Oak Bluffs thanks officers who responded to bomb suspect search

— File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs selectmen opened their Tuesday meeting with a minute of silence and reflection for the victims of the Boston Marathon bomb attack, and the thousands of first responders who tended to the wounded and eventually captured the suspect.

Police chief Erik Blake said the Martha’s Vineyard Tactical Response Team were among dozens of police units assigned to search and secure a 20-block area of Watertown after a dramatic gun battle with police.

Chief Blake said members of the Tactical Response Team thought they might get an assignment similar to their first deployment to Boston on April 17, when the team provided security for a hospital and a hotel. Instead, when they were called back to Boston on April 19, incident commanders immediately deployed the local officers to Watertown to join the search for the bombing suspect.

“They searched over 30 houses and 30 back yards, they were right in the thick of it,” Chief Blake told selectmen. “I’m glad they came home safe. I’m glad we were a small part of it, they did us proud. They wanted to thank you for your support.”

Selectmen agreed to send a letter of thanks to the Tactical Response Team, including the Oak Bluffs officers on the team, Lt. Tim Williamson, Det. Nick Currelli, Sgt. Steve Conley, and Officer Jeff LaBell.

Aquaculture clash

In other action Tuesday, selectmen heard strong opposition from the town’s shellfish committee to a proposal to begin an aquaculture farm in Lagoon Pond. Oak Bluffs resident Dan Martino and his brother Greg Martino each applied for a license to grow oysters on two-acre underwater lots off the Oak Bluffs shore of the tidal pond. They said granting a conditional license would not mean they could begin work, but would trigger a long series of inspections and evaluation by federal, state, and local regulators, that would provide a wealth of information about the viability of oyster farming in that location.

“This oyster farm will create local jobs, food, a new revenue source for the town, and bring a much-needed healing process for our pond,” Dan Martino said. He said oyster farming would benefit Lagoon Pond because oysters filter nitrogen out of the water.

Based on a scientific analysis of the tidal pond, state regulators have determined water quality falls well below federal standards, and they are formulating targets to improve water quality that may be very costly for Oak Bluffs.

The shellfish committee voted 4 to 0 not to recommend the proposal. Committee member Elizabeth Mansure called the proposal “like a punch in the gut” to local commercial fishermen. Committee member Bill Alwardt called it a “slap in the face.”

Chairman Mark Landers questioned whether the applicants have enough experience to establish a commercial oyster farm, and whether the size of the project would have any real benefit to the nitrogen loading problem. He said setting aside four acres for aquaculture would privatize a large part of the pond, and would preclude other shellfishing, sailing, water skiing, and kayaking in the area.

“We’re taking up quite a chunk of our Lagoon Pond,” Mr. Landers said. “I don’t see why one individual should take away from so many.”

Shellfish constable David Grunden said he was torn about whether to support the project.

“I’m glad I’m not making this decision,” Mr. Grunden said. “One farm is not going to solve all the problems in the pond. Shellfish aquaculture is generally good. Whether this is the best place for it, I don’t know.”

Several supporters of the aquaculture proposal pointed out that the town itself operates an extensive shellfish seeding and stocking program, and is currently establishing an oyster aquaculture operation for the public benefit of recreational shellfish permit holders in Sengekontacket Pond.

Earlier this month, town meeting voters approved $49,050 in Community Preservation Act funds for a project labeled “Oyster Bio-remediation in Sengekontacket Pond,” touting the benefits of oysters in removing nitrogen.

All five selectmen expressed reservations about the Martino aquaculture proposal for Lagoon Pond, and asked for more time to study the issue.

“I commend you for stepping forward,” selectman Mike Santoro said. “It probably sounds like you’re being attacked, but I don’t think they mean that.”

“What we don’t have is a coordinated approach with the other towns,” selectman Walter Vail said. “I believe aquaculture is a very important thing to solve our nitrogen problem, but I don’t think this is the right way to do it in a coordinated way.”

Selectmen voted unanimously to take the applications under advisement.

Other action

Also Tuesday, selectmen approved a change in the licensed owner for the Lookout Tavern, to Santoro Hospitality, Inc. The change reflects Mr. Santoro’s purchase of the business from his business partners. Mr. Santoro abstained from the vote.

They also approved a change in managers for the company doing business as Ken ‘n Beck at 14 Kennebec Avenue. The new licensed manager is chef Ben deForest.

Selectmen approved a license to serve food to the Lampost bar, which plans to serve food prepared at Skinny’s Fat Sandwiches, a neighboring sandwich shop.

Selectmen approved a transfer of seven taxi licenses to Chris Dacunto, who is purchasing A Big Cab Company. Mr. Dacunto now owns 21 taxi licenses in Oak Bluffs.

The meeting ended with a reorganization of the board of selectmen. After a unanimous vote, selectman Kathy Burton passed the chairman’s gavel to Mr. Vail. Selectmen unanimously voted Mr. Santoro vice-chairman.