Fishermen’s storage contentious at special town meeting

Harbormaster funding also prompts town meeting discussion.

Selectman Warren Doty ask town meeting voters in Chilmark to remember town residents who died with a moment of silence. - Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark voters polished off a special town meeting Monday night in a little over an hour. Of the 15 articles on the warrant, 10 passed unanimously. Four articles drew debate, and among them, Article 15, which sought $15,000 to design a training and storage area near the Chilmark landfill, triggered the most discussion.

Town moderator Everett Poole began the meeting with a moment of silence for Menemsha fisherman James Douglas Morgan and historian Harriette Poole Otteson, both of whom died recently. Selectman Warren Doty furthered remembrance of the recently departed by paying brief tribute to former Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London and photographer Peter Simon — “who you will notice is not here tonight. He was often walking around the front of the room taking pictures during our town meetings,” Doty said of Simon, the longtime Chilmark resident who died the day before the special town meeting.

Once residents dug into the warrant, it was Article 2, which sought $24,000 for overlap training for a new harbormaster and harbor staff, that created dissent first. It passed narrowly — 40 to 37. Selectmen chairman Jim Malkin previously told The Times the funds would help the new harbormaster, whom the town hopes to have selected by April 1, learn the particulars of the job in Chilmark while the current harbormaster, who is slated to retire on June 30, 2019, is still available for on-the-job insight.

Menemsha Texaco co-owner Katie Carroll questioned why the the sum for new harbormaster training was so much more than the sum for the training of a new fire chief. Carroll asked if $24,000 was “a bit excessive” for what would be a three-month overlap.

“I would say I don’t think it’s excessive at all,” selectman Bill Rossi said.

“Having worked there for 18 years, I think it is excessive,” assistant harbormaster Richard Steves said.

Malkin told the voters the situations with the harbormaster and the fire chief differ. The present fire chief will stay on for a year in an advisory capacity after his retirement. He did not mention a similar role for the harbormaster, but noted the new harbormaster will enter the fold on the cusp of the summer season, and have a short time to learn a lot.

Article 12 sought an additional $15,000 to funds already voted in at a previous town meeting to pay for a bus turnaround near the Menemsha Comfort Station as part of the Menemsha plan.

Katie Carroll questioned whether the turnaround would negatively affect the aesthetics of Menemsha. Others argued it was an invitation for buses too big for Menemsha to continue to motor in unchecked. Planning board member Janet Weidner told the audience the bus turnaround was exhaustively studied, and represented the best solution for bus navigation in Menemsha. The article ultimately passed with amended language.

Articles 13 and 14 sought, per the Menemsha plan, the sums of $22,000 and $27,000 to construct “pedestrian walkways” on Basin Road and North Road in Menemsha. The purpose of the walkways was to increase pedestrian safety, town administrator Tim Carroll previously told The Times. He noted they are not sidewalks, they are unpaved paths. Chilmark does not have sidewalks, he said.

The Basin Road pedestrian pathway passed unanimously. However, after Menemsha resident Debbie Packer spoke against the North Road pathway, it hit the rocks. Packer told the audience the pathway site contained a Native American burial ground. Building inspector Lenny Jason also spoke out against the article, and suggested an actual sidewalk might be more effective.

“If there was actually a sidewalk there, perhaps the owners of the Home Port would have valet parking, and deal with their problems on their own property,” he said.

The article was defeated on a voice vote.

As the selectmen discussed on Oct. 16, after learning about a deer “death pit’ near the landfill, both the fire department and the shellfish department saw great utility in creating a place where commercial fishermen could store gear away from Menemsha and the pond, and where the firefighters could train. Article 15, which sought to make that storage and training area a reality on eight acres of town land near that “death pit,” took a lot of flak. Though storage at the proposed site would potentially be for town departments, too, the idea of a using it for fishermen’s gear was a trigger for some voters.

“Since Chilmark has been a fishing community, the fishermen have put their gear on their own property,” Jason said. Jason moved to have commercial fishermen stricken from the article.

“The fishing industry is changing, and Menemsha is changing a great deal. We don’t have room in Menemsha for a lot of fishermen’s equipment,” Doty said. He went on to say some of the town’s oyster farmers don’t own homes but rent them, and need a place to put their shellfish farming equipment.

“I’m in favor of Lenny’s suggestion,” Susan Murphy said. “You know how it takes about a week for leftovers to turn into garbage in the refrigerator. That’s how long it takes approximately for used equipment to become forgotten equipment and then deteriorate. I think it’s a bad idea for the town to get into storage of fishing gear that is locked up in a fence somewhere, soon to be forgotten.”

Longtime fisherman and former selectman Jonathan Mayhew spoke in favor of municipal storage of fishermen’s gear.

The language relative to fishermen in the article was ultimately preserved.

Pam Goff later attempted to add language to the article that would compel an affordable housing solution on part of that land, as well as on other land not previously mentioned in the article. After a brief sidebar with town counsel Ron Rappaport, Poole said such a substantive change wasn’t possible. Goff then said she simply didn’t want such a storage facility to be there, and characterized herself as a NIMBY person.

Heather Goff also made an attempt to add an affordable housing provision to the article. Doty reminded the voters the land abuts the town landfill, and the selectmen are wary of drilling wells there.

Goff’s provision didn’t take root. The article passed on a standing vote.

The meeting was “dissolved,” as Poole put it, just before 9 pm.