One of the great public views on the Vineyard at the Tashmoo Overlook is disappearing behind a wall of willows, but instead of calling in tree surgeons to open the vista up, the trees’ owners have called in their lawyers.
The Tisbury selectmen complained on Tuesday night that despite more than a year of attempts to negotiate a solution, the owners of the trees, the Thomas and Ginny Payette family of Tashmoo Farm, remained intransigent and have now refused to talk further, except through their legal representative.
But the town believes it has grounds, under the state Wetlands Protection Act, to have the trees removed.
In an unusual move, selectman Tristan Israel preempted a closed executive session of the board to flag the collective disappointment with the owners’ response to the disappearing view problem.
He accused the Payettes of selfishness and insensitivity to the greater good.
The issue first arose last May, after a complaint by a Tisbury resident to the town.
“We had a discussion with Mr. Payette,” Mr. Israel said, adding: “He agreed to meet with us, [but] every time we wanted to meet it seemed there was some reason he couldn’t make the meeting.”
This went on through all of last winter, Mr. Israel said.
Several weeks ago, after another discussion, Mr. Payette invited the selectmen to walk the property, but that meeting also was cancelled. The selectmen then wrote to the owners, saying they wished to meet before the end of August.
“Now Mr. Payette has sent us a response from his lawyer, which also says any further correspondence should not go to him but through his lawyer,” Mr. Israel said. He continued:
“I’m extremely disappointed we could not work something out with Mr. Payette. We have been very patient and have tried to be accommodating to their schedule.
“Mr. Payette ... in effect blew us off.
“You used to be able to have a nice view. That view is fast being eaten up. Willow trees expand out two to four feet a year, so it’s a just a matter of time. A few years and in the summer the view will be gone.
“I find it, I can only use the word selfish. I want the public to know we tried civilly, politely, any way we could to work with the Payettes on this matter.
“Now we are going to have to examine our options.”
Other selectmen echoed Mr. Israel’s concern.
“There are three great views on the Island,” said selectman Denys Wortman, “the Gay Head Cliffs at Aquinnah, the Keith Farm on Middle Road and the Tashmoo Overlook.
“It’s a shame. The state put the overlook parking area there so people could enjoy it.”
Town counsel is being consulted about the next step, but Mr. Israel said after the meeting he believed action could be taken under the Wetlands Protection Act, which requires permitting for plantings close to a wetland. He believed no such permission ever was sought.
Even though the trees were planted about 1974, he said he believed there was “no statute of limitations on action under the act.”
Willow trees have aggressive, fibrous root systems, sucker easily and can become pest species.
Telephone calls to the Payettes for comment this week were not returned.
The Tashmoo Overlook, which shelters a freshwater spring once used as a water source for the town, has long been a storied place on the Vineyard.
“Tashmoo is the Vineyard lake, and there is no record of any visitor who failed to express pleasure at the music and poetry of the name, and its application to the sheet of water, framed within green trees and against the distant water of Vineyard Sound, which may be seen by any traveler of the main highway from Vineyard Haven to West Tisbury,” wrote the late Joseph Chase Allen in the Gazette in 1958.
In the same year, public discussion began over construction of a turnout parking area for sightseers at the overlook.
“This spot, one of the few remaining views of the Island not obscured by trees, overlooks a large portion of Tashmoo Farm and the lake beyond and is especially favored by large numbers of people who enjoy the view,” the Gazette reported.