At their special town meeting Tuesday evening, Tisbury voters decided that the town's future infrastructure is more important than holding the line on water rates and taxes.

In about an hour, voters decisively approved funding for the wastewater treatment project, a third town well and rehabilitation of about 4,000 feet of water mains.

One hundred thirty-nine of the town's 2,455 registered voters - about six per cent - showed for the meeting on the eve of Sept. 11.

At the foot of the stage inside the Tisbury school gymnasium, to commemorate last year's tragedies, a single white rose sat in a crystal vase on a wooden table at the base of the American flag. Before the evening's business began, moderator Debra Medders asked for a moment of silence for "those who lost their lives, the survivors, and each of us and our nation who are forever changed."

Once business got under way, voters passed - with no debate, only an explanation from town officials - an article to borrow an additional $1.7 million for the impending wastewater project.

Even though the town had already appropriated $8.2 million dollars more than nine years ago, this year the board of selectmen realized more money was needed.

The project now includes two separate contracts, one for a treatment facility and another for a collection system. The $1.7 million approved at Tuesday's meeting comprises the amount beyond the original estimates it will cost to build the facility and system - approximately $1 million and $400,000, respectively.

Until the morning of the meeting, selectmen were prepared to ask voters for $2 million. But after opening bids on the collection system at 10 a.m., they saw that the low bid for its construction was about $2.1 million - above the estimate, but less so than had been feared.

As a result, they were able to pare the amount requested to $1.7 million. Selectman Tom Pachico made an amendment to this end on the meeting floor.

While $1.4 million will likely be enough to cover the higher-than-anticipated costs of the two project components, town administrator Dennis Luttrell said an extra $300,000 was tacked on in case the town can secure additional grant money.

As treasurer Tim McLean explained to the voters, "We have to borrow the money up front to fund the contracts," but will later be reimbursed, at least in part, by grant money.

In fact, Mr. Luttrell said, the town received just this week a $540,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and expects next year another USDA grant of about $750,000, both of which will go to pay down the $1.7 million.

Mr. Luttrell said he the town is seeking additional grants to pay back the remaining extra project costs.

In the next warrant article, Tisbury water commissioners asked voters for $2 million to set up the Manter well as the town's third municipal water source.

Among a handful of basic questions came passionate speeches about the importance of securing a long-term water source.

The Manter well would join to the town's existing Sanborn and Tashmoo wells. The operation of both current pump stations for 24 hours a day produces an output of 2.8 million gallons; the new well would add up to 1.4 million gallons a day.

But the project will raise water rates in town. Nevertheless, said resident Tom Sullivan, "It is crucial to develop the well. We have the cheapest water rate on the Island. We really need the water source."

Resident George Schiffer asked water commission chairman David Schwab why he didn't wait for a regular town meeting when more people would be in attendance to propose the article.

Mr. Schwab said the commissioners "wanted to get a jump on this as soon as we can." He said the well could be operational by spring 2004 if approved at the meeting.

"Thank goodness we live in Vineyard Haven," said resident James Hart, "and not in Oak Bluffs, where ... they have had water problems all summer long.

"I know that we have had a very good source of water through the summer months, and it is a reflection on our water department," he added. "I feel they have done a good job, and I am looking forward to whatever they can do to make plans for the future. Water is going to be the most important resource. The only thing we can do now to really help ourselves and help our community is to do what we can and support them."

The article passed unanimously.

The other water-related article before the voters sought $750,000 to upgrade water mains along the roadways that will be dug up for the sewer project. The water commissioners will add the sum to $250,000 already approved at a previous town meeting for the same purpose.

For the Manter well and the upgrade of the water mains, Mr. Schwab said, the water rate will rise by 56 per cent. He said the average resident's water bill of $214 would increase to $333.

Peter Luce, a Tisbury resident, expressed disapproval of the cost that water users would be forced to pay.

Henry Burt, a former selectman, said, "We are depending on this water supply for our health, for our fire protection and for everything else. We cannot afford to let these old pipes continue to stay in the ground.

"A perfect opportunity is presented now," he said. "When we're digging up for the sewer, why can't we do the same thing and replace the water pipes in that area? We're not replacing them in the whole town - just that area - and I think it is essential that we do that."

The article passed, 119 to one.

Two other articles passed unanimously - to transfer $12,000 for refuse operations and $5,000 for a survey in conjunction with a master plan for the town.

At the close of the meeting, selectman Tristan Israel addressed the residents on the challenges the town faces in the future:

"We are working on a memorandum of understanding between all the town boards involved that we work together, and we cooperate and work towards the common good.

"It [the wastewater project] is going to try our patience for the next year and a half. We really have to work together; it is not going to be easy.

"Hold on to your hats. I think if we can work together, it will come out the other end as a great project we can all be proud of."