Another fire station plan burns Chilmark

Harbormaster announces cruise to retirement; harbor wires test ‘good’ but water safety still unknown.  

Selectmen chairman Jim Malkin, selectman Warren Doty, and Town administrator and deputy fire chief Tim Carroll look up at new fire station designs. — Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark selectmen got a first look at conceptual designs for a new fire station Tuesday night. It didn’t go well.

Upon viewing the designs hung along a wall in the meeting room, selectman Warren Doty described them as “entirely different than everything we’ve talked about recently.” Doty expressed surprise that fire engine driveways exited the station onto Middle Road in both layouts, something the fire chief and the department lobbied against.

“I’m disappointed with this plan,” he said.

Selectman Bill Rossi asked if the architect was in the dark about the fire department’s reservations with Middle Road access: “Did we have a change of heart with the fire department?”

Town administrator Tim Carroll, who is also deputy fire chief, responded by saying the selectmen’s concerns about wetlands delineations ultimately altered the designs and that adherence to original design parameters would have triggered relocation of a septic system that had no other place to go. Carroll also said the new designs will necessitate widening Beetlebung Corner to allow fire trucks to round the curb from Middle Road to Menemsha Crossroad.

“Do you really have to spend that much time wondering about this?” building inspector Lenny Jason asked. “I mean it’s terrible, in a word. I think you’re trying to get too much onto a small lot.”

Fire Chief David Norton called the designs “ridiculous,” deficient for parking, and inadequate to maneuver vehicles as big as fire trucks. “Like Lenny was saying, you’re basically trying to put 10 pounds of manure in a five-pound bag.”

Norton questioned the authenticity of the wetlands abutting the current fire station and the edge of the town hall parking lot, describing the area as terrain Chilmark designates wetlands but the state doesn’t.

“Is a piece of skunk cabbage and a deadly mosquito more important than public safety?” he asked.

Norton then referenced the fizzled plan to seize acreage from Helen Benham: “We’re afraid to take land by eminent domain down the road. Well, why don’t we take the wetland by eminent domain, if that’s what it is, to make this thing work.”

Selectman Jim Malkin, who was elected chairman during the board’s reorganization, asked Norton what he suggested.

Norton advised filling in the wetlands and pushing the station back to provide more room.

He referenced another fizzled plan, one he’d come out against in the past, the purchase of land adjacent to town hall owned by the estate of Bette Carroll. He said the town may need to reconsider the purchase in light of the parking crunch the new station would create.

“As practical as that may be, I don’t think we can just ignore the conservation issue, the wetlands issue,” Rossi said. “We just can’t do that, you know? Maybe we need to revisit buying another piece of land.”

Malkin suggested taking the designs under advisement. “We look at it. We think about it. We’ll come back and talk at our next meeting.”

Selectmen followed that suggestion.

Jason bids a delayed bon voyage

The selectmen unanimously reappointed harbormaster Dennis Jason for another year of town service. Simultaneously they accepted a proposed retirement date he put forth of June 30, 2019.

“I appreciate the opportunity that I have had to manage the harbor over the past 19 years, and feel that I have run an effective and safe harbor for our town in the spirit of Menemsha fishing village,” Jason said, reading a letter to the selectmen.

“Dennis, I appreciate the 19 years that you spent on behalf of this town in the harbor. I know it hasn’t been easy,” Malkin said. He characterized Jason’s role as a “lightning rod” position.

Town officials have described Jason as a first class mariner in past interviews.

“He’s not a bad guy, just never round,” Menemsha Texaco co-owner Marshall Carroll told The Times after the meeting. Carroll said a sailboat owner came by the harbormaster shack Tuesday to find it closed with a sign reading somebody will be in the office May 1 to Oct. 14, 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 6 pm. Carroll later heard Jason was on vacation.

“Why don’t they put that on the door?’ he asked.

In a 2016 letter to The Times written shortly after Jason was reappointed under criticism, assistant harbormaster Richard Steves listed several of Jason’s nautical rescues and feats of maritime damage control. He described Jason as fair and on balance a good harbormaster.

“While we all have our strengths and weaknesses, I hope the selectmen recognize that his strengths far outweigh his weaknesses,” he wrote. He went on to write the harbormaster’s job isn’t to please everybody: “In enforcing harbor regulations, you are not attempting to win a popularity contest, and are bound to have individuals who are not happy with your enforcement action.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Malkin said he wished to begin a search process for Jason’s replacement in February.

Reached Wednesday, Malkin, who is also the board’s harbor liaison, said, “I think Dennis has done a very good job for the town. The position of harbormaster in Chilmark has always been contentious, and Dennis did his best for [Chilmark] and the individuals who use the harbor.”

In other business, Jason told the selectmen piling replacement in Menemsha was going well and should wrap up Wednesday. However, as a result of past dredging altering the channel, Jason noted the area around the transient dock was clogging with sand, and many slips may be unusable if not dredged. The selectmen authorized Jason and Carroll to consult with an engineer about building something off the Menemsha jetty that would hedge against sand incursion and to tap John Keene Excavation to dig out the sand.

Carroll informed the selectmen that testing on Menemsha wiring conducted on Tuesday by subcontractors for electrical engineer Vincent Di Lorio was complete. “All the tests came back good, according to the engineer,” he said.

While wiring may not need replacement, a handful of punch-list repairs to pedestals and other electrical elements was recommended ahead of the season, Carroll said. Replacing the main electrical panel was also recommended. But since panel replacement would trigger code upgrades that couldn’t be accomplished before the season begins, Carroll said, it will need to wait until autumn, when other major work is tentatively slated.

“Is there still current in the water?” Lenny Jason said.

“I don’t know,” Malkin said.

“Didn’t they test it?” Jason said.

Carroll said not Tuesday, but the water was tested for 10 days last summer and no voltage was detected.

Jason suggested testing the water while the dock and bulkhead electricity was off and the harbor was empty of boats to rule out the electric system.

“I would just like to know that there’s no current in the water,” Lenny Jason said.

“I don’t think we know that,” Doty said.

The selectmen authorized Carroll to conduct further water tests.