In their first chance to provide input on the design for a replacement for the aging Lagoon Pond drawbridge, Vineyard residents last week sounded off on subjects ranging from aesthetics to mechanics at a public planning session held at the Tisbury Senior Center.

Members of the Martha's Vineyard Commission and the Lagoon Pond drawbridge committee joined more than 40 residents - mostly from Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs and who live on or near the Lagoon - to discuss preliminary ideas for the new structure Thursday night.

MassHighway first unveiled plans for the multi-phase drawbridge replacement project in July 2003. The plan calls for building a $5 million temporary bridge before beginning construction on a $24 million permanent replacement.

Until now much of the discussion regarding the long-term project has focused on the temporary bridge; the public forum Thursday shifted the discussion to the design of the replacement. The state highway agency is in the process of selecting engineers to do the design work.

The forum opened with a presentation by Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London, who moderated the discussion. Mr. London laid out the various options for the bridge design, touching on how it might look and operate, possible heights and widths and where the navigational channel might be placed.

"Do we want a modern bridge or do we want something that is more in the style of the Vineyard?" Mr. London asked. "These are the kinds of things we are looking to get feedback on. This is our opportunity to have input on the design."

After the presentation, the crowd had plenty of feedback.

"We want the bridge to look good. It is the entrance to the Island and an incredibly picturesque place," commission chairman Linda Sibley said. She urged the committee to abandon one example presented in a handout that accompanied Mr. London's presentation of a large bridge with two bascules - a device balanced so that when one end is lowered the other is raised, thus opening the bridge.

"Can we agree that this monstrosity is not what we want?" she said, to scattered laughter.

Oak Bluffs selectman Kerry Scott agreed.

"I'd like it to look good, but I'd like it to look like Martha's Vineyard," she said. "This will be our bridge, and we want it to look like us, and we have to consider the taxpayers on the Lagoon, too."

Most agreed that a low-rising bridge that did not impede the views from the Lagoon was preferable.

The discussion swung between many of the key issues regarding the new bridge. Most of the early dialogue focused on the technical aspects of the structure.

There were also questions about the height of the bridge, and whether it could be movable as opposed to fixed.

Mr. London said the new structure could be raised and fixed to accommodate taller masted sailboats without having to raise a bascule. He showed one example of a high fixed bridge that elicited a few groans from the audience.

One resident reminded the committee that any increase in height would require a change in the slope of the road on both sides, which would increase costs significantly. An increase in the road's pitch also would affect the entrance to Eastville Beach, whose only parking lot is accessed from State Road just before the drawbridge.

Susan Rorbach, an aide to state Sen. Robert O'Leary, assured the crowd that the senator's office would continue to be supportive of the committee's concerns.

Others raised questions about the positioning of the channel underneath, which Mr. London said could be moved to improve sightlines between the Lagoon Pond and Vineyard Haven outer harbor.

The drawbridge committee, which is made up of town officials from both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, recommended keeping the width of the channel - currently 30 feet - the same while moving the opening approximately 50 feet closer to Vineyard Haven.

But it was pointed out that changing the location of the navigational channel could negatively impact the flow of sand and water, something the current location does very well. One resident pointed out that the channel has not needed to be dredged in 45 years.

In looking at the time frame for the project, Mr. London said that if everything proceeded smoothly construction of the new bridge would not begin until 2008 at the earliest. A more likely time line, however, has construction beginning in 2009. He said construction of the new bridge along with the dismantling of the temporary one would take about two years, concluding in 2011.

But, he warned, that would be if everything went according to plan.

There were also concerns raised as to who would be accountable for the environmental effect that putting up and tearing down a temporary bridge would have on the Lagoon. Drawbridge committee chairman Melinda Loberg assured the audience that all construction would have to be permitted before any work was done.

"The permitting agencies would be responsible," she answered. "The Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state as well as others would be responsible for all impact on the Lagoon."

The evening concluded with a question that drew loud applause from the audience.

"Why can't the new bridge just duplicate the existing one?" asked one resident. "We need to preserve the charm of it, and keep the Island the liveble and enjoyable place it is."