in front of them. The view will remain unsullied.”

The lawyer thought I was crazy. But I promised to cross along the bottom of her lots, where nobody would build and promised to save the vegetation, promised to let her tie on anytime in the future, for $500 a lot.

In the end, she didn’t charge me anything. But there was the fee for registering her grant of the right of way, and the lawyer’s fee for representing her and me. All in all, it was around $300. The Island way.

Now to tie onto a power line. A Gay Head neighbor had the line running up from Moshup Trail, on poles along his road to his house. But his ocean view was over the Vargas lots, and over the Trail where I was not going to have the power company put up poles and wires. If he’d just let me tie on to his pole.

I promised I’d do everything in my power to keep poles and wires out from his view. Bill O’Gorman had said we could put down concrete boxes at the intersection of the lot lines, so anyone could tie on. I promised to put down the boxes.

My neighbor gave me the right to tie on to his pole. He even gave me $400 toward what the project was costing. The costs were mounting. The cable. The lawyer. The concrete boxes. The hardware to connect the cable to the pole. The ditching.

It was turning into the Gay Head & Ochsmark Power Company (GH&OP). Maybe I could sell stock.

On the ferry, I ran into an electrical engineer who told me the exact gizmo I needed to connect my cable to the last pole. Only $80 or so.

The ditching. We got Joe King, with his backhoe. The ditch had to be three feet deep, clear of stones. We led him along the bottom of the next-door lots, dodging around the bushes. Not too crooked, because we had only the one thousand feet of the 25,000-volt cable. We didn’t take out one bush.

Joe dug out holes for the concrete boxes. One for each lot line intersection. Goodale brought the concrete boxes. One was not cured properly, and it started to collapse in the hole.

I raced out in my ancient BMW and caught up with the Goodale truck at Alley’s. They came back and took out the bad box. They brought a new one the next day.

Brad, our own, young off-Island electrician – we called him Brad Electric – connected the cable to the pole. Joe unspooled the cable into the ditch he’d dug, making a loop inside each of the concrete boxes. Across the neighbor’s lots, up my road through Leonard Vanderhoop’s lot, and up to the house. Cape & Vineyard would put in the big transformer, to get the 5,000 volts down to house current.

The 1,000 feet of cable was just enough. We had less than 30 feet left over up at the house.

Verizon came and put the phone line in next to the cable. A dozen pairs, enough for future users.

Then we had to fill the ditch. We filled the first foot down by hand. Bill, his son Rick, Brad, and me. Then Joe pushed the rest of the dirt down. No stones. When the land freezes, stones move. If they move against the cable, bruise it, the cable shorts, and we have no electricity. Then, you have to find the fault and fix it. That’s why the concrete boxes are good. The fault will be between two boxes, not anywhere along the line. And, the power company doesn’t pay to fix it. It’s not their cable. I’d have to pay.

Finally, no poles, no wires. Just air and sky, between my neighbors and me, and all who pass on Moshup Trail.

All added up — cable, boxes, ditch, the lawyer, filing fees — it came out to just under $4,000. Four dollars a foot for five poles that didn’t get built.

I think the Griffins did just right. For me, that $4,000 was the best money I ever spent. That view, still there, priceless.

Peter Ochs, long-retired from NBC, is a veteran Gay Head hand, from before Gay Head became Aquinnah. He’s still on Gay Head time. Mr. Ochs owned a summer house off Moshup Trail for years, and now he rents for several months annually, near where he used to own. The rest of the year, he lives in Vienna.