Divided Past

From Gazette editions of February, 1986:

When the Edgartown selectmen proposed a subdivision moratorium last week, they were unaware that just one night earlier the West Tisbury selectmen and members of the planning board had proposed the same thing for their town. It was pure coincidence.

Or was it? The Edgartown and West Tisbury selectmen did not plan their moves, but they were related, nonetheless, by philosophy and by circumstance. Edgartown and West Tisbury are struggling to cope with rampant growth, growth which is for the most part unplanned. It has become a familiar Vineyard scene: the sleepy scenic village besieged by slick, sophisticated developers. The Vineyard is for sale, and Edgartown and West Tisbury are prime property.

Statistics from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission tell the story in startling terms. In 1985 there were 1,200 homes in West Tisbury, but under existing zoning that number could nearly quadruple. In Edgartown there were 2,600 homes. Under present zoning Edgartown has the capacity to triple its density.

Leaders in Edgartown and West Tisbury are showing clear, well-founded concern. Moratoriums are not long-term solutions to a town’s problems. But they are a tool for buying time, time to plan, time to make adjustments. This time is needed badly.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that more than 100 square miles of Nantucket Sound belongs to the federal government, not the state of Massachusetts. The decision ends a 15-year legal dispute which at one time involved the threat of oil and gas drilling rigs operating off the Vineyard, and still involves serious questions of who can best manage the rich fishing resource.

Though much of the controversy relating to oil and gas exploration is over, Richard Delaney, director of the state Coastal Zone Management office, said that questions may arise again someday. “It means that if the interior department were to try to sell oil and gas leases, we’ll have to go through another round of litigation and that’s a bad use of tax dollars. Now that the jurisdictional issue is legally settled by the court, we may see some new initiatives made by the interior department for leasing the bottom.”

David Hoover, general counsel for the state Division of Marine Fisheries, said the decision won’t affect commercial and recreational fishing in the sound, which is a prime spawning ground for several species of fish. Under a 1981 amendment to the Fisheries Conservation Management Act, the legislation which created the 200-mile limit, the state was given complete jurisdiction over the fisheries. But Mr. Hoover added, “With the federal government taking over, it means that Nantucket Sound qualifies as high seas and is subject to law relating to international shipping; it means that a Russian nuclear submarine could technically go into those waters and be protected under international laws.”

A major price war in home heating oil prices — the first competition of its kind on the Island in recent memory — has erupted among the five distributors. In the past week the average price paid has dropped from $1.089 and $1.085 to between 94 and 97 cents a gallon. Island residents pay an average of two to three per cent higher prices for heating fuel than consumers on the mainland. Ralph Packer of Packer Oil said: “Fuel oil is still the best buy. It is probably one of the last services where someone makes a delivery to your home. The milkman is gone, the home physician is gone — the link here is still strong.”

Nearly 100 years ago Amelia Watson painted with a fine touch small landscapes of the Island. Over 30 of her pictures are on display at the Historical Society, and they capture a time when the Island was truly bucolic. On the Road to Gay Head shows a sandy track made more beautiful by stone walls that accent the rolling contour of the countryside. Another picture suggests a light mist rising from the water of Mrs. Whiting’s Pond, and the colors of twilight flood the sky over a flock of sheep at Squibnocket.

Miss Watson had an eye for seascapes and sailboats as well, and in several of her works small crafts travel across the waters off East Chop or Vineyard Haven. She painted the cliffs of Gay Head when they stood higher and brighter above the sandy beach.

For 24 summers from 1878 until 1902 she, one of the few women on the faculty, taught watercolor at the Martha’s Vineyard Summer Institute, a school for teachers offering a variety of courses. At its height, 700 teachers were registered for the summer program. Carefully shaded by umbrellas, she and her students painted in the sunlight, the women in full-length skirts and long-sleeved blouses. The men wore long pants with shirts and usually a jacket and tie, a summer dress more startling than other features of days gone by.

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner