When campers from the Vineyard's own Camp Jabberwocky went on an unusual tour in Canada this year, their slogan was a single question that was at once jocular and earnest. "How's your news?" they inquired in on-the-street interviews with everyday people.
As the year 2001 comes to a close, it is perhaps an apt question for the Vineyard: How's our news?
This is how it was:
It was hot politics around the Steamship Authority that seemed to have no end. It was cold cash running through the real estate market that seemed to have no limit. It was new efforts at environmental protection on the Vineyard. It was spiced with warm tradition and leavened with scientific head counts, studies and statistics. It was a series of disparate ups and downs. Total population was up, moped accidents were down. Drunk driving was up, school enrollment was down.
And the bookends to the news year were two tragic fires that destroyed historic landmarks in Oak Bluffs and in Tisbury. One fire was very early in the year; the other came near the end.
"Until you lose it, you don't know how important it is," said Oak Bluffs resident Renee Balter after the Corbin-Norton house burned to the ground in a disastrous blaze early in February.
The comment carried an unmistakable broader meaning, because this was a year when the Vineyard struggled with loss on many fronts, from the loss of affordable housing for year-round residents to the loss of thousands of American lives in terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the Pennsylvania countryside.
Like the rest of the nation, the Vineyard suffered through the remainder of the year in mourning for those lost in the terrorist strikes against America and with concern for American troops sent overseas to fight a war on terrorism in Afghanistan. The repercussions in the aftermath of the tragedy were to be seen everywhere on the Vineyard, in the generous and immediate response of the community to blood drives, contributions to the victims' funds, in church services and peace vigils and in a tourist economy slowed by the wounds of war. The way ahead would prove uncertain.
But the year 2001 began innocently enough.
Vineyard residents rang in the new year Island-style with ghost tours, sea chanties and contra dancing in the seventh annual First Night celebration. On Jan. 4, a fuzzy-headed eight-pound baby boy named Michael Benjamin Hobekast became the first baby of the new year.
Winter is the quiet season, but on the Vineyard the politics were noisy, especially when it came to the Steamship Authority.
In January the SSA board of governors kicked off the year with a surprise announcement: the boat line would buy the passenger ferry Schamonchi and run its own passenger service between New Bedford and the Vineyard in the coming summer.
Masterminded by the newly appointed Vineyard Steamship Authority governor J.B. Riggs Parker, the Schamonchi purchase placed a surprise trump card on the table in the testy and complicated match over opening up ferry service between New Bedford and the Islands.
The announcement about the Schamonchi would later be seen as the starting point for an avalanche of turmoil at the public boat line that was chartered to provide dependable year-round ferry service to the two Islands.
Then the boat line board unveiled an ambitious business vision for the 21st century that called for a new emphasis on summer visitors to both Islands with more passenger service, reduced car service, streamlined high-speed ferries from distant ports and a price tag that was potentially sky-high.
"This is not a business model; it's a business concept. It will be made into a business model when the numbers and financial information are put into it," said Mr. Parker. "We're embarking on change and change is never easy," he also said.
The remark would later prove to be an understatement.
In February a special state task force charged with studying ferry and transportation problems on the Cape and Islands launched a set of public hearings on boat line issues. Headed by the Hon. Rudolph Kass, a retired state appeals court judge, the 11-member task force was appointed by Gov. Paul Cellucci in an attempt to broker a compromise in the heated dispute over whether to open up ferry service between New Bedford and the two Islands.
"We are a fact-finding board appointed by the executive branch," declared Judge Kass at the outset.
In the end the task force report was one more piece of tinder on the growing political fire around the boat line.
Issued in April, the report ducked any specific recommendations on operational issues, or on the complicated subject of freight traffic to the two Islands, instead focusing on the board of governors. The Kass commission recommended that the board be expanded by adding voting seats for Barnstable and for New Bedford.
The report was later used as the basis for a legislative bill to change the boat line board.
Meanwhile, public discussion began to heat up over the new SSA service model. The model drew darts on Nantucket when it was revealed that it called for replacing all the ferries on the Nantucket run with a single three-tiered multi-purpose high-speed ferry. At a public hearing on Nantucket in April more than 800 people turned out to voice their unanimous objection.
