‘If we open this up, all hell will break loose’

Aquinnah faces tough decisions regarding access to public areas for summer visitors.

Aquinnah selectmen discuss the impending summer influx of seasonal residents.

Aquinnah is considering how to deal with the inevitable influx of summer visitors to the town, and what restrictions should be placed on public access.

During a meeting Wednesday, selectmen considered how to best accommodate seasonal visitors while also preventing the spread of disease and keeping the town’s finances in good order.

Currently, the public restrooms at the Gay Head Cliffs are in disrepair, with a number of sinks and toilets out of order.

Public works director Jay Smalley said it would cost north of $21,000 to fix the restrooms, and an additional recurring fee to have them cleaned on a regular basis.

At this early stage, and with advisories from the state and federal government being so fluid, town officials decided it would be too early to decide whether the historic district at the cliffs would even be open during the summer.

Apart from the cliffs, selectmen deliberated on how to manage the public beaches, and whether or not to deploy porta potties at Philbin Beach, Moshup Beach, and Red Beach.

But Smalley said porta potties and the accompanying handwashing stations necessary for maintaining proper hygiene are being taken up largely by construction sites as part of the newly implemented regulations.

And town administrator Jeff Madison said porta potties would be “prohibitively expensive,” as they would need to be cleaned and emptied frequently. Madison cited one porta potty for the summer season as costing around $3,500.

Selectmen also discussed how to encourage social distancing at the many town beaches in Aquinnah, and at what level to enforce restrictions implemented by the town.

The conversation stemmed largely from a joint letter issued jointly by the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce and the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, which received harsh criticism from Oak Bluffs officials before it was retracted.

Selectmen agreed that it may have been the wrong move for the letter to be issued without first hearing from Island towns, but said there needs to be some guidance in place for summer visitors.

“I hope we are not reinventing the wheel here,” Madison said. “We are all well-acquainted with the effort put into emergency orders adopted by each of the towns.”

One of the key points in the letter identified by board of health chair Jim Glavin was whether or not to maintain the 14-day quarantine for people coming from off-Island for the foreseeable future.

“If we do, that means there are no day trippers, no tour buses. It’s within the board of health’s purview to do this,” Glavin said. 

Selectman Jim Newman said he thinks the town should continue to require visitors to quarantine, and noted that “if we can hold this pandemic at bay, it will be worth the economic loss.”

Selectman Gary Haley said he doesn’t think many visitors will adhere to the quarantine, especially after being cooped up in their off-Island homes for months. 

“When people come here and there is nice weather, I just don’t see people quarantining for 14 days. First they are going to be in their yard, then they are going to hop on their bikes and go to the beach,” Haley said.

Madison said all the Island towns need to come up with a unified voice to speak to off-Island visitors about any regulations that will be implemented.

He said that if the towns are too lenient on summer visitors, it could be hugely detrimental and could send the Island into a “world of hurt.”

“If we open this thing up, all hell will break loose,” Madison said. “The hospital has no ability to handle a population of 100,000 or more people coming here. We will get lost in an instant if we do away with the stay at home orders and the social distancing.”

Madison said town officials cannot make these types of decisions independently from the voice of the public, and encouraged town residents to provide input.

“We need to decide what we are going to do with the municipal lot at the cliffs. What are we going to do at Philbin? How aggressively are we going to instruct the police to ticket people who aren’t adhering to the regulations? These are just a few of the big questions we need to answer before the summer hits,” Madison said.

Officials agreed that it’s too early to make any formal decisions regarding advisories to visitors and restrictions for public spaces.


  1. This Is so refreshing to see that our town leaders are just as concerned as us town folks! As an Aquinnah resident, I am extremely concerned for our families if we get overwhelmed with visitors that could potentially careless in regards to public health. I know the economy depends on the money, but no amount of money is worth the potential amount of lives that could be lost! It’s one season. One critical season that could be tragic if proper safety measures aren’t considered or enforced. Please keep us posted on meetings or additional ways to provide input. Again, thank you all for not taking this lightly. A lot of valuable elders and residents here.

  2. So on the optimistic side of the coin, what happens if we do all the right things now, and the virus goes into remission in July?
    We have shut down the entire island economy for the summer just to be on the safe side?
    This is all based on speculation and models that have been continuously wrong. There is nothing wrong with safety. But to put 80% of the island businesses in jeopardy on speculation. Is this the right thing to do?
    To be canceling events as far away as August on speculation and an overabundance of caution.
    This seems irresponsible.
    This virus has not caused the number of infections and deaths that they were predicting, Thank God.
    BUT, shouldn’t these draconian edicts be taken a little slow to see what happens first?
    One day at a time, one week at a time, two weeks at a time is the more logical way to look at it.
    Some say “well it could come back and re-infect everyone” yes it could. The earth could also get hit with a meteor as well. Please do not throw out the baby with the bathwater as far as what remains left of this summer season.

