Taking stock and looking ahead


As we bid goodbye to 2014 and anticipate the promise and challenge 2015 holds for Martha’s Vineyard, New Year’s Day provides an opportunity for Island leaders to take stock — if only at halftime — and consider the course they will chart moving forward. For some it will be full speed ahead; for others, a change may be advisable.

Almost one year ago the board of the Vineyard Nursing Association, faced with mounting debts, made the sensible decision in January 2013 to sell the agency to the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNACC), part of Cape Cod Healthcare, a $700 million operation that is the leading health care provider on the Cape.

Ultimately, the deal collapsed. The VNA ended operations on March 11, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod picked up the pieces, insuring stability for a critical component of the Vineyard health care delivery system, one that serves the Island’s overwhelmingly aging population.

The challenge now is how to knit together the network of services that the Island’s aging population will require. The Dukes County Health Council’s Healthy Aging Task Force is grappling with the problem. It will not be easy on an Island with six towns and six of most everything else.

In a year-end essay, part of a collection of essays that appear in this week’s MV Times, Paddy Moore of West Tisbury, co-chairman of the Healthy Aging Task Force, described the dimensions of the challenge. “It is expected that 70 percent of people who reach age 65 will need long-term care at some time in their longer lives, usually for an average of three years,” Ms. Moore said. “This means the Vineyard must strengthen home care services to enable elders to age in their homes, and establish more assisted living facilities, and more nursing home beds.”

Windemere, the Island’s only nursing home, will not be able to meet the need. Ms. Moore said it is time “to explore and develop new models of nursing homes, such as the much-praised Green House model of small cottages with private rooms, private baths, mixed funding, and unusual staffing.”

She is correct. But the task force will be hard-pressed to move forward without significant cooperation from Island agencies and boards. There is an opportunity in 2015 for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which too often is focused on the natural landscape, to direct some of its planning horsepower and $1.4 million budget to the Island’s equally important social landscape.

As we move into 2015 and glance in the rearview mirror, we see the decrepit fixture of the Stop and Shop market in Vineyard Haven. This project was one of Tisbury’s missed opportunities in 2014.

The company wanted to construct a new two-story market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. The company agreed to provide much-needed parking, pay to move a house that no one had paid any attention to but suddenly took on historic importance, and at the request of town officials contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements. The project in its entirety would have transformed a block badly in need of a magic wand.

But in May, after one year of planning, meetings, squabbling, and an excruciating public hearing process that oftentimes resembled a game of “I’m thinking of a number; what is it?” Stop and Shop withdrew its application before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The town and the larger Island community were left with nothing to show for this exercise. In a vague corporate statement, Stop and Shop said it would “remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the Town of Tisbury.”

Tisbury selectmen and planning board members have an opportunity to exercise leadership and extend an invitation to Stop and Shop executives to return to the Island and move forward in partnership in 2015. The status quo is unacceptable.

A far less visible battle took place in 2014, one that will continue to play out in 2015 in federal court in Boston with potentially significant ramifications for the entire Island.

On August 6, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled from the bench that the town of Aquinnah and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association Inc. (AGHCA) may intervene in a lawsuit Governor Deval Patrick filed to block the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from building what the tribe has described as a boutique casino in its unfinished community center on tribal lands.

The central issue and major hurdle in the tribe’s long-running battle to build a casino, either in southeastern Massachusetts or on tribal lands, is the Settlement Agreement, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987, which stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time.

The tribe did not oppose intervention by the town, but did object to intervention by the AGHCA. In his remarks from the bench, Judge Saylor said the only real question was whether the town or the Commonwealth could adequately represent the association’s interests.

Judge Saylor said, “They are both political entities with different interests that may change over time, depending on the interests in part of the elected officials who are the decision-makers.” He noted that the association, by contrast, is made up of private landowners with private economic interests.

And he continued, “To flesh it out a little bit and to look ahead, one of the questions here — it’s not directly raised yet, and it may not be raised — but if the Settlement Agreement is not valid or not enforceable, the question is, what then? As I understand it, private and public property was transferred to the Tribe as consideration for the Settlement Agreement. I don’t know what happens at that point. Maybe things are left where they are. Maybe there’s some issue of unjust enrichment or taking or something. I don’t know. But, in any event, depending on the twists and turns of this case as it develops, it’s possible that private landowners may have a very different interest than the governmental bodies in the future; but certainly at the present, their interests are sufficiently divergent that intervention is appropriate.”

Stay tuned in 2015.