The following week at a boat line meeting Mr. Parker said the people of Nantucket were uninformed. It was the beginning of a breakdown in relations between the Vineyard and Nantucket that continued for the rest of the year.
In the end the service model proved to be more about propaganda and sales pitch and less about real planning and hard information. The business plan promised at the outset by Mr. Parker never really materialized, and eventually the service model fell apart one piece at a time until there was only one piece left standing: A plan to replace the ferry Schamonchi with high-speed passenger service between New Bedford and the Vineyard.
Mr. Parker and his newfound ally, New Bedford city solicitor George Leontire, pushed hard for the pilot high-speed program.
At that point some of the players had begun to jump ship. SSA general manager Armand Tiberio resigned in September. Falmouth boat line governor Edward DeWitt also resigned.
The politics grew fierce. Falmouth resident Galen Robbins was appointed to replace Mr. DeWitt, and Mr. Robbins came under attack when he refused to vote for the high-speed pilot program after questioning whether the program was financially sound. Mr. Parker and Mr. Leontire led a vicious and personal attack on Mr. Robbins.
A month later the fast ferry plan was reshaped and the boat line board voted unanimously to launch the high-speed trial. New Bedford agreed to pay for half the cost of the program.
The drama did not end there. Mr. Parker, who had been appointed 13 months earlier to fill the unexpired term of governor Ronald H. Rappaport, was up for reappointment by the Dukes County Commission in December. After months of divisive politics, four members of the seven-member commission opted for a change. The commission voted 4-3 to appoint Kathryn Roessel, a relative newcomer to Vineyard politics, as the new boat line governor.
The appointment touched off a fresh storm of unpleasant politics. In an abrupt about-face, Mr. Leontire announced suddenly that the city would not allow any SSA ferry service in its harbor.
On the Vineyard a large group of selectmen turned on their own elected colleagues who had voted for the change, accusing them of collusion, corruption and bad faith. The same group formed an alliance with Mr. Leontire, appealing to the state legislature to change the way the Vineyard SSA governor is appointed.
It was a puzzling moment in local politics and the first time in memory that elected officials on the Vineyard had turned on each other in such a vicious and personal manner.
The SSA was not the only subject for news.
The developers of the Down Island Golf Club filed a new development plan for some 270 acres of unspoiled oak and pine forest in the southern woodlands section of Oak Bluffs. A new public hearing process got under way in front of the Martha's Vineyard Commission, but not before the developers tried to knock some members of the commission out of the game. Conflict of interest charges were filed against five members of the MVC and the public hearing was delayed while the Island waited for a ruling from the state ethics commission.
In the end all five members of the commission were cleared of any conflict, and a public hearing on the golf club plan began in October. The hearing ran for four sessions and is expected to conclude with a fifth session in early January. The MVC is not expected to vote on the project until February.
Golf club developer Corey Kupersmith - whose first plan was rejected by the commission last year - also decided to up the ante this time around, filing a plan for a low-income housing development on the property just after he filed the golf course plan. Mr. Kupersmith also challenged the commission's right to review the housing plan by filing a lawsuit in the Massachusetts Land Court.
There was tragedy.
In March, 18-year-old Eric MacLean was killed in a car crash on his way home from school, when the Jeep he was riding in went out of control off County Road in Oak Bluffs. The tragedy took on even more tragic proportions when a police inquiry later revealed that the vehicle had a faulty steering mechanism and a forged inspection sticker. An investigation is still ongoing.
In July a 30-year-old woman was killed in a grisly accident when the moped she was riding collided head-on with an automobile in Oak Bluffs. Katharine D. Miller was visiting the Vineyard for the day with her husband. The accident spurred new activity among a group of Vineyard residents and officials who are working to improve moped safety on the Island.
In August an Estonian woman was killed late at night after she was hit by a car while walking her bicycle along New York avenue in Oak Bluffs. The driver of the car was A. Kirk Briggs, a former Tisbury selectman and well-known Vineyard resident. Mr. Briggs was later charged with drunk driving and motor vehicle homicide.