    • The whole Cassandra attitude of the “keep everyone in lock down” crowd is wearing. Let’s open the Island, use common sense precautions and get on with life. The sky is not in fact falling.

    • view– what makes you think the models have been continuously wrong ?
      The models said that if we did nothing we could get a million or more deaths in the U.S. .
      The models said that if we did drastic things we could limit it to about 100,000 or perhaps 200,000 deaths in the U.S. . We are currently at 64,000 deaths, and climbing at a rate of 2,000 a day.
      That’s a 9/11 death toll every day. And that is after we put the country on lock down.
      I’m not so sure the models are all that wrong.
      A are few things that I do know were wrong:
      Andrew, the darling of the so called evangelical right , said that less than a thousand Americans would die from this, I would not take his bet , and that he would pay up if he lost — wrong on all counts.

      trump, the darling of right wing hate groups, said it was a hoax, no big deal, it would go away in April, and that anyone who wanted a test could get a test. Wrong on all counts.

      Rush Limbaugh, the darling of conservative hate radio accused democratic states of inflating the numbers of dead people to “further their policies” (whatever that means to the pea brains of right wing conspiracy theorists) , it is no worse than the common cold, and that knowledgeable medical experts – especially Dr Fauci –should not make decisions. Wrong on all counts.

      I’ll trust the models, thank you ..
      Excuuuuuuse me for politicizing this…

      • Some sources think the official fatality count is incorrect. That there are many more U.S. deaths from COVID-19 that were not counted as such. We’re also nowhere close to done. If 60,000 to 100,000 deaths in a very short period of time, even while the country was mostly closed, doesn’t demonstrate that this would’ve been much worse had we gone about our normal lives, or that it’s already proven a tragedy, I’m not sure what else to say. If you shove someone out of the way of an oncoming car, there will likely be no deaths on that road at that exact time. Doesn’t mean excessive force was used.

        And there’s a difference between knowing a meteor could hit Earth in theory and actually seeing one on course to make serious impact. It’s not like we stayed home on the mere knowledge that viruses exist.

  3. The equation is quite simple.
    Social Distance x Frequency x the Number of Different People x Q = Deaths Elasticity.
    Everyone has their own number.
    It depends on if ‘they’ are family members, friends, Islanders, home owners, vacationers or day trippers…..

  4. Death is not a certain outcome as the data shows. Social distancing and smart educated choices keep this at bay not banning or closing the island down. I’m more worried about the suicides here that could come from this is we delay the inevitable. The article talks about the inevitable influx of summer visitors. They will not self quarantine and the local boards of health does not have the man power to enforce it.

    • The data shows death is certain for 64,000 Americans, and counting.
      How many is too many?
      6.4 million?
      What number are you comfortable with?

  5. It seems pretty simple to me. More people means more cases. Screw the economy. Mr. Madison is right. All hell will break loose!

    • Actually, the more people who follow the guidelines, the fewer cases we will have. Stay 6 feet away from people and wear a mask in public, especially in places where distancing is hard, like the grocery store. Wash your hands and wash or use disinfectant on what you bring into your home. Big events are already cancelled. If a crowded city like NY can bring their numbers down by being responsible, so can we.

      • As I’ve said before, masks, washing hands and the use of social distancing when masks are not worn have kept our machine shop Corona-free since the beginning of this in March. 46 people working under one roof, 2 shifts, and only three people who came down with colds. (Tested negative for the virus). It can be done with common sense.

        • You’re lucky AND careful, but you don’t actually know for sure without tests since some people are asymptomatic. Also, someone in the household of just one of the 46 employees could be infected and cause a spread, not just in your shop, but all over because people are contagious before symptoms appear– if they appear. But I do agree that common sense and following the guidelines greatly reduces the chance of infection, and also the severity of infection, apparently. I’m guessing a machine shop is considered essential, so I wish you and yours continued good health. As more businesses open, I hope people will be as conscientious as you and your employees, but given how many openly flout the guidelines, I’m not convinced that there will be compliance unless there are consequeces, like fines for non-compliance.

        • You would base Island wide policy on a 46 person anecdote?
          Try as I might I think of a machine shop that employs 46 people (per shift?) anywhere on the Island.

          • No, I would just like to know where the machine shop is located: sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  6. Parking pays for the employee, bath attendant, and porta-potties.
    This is about something else and it is embarrassing once again for this town.

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