Deer and mopeds dominate Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting

Hunters and moped rental opponents turned out in numbers on Tuesday night to make their case.

Alley Moore of Oak Bluffs implored selectmen not to approve a January hunting season. - Barry Stringfellow

Opponents of the proposed supplemental two-week deer-hunting season, and opponents of moped rentals, were out in force at Tuesday night’s marathon selectmen’s meeting in Oak Bluffs.

Hunters were on hand to shoot down an additional two-week deer-hunting season, intended to help battle the Lyme disease epidemic on Martha’s Vineyard.

Members of the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC) and a crew of supporters were on hand to pressure selectmen to revoke the licenses of the three remaining moped rental businesses in Oak Bluffs, based on purported infractions of 2004 town bylaws.

Doubling down on deer

Hunters came out en masse to challenge selectmen’s unanimous Jan. 10 vote to send a letter to the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) endorsing a supplemental two-week deer-hunting season in January 2018, to help battle the Lyme disease epidemic on Martha’s Vineyard.

The board’s Jan. 10 vote came on the heels of a presentation by Dick Johnson, field biologist for the Martha’s Vineyard Boards of Health Tick Borne Disease Initiative (TBDI). Mr. Johnson has been studying ticks and their role in spreading Lyme disease and a growing list of other maladies on the Vineyard for the past six years.

“Island-wide, the biggest thing we can do to fight Lyme disease is reduce the number of deer,” Mr. Johnson said. “There are about 4,000 deer on the Island. That comes out to roughly 40 deer per square mile. We need to get that down to 20 per square mile to see an impact on tick-borne illness.”

But as The Times reported last week, reaction from the hunting community was swift, and overwhelmingly negative. Tuesday night, hunters reiterated that they supported the goal of the hunt, but not the strategy.

“I think hunters should have input on this,” Ned Casey of Edgartown said.  “Not to drag it out, but we should have a consensus on whatever we present to the state. A January hunt that brings a lot of off-Island hunters here is not a good idea.”

Mr. Casey said more access to private property on the Island and lifting the ban on Sunday hunting, currently prohibited by the state, would be much more effective in culling the herd and diminishing disease.

“We’re the only state in the Northeast that doesn’t allow Sunday hunting,” he said. “You get another two weeks and then some, and you get more hunters in the woods because they’re not at work. Two weeks in January will help, but I think Sunday hunting or bow hunting earlier in the season will be a lot more effective in reducing the deer population.”

Mr. Casey said rather than hunting, January is better suited for all sides to talk and to build consensus on an Island proposal for the DFW.

Alley Moore of Oak Bluffs also shot down the idea of a January hunt. “Basically in January, most of the female deer are pregnant, and to actually shoot them is bizarre and unsporting,” he said. “They’re actually carrying little fetuses in their belly at that point. Hunting is not about killing. It’s a sport. You have a fair chase, and [the deer] have a chance. Also, this time of year the deer are in thickets, and they don’t move until almost after dark … The only way to really hunt them in January is to take a group of guys and push through the thicket and shoot them while they’re running … It’s a recipe for disaster in my opinion.”

Mr. Johnson told the board that his petition the previous week was premature: “I may not have been clear on the process,” he said. “The process is to ask the fish and wildlife board to hold public hearings to consider some steps so we can reduce the number of deer. It would be easy enough to change that and say ‘or other regulatory changes.’ I thought adding two weeks on the end of hunting season was a good idea; obviously not everybody agrees.”

Mr. Johnson read from a revised letter to Fish and Wildlife director Jack Buckley for selectmen to consider: “In the last 11 years, the deer harvest on Martha’s Vineyard has varied from 460 to 792 annually, with an average of 624 taken per year. This has not been enough to noticeably reduce the deer herd, and in fact the number of deer on the Island may even be slowly increasing. Therefore we are respectfully requesting that the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife conduct a public hearing on Martha’s Vineyard to consider extending the deer-hunting season, or making other changes to the regulations designed to increase the number of deer harvested annually on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Selectmen were quickly on board.

“If all the Island boards have supported this, I think it should be given some deference,” chairmen of the selectmen Gail Barmakian said.

Selectman Mike Santoro suggesting starting the process with public hearings before submitting a letter. Mr Johnson said with his schedule, the delay could put the process back another year.

“I disagree that we need a lot of input now,” selectman Greg Coogan said. “If we take action that delays this, I think that’s the wrong direction to go. Let’s stay with what we gave him.”

“It seems all we’re asking for is a public hearing from the DFW,” selectman Kathy Burton said. “Let’s have a public hearing. I don’t see the harm.”

Selectmen voted unanimously to send the revised letter requesting a public hearing to the DFW.

Moped rentals redux

Members of Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC) made a fourth visit to the board to make a case that all three moped rental businesses in Oak Bluffs are in violation of 2004 town bylaws, and should therefore be shuttered.

MADAC member Nicole Brisson presented a timeline of purported licensing violations that had been uncovered.

Ms. Brisson stated that all three moped rental businesses violate the moped bylaws adopted by the town in 2004, which state that licenses are not transferable unless approved by the board of selectmen.

“All three businesses were not in operation in 2004,” she said. “Island Hoppers, King of Rentals, and Ride-On Mopeds have transferred licenses, business or legal interests, or locations without prior written approval of the board of selectmen, in clear violation of the bylaws.”

Ms. Brisson said Island Hoppers filed a certificate of organization (CO) with the state in 2006, King of Rentals of MV filed its CO in 2008, and Ride-On Mopeds named Aguimar Carlos as president, treasurer, clerk, and director in 2004, and in 2008, a change of supplemental information was filed with the commonwealth naming Penny Wong, Jason Leone, and John Leone as directors.

Ms. Brisson also said her research in the town hall archives showed no license for Island Hoppers in 2010, 2011, and 2013, and the same for King of Rentals in 2011.

“As stated by the bylaw, these licenses are deemed forfeited if they were not licensed for any of the noted years,” she said.

Ms. Brisson contended the businesses had also violated the bylaws because they had moved locations, and she repeated her assertion that all businesses were in violation because they did not meet the on-premises test-track requirement, or have a written waiver on file: “We implore you to find that all three businesses have been in continuous violation of the bylaws and, as such, we ask that you deem the licenses of Island Hoppers, King of Rentals of MV, and Ride-On Mopeds to be null and void.”

An enthusiastic round of applause from the room was followed by silence from selectmen, eventually broken by Ms. Burton. “That was quite a comprehensive package, thank you,” she said, triggering more applause.  

Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake said a second “SARA” meeting, which gathers stakeholders from all sides of the debate, including the business owners, will be held on Feb. 10.

However, it was pointed out that these meetings did not address legalities.

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said considerable progress was made at the first meeting on Jan. 10, and that there was discussion on improved training, converting moped rental licenses to auto rental licenses, and distributing maps to renters that show particularly dangerous roadways on the Island. He also said 2004 moped bylaws give owners an opportunity to remedy infractions.

“It’s been pointed out to me this afternoon that some of the things said about the licenses are not quite right,” selectman Walter Vail said. “We have an obligation to know if the complaint is correct.”

Mr. Whritenour said the matter will now go before town counsel, and a decision will be made before the business licenses are due to be issued, on April 1.

Correction – an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the town moped by-laws were revised in 2014