Aquinnah deals with lease kerfuffle

Possible cost-sharing with Chilmark; town hall needs a new generator.

(L to R): Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison and select board members Juli Vanderhoop, Gary Haley, and Tom Murphy beginning Tuesday's meeting. — Eunki Seonwoo

The Aquinnah select board unanimously approved enforcing dock leases in Menemsha after learning some leaseholders hadn’t signed their leases.

Leaseholders received a waiver on their fees in 2020 because of COVID, but the three-year Menemsha dock leases increased last August from $400 to $750, with an annual $100 fee increase until it reaches $950.

“Last year, we had a meeting, and they just have not been signed,” Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison said. “This is the time of year I usually send out demands for payment, and when I was doing it, these leases came up.”

Madison said the details in the leases are the same, except for dock designations, some names on the leases, and “tighter language” telling leaseholders to keep their docks clean. 

“So, as I understand it, the leases were not prepared last year,” board member Tom Murphy said. 

“To be perfectly honest with you, they sat on my desk, and we just finished them up this week, so I brought them to this meeting,” Madison said, although he did claim the leases were prepared. “When you get down to the down and dirty of it, that’s how it came about.”

Madison said Buddy Vanderhoop was the only leaseholder who paid at least in part for his lease. Madison proposed to have leaseholders retroactively pay the $750 for the previous year alongside the current year’s $850, since “everybody conducted their business this year.”

“The reason why I didn’t pay was because I didn’t know I had to pay,” leaseholder Wendy Swolinsky said. “This [lease] ends on July 1, and the meeting, as you can see by your meeting, was on August 24, two months later. We were never sent a letter. I didn’t think when I left that meeting it was clear that you decided on the $750, $850, or whatever.” 

Murphy addressed the August 24 meeting minutes, reminding the audience that the incremental cost increase was a compromise between the board and leaseholders. The original plan was to shoot up the price from $400 to $1,000, with no incremental price raises. He said the leaseholders should pay for the $750 for the previous year. Murphy said the $850 owed for this year could be deferred to a later date if needed.

“I think it’s negligent for the town to sign leases with … the residents when the leases are in default,” Murphy said. 

“I think that’s fair, so that would be 1,500 bucks, 1,600-ish?” leaseholder Vern Welch said. “I think there was a lot of confusion.”

Murphy made the motion to “execute these leases as presented,” but to hold them until the leaseholders paid what is due. The total to be paid by leaseholders is $1,600. 

In other business, Madison told the board about a potential cost-sharing formula for Boathouse Road that arose from talks with Chilmark harbormaster Ryan Rossi and Chilmark town administrator Tim Carroll. The formula split maintenance costs, alongside the installation of a launching ramp, 15 percent for Aquinnah and 85 percent for Chilmark. The board told Madison they want more details before a decision is made. 

The Aquinnah Community Emergency Response team requested a new emergency generator to be installed to power the four mini-splits in the town hall. According to board member Gary Haley, the current generator powers both the town hall and the Aquinnah Police Department, but it is inefficient to properly power the mini splits. Haley said the team is looking for the new generator to be between 22 kilowatts and 24 kilowatts in size, but the cost of purchasing and installing it is not known yet. Haley said the “rough estimate” is $10,000. 

The select board unanimously approved multiple people to be a part of the Aquinnah Cultural District committee and the Circle North committee. Appointments to the board of health and the projects committee were deferred to the next meeting, per the requests of those two groups. Meanwhile, the select board is still looking for people to be a part of the zoning board of appeals, which currently has three members, when it needs five members. Murphy told the board that he knows someone who is interested in joining the zoning board of appeals, and he thinks he can find one more person to fill the last spot.