Edgartown transfers stewardship of Carnegie building, FARM Institute

And selectmen scold county commissioners for adding minimum wage requirement to Norton Point beach management contract.

The Carnegie building will be used for a temporary Post Office. - Photo by Monica Busch

Edgartown selectmen signed off on two major contracts at their regular Monday afternoon meeting this week. They signed the deed transferring ownership of the Carnegie building on North Water Street from the Edgartown library to the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, and officially approved The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR) takeover of the FARM Institute in Katama.

Preservation Trust executive director Chris Scott handed selectmen a symbolic $1 check to congratulatory comments all around on brokering such a positive deal.

“We’re really looking forward to digging into the Carnegie,” Mr. Scott said.

“Your plans sound wonderful and we’re very pleased to turn it over to you,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.

The Carnegie library building was completed in 1904, and was a gift to the town from Andrew Carnegie, among the more than 2,500 libraries he funded around the world.

The Preservation Trust plans to turn the building into an Island heritage and welcome center. The center will feature the trust’s collection of maritime literature, a timeline exhibit of Island history, and will act as an information resource for Island visitors.

The nonprofit owns and cares for a number of historic buildings across the Island. These include the stately Old Whaling Church and Daniel Fisher House on Main Street in Edgartown, the Flying Horses Carousel and Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, and the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.

Spirits were similarly high when selectmen approved a 40-year lease transferring stewardship of the FARM Institute to TTOR. Ms. Serpa noted that the Edgartown conservation committee put a lot of work into the agreement, and selectmen wished TTOR luck in managing the FARM Institute’s programs.

The lease transfer has been in the works for some time. In March 2015, TTOR announced plans to absorb the FARM Institute and bolster it financially. The lease transfer is the final step in combining the two groups.

Established in 2000, the FARM Institute, a nonprofit education organization, leases the property from the Edgartown conservation commission. The FARM Institute is an educational nonprofit that offers year-round programs that teach participants about all levels of farming, including land preservation, agriculture, and livestock management.

County’s minimum wage hike

In response to a question from The Times, selectmen also took a few moments on Monday to comment on negotiations between The Trustees and the Dukes County commissioners over management of county-owned Norton Point Beach. TTOR has managed the beach since 2006 under a contract with the county.

In November, the county commissioners approved a policy to raise the minimum wage for all county employees, including those who are employed under a contract, to $15 an hour. Although no county employee currently makes less than $15 an hour, summer TTOR employees who help patrol Norton Point Beach do not.

TTOR Martha’s Vineyard superintendent Chris Kennedy estimates the wage hike would cost the nonprofit an additional $20,000 in costs.

Selectman Art Smadbeck, who also sits on the county advisory board, expressed his concern about county overreach and its potentially negative effects on a beach in Edgartown.

“Management of Norton Point has gone well since the county made a contract with The Trustees of Reservations. Anything that would jeopardize that would be of great concern not just to the town but to everyone that uses the beaches,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

“My biggest concern, I think, is that I’m not sure that I agree the county should be in the business of telling private organizations what to charge. That’s not what the county is designed for,” he said.

Mr. Smadbeck credited the county with benefiting Edgartown and described this move as “almost a step backwards.”

“The county has come a long way in rehabilitating itself,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

“The county is us and we depend on the county to operate in a really good manner so that they can help the towns when we need the kind of help that’s within regional objectives. The county’s been doing a great job and I have big concerns about this seemingly simple vote affecting something that’s in Edgartown that could cause us a problem on the beaches if The Trustees of Reservations say they’re  not going to do it. We’re going to have a big problem,” he said.

Ms. Serpa echoed her colleague’s comments.

“I agree with you,” Ms. Serpa said. “It can affect the county but why would they pass it along to someone they have an agreement with?”

Chairman Michael Donaroma murmured his assent.

Leaky post office

Town administrator Pam Dolby took a moment to provide selectmen with an update on disturbances taking place at the Edgartown Lofts development above the Edgartown post office and the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank at the Triangle. Charles Hajjar, a Boston-based developer, is adding eight second-story apartments in the Post Office Square complex.

Ms. Dolby told selectmen that the bank had to close on Monday due to leaks caused by construction. Post office employees also contacted town hall about similar problems. Ms. Dolby said she spoke with a postmaster in Boston about the issues.

“They’re actually looking for an alternative place to move the post office temporarily because they’re that nervous about it,” Ms. Dolby said.

She and building inspector Lenny Jason will work with the developers to work out kinks as much as possible in the interim, she said.

In other business Monday, selectmen approved two new aquaculture licenses for Nick Turner and Dan Donnelly, respectively. The licenses will allow Mr. Turner and Mr. Donnelly to expand their oyster growing operations in a shallow area known as the Middle Flats off Eel Pond. The Middle Flats is a 35-acre aquaculture area established in July 2014 that can host 10 individual two-acre aquaculture lots.

Harbormaster Charlie Blair also received his annual review on Monday night. Selectmen expressed their approval of his work.

“We’ve got a great harbormaster. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Mr. Blair credited his employees. “I say the same thing every year, that I’ve got a terrific staff and they make me look good,” Mr. Blair said.

Mr. Blair said his department anticipates an 80 percent return rate for summer employees this season.