The state is sending additional Massachusetts State Troopers to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to “bolster public safety capabilities” as the islands react to the COVID-19 outbreak, a release issued by spokesman David Procopio states.
Col. Christopher Mason has directed deployment of two additional troopers to State Police-Nantucket and one additional trooper to State Police-Oak Bluffs to supplement existing personnel at both stations, the release states. The additional personnel will be in place by the start of next week.
The additional troopers will do general patrols and assist local departments as needs dictate, the release states.
Meanwhile, state Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, and state Sen. Julian Cyr, D- Truro, are trying to get the state’s attention on a request to send National Guard resources to the Island. In a memo to officials at the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, the two legislators spell out the potentially perilous situation with more people on Island to “ride out the virus.”
The letter estimates there are 30,000 people on the Vineyard. That estimate comes from the 17,000 year-rounders counted by census, an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 uncounted residents, and the influx of seasonal residents who have come in recent weeks.
Fernandes said there’s been no response yet on the request for National Guard assistance.
Stay-at-home stalemate continues
Two days after dueling letters went back and forth between the Baker/Polito administration and Island leaders, there is still no clarity on which directive an Islander is supposed to follow.
“Crickets — nothing,” Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty told The Times on whether he had heard back from the governor’s office. Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande and West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand also wrote back to say they’ve not heard anything. “As of this morning’s check-in there has not been any response from the governor’s officer yet,” emailed Gregg Tivan, Nantucket assistant town manager.
On Thursday, Island leaders and police officials said they were asking Vineyarders to voluntarily follow the local stay-at-home and construction orders until the legal question could be addressed.
Fernandes told The Times from his perspective the orders by the island towns are the ones that stand and are enforced at the local level. “Frankly, the islands are the ones in charge of enforcement of any order, whether it’s a municipal order or order of the state. They have all the power in this,” he said. “The last thing we need right now is a jurisdictional fight between towns and the state.”
On March 30 at 4 pm, Newell Isbell Shinn, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Builders Association (MVBA), will hold a virtual town hall meeting with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital CEO Denise Schepici on COVID-19.
“The world is a mess and tensions are high,” Shinn wrote in a town hall meeting announcement. “We face looming crises in public health and the economy, and we are already feeling the effects of both on our Island. Exacerbating the situation are conflicting state and local emergency orders that have thrown our Island industry into confusion …We will also have an update on the evolving situation with the town and state emergency orders and we hope to hear directly from you our members about the challenges you are facing and how we can support you in difficult times.”
Shinn wrote those who cannot participate in the meeting are welcome to email comments to email@example.com. “If you are able to attend,” he wrote, “logging in via Zoom is best. There is a call option, but phone-only participants may not be able to participate in the moderated Q&A.”
On Thursday, Gov. Baker touched on construction during an afternoon public address. Fielding a press question about challenges to the construction ban, Baker said he has sympathy for the enforcement quandaries municipalities face.
“Well there two things going on here and they’re both legit,” he said. “One is a concern that we have about the importance of many forms of construction as long as people act on the guidance that was issued by state agencies and by the command center to keep people safe. There’s a lot of work there that is in our view essential to the commonwealth. Whether you’re talking about housing or transportation or infrastructure. By the way, if you look at the federal guidelines on this, infrastructure is right there on the list of things that they consider to be essential. But that said, in the guidelines that we issued, one of the things we said, that the act of actually overseeing and enforcing this stuff, needs to be done at the municipal level for municipal, permitted work, okay? Boston and several other municipalities have said that, and it’s a fair point, that they don’t believe that they are in a position at this point to do the work that would be associated with ensuring that those guidelines were being adhered to on the ground on all the projects that are either underway or planned. If you think about Boston in particular, they probably have somewhere in between 10,000 and 11,000 construction workers working in the city at any point in time. And I’m very sympathetic to the mayor’s point of view that until he feels comfortable with the actual act of overseeing and enforcing those guidelines, which we care about a lot too because we don’t want people to be working in an unsafe manner, can be adhered to, he’s not going to open back up. And I get that.”
Hagerty said Edgartown building inspector Reade Milne has been monitoring construction sites and conferring with builders.
“The vast majority of builders have complied with the voluntary order,” he said.
In the last 12 months, Edgartown has issued 794 building permits, many of which are smaller-sized jobs like shed or roofing work, according to building department administrator Akeyah Lucas. Approximately 105 of those permits are “larger projects that require multiple inspections,” she emailed.
Tisbury building commissioner Ross Seavey wrote that calculating the number of open permits in Tisbury isn’t simple but software upgrades may change that.
“That’s a hard number to pinpoint due to software limitations at this time,” he emailed. “I would guess it’s around 250 permits, but that’s a real ballpark figure. This number is exceptionally hard to pin-point because I have a few contractors who complete their work but never call in for final inspection, which makes it appear that the permit is still open even though work is complete. We hope new software in the coming fiscal year will make these figures easier to track and we are already working with our assessors to close out old permits that were left ‘open’ but where the work was actually never done or is already complete.”
Seavey wrote by and large compliance has been good.
“I did drive around a few areas of town this morning [Friday] and all job sites I visited were closed,” he wrote, “except one which was actually working without a building permit so that job site was issued a stop work order based on that reason and not the moratorium. That contractor stated that he will comply with the moratorium now that he is aware of it.”
Mike Saunier, owner of Heather Gardens, said he’s losing sleep over being forced to close. One of the three retail nurseries along State Road in West Tisbury, Saunier’s business still has plant orders arriving despite the absence of customers. The bulk of his wholesale orders for 2020 were made last summer, he said. He has three greenhouses full of perennials with nobody to sell to. At a meeting of the West Tisbury board of health Thursday night, health agent Omar Johnson made it clear he would not permit nurseries in town to even sell vegetable seedlings even though they can generate food products. He said nurseries are restricted to operating with “skeleton crews” to maintain the plants they have on site. Asked his opinion on the vegetable plant restriction, Saunier said he was conflicted.
“Honestly I’m torn,” he said, “because there’s such a short window for me to make money for the year. And I’m very anxious about that.”
Saunier went on to say that on the other hand he wanted to aid in anything that was going to help flatten the pandemic infection curve.
Despite the allowance for restaurants to offer takeout, Offshore Ale owner Phil McAndrews decided to call it quits in that service Monday. “We made that decision Monday morning,” he said. McAndrews said it was an issue of protecting his staff and the public.