Towering inferno in Menemsha

Petition asks for reboot of surveillance camera installation.


A 30-foot tower set on a concrete base that’s been installed for security cameras in Menemsha has raised eyebrows and generated a petition asking the Chilmark select board to hit the pause button and consider something “more in keeping with the character of Menemsha.”

At a meeting Tuesday, the select board heard from people who signed the petition and, ultimately, decided to have select board member Warren Doty meet with the town’s harbor advisory and parks and recreation committees to review what’s planned and make a recommendation back to the select board in two weeks.

The surveillance cameras were approved at last year’s town meeting, but those who spoke on Tuesday said there was no talk of a 30-foot tower during those discussions.

Harbormaster Ryan Rossi explained that the tower is actually for an antenna that will tie the cameras into the town’s fiber-optic network, which is tied to the harbormaster’s office. He said in order to have cameras in the West Dock area of Menemsha, he would have to run fiber optics to that area, which would drive up the cost of the project. “It would be very expensive, and we would have to dig up a lot of ground and bury another fiber-optic cable all the way from the West Dock to the intersection of North Road and Basin Road,” he said.

An animated Tim Rich, the town’s former police chief, questioned why the installation was started before policies and procedures are in place on how the cameras will be used and how the information will be stored. “I’m really disappointed that it’s gotten to this point,” Rich said. “I raised a lot of questions at the town meeting that there weren’t answers for, and there still aren’t answers for that. We were assured there would be policies and procedures in place before the system is installed.”

Rossi responded to that saying he is working with Police Chief Jonathan Klaren on those policies and procedures. He added that Menemsha is the last harbor on the Island to be without surveillance cameras in place.

Rich wasn’t alone in objecting to the tower and how it’s being installed. 

Matt Poole said he’s concerned with the aesthetics of it, and was one of several speakers to raise the concern that someone might attempt to climb the tower, which will require a fence being installed. “We haven’t even seen the entire visual impact to Menemsha this is going to bring with it,” Poole said. “I would ask that the selectmen give some thought to just chalking this up to being an honest mistake, circle back to something that’s appropriate and fitting with the marine environment in Menemsha — the old fishing village environment we’re all so committed to honoring.”

Julie Flanders of the town’s park and recreation committee also raised the aesthetics. “Menemsha is so important to our town … aesthetically, for fishing, for families, for sunsets, for everything,” she said. “I’m opposed to where the pole is and the height of it, and I’m also opposed to the structure of it. I envision kids climbing up there and having some kind of disaster.”

Russell Maloney asked why other types of wireless cameras weren’t considered. “If I’m missing something about the level and frequency of crime, somebody fill me in, but I don’t hear about it and I don’t see it,” Maloney said. “I don’t see a reason why little remote cameras wouldn’t solve the problem at a lot less money.”

John Keene questioned how much vandalism there is that there needs to be surveillance cameras. “Having cameras would take away some of the mojo of Menemsha,” Keene said.

But Rossi said the cameras are indeed needed. He didn’t offer specific statistics, but said there have been instances of lobsters being stolen or damaged with oil; batteries, fishing gear, and fuel being stolen from vessels; as well as other vandalism. “We’re trying to adapt to a modern times but also at the same time stay old school. I can’t do both,” Rossi said.

Katie Carroll criticized the process. “There should have been a plan review. We jumped the gun in approving this without a formal plan. You guys as the selectmen need to acknowledge that proper procedure wasn’t followed, and how are we going to remedy it,” she said.

Rossi said the overall project is $30,000, with about $11,000 of that being the concrete base and the excavation to put it in place. He didn’t have the price of the 30-foot tower.

Several ideas were floated and will be explored by Doty along with the two committees he is meeting with, including removing one 10-foot section of the 30-foot tower, and possibly removing the entire base and tower.

“The thing I’m struggling with and we’re all struggling with is how to keep the old-fashioned character of Menemsha, which really is gone,” Doty said. “And how we can keep adjusting to things that are happening. Ryan has tried this out and we’ve said, ‘Oops, this really really looks too much of Big Brother.’ Do we change it by making the tower shorter, or do we really need to pull it out and start over? I think that’s where the question is today.”

In other business, the select board applauded town clerk Jennifer Christy, who earned the designation of certified municipal clerk from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

“You are far and away the best,” select board chair James Malkin said, citing her “incredible dedication” to the community.

Both select board member Bill Rossi and Doty also shared in the accolades.

“Thank you, it means a lot,” Christy told the board.

The board went through its annual town meeting warrant, and scheduled the meeting for 7 pm on April 25 at the Chilmark Community Center.

