County manager Martina Thornton updated the Dukes County Commission on the ongoing work on Beach Road. The project is expected to come to an end on June 22, with all equipment and remaining materials to be removed on June 23. Additionally, there will be “two truckloads of gravel to smooth the parking lot and access road at Eastville Beach,” Thornton told commissioners.
Thornton said that she has been in contact with Oak Bluffs — in addition to the Convery family — in order to discuss further improvements to the area of Eastville Beach, specifically in acknowledgment of the “visions of the [Convery] family.”
This comes as Leo Convery — whose family had dedicated the beach to the county in honor of his late parents, Leo J. Convery and Irene Prada Convery — recently requested a more respectful management of the land that is aligned with the original intent of the donation. A recent letter to The Times, signed by the Convery family, states, “The town was not happy with the gift, and it shows. They turned and gave it to a conservation group who made most of it into a bird sanctuary, in direct opposition to our wishes. Access by people is very secondary, and recreation is not encouraged by the owner managers.”
The Converys cited the property deed, which reads, “The property shall be used strictly for conservation for all recreational purposes, including without limiting for the generality of the foregoing swimming, sunbathing, fishing, and boating.”
In response to the concerns, Thornton said of the Converys’ intent for the land, “We all need to be mindful of that going forward.” Thornton emphasized that there will be continuing conversations with the Converys regarding the use of the beach.
Regarding mentions of transferring over the area to the Land Bank, commissioner Tristin Israel said that through a cooperative collaboration with Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, the DCC would be capable of taking care of the beach.
Acknowledging he did not know much about the history of the beach prior to the concerns being raised, Commissioner Peter Wharton after understanding “what the intent of the deed of gifts was,” proposed a “rededication for doing the best for that particular beach, as stewards of it going forward.” Additionally, said Wharton, “We owe the Convery family an apology,” which was subsequently agreed upon by the commission in unanimous vote.
In other business, the commission voted in favor of flying the Juneteenth flag at the county courthouse over the federal holiday at its Wednesday evening meeting, receiving no pushback.
Despite not yet having been asked to do so by the NAACP — or any organization — commission chair Christine Todd motioned to vote on the approval if the request were to come their way.
Meanwhile, commissioners voted to approve the request by the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center to conduct Friday services, per Thornton’s approval, “on an annual basis unless there’s an issue,” as motioned by Commissioner Brathwaite. “There’s no reason why we’d ever vote against it,” he said, adding that the Hebrew Center should not have to come before the DCC every year for continued approval.
Commissioner Brathwaite, who will not be seeking re-election after this year, was appointed to the Joint Transportation Committee by the commission, with the condition that the DCC receive periodic updates from the JTC.
Discussions concerning plans to update the county-owned Vineyard Health Care Access Building continued, with Wharton noting that the building “does not meet, what I would expect, the standards that we as a county want to present to our residents.”
Israel echoed a sentiment from the commission’s last meeting that the building needs “more than a Band-Aid.”
“Do we make modifications to the existing, and how much would that cost?” Wharton said, adding that the modifications would need to not only bring the building “up to code” but involve massive structural changes in order to be used most efficiently. “Or do we consider a blank slate?” he said. “What kind of an opportunity do we have to potentially create a building that could house, co-locate, in an effective and efficient manner, county services that are a little bit disparate?”
Israel asked if selling the property in order to use the proceeds to secure another space, to which Brathwaite said it would be unlikely, as the county would not be able to afford to buy a replacement property. Brathwaite suggested putting together “a much broader involvement” of adjacent and abutting residents and communities in order to come up with a solid plan on how to move forward. The DCC’s Building Committee — Wharton, Brathwaite, and Israel — decided to reconvene on their own to discuss options.
The DCC also voted to approve sending a letter of support to the World Health Organization and AARP on behalf of Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard, following the lead of both Edgartown and Oak Bluffs select boards.
In an update on the management and distribution of American Rescue Plan Act 2021 (ARPA) funds, Thornton told the commission that the county has received “letters of engagement” from the applicants, which will be followed by further discussions among commissioners and the applicants before money is transferred over.