There is a lot more need for a Vineyard connection with Cuttyhunk these days, Dukes County Commissioners heard on a visit to the island Wednesday. Gosnold, they were told, is facing significant impact from its growing popularity as the outermost town in the Elizabeth chain of islands.
Town leadership wants a master plan in response to the growth of homes, the numbers of new visitors and rising traffic problems. Yes, traffic problems: There are 30 gas-powered cars on the island, but also a rising number of golf carts, and some kind of traffic overview needs to be written, it is suggested.
The cost of municipal projects alarms some residents. Bids for the new town water tank at the top of the hill came in far higher than townspeople wanted.
Officials on Cuttyhunk also say they need help in trying to persuade a recalcitrant state bureaucracy that repair work needs to be done to protect the only channel to the harbor.
"We are an island and we have to provide our own infrastructure," said selectman Gail Blout. She said it would be great to have some help from the Vineyard; these are big-ticket items for a small community.
A contingent of visitors from the Vineyard, including some state and federal representatives, boarded the 50-foot catamaran Arabella in Menemsha channel for a 9 a.m. start on the day's visit.
For the chairman of the commissioners, John S. Alley, this was a return to a favorite place. He couldn't remember how many times he has been to the island in his many years of public service going back to the 1980s.
Mr. Alley remembered riding on Robert Morgan's wooden boat Ranger and getting seasick when an unexpected storm upstaged the visit. "Sick as a dog," he said.
For E. Winn Davis, county manager, this was a first-time visit, an opportunity to expand his understanding of the most remote town in the county. The weather was perfect; Vineyard Sound was almost at a flat calm.
Capt. Croft Bottomley passed the tall ship Corwith Cramer anchored off Dogfish Bar, and a small fleet of Menemsha fishing boats dragging in Vineyard Sound.
Interested public officials on board included Sheriff Mike McCormack and rodent control officer T.J. Hegarty with boxes of rat poison. And there was Democrat Rep. Eric Turkington, running for reelection, and his challenger, Republican Jim Powell. Two staff people from Cong. Bill Delahunt's Cape office were aboard.
Emily Wetherall, a health promotions coordinator with Martha's Vineyard Community Services Inc., came with brochures and blood pressure cuffs. Also along were Tad Crawford of West Tisbury, chairman of the Dukes County Health Council; Frank Honey, associate commissioner of elder affairs for the county, and Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
Prior to a noon meeting in the main room of the town hall, the visitors took a walk to the top of the hill overlooking the island.
Looking to the south, Brian S. Kinal, executive assistant to the county manager, observed: "This is a rare place. Where else can you stand on an island and see a 360-degree view of the water all around the island? You can't stand on the Vineyard and do that."
At noon the county officials met with Mr. Alley, expressing appreciation to Cuttyhunk for hosting the event. Among town officials seated in the audience were Elise Wright, town clerk; fire chief Seth Garfield and Mrs. Blout, the selectman.
Mr. Davis said he'd like to see some mechanism whereby the Gosnold selectmen might participate in county financial advisory board meetings that take place primarily in the off-season. Two options were presented: One called upon technology, allowing for a video conference meeting. Representative Turkington offered a second option, which would be to allow Cuttyhunk to send a designate, perhaps one person who lives on the Vineyard in the off-season.
But Mr. Davis said he felt that the language on the books requires that the representative to that meeting be a selectman.
Mrs. Blout said she will bring up the matter with her board. She said two of her board members spend time on the mainland during the winter and a third spends time on Naushon in the off- season.
Mrs. Blout outlined to the group initiatives on her island to build a new underground water tank this fall, a project that is costing more than the town wants to pay. She said a state-mandated bidding process seemed to force the town into a difficult position. She said the most recent bid brought a sole response of $225,000; the board plans to rebid the project.
Stephen Berlucchi, county engineer, reported his own frustration in trying to help build a new fire station on Chappaquiddick at low cost, but finding the state-mandated bidding process pushed the price upwards.
Mr. Turkington said he would talk with officials about other options.
Mrs. Blout said her board is struggling with a plan to repair an area of beach fronting the harbor channel, known as Barge Beach. The area is in need of work before the next hurricane closes the channel permanently, she said, but state Coastal Zone Management officials have opposed their efforts. Mr. Turkington said he would try to help.
Officials talked about finding steps in the state process that might help small communities handle such high-cost items as the beach project and the water tank. Mrs. Blout said her town is already borrowing from the state to build the water tank. She said residents are concerned about the impact these projects have on the cost of running a town.
Neva Flaherty of Congressman Delahunt's office said there might be federal grants available to communities as small as Cuttyhunk. She said there are programs or grants available to help small rural communities deal with big-ticket items.
Mrs. Blout reported on the selectmen's decision to move ahead on a master plan for the tiny island. She said too many changes were coming to the island and there needed to be an overview.
After she spoke, Mr. London stood up in the meeting room and replied: "That is my cue."
Mr. London said the Martha's Vineyard Commission is interested in helping Cuttyhunk. He said the commission staff had already helped Vineyard towns with community development plans and master plans.
Mrs. Blout reported some of the cost of a master plan could be paid from the town's newly-created Gosnold Community Fund, established in 2000. The fund - gathered from private donations - now totals $320,000, and interest from that account, she said, could be applied to a master plan.
Mr. London said after the meeting he is eager to have a staff member meet with the selectmen to see what assistance they might need.
The meeting ended with officials on both sides of the room saying that there needs to be more communication between Cuttyhunk and the Vineyard.
Mr. Alley said: "This was definitely the most productive meeting we've had in a long time with the residents of Cuttyhunk."
The Nature of a Retreat
Outside the formalities of the meeting, there were added benefits to the visit.
Ms. Wetherall, from Community Services, offered visitors to the town hall blood pressure checks, and she was kept busy much of the afternoon.
Mr. Davis said afterwards: "I was a little surprised at the number of houses viewable from the harbor. But when I got up to the top of the lookout, there was open land. It reminds me of the Island of Sark in the English Channel - except years ago there were no cars on Sark."
And he saw additional benefit to the trip in county commissioners, employees and other officials using the day to talk about a lot of matters informally, as on a retreat.
He said he favors public officials getting together in an informal way to talk, outside the structured nature of a meeting. "We resolved a lot of business. I would like to do this a lot more often, at least twice a year if the weather permits," he said.