A portion of South Road in Chilmark is slated to be closed to traffic during President Obama's visit to the Island, the Chilmark selectmen learned on Tuesday.
Police chief Brian Cioffi said at the selectmen's weekly meeting that the Secret Service is proposing closing South Road to traffic from Meeting House Road to Wootton Bassett Road from August 10 through 18. Emergency vehicles and residents of the area will be allowed access. The road closure will begin around 2 p.m. on Saturday, Mr. Cioffi said. Traffic will be diverted to Middle Road and North Road.
Mr. Obama and the first family are set to arrive on Saturday and stay at a private home on Snail Road. The home is owned by David Schulte. Utility crews working around the property held up traffic on South Road Tuesday afternoon and the sign marking the road has been taken down.
Mr. Cioffi said signs will be placed along South, Middle and North Roads, as well as Music street to warn the public about the closure.
Lucy Vincent Beach will remain open to the public, Mr. Cioffi said. He also said security plans are still being developed for Chilmark Pond, which is accessible from the house.
Plans are still subject to change, Mr. Cioffi said.
News of the road closure was met with sharp criticism by selectman and chairman of the board Warren Doty.
“My response to this is we've had the president come to our town three times and it's been very cordial and there's been very little disruption and we love to have him,” he said. “This would change that approach . . . and be very disruptive.
During past visits the president has stayed at Blue Heron Farm, a 28.5 acre estate located off South Road and accessed by a long dirt road. That home was sold in December 2011 to Lord Norman and Lady Elena Foster, who have chosen not to rent out the property.
Mr. Doty said he spoke directly to the Secret Service supervisor on Tuesday, who said the location of the new rental house was a factor in the road closure decision.
“Their claim is that the president has rented a home that is only 385 feet from the road, and that is very close to a public way,” Mr. Doty said. “They feel that with the heightened security alerts in America today, that if they're charged with protecting the president they need to close traffic.”
Mr. Doty said no plans are in place with the Vineyard Transit Authority bus route yet, and deliveries to businesses need to be addressed.
“It would affect all up-Island businesses a great deal,” he said. “You could get there but in general it's going to be a hassle. I've requested that traffic not be diverted onto Meeting House Way; diverting onto a dirt road is a terrible mistake. This is something that's happening and it's not as if they asked us what we thought.”
“I’m very pleased that the chief has cooperated so well with the Secret Service and that we’ve worked together each year, but it could be an inconvenience this year,” Mr. Doty said.
Mr. Doty said if residents wished to complain about the proposed closure, they should call the White House switchboard. The board went into executive session to discuss “security issues” with Mr. Cioffi at the end of night.
On Wednesday the town sent out an email to the town listserv, saying “anyone aggrieved by this closing should email or call the White House.”
The White House can be contacted at 202-456-1111 or whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments.
For photos of recent Vineyard vacations, see the gallery Past Presidential Vacations: Obama Family Visits the Vineyard.