Oak Bluffs voters gathered for the town’s special and annual town meetings, held at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. Far surpassing quorum requirements, it was the first Oak Bluffs annual town meeting held indoors since 2019.
Select board member Brian Packish opened the meeting with the acknowledgement of recently retired town employees. That was followed by a moment of silence for community members who have passed, all of whom were town citizens who contributed greatly to the community, Packish said.
Voters approved the town’s nine-article special town meeting warrant with two amendments, and 32 articles out of the 35-article annual town meeting warrant, two of which were amended, two being withdrawn, and only one unapproved. The town budget of $35.4 million was also passed.
Voters approved a $26 million allocation toward the upgrade of the town’s wastewater treatment facility, following a brief overview of the Comprehensive Wastewater Management Plan (CWMP) by principal engineers Marc Drainville and Anastasia Rudenko of environmental, construction, and engineering firm GHD. Drainville highlighted why the approval of the CWMP is vital, stating that septic systems within the town are “excessively” discharging nitrogen into the coastal water bodies, and that excessive nitrogen leads to an environmental imbalance. “We need to find a way to manage that nitrogen to comply with the federal Clean Water Act as well as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection requirements,” he said.
Discussion of the project was met with few contentions.
Marie Doubleday approached the microphone, stating, “I’m in complete support of saving Sengekontacket and Lagoon Pond.” Apologizing for her “frustrated” tone, Doubleday said that she recalls in the 1990s, a “teardrop area” in her neighborhood experiencing a zoning change due to nitrogen loading, which impacted the regulations of housing resident caps. This, in turn, highlighted the housing crisis for Doubleday, adding that the current living conditions, in direct relation to those housing regulations, are “stuff you don’t think would exist in this country, but it does; we’ve got to do something. Where does this fit with the housing crisis we are experiencing? We’re talking about working people living in unfinished basements.”
Select board member Gail Barmakian responded, “There is flexibility and flow built into the plan,” which will accommodate “concentrated living.”
Voters also approved the expenditure of $6.9 million for funding of the ongoing East Chop Bluff restoration after a brief discussion. “This is [just] a small portion of our town,” said voter Sam Lowe, adding that he used to go down to the beach at the area “as a kid once in a while,” expressing skepticism of the actual usage of the East Chop Bluff area.
M.V. Commissioner Fred Hancock took the microphone. “One of the things we might keep in mind is this is one of the bluffs Oak Bluffs is named for,” he said, inciting massive applause. “This is one of the signature scenic roads in Oak Bluffs. It’s incredibly important to the town. Oak Bluffs is blessed that it has so much coastal access, and we don’t want to lose any of it.”
Articles approved that involved proposed amendments included one that would initially appropriate $600,000 for a high-efficiency propane furnace to replace the Oak Bluffs School’s boiler system.
Cameron Naron motioned to amend the cost to $150,000 to fund the engineering and design of the project, in addition to identifying “alternatives and options prior to approving the full amount.”
An article which would provide financial support for Adult and Community Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) totaling $14,796, was met with numerous testimonies in support of the program, and despite the finance and advisory board committee recommending against it with a vote of 6 no, 1 yes, was passed by the town.
“We serve as a bridge between education options for all Island residents,” ACE MV executive director Holly Bellebuono. “The fact remains, without us, Islanders would be forced to travel off-Island or relocate for the academic and professional credentials that we offer. Education is one of the best ways to spend past revenue.”
Additionally, despite the finance committee’s recommendation, the town approved the distribution of $94,877 from free cash toward supporting regional human services providers including Dukes County Human Services, Substance Abuse and Homelessness Prevention, CORE program of M.V. Community Services, First Stop, Healthy Aging M.V., and the SUD coalition.
“I did the math,” said Dukes County Commission chair Christine Todd. If one takes the town population per the 2020 census and “divides that into what’s being asked for, it amounts to $17.76 per person. So, I hope everybody can support this for [the cost] of a few cups of coffee.”
According to town clerk Colleen Morris, as of April 12, the population of Oak Bluffs sits at 5,898; 4,181 of whom are eligible, registered voters, able to participate in Tuesday’s town meeting and Thursday’s election.