Convery family wants to hand over Eastville to Land Bank

Dukes County makes changes to Commissioner seats, and considers using ARPA funds for wastewater relief.

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The Convery family says they're pleased with the care taken by the county to cleanup Eastville Beach, but they still think the Land Bank would be better stewards. -Rich Saltzberg

The Dukes County Commission heard from Leo Convery at its Wednesday meeting, who thanked commissioners for their response to his letter regarding the state of Eastville Beach. Convery said he is appreciative of newly sparked efforts to rejuvenate the area.

He noted that having seen the area previously “just broke our hearts to see how it was let go,” which triggered the letter. But now, he said, “the place looks tremendously different … I think you’re on the right path.” 

However, Convery asked the commission to consider handing off ownership of the property to the Land Bank. He said although the county most likely wants to “hang on” to the Eastville parcel, it “sometimes get overlooked or forgotten, or people change and they don’t get the message,” he said. “The money’s not in the [county] budget. The Land Bank has the money. They’re in the business of managing properties like this.” 

Regardless of who will be in charge of the property, Convery re-emphasized the initial intent of the gift. “Just keep the place for the people of the Vineyard,” he said. “Don’t let it go like that again.”

Commission chair Christine Todd responded, “It was a good reminder that we are the stewards of that property, and need to really be on top of it all the time.” She said county manager Martina Thornton has already done “some outreach” with the Land Bank, and will continue communicating. On transferring the land, Todd said it is on their radar: “It is something that we will definitely consider moving forward, and see what the possibilities are.” 

The DCC voted to appoint commissioner Peter Wharton as the county’s representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, after Todd announced her pending departure from the MVC, effective August 1. “[The MVC is] doing a lot of great work. It’s been an honor and a pleasure for me to serve with that important body of government on this Island,” Todd said. Wharton will be the county’s representative to the MVC until new appointments are made at the end of the year. 

Commission vice chair John Cahill, having been elected to the Tisbury select board, received well wishes from commissioners as he bid farewell to the DCC. Commissioners voted in favor of appointing Don Leopold as the new vice chair. 

Todd thanked Cahill directly “for all of [his] contributions over the years … it’s been tremendous working with you,” she said. “Thank you for all the thought and consideration you’ve brought to the table along with your experience and knowledge.” 

The DCC has yet to find a replacement — despite numerous postings advertising the position — for county treasurer Ann Metcalf, who has taken on the role of financial administrator for the airport. Todd said there have been some applicants for the position, and stated, “There are some legal matters that we are working on clearing up to make sure that whatever steps we do take are compliant with secretary of state guidelines.“

The commission is meeting again Friday, when Metcalf’s exit goes into effect, leaving the county without an acting treasurer at the end of the business day. Todd said Metcalf has agreed to “help aid in the process” of transition, in an effort to avoid gaps in services. 

“We are doing the best to fill the role in a compliant and efficient way,” said Todd.

The commission heard an update on the steering committee tasked with managing the distribution of American Rescue Plan Act 2021 (ARPA) funds from Commissioner Leopold.

He explained that the working group, a subcommittee designated toward ensuring all ARPA fund applications meet “governmental and regulatory requirements,” suggested granting funds to the MVC and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, both for wastewater relief, and those grants are now in process. Island Health Care, previously slated as a possible recipient, has since withdrawn its application after securing alternative funds. 

Leopold said the review committee has “become increasingly enthusiastic about applying the remaining ARPA funds toward accelerating the installation of nitrogen-reducing, innovative alternative septic systems in the towns,” and gave a brief presentation highlighting the benefits and “potential drawbacks” of doing so. 

He said the plan would provide both environmental and economical benefits, but there is a lack of entities that are capable of production and installation. “There are only three vendors that meet the nitrogen standards that we would want to establish,” he said. Therefore, “there is some limited capacity for doing this.” Leopold noted that there have yet to be any formal discussions with said vendors. 

Commissioners ultimately agreed that after issuing immediate COVID relief and housing via ARPA relief, any remaining funds — around $1 million — should be geared toward addressing wastewater needs. However, on how to allocate the excess, the steering committee was divided, with some commissioners wanting to distribute to towns specifically for wastewater usage, and others arguing that efforts should be placed on finding ways to benefit the Island as a whole. The commission held no vote on the subject, and expressed they will continue to discuss the ARPA fund management and distribution after gathering more information.