The water isn’t the only thing heating up midsummer in Oak Bluffs. At a Tuesday meeting of the town selectmen, residents held passionate debates about the new lifeguard force at Inkwell Beach and parking safety in the North Bluff neighborhood.
Several Inkwell enthusiasts attended the meeting to express concern about the new lifeguards. Though they say they appreciate their presence, having been absent from the beach for three years, a member of the early morning swimmers group known as the Polar Bears said she was concerned about the dogs at the beach, and the lifeguards’ failure to shoo them away.
“The majority of the people who swim in the morning unfortunately are older women, some of us disabled, so to have dogs on the beach is a terrible thing for us,” the woman said. “I am wondering, who are these young men, what are their qualifications? It seems like they have no experience.”
To this, Richard Combra of the parks department replied that the guards were Red Cross-certified, but said he is dedicated to improving the beachgoing experience. “We are going to do all we can to build it and make it better,” he said.
Another resident raised the concern about trash that has been piling up around the six cans at Inkwell.
“You don’t have to sit there too late in the evening to see the rodents cross the beach,” said Caroline Hunter, another Polar Bear swimmer. Mr. Combra said unfortunately people use the barrels to dispose of household trash, a problem with public bins throughout the town.
“There is definitely abuse of those barrels,” said Mr. Comra, who agreed to explore more frequent curbside pickups for residents. “We will do whatever we can . . . to keep people happy and enjoying the beach,” he said.
In other business, the selectmen revisited an ongoing issue regarding parking on the North Bluff.
The parking on Sea View avenue was changed in June of last year from parallel parking to angled parking to accommodate more cars, but neighborhood residents say the decision was made in violation of the open meeting law. Before that, parallel parking had lined the street, which the residents say is safer. The neighborhood is settled within a commercial and transportation center, where residents and visitors compete for space. The street connects the Steamship Authority with the Island Queen, a stretch with high volumes of pedestrian traffic. There are approximately 11 homes in the neighborhood. In July residents took their complaints to the roads and byways commission, chaired by selectman Mike Santoro. But the decision never went to a vote with the selectmen due to an oversight.
Mr. Combra acknowledged that space is tight on Sea View avenue and the area is highly trafficked.
“I think we are lucky that we haven’t had anything happen,” he said, but he said also the situation is similarly precarious all over town. “I am sure none of the parking in our town meets the [federal] standards for parking widths.”
Selectman Gail Barmakian said she would prefer to see the parking returned to a parallel configuration. “For me, there is an accident waiting to happen,” Ms. Barmakian said.
Mr. Santoro said residents had thanked him for the new spaces, and he said the fishing pier now under construction will put further demands on parking in the area once it is built.
“When we do things, we do things for the residents of the town,” Mr. Santoro said.
Walter Vail, selectman and board chairman, said he continues to support the diagonal parking and is comforted by the fact that there have been no reported accidents since the parking was changed. “We have a tradeoff here,” Mr. Vail said. “We can’t have it all ways . . . there’s always a certain amount of danger in this town . . . and it worries me, but I can’t change the town.”
But North Bluff residents say the angled parking is unsafe and contributes to congestion in the area. “Parking shouldn’t come before public safety,” said resident Jason Lew.
In the end the selectmen voted to leave the diagonal parking as it is. Before the vote, residents questioned Mr. Santoro’s right to participate because he owns the Lookout Tavern on Sea View avenue extension, which they say stands to benefit from the increase in parking spaces. Belleruth Naparstek asked Mr. Santoro to recuse himself. “I have already talked to the [state] ethics commission,” he responded. “I have signed a disclosure statement and we have already discussed with the state ethics commission and our town counsel and they found no issue with me taking part . . . When I make a decision, it’s for all residents in the town.”
At least three residents have filed complaints with the ethics commission against Mr. Santoro, claiming conflict of interest, said Ms. Naparstek, one of the complainants. On Thursday morning a spokesman for the ethics commission would neither confirm nor deny that complaints were filed, or whether an investigation was under way.
The selectmen announced that they will hold a special meeting for summer residents at the Sailing Camp in August.