There were the two tragic fires. In February the historic Corbin-Norton house on Ocean Park burned in a blaze fed by the harsh winds of a winter gale. In early December the landmark Tisbury Inn was also destroyed by fire in a late-night blaze.
Both fires were followed by an outpouring of good will that revealed the best side of the Vineyard community.
There was other loss. Katharine Graham, who led The Washington Post and its parent company to prominence in the world of journalism and business, died in June at the age of 84 after suffering head injuries in a fall while attending a business conference in Idaho. A longtime summer resident of the Vineyard, Mrs. Graham had owned the storied property Mohu since 1972.
Ed Coogan, a lifelong resident, died in March at the age of 57 after a long battle with cancer. A former Tisbury selectman, Mr. Coogan had become known for his eloquent leadership on Steamship Authority affairs.
Sally Reston, the former co-publisher of the Vineyard Gazette and wife of the late James B. (Scotty) Reston, died in September at the age of 89.
Herbert Hancock, a Chilmark selectman, builder, lobsterman and artist, died in April of cancer at the age of 71.
Jean Silva, an Oak Bluffs native and longtime Girl Scout leader on the Vineyard, died in September at the age of 90.
But it was not all bad news.
Vineyard farmers were blessed with summer and fall weather that was picture-perfect, and warm temperatures persisted right into early December this year. Offshore fishermen saw a strong comeback in swordfish, and inshore fishermen reaped the benefits of a bountiful crop of bay scallops, especially in Cape Pogue Pond.
There were gifts. The MVC unanimously approved a plan for a tennis center that will provide free tennis instruction for Island children - forever. The center will be funded by a local resident and philanthropist.
There was environmental protection.
Citing pressures from development and the very real potential to ruin the environment in the last rural outpost in the town of Edgartown, a group of Chappaquiddick residents and Edgartown officials asked the MVC to designate the entire island of Chappaquiddick as a district of critical planning concern (DCPC).
A new plan to protect the rugged and pristine north shore of the Vineyard was also adopted when four town conservation commissions asked the MVC to designate a long stretch of coastline as a DCPC as well. And the Vineyard Conservation Society announced that it would buy the development rights to the Gilbert Farm in Chilmark.
There were beginnings. The Martha's Vineyard Charter School graduated its first class of high school seniors. Habitat for Humanity built its first house. Frank Fenner was elected selectman in Chilmark and Ray LaPorte was elected selectman in Tisbury.
There were endings. MVC executive director Charles W. Clifford announced that he would resign at the end of the year. Jay Schofield retired after 32 years of teaching and coaching at the regional high school. Jack and Jane Ware moved to Maine after a lifelong association with Vineyard Haven.
There was tradition.
The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Society sponsored the 140th annual Livestock Show and Fair. The Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association sponsored the 132nd Grand Illumination night. Humorist Art Buchwald returned as the auctioneer for the annual Possible Dreams auction, at which $403,000 was raised for Martha's Vineyard Community Services. At the annual Feast of the Holy Ghost, eight-year-old Alicia Oliveira carried the crown. The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) sponsored its annual Cranberry Day. The Vineyard high school football team clobbered Nantucket 34-0 in the Island Cup match.
There were records set. The Herring Creek Farm in Edgartown was sold for a record $64 million, ending 11 years of lawsuits and development plans for the 207-acre farm in the Great Plains section of Edgartown. The farm was sold to a group of private buyers and The Nature Conservancy.
It was not the only record property sale. The former Peter Sharp house on Starbuck's Neck in Edgartown was sold for $22 million, eclipsing earlier large property sales in the year of $15 million and $9 million.
There were head counts. The results of the Census 2000 were released, and the numbers were eye-popping: Total population in Dukes County was up 29 per cent from 1990, making it the second-fastest-growing county in the state.
But not all the new residents were of the human variety. Local ornithologists recorded a number of rare bird sightings on the Vineyard this year, including a Ross's goose and a kingbird. This week the latest find turned up: an ash-throated flycatcher, living quite improbably in a tree behind the Edgartown School.
And as the year 2001 came to a close, the flycatcher with the ash-colored throat was added to an equally important census on the Vineyard - the annual bird count.