A special town meeting in West Tisbury Tuesday night pitted the town’s humans against its dogs, as voters took up the divisive question of whether to continue to allow canines at Lambert’s Cove Beach in the summer.
“I don’t even go there anymore because the smell is so overpowering,” said Karen Overtoom. “I guess you have to decide whether the beach is for the people or the dogs.”
In the end West Tisbury voters sided with the people. Dogs will be prohibited from visiting the popular town beach from June 15 to Sept. 15; violators will be subject to a $50 fine.
A total of 141 voters attended the meeting to act on the 10-article warrant, but the majority of the discussion was reserved for the dog question.
“I consider it a privilege to be able to take our dog to Lambert’s Cove Beach and we are very respectful of the rules that apply to the beach,” said Christopher Brooks. “We pick up after our dog and we intend to continue to do so. It seems to me this is just a little bit of overkill.”
Mr. Brooks proposed that the town increase its fee for dog permits from $5 to $50 to hire somebody to patrol the beach. But parks and recreation cochairman Cheryl Lowe said instead the town was going to do away with its dog permits. As town counsel Ron Rappaport explained, a statute in the Massachusetts tort claims act provided immunity to the town from liabililty on town properties that allow recreational use without charge. By requiring licenses the town could relinquish that immunity.
Another resident, Sarah Vail, offered a “compromise amendment” to the article that would allow dogs on the beach from 7 to 10 a.m. and after 6 p.m. Vivian Stein supported the amendment.
“One of the things that attracted me to this Island was the freedom and joy of being able to bring your dog to Lambert’s Cove,” she said. “There aren’t many places you can do that . . . To lose a privilege that we’ve had all of these years that’s really a tremendous joy would be very, very sad to me.”
But Nelia Decker was unmoved.
“Even if you just allow dogs there in the morning, dogs and their feces and their urine do not go together with children digging in the sand,” she said. “So many dog lovers come to the beach in the morning and befoul the entire area before anyone even gets there.”
Ms. Lowe summed up the issue.
“The biggest problem we have is dog waste,” she said. “We do supply bags and people will put their dog waste in the bag and then will just throw that into the woods. . . We don’t know how to get people to pick up after their dogs.”
After a motion to indefinitely postpone the question failed, moderator Pat Gregory called for a voice vote on the article. A loud caucus of dog lovers registered their nays, and Mr. Gregory at first announced that the article had failed. But a hand vote recount revealed a different outcome: the article narrowly passed 64-61.
The rest of the warrant was voted on in rapid-fire fashion, as many voters left after the dog article.
Voters accepted the gift of the Mill Pond dam from the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club and appropriated $10,000 to pay for legal or other expenses to evaluate a contract for building a solar array at the town landfill.
And they agreed to add lieutenant to the police department rank structure, a move that police chief Dan Rossi said would increase motivation and promote longevity within in the department.
“I believe that this would boost the officers’ morale,” the chief said. “It shows that there is room to grow in the department.”