Aquinnah establishes Cliff lease committee

Housing Bank legislation now has the endorsement of four Island towns.

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A committee was formed to work out Aquinnah Cliff leases. — Eunki Seonwoo

The Aquinnah select board unanimously approved establishing a Aquinnah Cliff lease committee during its Tuesday afternoon meeting. During a previous meeting, the board reached a consensus to have a final draft for Cliff lot leases by January after a discussion with leaseholders. 

Currently, there are two types of leases: one directly from the town, and a master lease received through the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Board chair Juli Vanderhoop and board member Gary Haley clarified that the committee’s goal was to get all of the leases on the same page, such as start dates, alongside conducting negotiations.

Aquinnah town administrator Jeffrey Madison said he needs guidance from the board to appoint committee members. “I can’t do it by myself. That exceeds my authority,” Madison said, adding he never received directions. 

Leaseholder Berta Welch said these things were a “town issue,” and wanted “more clarity on what the committee should be discussing.” 

“Why can’t the select board just start meeting directly with leaseholders?” Aquinnah Cultural District committee member Amera Ignacio asked. 

Madison said that is what was attempted during the previous meeting; Ignacio countered that was an “open meeting,” and currently, “it’s a hamster wheel, and a lot of different information is out there.”

Haley said another discussion point is what the tribe planned to do with the leases it holds. 

“The only reason I put this on here was to form the committee. Tell me who’s on the committee, then the committee can get together and you guys can argue all this stuff out. But we’re not going to solve anything here today,” Madison said. 

Welch pointed out that “the committee cannot negotiate or have anything to do with whatever the tribe is trying to do with the lease.” 

Madison said since there are individual leases and a master lease for the tribe, there may need to be two separate meetings. “We know what the tribe wants. They want to take everything back. But we need the committee to hammer this stuff out,” Madison said. 

Some leaseholders wanted a special meeting specifically to discuss the leases. 

“There are two separate situations going on here. There’s the tribe leases, and there’s the already established town leases. You’re trying to glomp everything into one situation, and that’s just not the case,” Ignacio said. “If you, as a select board, want to figure this out, it has to be done in a separate forum.” 

Board member Tom Murphy and Welch had spoken on Monday “in anticipation” of this agenda item.

“Berta made it clear to me she didn’t need to be part of a committee. She’d rather have the individual lots that go from Berta to Adriana [Ignacio] and Martha [Vanderhoop] separate from the tribal negotiations,” Murphy said. “This was on the agenda simply, initially to find out if there was going to be a committee of all. But yesterday, we found out we don’t need a committee of all. What we just need now is a committee on the tribe lots, exclusive of Berta’s and Adriana’s and Martha’s.” 

Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal council member Kevin Devine said there was misinformation being spread among some of the people, so he could act as a point person “to make it simpler.” Madison expressed confusion in emails to the tribe, too. 

After more back-and-forth discussion, the board unanimously voted the committee to consist of Murphy, Devine, Aquinnah Police Sgt. Paul Manning, and others. Aquila owner Del Araujo, the Gay Head Store owner Jay Smalley, and Aquinnah Wampanoag councilwoman Amira Madison will be tapped as potential members. 

In other business, the board unanimously approved opening Aquinnah’s scallop family season on Tuesday, Nov. 29, and opening the commercial scalloping season on Monday, Dec. 5. 

The board unanimously approved awarding an assessor contract to Regional Resource Group, the only bidder. The cost for the services is $42,240 in fiscal year 2023, $43,806 in fiscal year 2024, and $45,600 in fiscal year 2025. The virtual desk will cost $9,180 in fiscal year 2023, $9,480 in fiscal year 2024, and $9,560 in fiscal year 2025. According to Madison, the annual cost in this bid is $40,000 less than the assessor services the town paid for around three years ago. 

The board unanimously approved putting the $16,132.88 raised during the 2022 Lighthouse 10K Run, alongside donations, into the lighthouse fund. 

The board unanimously appointed William Dillon as an assistant building inspector. 

The board unanimously endorsed the Housing Bank legislation. Originally voted in by the towns, this version will have three amendments. The first amendment restructures the town advisory boards’ membership from two housing committee members to one, with the other spot being filled by a board of assessors member. The second amendment made a clarification to the language. The third amendment clarified that “grants or gifts of money or other assets” will need to follow any rules and guidelines in the Housing Bank legislation, and be subject to any restrictions placed by the donor or grant giver.

The town received a letter from the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank proposing “cooperative ventures” to purchase land. Madison questioned whether it was appropriate for the Land Bank to continue acquiring land in Aquinnah, which already has “a tremendous amount of acreage in the town removed from the tax rolls permanently” from previous acquisitions by the organization. The board voted to accept the letter, but deferred the discussion to a future meeting.