Unresolved communication problems between the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the town of Aquinnah have led to concerns about future fire protection for tribal buildings.
The town is now considering revoking a portion of a longstanding public safety agreement that provides town fire department services to the tribe. At the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, Aquinnah fire chief Simon Bollin said he continues to receive no response from the tribe on questions about fire code safety in tribal buildings. Under the town-tribe agreement, the Aquinnah fire chief serves as the joint chief for both the town and the tribe.
In an August 21 letter, Mr. Bollin notified the tribe for a third time of his concerns regarding tribal buildings being up to fire code. The letter gave the tribe a 45-day notice to respond or face the fact that the fire response part of the public safety agreement between the two governments could be revoked. Mr. Bollin said there has been no response to his letter.
He told the selectmen Tuesday that he remains in the dark over what building codes were used for the tribal buildings, including the tribal housing complex.
“They’ve adopted me as their fire chief but they don’t have any code to go by; they need to decide what code they want me to enforce,” the chief said.
Mr. Bollin said he met with the state fire marshal two weeks ago, who said the situation could become a liability to the town.
“He said leaving them without fire protection or offering to provide them only in an emergency opens the town up to liability — we’re taking firefighters onto a property we don’t know about,” Mr. Bollin said. “There needs to be a code adopted so there’s something to inspect. Without a code that means we’re taking firefighters into a hostile situation.”
Mr. Bollin said most of his concerns are with fire safety at the tribal housing complex.
“What we’re concerned about is the safety of residents and my personnel,” the chief said.
Mr. Bollin said he knows of five water tanks on the tribal housing property, but he knows for certain that only two of the tanks have water in them.
“In my mind there’s no water in those other tanks,” he said. “We need to protect them, this is a huge part of the town. It’s something that should be simple and shouldn’t be this complicated on the public safety side,” he added.
“Residents need to be aware that you might not be able to put a fire out if there’s no water in the tanks,” selectman Jim Newman said.
Selectmen said they would press for a town-tribe meeting on the matter as soon as possible.
In other business, the selectmen voted to award a contract to GEI Consultants from Woburn to perform a geotechnical survey of the cliffs. Lenny Butler, chairman of the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse building committee, said there were eight proposals. The survey is needed to evaluate different parcels being considered for when the lighthouse is moved.
Mr. Butler also said the committee has applied to the Massachusetts Historical Commission for an archeological study. The study is being proposed by the tribe and would be conducted by the Public Archeological Laboratory of Rhode Island. The town would contribute $4,000 using previously-approved Community Preservation Act funds, and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, which currently leases the lighthouse from the U.S. Coast Guard, would pay the remaining $2,000.
The selectmen accepted a proposed scope of work for the project.