Summer taxpayers in Oak Bluffs had plenty of complaints to bring before the selectmen this week during the annual meeting hosted for them by the town. But the biggest complaint was over the town’s dated system for notifying seasonal residents about major projects going on in their backyards.
The meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd and lasted nearly three hours. Town department heads presented year-in-review summaries and summer residents weighed in on matters ranging from parking issues at Niantic Park to the quality of the sand at Inkwell Beach. A planned aquaculture project near Eastville Beach also drew a number of comments.
But in nearly all cases, residents said they had not received meeting notifications in time to address their concerns during the hearing process.
“I would really ask that you reach out to us as homeowners with anything to be done regarding this approval,” said Richard Audenbaugh of Beach Road, one of many who spoke against a planned oyster farm run by brothers Dan and Greg Martino. The Martinos were given preliminary approval in March for their project. The license is still pending approval from the state Division of Marine Fisheries.
A number of Eastville residents object to the project, concerned that it will be a potential boating and fishing hazard. On Tuesday they complained that preliminary approval had been granted in the dead of winter without enough public comment.
Mr. Audenbaugh called the town’s notification system “loosey-goosey.” Meeting and hearing notifications are mailed to the same address as tax bills. Meeting times are also posted on the Oak Bluffs town website.
“Clearly, technologically, we need to speed this up,” conceded selectman and board chairman Gregory Coogan.
Residents of Wamsutta avenue said that they also had not received up-to-date information regarding planned changes to parking at Niantic Park. Plans to renovate the park’s basketball courts and playground have been in the works since last year. Evan Marvinson and Tamar Kaissar both expressed concern about changes to parking at Niantic, particularly the addition of a new paved row of diagonal spaces.
Town parks commissioner Amy Billings recommended that residents attend the next meeting on August 18, where they would be able to speak to the landscape architect.
The condition of town beaches received considerable attention as residents objected to the sand at Inkwell Beach and Pay Beach. The beaches were replenished with sand from a Lagoon Pond dredging project in the spring, but the sand did not bleach and dry.
Suesan Stovall said she was “mortified” by the lack of sand and said that kids weren’t able to dig at the beach because the material there was like asphalt.
“We do not want that material on the beach; it’s an embarrassment,” said Richard Seelig. Mr. Seelig said a citizen’s beach committee had formed in response to the sand issue, and produced a mission statement signed by 24 people. The committee hoped to serve as an advisory and recommending body, he said.
Selectman Walter Vail said that by state law the town was not allowed to take sediment from sandbars offshore to replenish the beach. Sand was lost along the shore after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
“Where do we find it, and what’s it going to cost to get it there?” he said, asking residents to “bear with us,” while the board worked on solutions.
Selectman Gail Barmakian reminded the room that the entire beach front was in need of repair, which was echoed by summer resident Betty Thompson. Mrs. Thompson requested that selectmen resurrect the stairways at the beach across from Ocean Park.
In regular business, the board approved a license for Take a Seat, a used furniture store on Dukes County avenue to be run by Lucy Abbot. They also signed off on forming a joint Lagoon Pond planning committee with the town of Tisbury. The committee will consist of five members from Oak Bluffs, five from Tisbury, and one from the Lagoon Pond Association.