Last April Oak Bluffs voters approved borrowing $500,000 to pay for a dredging project in Sengekontacket Pond, but this week town administrator Michael Dutton said the town is having difficulty keeping the long-stalled project under budget.
“We’re working with Edgartown because it’s a joint effort on a joint pond,” he said at Tuesday’s Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting. “But when you break the numbers down it’s possible we are paying a slight premium to do so.”
Mr. Dutton said Oak Bluffs is in the process of finalizing a contract with Edgartown, but he also said Oak Bluffs has had to cover a number of ancillary expenses such as pre and post-dredging surveys ordinarily included in a contract with a private dredge company.
The project has been delayed for nearly a year, first by the Wampanoag tribe which had concerns about the remains of a supposed fishing weir found in the pond, and then by the National Marine Fisheries Service which feared the project’s effect on Sengekontacket’s eelgrass beds. More recently, the Army Corps of Engineers informed the dredge committee that it would have to devise a contingency plan for the destruction of eelgrass, a stipulation that has since been dropped after negotiations.
“At this point the only stumbling block is some of the pre-dredge mobilization charges Edgartown wants to charge us,” Mr. Dutton said.
Mr. Dutton said there had been some suggestion that Oak Bluffs wasn’t cooperating with Edgartown, an impression he attributed to miscommunication.
“We showed up for a meeting they canceled, and then they rescheduled it and didn’t tell us,” he said.
Selectman and board chairman Duncan Ross expressed his frustration with the process. He said in more than three years of meetings with the joint committee, he had seen little in the way of outreach from Edgartown.
“It has basically been the Oak Bluffs committee on Sengekontacket with the exception of Paul Bagnall [Edgartown shellfish constable] and Jane Varkonda [Edgartown conservation agent],” Mr. Ross said, adding: “It’s very frustrating because the idea was cooperation and I don’t see as much cooperation as I think there should be.”
The town is awaiting bids for the purchase of sand as well as for the operation of trucking and dewatering, and expects to award contracts today.
In other business, selectmen received a report from police chief Erik Blake on the safety of Scoot Coupes, the fleet of neon, three-wheeled vehicles that idled at King’s Rentals in Oak Bluffs all summer. King’s owner Jason Leone had hoped to rent the vehicles this summer but was thwarted by the board which asserted that they would have to license the rental company under new bylaws. At the last selectmen’s meeting Scoot Coupe inventor Dominick Livoti Jr. touted the vehicle’s safety record in resort communities that had allowed them. Selectman Ron DiOrio asked the police chief to contact those communities and the results presented on Tuesday were not encouraging to the board.
Although most of the communities contacted either did not have the Coupes or did not know what they were, the communities that did often had less than glowing opinions.
“Newport has them and says that there were lots of accidents and they felt the roads were already congested with mopeds, bikes and cars,” said Mr. Dutton. “In Chincoteague, Virginia, the police chief did not have a very good opinion of them and identified eight to 10 accidents a year,” he added
“This confirms what my fears were when it was first presented,” said selectman Gail Barmakian.
Mr. Leone asked the selectmen to delay the issue until their next meeting, as his attorney was not present.
Also on Tuesday night the fallout from Hurricane Earl continued as Oak Bluffs’ emergency management director Peter Martell issued his post-hurricane debriefing.
Mr. Martell said the town applied many of the lessons learned after the devastation of Hurricane Bob, when the town went up to 10 days without electricity, and two people died.
“Hurricanes are not an exact science,” he said. “The National Weather Service said that we don’t think the weather front coming down from Canada is going to get here in time to push the storm to the east so don’t plan on it. There’s a possibility. We can’t play possibilities with people’s lives. We’re lucky — very lucky.”
Ms. Barmakian asked Mr. Martell to consider being willing to modify road and business closings in the hours leading up to future storms as conditions permit, but Mr. Martell defended his decisions.
“We’re trying to be as safe as we can to protect the people,” he said. “Unfortunately there are some that criticize no matter what you do.”
Buster and Richie Giordano, owners of Giordano’s Restaurant, said they were punished for closing their restaurant during Earl while others remained open for business. Mr. Ross said the police were sent to shut down restaurants operating after 2 p.m., and that in the future they would consider suspending the alcohol licenses of noncomplying businesses. Still, the board lamented the lack of cooperation among towns, as Edgartown largely remained open for business as the storm approached and West Tisbury downgraded its road closure to a travel advisory.
“It was really disappointing that the other towns made those changes without consulting us,” said selectman Gregory Coogan.