Tisbury selectmen usher in metered taxis

Board vows to dredge ‘dangerous’ shallows in Tashmoo, and rekindles Tisbury School quest.

At the Tisbury selectmen's meeting Tuesday night, harbormaster John Crocker points to indicate where the Tashmoo Channel has gotten shallow with sand. — Rich Saltzberg

Tisbury selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to permit Martha’s Vineyard Taxi to field metered cabs on the streets of Vineyard Haven — a first for the town and the Island. Edgartown selectmen postponed a similar decision last week.

“We’re trying to offer the same genre of taxi service that you would see in any major city in the world,” Michael Mszanski, vice president of Martha’s Vineyard Taxi, said to the board.

Town administrator Jay Grande told the selectmen while he had no qualms with metering taxis, he believed the Tisbury Police Department thinks a metering program shouldn’t be tried out during the season. “I’m not allergic to at least piloting the idea,” he said.

Selectman Jim Rogers asked why Martha’s Vineyard Taxi submitted a flat rate sheet and a metered rate sheet to the town if the goal was metering.

Mszanski admitted if one was denied, the other could be utilized, but preferably his company would operate with both flat and metered rates. The meter, he said, would be for single-passenger service, “the vast majority of our business.” He described the flat rate for less common, multiple fares.

Melaney West, manager of Vineyard Crossings, the holding company of Stagecoach Taxi, a local rival of Martha’s Vineyard Taxi, told the selectmen she didn’t understand how a taxi company could operate with two rate systems.

Rogers couldn’t fathom that either. “I’m in favor of approving it if they go with the meter, but not this dual system,” he said.

“So if you approve this, that means if they ever take multiple fares in the taxi and charge a flat rate, they’re in violation of their license with the town?” West asked.

“Yes,” chairman Tristan Israel said.

In order to distinguish Tisbury’s metered cabs from the other town cabs, Rogers moved that “metered taxis shall be externally distinguishable to the public.” The board adopted the motion, and voted in the Martha’s Vineyard Taxi as a metered-rate company.

“If we find that this is not working or there are major problems, we can certainly revisit it. As taxi commissioners, we can do that,” Israel said.

Reached Wednesday morning, Martha’s Vineyard Taxi president Morgan Reitzas text-messaged a reflection on the vote.

“This started as a response to feedback from our customers about what they see as a dated and unappealing taxi industry on the Island,” he wrote. “We are grateful for and encouraged by the support we saw last night from the selectmen in their decision to allow us to make positive, impactful changes to the way we manage our business. Implementing this metering software is just one part of our plan to continue to offer a higher standard of service to our customers, and we’re excited about the road ahead.”

Much ado in Tashmoo

In addition to more involved dredge work needed in Vineyard Haven Harbor, Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker informed the selectmen a portion of the Tashmoo Channel was only 3.5 feet deep at low tide, and required dredging, about 2,000 yards worth.

Recent bids to do the work came in prohibitively high, he said. “The low bid to remove 2,000 yards was $180,000,” he said. “In my opinion, it would be fiscally irresponsible to spend the majority of our dredge budget to remove 2,000 yards when for a little more than that in the fall, we could dredge the entire channel.”

Crocker said he spoke with the operator of the Barnstable County dredge about the possibility of dredging this summer, but they came to the conclusion such activity would be too disruptive to boating.

He said he also made inquiries about hiring Edgartown’s dredge to do the work in July. He estimated it would cost $80,000, with about $24,000 of that figure allotted to pay for a crane to haul the barge in and out.

Reached by phone Wednesday morning, Crocker said even the Edgartown barge would be problematic.

“To have a barge sitting in the channel for a couple of weeks would be disruptive to everything,” he said. Nevertheless, he said the urgency of cutting depth into the channel was undeniable.

Tuesday night Crocker told the board he placed a notice on the harbor webpage about the shallowness of the channel. He also said he placed a wake sign at the end of the jetty at the entrance to Lake Tashmoo.

“There is now a large sign over the top of the no wake sign that says, “Channel depth three and a half feet at mean low water,’” he added.

Asked by selectman Melinda Loberg if anyone has run aground, Crocker said, “Of course.”

As recently as Sunday, people ran aground there, he said, and TowBoat U.S. pulled them off.

The selectmen then heard a boatload of testimony about the problem.

“I came in the channel the night before last, an hour after high tide, and I was passing about 20 feet inside of the osprey tower,” Tashmoo resident Bob Landreth said, “and from there I headed directly toward the inside of that last red buoy, the southerly buoy, and I hit bottom. I draft three and a half feet, and I hit bottom coming in there an hour past high tide.”

Crocker said that was a different area, but he intended to install a no-wake buoy there.

Landreth said he thought that was a good step.

“I rent a mooring from the town in Tashmoo,” boater Kevin Nagle said. He characterized the dredge situation as “embarrassing,” and expressed exasperation that “a town that has based its history on maritime tradition would allow their waterways to come into such a shape.”

Nagle explained he owned a sailboat, and his Tashmoo access was very limited.

“In effect, the mooring I’m renting from the town does me no good. You know, I don’t know what the town wants me to do. Want to trade my mooring for the year so that I can have a mooring for the year in Vineyard Haven Harbor?”

His mooring and town maritime honor aside, Nagle highlighted the risk he believed the present shallows pose.

“It’s dangerous. When you stack up a bunch of boats on that sandbar, who knows what’s going to happen? You’ve got powerboaters coming over from Falmouth. They’re not going to be able to squeeze through there. I’m concerned.”

Harbor management committee member Jeff Cahna pointed out Tashmoo was a “safe harbor of refuge,” and that Ralph Packer has five moorings far up into the lake he may not be able to access. “In the event of a hurricane, he’s going to have to take his barges and tugs to New Bedford?” Cahna suggested the town make an attempt this summer to dredge, and said the channel was in “dire shape.”

Commercial fisherman Tubby Medeiros said the shallow channel has kept him reluctantly working off a dock at Owen Park in Vineyard Haven Harbor, instead of in Tashmoo at the landing.

“I draw four and a half feet. I can’t get out of Tashmoo with a full load — can’t do it. I hit in front. I hit midway, and I hit almost at the end.”

Charter captain Lynne Fraker blamed the lapse in dredging on the town dropping the ball on permits. The dredge committee needed to meet more often, she said. She pointed out Tashmoo has 300 moorings, and if a big boat got stuck in the channel, it would bottle up the whole lake.

“I’m afraid to go through there, and those who aren’t afraid to go through there are dragging through there,” she said. “They’re just dragging right through.”

“The thing we need to do now is get the thing dredged as soon as we possibly can,” Israel said.

As soon as the dredge committee, harbormaster, or town administrator comes to the selectmen with a dredge proposal, the board is prepared to act, he said.

In other business, Israel attempted to resurrect the Tisbury School project by reading into the record a school building needs statement he hoped would be the “start of a process” that could be presented to the school committee on June 19. Israel pitched forming a new town committee to explore the options for the Tisbury School and recommended adherence to a $27 million–or–less budgetary ceiling. He suggested Tisbury School Principal John Custer, Tisbury School Committee member Amy Houghton, and selectmen Jim Rogers, among others, would make good committee participants.

“I think it’s a great start,” Rogers said.

“I’ve seen it. I approve of it,” Loberg said.

Administrator Grande told the board mold remediation will need to take place in the school this summer.

Grande did not have a figure at hand for what the remediation would cost, when asked by former school building committee member Harold Chapdelaine.

“I just think it’s very interesting how we spent nearly $1 million developing plans for the school,” Chapdelaine said. “To have a conversation at $27 million, and now we’re going to be shelling out money for repairs and remediation, when $32 million would have built a new school. It seems like we’re kicking another can down the road in this town.”

The selectmen also voted unanimously to approve a bench at Lake Street Landing for Cora Medeiros, late mother of Tubby Medeiros, a staunch booster for Tisbury causes.