Speaking of the Community Center, the board heard from the Chilmark Town Affairs Council about changes to its board, its ongoing search for a new executive director, and the appointment of Christine Skidmore as a year-round administrator for the council.

There was no mention of last year’s incident at the council’s summer camp by either the select board or Suellen Lazarus, who is chair of the council. The incident, which involved two white campers putting a rope around the neck of a Black camper, gained national attention and prompted calls for changes at the camp.

Lazarus said the camp will run from July 4 through August 19, though the council will take over the reins of the Community Center on June 28 and relinquish it back to the town on Sept. 2 to make sure a proper cleanup of the facility is done.

Meanwhile, Malkin discussed the ongoing talks about a funding formula for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School project. Malkin had floated an idea that would have the three down-Island towns paying 25 percent each for the construction, while up-Island towns would share a 25 percent cost. While Edgartown offered support for Malkin’s plan, Oak Bluffs did not.

“I’m sad and disappointed that Oak Bluffs select board did not move off their position in terms of equal valuation of property as the methodology, which seems to put us all back at square one,” he said. “It’s my own personal opinion as a select board member that having seen what happened in the town of Tisbury, when you don’t move forward with the commonwealth’s money to help you, you wind up footing the whole bill.”

Because Oak Bluffs is holding out, that could hurt the Island’s chances of getting funding through the Massachusetts School Building Authority to offset what is expected to be a $100 million school project. He said the towns will instead have to come up with money to fix problems with the aging high school building on a piecemeal basis.

“I’m disappointed and saddened at the actions taken recently in response to our proposal to try and resolve the situation,” Malkin said.

The towns had been slated to meet on Monday night with the MVRHS school committee, but that was canceled when one town could not make it.
“It seems it would be a good meeting,” Doty said. “I would love to attend it and have a full discussion of all the towns.”


  1. It’s a head scratcher that we just spent 11 K for a cement block that no one approved or knew about. So that is a big wake up call for sure and i applaud everyone for speaking up. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Maybe we need to slow everything down. Another suggestion is more transparency at the town meetings. Every item goes by very quickly and so much of it feels like it’s already been decided on by the time it comes up. Any one else finding the town meetings intimidating? Maybe we can make them a little kinder and gentler too while still getting the work done.

  2. For about $3000 you can get a sixteen camera system that can de monitored in real time with data stored on hard drives. Each camera is a discrete approximate 4 inch cube (for lack of an easier way to describe them) . I’m sure every owner of every shop would welcome one of these.
    I don’t really see the need for this $30,000 erection.

  3. Very Misleading headline; almost clickbait if you ask me. Upon seeing the headline, I was under the impression that a tragic fire was taking place in Menemsha. This caused immediate anxiety and panic to set in, as I have several close family members who live and work in the area.

    • There is a prominent photo of the tower with the story. Not sure how you were misled to think it was about a fire, but I’m sorry if it caused you a moment of concern.

      • Sorry George, I gotta go with the other commenters about the headline. I saw the headline and thought maybe Menemsha’s on fire again. I’m old enough to remember when “The Towering Inferno” came out. And it wasn’t about an eyesore of a tower with a camera on top…

    • Agree on your concern about a fire. Maybe “Eyesore Alert in Menemsha” would have garnished sufficient response.

    • I agree with Mike. What one sees is the headline first, before seeing photos, etc. I thought there had been a fire in Menemsha. It felt a bit like click bait to me, too. Anyone writing that title had to understand that this wording was provocative.

      On the issue of the tower and the huge cement block ~ it’s utterly appalling. Lots of cameras go up around the country without having to create such an aesthetic assault on the community. I don’t know how it got through to becoming a reality and it appears that discussion, if not full disclosure, was limited, that residents may not have understood what the end result would look like. That would be the only way something like this would slip past the residents because opposition to this was predictable. Who did the contract for this job go to? That the town was willing to construct such an eyesore in Menemsha is troubling. If the town won’t protect the historic character of Menemsha, then who will? Geraldine Brooks has it right: “Just plain nuts. Take it down.”

  4. Do the people in charge have any idea what they are doing?
    Even IF this was the only way to hang a camera up, leadership is so clueless as to not be aware of the simple aesthetics?? (never mind safety/cost/location)
    Wake up.

  5. Menemsha basin is one of the most scenic beautiful places on earth. Hard to believe anyone would want to deface it with an ugly tower. Don’t they realize the esthetic value of such a lovely spot? Long ago, in the region I live in NH, our beautiful Mt Monadnock was spared (by local laws) the insult of having towers erected on it…thank God for those wise men…too bad for Menemsha.

