Chilmark denies charter boat

Selectmen want to maintain Menemsha status quo.

Chilmark police detective Jesse Burton was denied a permit to operate a head boat service out of Menemsha. — Brian Dowd

Menemsha is a fishing village and it will stay a fishing village — for now.

At their meeting Tuesday, Chilmark selectmen denied a request from Jesse Burton to operate a charter boat, or headboat, out of Menemsha.

Burton, a detective with the Chilmark Police, wanted to operate tour cruises through his company Even Keel Excursions. His proposal planned to take 12 people out at a time for 60- to 70-minute rides around Menemsha during sunset hours. At the end of the day, Burton would dock his boat outside the harbor.

Selectmen first heard Burton’s proposal at their last meeting, but wanted the harbor advisory committee to look at the plans.

While selectmen lauded the idea and Burton’s efforts, they said the town’s master plan is focused on maintaining Menemsha as a commercial fishing port, and that right now, a tourism charter boat was not what the town needed.

Selectman Bill Rossi asked about insurance and liability, because people would be getting on and off the boat and most likely drinking alcohol. Burton said he has a $1 million insurance policy, and he purchased his 12-seater boat specifically to keep groups small and under control.

Selectman Jim Malkin said Burton is a valued member of the police force, and the matter was not personal, but was concerned if people were drinking on Burton’s boat, then coming back and driving home. He also was not a fan of seeing Menemsha Harbor going from fishing to tourism.

“This is, for me, an issue about Menemsha,” Malkin said. “The concern I have is once we get away from fishing … once we open that door to sunset cruises, which we have denied people the ability in the past, I think we open the door into a place I’m concerned about going.”

Selectman Warren Doty agreed, saying if Burton only did day cruises, not sunset cruises, they might approve it.

“This kind of tour boat doesn’t fit with our master plan,” Doty said.

Burton told selectmen he plans to appeal the decision. Selectmen are checking with the town’s attorney to see what Burton’s options are for appeal.

In an email to The Times, Burton said he remains committed to his goal of offering tours.

“I am grateful for the community support that I have received, and saddened by the board of selectmen’s decision. I believe the decision runs counter to the provisions of the town’s Chapter 91 License authorizing the construction of ‘public’ docks in Menemsha,” Burton wrote. “Even Keel Excursions remains committed to its mission of bringing joy and happiness to people by sharing the beauty of Martha’s Vineyard from an on-the-water perspective, and promoting public access to the waterfront.”

In other business, selectmen gave planning board members Catherine Thompson and Peter Cook the go-ahead to pursue a Massachusetts Housing Technical Assistance Grant that would provide $100,000 in funding with a 10 percent town match for technical assistance and a planning consultant to assess affordable housing options.

If awarded, the planning board would use the funds to study the potential development of a 16-acre town-owned parcel at Peaked Hill and an eight-acre lot behind the town landfill and transfer station.

Selectmen also discussed putting together a public safety building committee of seven members — a selectman, the fire chief, the ambulance chief, a firefighter, an EMT, and two members of the public.

Chilmark children can look forward to the installation of large musical instruments for a musical garden on the grounds of the Chilmark School. The project, headed by Laurisa Rich of the Friends of Chilmark School, was approved by selectmen Tuesday, and will cost $16,450 for purchasing, shipping, and installing the metal instruments.

This month, Friends of Chilmark School received a $5,000 grant from the Beagary Charitable Trust, and were approved for a $2,000 grant from the Chilmark School Parent Teacher Organization. Last month, the group applied for a $11,450 grant from the Martha’s Vineyard Bank. The Martha’s Vineyard Permanent Endowment is another potential funding source.


  1. Chilmark is not a a tourist town? The whole island of Martha’s Vineyard economic dependency is based on tourism dollars.

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