How we saved Martha’s Vineyard by saving our clams

"Clamming," watercolor by Ruth Appledoorn Mead. Courtesy the Old Sculpin Gallery/MV Art Association.

I am thankful that the clam harvest is so good this year. The past 30 years have seen a decline and rebirth of clams for Island residents. I think it all started with the 2025 financial crisis.

The downturn of the economy hurt the Island towns’ ability to provide quality services to the residents and summer visitors. Looking for ways to reduce town budgets, all towns had to consider regional solutions to save money. It started with consolidating building inspection, emergency management, waste management, and public health functions to Island-wide capabilities. The Island towns soon discovered that not only did the consolidation save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, but the quality of services improved. Finding and keeping qualified personnel elevated the ability to meet the statutory and regulatory requirements, and streamlined processes for Island businesses and residents.

Service regionalization led to a discussion of how to address the significant infrastructure challenges the towns faced as a result of climate change and the rise of water levels. The opening of the central wastewater treatment facility in 2035 was a major step in removing nitrogen from our waterways and protecting the Island ponds. It was a complicated process to fund and install the miles and miles of pipe along our roadways, but now that the plant is up and running, the ponds are cleaner. 

I am happy the Island was able to embrace regionalization and collaborate to address Island issues. I do not think without the efforts of all Islanders to join forces and compromise would we have been able to develop the plans to overcome the effects of climate change and protect our towns and beaches from the encroaching seawater. My clams seem to be larger and sweeter than I ever remember, and I am proud of our community.

Mark Leonard is a retired Army colonel, and holds a Ph.D. in public policy and administration. He resides in Oak Bluffs, and is a member of the Oak Bluffs Affordable Housing Committee, as well as Vineyard Futureworks, an organization seeking to address the Island’s concerns with collaboration among stakeholders.