  6. Easily could have erected an osprey perch and added the cameras to it which would have added a covert aspect to the security camera.

    • Great idea , Carl. It’s probably not too late

      A note to the Chilmark select board– If Carl and I both agree on something, it’s probably a good idea.

      As an added bonus, you could have one of the cameras watching the nest with a live feed of what the Ospreys are doing. People love that kind of stuff– especially when eggs are about to hatch or at feeding time for the babies. You could even put an outdoor monitor somewhere for people to watch, with some information about the lives of Ospreys.

      • Hey Don ! What about a rotating light beacon on top to warn errant planes they are off course ? Or, put Jumbo trons in the parking lot so the beach goers and fishermen can watch the Osprey hatchlings nest ? This is just a 30 ft tower that has a valid security purpose and will soon blend into Menemsha scenery.
        You and Carl are beating a dead horse. Find something constructive to opine on !

        • Sheesh Eddie… it was just a suggestion. No need for the attack. Cell towers are disguised as trees and other necessary utilities are designed to blend into their communities. Osprey perches are all over the island and very few people complain about them. Sorry I offended you.

        • Eddie– calm down buddy.
          As I write this, there are 26 posted comments. 5 are about the headline, and all the rest are opposed to this.
          Carl came up with what I think is a great idea as an alternative to what most people think is ugly and out of place.
          I suggest putting a little icing on it, and you freak out. What’s that about ?
          But I feel obligated to address your hopefully sarcastic “suggestions”.
          We don’t need a spinning light on top of it — if any planes are off course, there is a spinning light on top of the Gay Head lighthouse less than 2 miles away that they should be able to see just fine. A spinning light would also discourage osprey from nesting there.
          I did not suggest jumbotrons. I suggested a live feed with a monitor as entertainment and an educational tool. A simple 12 inch screen would suffice.
          I am not sure how you think a 30 ft tall tower that is as ugly as a bucket of anus’s is going to “soon blend into Menemsha scenery”.
          Perhaps you could explain the mechanics of that one to us.
          Carl bent way over by apologizing to you.
          I’m not going to do anything of the sort, and in fact think that you owe him, as well as myself an apology for your angry, insulting and demeaning comment.
          I hold my breath waiting for that.

          • Don; Your stoic posture and lack of any sense of humor on this topic defies logic. Most of my sugesstions were made in jest to illustrate the absurdity of you and other posts on a simple tower to safely surveil the greater Menemsha harbor and basin region where there are (petty) crimes with moored boats and local businesses.We also have emergency medical and safety situations that can be identified and responded to quicker. As our island gets more populous both in season and out there are necessary things we need to do, some of which flies in the face of the people who remember the island from the quaint 60’s and 70’s……..The
            Menemsha Tower joins the rotary, larger diameter utility poles, 4 way stop signs, artificial turf, emergency response systems as just some of the updates to keep up what’s needed to keep up with our near hockey stick growth here. Hopefully, in the meantime, you can do some needed critical thinking on this and other improvement projects and of course, also develop a modicum of a needed sense of humor at the same time……….

        • Eddie–The fact that I bothered to respond to you shows I have a sense of humor.
          But, given the public opinion here, I fail to see why you think Carl’s suggestion for a reasonable alternative is so offensive. You suggest that I do some “critical thinking on this and other improvement projects” May I suggest the same to you ?

      • Thank you Mr Keller. Was worth a shot to put it out there but was attacked for it and I didn’t even mention Trump or Biden. Lol. Enjoy your weekend.

  7. This is not the only eyesore in Menemsha…what about the elephant in the room..the Menemsha Market? Has it looked as it does for so long, it’s become invisible? Unbelievable that it has remained boarded up with visible broken windows,plywood,etc.
    As Warren Doty said, “The thing I’m struggling with and we’re all struggling with is how to keep the old-fashioned character of Menemsha, which really is gone.”
    Menemsha does not deserve this.

  8. Agree with Kara. The market not only looks awful and is probably dangerous, it was an important up-island resource. I would like to see the Times report on this. My understanding is that insurance paid after the fire, the folk leasing the space wanted to reopen their business, but the owner instead seems to be choosing to demolish the place by neglect rather than sell or repair.
    Would like to know if this is true and if so, why, and what if anything the town might do about it.

    • It occurred to me and I mentioned it to the Vineyard Trust that they could help preserve it. What do you think?

      • It would be nice if they did. There are many who have a long held fondness for the place. Thanks for putting in a good word, Kate.

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