A Final Page in the Book, the Plot Lines Draw Down on Land, Water in 2004
By JULIA WELLS
A long-running bitter development battle over the southern woodlands found compromise. The Steamship Authority chief executive officer resigned. Back door doughnuts were banned. The Martha's Vineyard schools superintendent resigned. A well-known Chilmark fisherman put his boat up for sale. The Vineyard and Nantucket boat line governors died.
Like reading the last chapter in a book first, the year 2004 on the Vineyard was primarily a story of endings. It was a year when whole eras came to a close - sometimes quietly, other times with a jolt. It was a year marked by new rhythms as the community slowly tuned its ear to changing values and eroding traditions against a backdrop of rapid growth and skyrocketing home prices.
It was a year when, just maybe, the mainland moved a little closer.
But endings are of course followed by beginnings, and in 2004 the Vineyard also got a new boat line governor, a $31 million contract for a new ferry to replace the Islander, a $42 million plan for a new hospital, a $3.7 million makeover for the West Tisbury town hall, new political leadership in Oak Bluffs, a new chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) - and, like the rest of Red Sox Nation, a new lease on life when the World Series was over.
"You can tell a Red Sox fan by his proximity to the door," quipped one West Tisbury voter during a special town meeting that had been painfully scheduled on game night during the October series.
The year began with record-breaking cold, with many Islanders recovering from a nasty outbreak of the flu, and for the next two months frozen pipes were the story of the day while local plumbers went into extended overtime.
The bitter cold weather hung on, and Islanders bundled up and turned their attention to local politics. The Wampanoag sovereignty case was on its way to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Early in the year the town of Chilmark and the Martha's Vineyard Commission filed friend of the court briefs in the case alongside state attorney general Thomas Reilly, who had intervened. The case was a test of the historic 1983 Indian land claims settlement agreement that had been signed by the tribe, the town of Gay Head and a group of taxpayers. Ten months later the state's highest court would rule that the Wampanoags had in fact waived sovereignty when they signed the settlement agreement, and are bound to follow state and local zoning laws.
Land use was in the news. In late March a long, bruising battle over the fate of the southern woodlands in Oak Bluffs took a stunning turn when the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank announced that it had signed an agreement to buy 190 acres from developer Corey Kupersmith, including the old Webb's Camping Area. Purchase price was $18.6 million, and the agreement called for Mr. Kupersmith to keep another 90 acres for a 26-lot residential subdivision.
"When I look at conflicts such as this, I do think the Vineyard is privileged to have an institution like the land bank that can step up and get involved," executive director James Lengyel said when the purchase was announced.
It was a political harbinger in Oak Bluffs, where a few weeks later voters swept a trio of incumbents out of office, including one selectman who had been a close ally with the controversial Mr. Kupersmith. Todd Rebello was replaced by Kerry Scott, and in the Cottage City a distinct new era of government began.
The love-hate relationship between Vineyard residents and the Steamship Authority continued unabated. Early in the year the boat line came under heavy fire from Islanders over a new policy devised to bar people from staying in their cars on board ferries. Born out of the Maritime Transportation Security Act, the policy drew the ire of Islanders, who have long enjoyed the choice of whether to stay in their car belowdecks or go up to the mezzanine level while traveling on the ferry between the Vineyard and Woods Hole.
The policy was later scrapped.
National issues had their own stage on the Vineyard this year.
Outrage over the Patriot Act got a foothold on the Island, and in the spring a group of activists took a resolution opposing the act onto every town meeting floor.
During the presidential election in November, the Island went its own way, bucking the national trend and voting in large numbers for Sen. John Kerry. The message rang loud and clear: the old Republican stronghold of Dukes County had gone the way of the Edsel.
The Iraq war rippled home. Michael Berninger, a 20-year-old Marine from Vineyard Haven, was decorated with the Purple Heart. Sgt. Kevin Devine, a ranger in the U.S. Army, spoke about the horrors of the war while home on a 30-day leave.
"All that training you do, when the bullets start flying, that stuff's a lot different," he told the Gazette in an interview.
Some endings followed a natural path.
Michael Straight, the former editor and publisher of The New Republic and a longtime resident of Chilmark, died at the age of 87. Grace S. Grossman, the crusading and diminutive Nantucket SSA governor, died at 80. The Vineyard lost two beloved John Rogers. John G. Rogers of Vineyard Haven, audio engineer and former animal control officer, died at the age of 76. John S. Rogers of Oak Bluffs, the longtime projectionist at Island movie theatres, died at the age of 74. Donald King, the gregarious and salty former harbor master in Vineyard Haven, died at the age of 73. Francis Cournoyer, a home-grown West Tisbury businessman, died at the age of 68. Clover the Brown Swiss cow died at the age of 19. Ghillie the blue merle collie, the last in a long line of collies owned by the late Henry Beetle Hough, died at the age of 14.
Others were wrenching.
Two high school students, Kevin H. Johnson and David D. Furino, were killed in a car accident in Katama. An Island electrician was found dead after the news had surfaced that he was under investigation by police for an alleged videotaping crime. A Cambridge woman died when she was swept out in a riptide at Squibnocket. Local emergency workers performed heroic work in a remote location as they tried to save her life. Kathryn A. Roessel, the Vineyard SSA governor, was found dead outside her Vineyard Haven home. The cause of death is still unknown.
There was change.
In August the family that owns Camp Jabberwocky announced that John Lamb, the son of founder Helen Lamb, would step down as director of the venerable cerebral palsy camp.
In September Vineyard schools superintendent Kriner Cash announced abruptly that he would leave in two weeks to take another job, leaving the school committee in a scramble for replacements.
In November Marc Hanover, a well-known Oak Bluffs businessman, was appointed by the Dukes County Commission as the next SSA governor.
There were summer visitors - lots of them - some famous, most ordinary, all bound by their love of the Island. One famous visitor had feathers. In August a red-footed falcon was sited at the Katama Air Park, marking the first sighting of the bird on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The news caused a national stir and the air park became an overnight destination for ornithologists from around the globe.
There was good fishing. "This is for all the wharf rats," yelled a jubilant Robert Thomas after he won the grand prize in the 59th annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby for a false albacore he had hooked off Memorial Wharf in Edgartown.
There was thrilling football. Vineyarders held on to the coveted Island cup after junior place kicker E.J. Sylvia drilled a 29-yard field goal in the final five seconds of the game between the Vineyard and Nantucket. For veteran Vineyard coach Donald Herman there was only one word to utter at the stunning one-point win. "Unbelievable," he said.
There was controversy - an enduring fact of life on the Vineyard. Joseph Moujabber's illegal garage on the North Bluff in Oak Bluffs was ordered demolished by the town building inspector. A plan to build a roundabout at the blinker intersection was hotly debated and finally abandoned. A former member of the Oak Bluffs board of health was fined by state environmental officials for violating the state sanitary code on his own house. State environmental officials announced a radical plan to clear hundreds of acres of red and white pine in the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest. Vineyard residents waded into the state and regional debate over the Cape Wind plan to build the nation's first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.
As the year drew to a close the first winter gale lashed the Island with high winds and a half-foot of snow, knocking out power and driving Islanders indoors to their wood stoves and soup kettles. It was as good a time as any to pause and take stock, and to recall the words of Belleruth Naparstek, a longtime seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs, who penned thoughts about the Vineyard in an essay published in the Gazette:
"Our neighbors were kind; the police were responsive to even our most minor complaints (and still are); and the town meetings were positively riveting to my husband, who felt that this was exactly what America was all about, when it was being America at its democratic best."