Oak Bluffs selectmen hear report on weekend mayhem

Oak Bluffs Harbor was jammed with by almost 400 boats over the weekend. The party atmosphere and behavior created headaches for town officials.

A busy weekend that saw an unusually high number of 21 arrests was the topic of conversation at a meeting of the Oak Bluffs selectmen Tuesday. Police chief Erik Blake called for more officers and more advance planning to prepare for the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament next year.

Harbormaster Todd Alexander suggested the dates of the tournament, which coincided with the Portuguese-American feast, be moved to late August, to reduce the pressure on town resources.

The two officials were first on the agenda. Selectmen said they had received dozens of complaints from residents about fights, public drinking, public urination, and inappropriate use of town property.

“There were seven arrests all of last year in the same time period,” Chief Blake said. “We were pretty much overwhelmed Saturday night. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of drinking. The actual event itself went pretty smoothly. It was the night-time after it was over that was really busy.”

Chief Blake said tournament organizers pay for four detail officers, and the operation of the Oak Bluffs Fire/Police Rescue boat for the two days the tournament is underway.

“We could use at least three more detail officers just for alcohol enforcement on the harbor,” Chief Blake said. “For every ten people you ask to pour out their beer, there are probably 200 more that are drinking in public. There are not enough officers to tell everyone to pour out their beer.”

Large crowds drawn to the tournament prompted the department to add at least three extra officers at taxpayer expense from about 6 pm to 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights, Chief Blake said.

Selectman Michael Santoro, who is managing partner of the Lookout Tavern and Season’s Pub, said he observed a much younger crowd than past years, coming into his establishments after the tournament ended.

“We see people who have been drinking all day in the harbor,” Mr. Santoro said. “I have a recommendation. We can’t have the feast and the shark tournament on the same weekend. I think the shark tournament needs to work around the feast. It’s way too much for one town. There are not enough bathroom facilities. There was a lot of urination around town. I got a lot of calls.”

Selectman Greg Coogan wondered aloud whether discussion at previous selectmen’s meetings and articles in local newspapers had unintended consequences.

“I wonder if we publicized the event without realizing it,” Mr. Coogan said.

“I think the ‘ban the shark tournament’ people added to it,” Mr. Santoro said.

Selectmen agreed to invite tournament organizer Steven James to a future meeting, and hear more suggestions about scheduling and policing, in order to make decisions about next year’s event.

Mr. Alexander said there were approximately 400 recreational boats in the harbor for the weekend, probably the most he has ever seen in nearly 20 years as harbormaster. He deployed four town boats to keep order, in addition to the town rescue vessel, and the Dukes County Sheriff boat.

“We still could barely keep up with what’s going on in the mooring field,” Mr. Alexander said. “I don’t have issues with the fishermen; it’s the spectators. I don’t think a lot of those people are looking for sharks, or even catch a glimpse of a shark. It’s become a party for the sake of a party.”

He cited a full beer can launched by a large sling shot, and bottles thrown at a protestor, as incidents that pose a serious danger.

“That’s not anything to play around with, that could kill somebody,” Mr. Alexander said. “There is nothing more I can throw at it for resources.”

He suggested the tournament be moved to the fourth week in August, when the Island is far less crowded.