Chilmark selectmen voted down a shared-use path on North Road Tuesday night. Though only a rough concept, the idea put forth by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission was seen as detrimental to the bucolic nature of the road. All three selectmen joined various North Road residents in expressing skepticism about the appropriateness of such a project, and ultimately took a unanimous vote to oppose it.
None of the selectmen thought a North Road shared-use path had any chance of being backed by Chilmark voters.
MVC commissioner Jim Vercruysse said he serves on the commission’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee: “Our goal with these studies is to promote safety across the Island and create some kind of connectivity. And the project that we’ve been working on for the past year and a half or so is looking at ways to get through downtown Vineyard Haven, through West Tisbury, through Chilmark, into Aquinnah eventually.”
He said North, Middle, and South roads have been examined for possibilities, and North Road became the focus because of generous rights of way at its shoulders: “And the first thing I want to say is North Road is absolutely a beautiful road, and any planning that’s done would have to be approved and wanted by the town.”
Verycrusse went on to say, ”We’re looking for ways to make it safer and maintain the rural character.”
Selectman Warren Doty panned the idea despite emphasis by MVC executive director Adam Turner that it was an exploratory and fluid project thus far, and a point stressed by MVC chair Joan Malkin that such a project, if ever realized, “would ultimately be a town initiative” the MVC would only provide planning for.
Selectman Bill Rossi, who lives on North Road, said he heard “the threat of eminent domain” was afoot, but acknowledged his board can sometimes have to contend with “rumor and innuendo.”
Doty said he heard “universal opposition” when the topic came before the planning board. He described the disposition of townspeople, including many from North Road, as “very, very negative” toward such a project. “I don’t see any point with continuing along with a planning process that I know is going to be voted down by the people of Chilmark,” he said.
Chilmark residents Debbie Packer, Riggs Parker, Mollie Doyle, and Carrie Fyler expressed their discontentment over such a project to the board.
However, Chilmark resident Richard Winickoff said he saw a need to improve roadway safety conditions for bicyclists.
Rossi admitted when his kids were young, he took them and their bikes to West Tisbury’s bike path because he felt “it wasn’t safe” on North Road.
Malkin expressed pessimism about the project too, but tempered that stance by saying, “I do have concerns about hamstringing a planning process that might turn up things that we haven’t considered.”
The board went on to vote against any shared-use path project on North Road.
Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren and Tri-Town Ambulance Chief Ben Retmier notified the board that personnel under them had expressed doubts about being obligated to receive COVID-19 vaccines. Following brief reports from those chiefs, the board opted not to make vaccines mandatory for Chilmark first responders, but shied away from formalizing the stance with a vote.
In a report to the board, Klaren said he has opted not to make vaccination against the novel coronavirus mandatory for his department. In a roundabout way, Klaren mentioned members of his force were disinclined to be vaccinated. The position taken by the chief highlights the reality that on the Vineyard and in the commonwealth, Chilmark has long been a bastion of anti-vaccination sentiment.
“I think that we all feel that if there was a magic vaccine that we all took and then the virus couldn’t spread and [would] go away, that would be a great thing,” Klaren said. In a convoluted manner, Klaren went on to say that in his department, it becomes a trip down an “interesting road” when you have employees “who wish not to take the vaccine.”
Retmier said in light of the pandemic, “My initial plan was to just say across the board to all Tri-Town EMTs and paramedics that you have to get a vaccine — you’re going to get whatever comes out.”
However, listening to concerns from his employees, Retmier changed his position. His amended order was that “staff need to get a vaccine,” he said, “but I’m not mandating which one, and I haven’t mandated a time frame …”
As to “which one,” Retmier said, that was between Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines: “Right now, no one else on the Island in emergency services on the medical side, the other ambulance services, they’re not mandating anything …” Retmier said the wait is on for state guidance.
Rossi said it’s understood those departments don’t wish for it to be mandated, but “we all wish we could take it tomorrow.”
Doty said he was against mandating vaccination. Without offering anything to corroborate the idea, Doty said there’s thought the vaccine may be detrimental to those with an arrhythmia.
Malkin similarly said there may be medical reasons that add complications to taking the vaccine.
“My view is as things stand now,” he said, “[as] the vaccine becomes available, we should recommend to people that they take it, but not mandate it. And we can revisit this in a month …”
He went on to say that there’s a risk the virus sweeps through public safety and leaves Chilmark and the Vineyard vulnerable.
Rossi called for a motion on the subject of not mandating vaccination, but Doty, Malkin, and town administrator Tim Carroll talked him out of it. The board settled on that being an unvoted directive.