Menemsha anti-bird offer greeted warily

Treasurer retiring; Indigenous Peoples Day vote left to the people.

A private donor is willing to repair West Dock, where birds are nesting. — Rich Saltzberg

Tuesday evening, the Chilmark select board learned a private donor was willing to fund repairs to the West Dock. 

“The harbormaster received an offer from two harbor users to donate material and labor to repair an area in the West Dock where birds are nesting,” select board chair James Malkin said.

Malkin went on to say that evidently the birds are dropping stones and creating an “issue.”

“OK, here’s my concern,” Malkin said. “We have a private individual wanting to buy something to repair the West Dock and another private individual willing to provide his labor. It’s my belief … that if there’s work that the town needs to do, then the town should pay for it.” Malkin said that opinion was shared by harbor advisory committee chair Jeff Maida. 

Malkin said if “we open the door” to private funding of town projects, the town invites “the potential for this going off in funny directions — the law of unintended consequences … For example, we’ve had a number of offers to fund, privately, flashing speed signs on our roads. And my concern is at what point do we say no, because suddenly we have dozens of flashing speed signs. If the town needs flashing speed signs, then the town should pay for [them]. If the town needs to repair part of the dock, then the town should repair the dock. If the town doesn’t wish to vote [in] money to do those things, then it’s the will of the town not to do it.”

Select board member Bill Rossi asked what the estimated cost of the West Dock work would be.

Harbormaster Ryan Rossi said he was unable to break it down money-wise. If it was a town project, he said, he would have had a comprehensive breakdown handy. He did say it would involve welding mesh coverings over holes. When sheet pile was driven to enclose the “filled dock” and the “entire parking lot,” he said, there were welded holes that he assumed were grab points for a crane, “and these holes are good nesting grounds for birds, whatever kind of birds they are.”

He said he believed the birds have gone south for the winter. 

Harbormaster Rossi went on to say he was concerned because he believed these birds were removing material from under the dock and creating sinkholes. 

Rossi said he advised the person behind the project proposal that there was no more room in the harbor budget to do the mesh work, though perhaps the next fiscal year. “And that’s when that individual offered to pay for the project,” Ryan Rossi said. “So I told him I would bring it to the selectmen for approval.”

He added the person who made the offer wants to stop the birds from dropping rocks on his boat and on the dock. 

“I’m trying to figure out the magnitude of this repair,” Bill Rossi said. “Does it need [an] engineer?”

“No, no,” Ryan Rossi said. “This is like half a day’s worth of work.” He added the filling of the holes was low on his priority list, especially compared with rotting timbers on another part of the dock, which are making more significant sinkholes. 

Select board member Warren Doty said he was concerned about the lack of understanding of the scope and cost of the project. “I just feel like I’m in left field here,” Doty said. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

Ryan Rossi advised against trying to use available funds for this fiscal year to mesh the holes.

Malkin advised Ryan Rossi to thank the folks willing to do the job, but to move on for now. The town wasn’t going to pay for the work at present, nor would it accept the work as a gift. Bill Rossi suggested the matter could be placed on the next town meeting warrant.

In other business, the board reluctantly announced the retirement of treasurer Melanie Becker after 22 years of service. Malkin said Becker had done “yeoman’s work” for Chilmark, and had been a “terrific part of our town.” Malkin said Becker has offered to train a replacement starting in December. The board resolved to make a push to transition the treasurer position from elected to appointed, and bring the subject up at the annual town meeting. The board also resolved to get things moving on a hunt for replacement candidates.

In response to a letter from Chilmark resident Caitlin Cook, the board considered renaming Columbus Day as Indigeneous Peoples Day, as West Tisbury did. However, the board decided not to make the conversion, and instead opted to place the decision on the annual town meeting warrant. 

“I think it’s something that’s important enough that it reflects the will of all Chilmark residents,” Bill Rossi said.

At the start of the meeting, the board took a few moments to pay tribute to Maxwell McCreery, a former member of Chilmark’s human resources board, who recently died. The board also acknowledged the passing of West Tisbury select board member Kent Healy. 

Malkin said prior to being elected to the select board, he’d worked a lot with McCreery on the human resources board: “Max was always interested in appreciating the people who worked for the town and doing what was right for them … He was a wonderful person to work with, and a wonderful man to know.”

“One of the remarkable things about Max was that he signed up to be an EMT on the Tri-Town Ambulance as an older man,” Doty said. “He went through the training and served, and I thought that was remarkable.”

Rossi said with the loss of McCreery, he felt like he’d “lost a very, very close friend.”

Malkin said Healy did “lots of consulting” for the town and for Chilmark community members. 

“I had said to someone,” Malkin said, “Kent could go into a room where we were surrounded by plans and schematic drawings and computer layouts, and and put a yellow legal piece of paper down in front of us with some pencil lines on it, and suddenly everything was clear and simple and straightforward.”

“After the big fire in Menemsha — the boathouse — Kent worked hours and hours at getting the new cement dockway correct,” Doty said. “And he acted as our supervisor, and he was down there with a sextant and lining things up, you know, almost every day — at a very modest charge. So he really was a great asset.”


  1. There’s nothing illegal or unethical about individuals donating money, goods, land or services to a town. That “door” has been open for generations on Martha’s Vineyard. In many Island towns, for example, the local library routinely gets support from a private nonprofit “Friends” group.

    A town is not required to accept unwanted donations. The Select Board is always free to say no to a gift that benefits the town, but fear of creating a precedent is not a plausible reason.

  2. I think we need a bird whisperer to to tell us why the birds bother to dig rocks out from under the dock and drop then on top of the dock.
    Perhaps this is the beginning of a bird rebellion. They were living here long before we got here and took their habitat after all.

  3. Is there a biologist on the island that can be consulted about these “mysterious birds” to find out what kind they are, their nesting habits and what actual damage they are doing? This might help coming up with a solution.

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