Poor Notification

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

I do not know the seriousness of the current potential contamination of Oak Bluffs water but it seems rather distressing that most residents found out about the situation by word of mouth instead of any kind of an official announcement.

Evidently the problem was first discovered on Thursday after a sample was submitted on Tuesday. That meant that residents were already using the water before any “boil” notice had been issued. Years ago, when a hurricane threatened, a truck went through town with a loudspeaker asking residents to go up to the Oak Bluffs School because of flooding danger. (It didn’t occur, fortunately.)

It seems that there has to be a better way of notifying people than by word of mouth. Our neighbor called us on Friday night and someone had called her. On Saturday I went out to the fire department and was told not to worry. All summer there have been notices about the mandatory water ban. Maybe that sign could have been updated.

We appreciate being able to pick up bottled water (although all that plastic is worrisome) but, once again, we only found out about it when a friend called.

Should we ever have a pandemic, it would seem that a better notification system should be in place.

Dorothy Wass

Oak Bluffs and Topsfield

Town Dropped the Ball

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

I am very upset over the lack of protection of the citizens of Oak Bluffs over this matter of contaminated water. I understand that pipes were being flushed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Knowing that there was a problem, why were we not notified? We could have started to boil our water immediately. So we were subjected to drinking Oak Bluffs contaminated water without our knowledge for four or five days. I had physical problems and thought it might have been something I ate. No, it was the water.

Guess how I found out: reading it in an off-Island paper, The Boston Globe!

I hope that information was not withheld so as to not scare away tourists.

What should have been done was to place a notice at every resident’s home. I would have been very happy to do so in my area. And I do appreciate the free water given to us.

Several people dropped the ball big time.

Helen Scarborough

Oak Bluffs

Resume Tuesday Paper

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

The problem of water contamination in Oak Bluffs highlights a significant communication problem. We have no means of notifying our population of dangerous situations, whether it be water contamination, pandemics, or terrorist attacks. We have no reverse 911 system, no town criers. In past years the fire horn was used to alert the citizenry to a public danger.

It occurs to me that the Vineyard would be better served if the Vineyard Gazette resumed its Tuesday edition and suspended the Friday edition during the off-season, so that we could have local papers that can give us news that breaks in the early part of the week as well as the end of the week.

The water contamination problem in Oak Bluffs serves as an excellent case in point. The problem surfaced at the end of the week, after everyone’s publication. We have no mechanism for notifying all residents: we could go to your Web site every day, but why would I without an alert?

Unfortunately, the Gazette discontinued its Tuesday paper about a month early this year; a Tuesday publication day would have given us the news coverage we need.

In the interests of serving your community, please reconsider resuming the Tuesday edition in lieu of the Friday edition. And in the summer season, you could go back to the Tuesday-Friday combination.

On a separate note, I want to thank Peter Martell, the Oak Bluffs emergency management director, for the outstanding job that he and his crew did during this week’s contaminated water emergency. With the help of the health agent and our selectmen, and on very short notice, he arranged to have thousands of cases of spring water shipped in on Sunday morning and each subsequent day, to be distributed daily to residents for the duration of the emergency. Thanks, Peter, you’re a life saver.

Robert A. Iadicicco

Oak Bluffs

More Than a Cantina

Editors, Vineyard Gazette:

Last Friday night we were enjoying our evening when my husband’s phone beeped with a text message. That can only be another great deal from J.B. at Sharky’s, I thought, as he is practically the only one who texts us. Imagine my surprise when the text message (as well as an e-mail on my phone) informed us of the boil-water order for Oak Bluffs due to coliform bacteria!

I immediately went on the town’s Web site, which I couldn’t find (it seems to have disappeared), as well as the Martha’s Vineyard Times Web site, where there was no information.

Then on Sunday I went to Sharky’s in Edgartown only to be informed by J.B. again that bottled water is available at the library. Again, a great public service provided by Sharky’s. All this time and Sharky’s was the main source of local notification.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to know what’s going on in town — good deals or bad news — you better go to Sharky’s and get on their e-mail list. It’s the best source of information in town.

Ellie and Harvey Beth

Oak Bluffs

Comment From the Web

What follows is an edited selection of reader comments from the Gazette Web site responding to the Oak Bluffs water contamination story.

As a retired former health care administrator, I am livid about the inept communication surrounding the “boil water” message needed by Oak Bluffs residents. My family includes folks with compromised immune systems, a two-month old nursing child, etc. Why do we not have a 911 reverse system for timely emergency management information? This is not a new problem. There seem to have been prior water concerns earlier this summer, but even local physicians have been reluctant to forewarn patients. Clean water is crucial. I look forward to concise and honest articles for the community to better understand how this will not happen in the future!

Deborah Everett

Oak Bluffs

I am a caterer and take food handling very seriously. My business uses Oak Bluffs water. I believe the communication on the water quality has been vague at best. There clearly needs to be a more efficient way of communication. As a board of health member, I know how much time and effort has gone into the emergency preparedness and the flu information and I believe contaminated water is more of an immediate health risk than either of these two issues.

Jan Buhrman


Town officials should be held accountable for this terrible situation. All Oak Bluffs water users were not notified. If it were not for the clam bar down town posting a sign I would never have known, until I read about it in the paper. Certainly we have paid enough tax dollars for town management which includes disaster recovery plans. Is there not a policy and system in place for communicating to residents major issues such as a contaminated water supply? Someone should be held accountable.

I cannot wait to find out the source and can only hope that someone takes accountability for addressing a much-needed water preservation and use policy which should include a communication plan. How about returning to the good old days of horn blowing? If you hear five short toots — don’t drink the water!

Lynne Charron

Oak Bluffs