Aquinnah voters go to the polls tomorrow

Tom Murphy and Jannette Vanderhoop vying for a spot on select board.

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Aquinnah voters go to the polls tomorrow, and a contested select board race is atop the ballot.

Jannette Vanderhoop, a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), is challenging two-term incumbent Tom Murphy.

Polls are open Thursday, May 16, from noon to 8 pm at Aquinnah town hall.

The Times asked the two candidates about the top concerns for the town, including erosion of the Cliffs and beaches, and how to work with the burgeoning offshore wind industry. Here are their responses:

Tom Murphy

Tell the voters of Aquinnah about yourself, your age, and why you are running.

My wife and I are full-time residents of Aquinnah. I am a proud Army veteran, a practicing attorney, and the current chair of the Aquinnah select board. I am also a former member of the lighthouse and finance committees, current member of the planning board, chairman of the infrastructure committee, veteran services agent for Aquinnah … and younger than both presidential candidates. I want to continue to serve the town for another term, to complete ongoing initiatives and address the complex challenges we face. 

 

What do you see as the biggest issue facing Aquinnah? 

Financial stability. Housing and education are very expensive, and our tax base is very small. With large portions of tax-exempt land, and the largest percentage of affordable housing on the Island, our tax base is shrinking. I am concerned about continuing to raise taxes as a means to balance our budget. This is especially problematic as we are experiencing an average 10 percent annual increase in expenses, due to matters outside our control. We’re pursuing non-tax revenue, but our options are limited. 

 

What do you hope to accomplish if elected to the select board? 

I will pursue ways to generate additional non-tax revenue, continue to address years of deferred maintenance by leading the Infrastructure committee to upgrade town facilities (police and fire stations, town offices, and Town Hall), and will work with the finance committee to find innovative ways to cut costs and reduce taxes.

 

Storms and erosion have had an impact on the iconic Cliffs. How do you think Aquinnah should approach this issue? 

Erosion of the Cliffs is constant, and is the reason we had to move our iconic lighthouse. The Aquinnah Cliffs are the DNA of the Island, with their image recognized worldwide. Clearly, protecting them is a top priority. We’re in the process of engaging a grant writer to pursue a number of substantial opportunities to address these concerns.

 

The offshore wind industry has begun building, and has further plans to build turbines relatively close to Aquinnah. How do you view this development? The town has negotiated impact fees already. Do you think enough has been done on the town’s behalf?

Wind energy reduces fossil-fuel consumption, which in turn reduces global warming. Anyone concerned about the lives of their children and grandchildren will benefit from this initiative. While I am sympathetic to the concerns of the fishing industry, I also recognize that the greater good is the long-term health of our planet. Some turbines can be seen off in the distance (25 miles), and larger ones will be built even closer (18 miles). Mitigation funds from the turbine developers are being used to complete repairs to the lighthouse and construct handicap access to the Cliffs shops, thus eliminating the need for taxpayer funding. 

 

Jannette Vanderhoop

Tell the voters of Aquinnah about yourself, your age, and why you are running.

My name is Jannette Vanderhoop. I was born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard; I’m a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Aquinnah. I’m a mother, a business owner, an artist, a gardener, an educator, and an environmentalist. Basically your typical Islander, wearing many hats! 

I majored in environmental studies in college, and always said I would go into law or politics, because “if you want a sustainable future, you have to enact sound policies and laws.” Now is a critical time, with the threat of global climate change and shifting demographics of the Island, for local people who have businesses and who raise children here to be present and engaged in town politics. This is how we preserve the character that makes our community unique.

I have worked with people of all ages and walks of life, including schools, museums, collectives, and nonprofit organizations. While I was in college, I ran the Turtle Program (the Wampanoag Tribe’s summer camp). I was the museum director for the Aquinnah Cultural Center (ACC) when the museum first opened, and now I sit on the board of directors. I was a board member for Adult Community Education (ACE MV) during its inception, where I helped to identify areas for job training. I was a vendor and artist at the Vineyard Artisans Festival for 16 years, and only left to focus more on my gardening business after the COVID pandemic. I have worked with the Martha’s Vineyard public schools for the past 20 years as a cultural presenter and educator on Wampanoag history. So if my face looks familiar, it’s probably because you have seen me everywhere for the past 40-plus years! I will be sitting on a panel discussion this weekend (May 19) at the Climate Action Fair. 

 

What do you see as the biggest issue facing Aquinnah?

One of the greatest challenges Aquinnah voters face is that of inflated property values. As property values have skyrocketed, it has become harder for Islanders (especially Wampanoag people in Aquinnah) to retain our land, as taxes have also risen. Compound this with a housing crisis, and you will need creative solutions to solve this. I am excited about the opportunities for more housing through the recommendations of the Affordable Homes Act and the long-awaited M.V. Housing Bank. Following the recommendations of the Affordable Homes Act would designate us a “seasonal community,” which will allow year-rounders to apply for tax abatements and encourage seasonal residents to rent accessory dwellings. This designation also makes us eligible for more state grants. I am interested in continuing discussions to create an overlay mixed-use district to vitalize the town’s central corridor, to facilitate economic opportunities and affordable housing. I look forward to community discussion and input as part of the process. 

My greater vision for the town is to create a cultural tourist destination that highlights and celebrates Wampanoag presence, contributions, and continuity. I support efforts to improve the cultural district at the Circle. I have sat in think tanks about this for years, and I’m excited to have brought some of the plans to fruition already. I started our renowned annual Native American Artists Market more than 15 years ago, when I was the ACC director. This summer (June), I will be starting and leading a weekly walking tour around the cultural district. I look forward to working with the tribe and the state to procure grant funding, and look forward to creating sustainable economic growth through the already existent tourism industry. 

 

Storms and erosion have had an impact on the iconic Cliffs. How do you think Aquinnah should approach this issue? 

The global climate crisis is having lasting impacts on our landscape. The sacred Cliffs of Aquinnah are eroding as severe storms and rising sea levels threaten our coastline. It is inevitable that more windmills will be popping up along the south shore. The town has been negotiating impact fees. I feel that we should continue to work with the electric companies and stakeholders to see how we can keep them accountable to mitigate environmental impacts and fund future programs. We need to fight climate change, but we also have to understand how our livelihoods, our fisheries, and our residents are impacted. 

 

The offshore wind industry has begun building and has further plans to build turbines relatively close to Aquinnah. How do you view this development? The town has negotiated impact fees already. Do you think enough has been done on the town’s behalf?

With the new wind farms going up along the south shore, I hope there will be an opportunity to also foster ecotourism, as a silver lining. I would like to see the town and tribe work together, and feel that I can be instrumental in creating much-needed collaboration to achieve common goals where interests overlap. 

I hope for Aquinnah to grow in a sustainable way. I am a steward of this land — most of my gardening clients are in Aquinnah and Chilmark, so I actively have my hands in the earth here every day. My MO is to “teach people to respect nature through art,” and I do this in all the hats I wear — as a gardener, as a sustainable artist, as a mother and educator. I would like to use my expertise and experience to create programs to teach others how to be environmental stewards. 

I have a greater vision for Aquinnah, and it is not just keeping an eye on the bottom line … It’s about creating and maintaining the community that has always been here, and has always made this place special.

1 COMMENT

  1. Offshore wind turbines are in place in NJ and Long Island. These destructive turbines have caused the beaching of many fish spiecies like mako sharks and whales as well as the destruction birds! The cost to maintain these has outweighed the benefits
    Where we have destroyed fishing grounds and clam beds forever🥲

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