Carmel Gamble glared at the chain-link fence surrounding the beachfront lot next door to her Vineyard Haven cottage. “This is not the Vineyard Haven I knew,” said Miss Gamble, a veterinary technician and self-described “clown on sabbatical” who returned to Martha’s Vineyard two years ago after five years in Hawaii. “But this ugly steel chain-link fence, I mean, what we love about the Vineyard is that it’s beautiful. That’s why people come here,” she said.

Exactly “why people come here” underlies the ongoing debate about how best to preserve Vineyard Haven harbor’s environment. A number of commercial developments — including Jet Ski rentals, sea plane landings and high-speed ferry dockings — thrust the harbor into the spotlight earlier this summer and created a public debate on long-term growth in Vineyard Haven and elsewhere on the Island.

Tisbury selectman Edmond Coogan said, “It’s the same old story that people have been talking about on Martha’s Vineyard for centuries: If you don’t protect what you’ve got, people aren’t going to come here, and if people don’t come here, people aren’t going to make any money. It’s not a catch-22. It’s the opposite. It’s up to us to preserve and protect it for our own sanity.”

This latest chapter in the growth-management debate revolves around a handful of town boards (the selectmen, the planning board and the board of health), conservation organizations (the harbor management committee and Tisbury Waterways Inc.) and local businesses (Island Transport, R.M. Packer Co. Inc. and Ernie Boch).

Earlier in the summer, town officials expressed concern that they were unprepared for the onslaught of summer tourists and new high-speed ferries. Those ferries include the Schamonchi, the Sterling and the Sassacus, which travels in a little over two hours from New London, Conn., to Vineyard Haven.

A letter dated August 3 from the chairman of the selectmen, A. Kirk Briggs, to town counsel, Leonard Kopelman at Kopelman & Paige, states: “In simplest terms, how does the town assure that the things it wishes to happen in and around our harbor do, and the things it wishes not to happen don’t, so that Vineyard Haven Harbor will remain the jewel that it is?”

In that letter, Mr. Briggs said the selectmen wanted Judith Cutler, also from Kopelman & Paige, to spearhead the effort to “develop clear, consistent, and defensible controls that will protect our harbor and the rights of those who enjoy it.”

At present, selectmen are seeking to implement a more comprehensive regulatory system that prevents future high-speed ferries from docking in the inner harbor and provides for long-term management. Miss Cutler has agreed to represent the town in this effort.

Selectman Tristan Israel said the selectmen’s accomplishments this summer were limited in scope but significant. “I think this summer has made Vineyard Haven wake up to the fact that we need to have more effective management tools for our harbor. I think it’s been a learning process, and I think we’ve made some significant strides with regard to understanding some of the directions we need to go in,” he said.

Mr. Israel said the town will move forward in the coming months. “I think this off-season we’re going to do some significant planning so that by next summer we have an even better handle on things. My major concerns are, number one, that a process be in place where the community can have a say in what’s going on, and then, number two, that we manage the growth we’ve been seeing in the past 10 years more effectively,” he said.

The board of health recently forced Island Transport, the company that sublets Pier 44 to the operators of the Sassacus, to pay a $1,800 fine for failing to install two handicap-accessible rest rooms and an environmentally acceptable septic system, referred to as a Title 5 system.

Island Transport’s decision to sublet Pier 44 to the company that operates the Sassacus, Fox Navigation, raised eyebrows because Fox Navigation is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which operates the Foxwoods casino in Connecticut.

Co-owner of Island Transport Jack Dario said he shares many of the concerns of local conservationists. Mr. Dario contended the Sassacus does not pose a threat to the environment or quality of life in the harbor, but that some of the older buildings on the waterfront need to be repaired. Members of Tisbury Waterways Inc., including vice president Harriet Barrows, have complained about the ferry’s noxious fumes, noise and wake.

Mr. Dario said, “I don’t think all the buildings there are kept up to be aesthetically pretty. Ecologically, I think you’ve got to look at things. Utopia would be a beach, the whole Vineyard Haven beach. That would be nice. Whether or not it can be done is another question.”

The land bank is considering purchasing Mr. Boch’s property, next door to Miss Gamble, which Mr. Boch has proposed turning into a parking lot. While local residents voiced their support for the land bank’s acquisition of the Boch property at a recent Tisbury land bank advisory committee meeting, it is unclear whether Mr. Boch intends to sell.

Both Mr. Packer and Mr. Boch, who own property on the waterfront, refused to comment about changes taking place along the harbor.

The manager of the the Vineyard Haven Marina, Elizabeth Wild, concurred with Mr. Dario that the Sassacus is environmentally sound. Miss Wild said she would be aware if there were any pollution-related problems coming from the Sassacus, since the marina abuts Pier 44.

Co-owner of Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, Ross Gannon, said businessmen like Mr. Dario threaten the future of the harbor by putting their business interests ahead of acting responsibly. “I can’t stand that attitude, that if we don’t do it then somebody else is going to do it. If we’re not going to do this to this place, they’re going to do this to this place and make money. I think it’s too bad they have that attitude. They’re only looking at lining their own pockets. They’re not thinking about the next generation,” Mr. Gannon said.

Mr. Gannon conceded that he has business interests of his own, building sailboats, but said that Gannon & Benjamin supports the town’s efforts to protect the waterfront. “When we put a railway in our dock, we had to agree that we wouldn’t block passage. The passengers used to come and go up and down the beach. I think that’s a great way to have it,” he said.

Mr. Gannon said the harbor’s public access makes it unique. “This is a great harbor. People can walk around it, in the sand. Take a look at Edgartown, take a look at Menemsha, take a look at Falmouth, take a look at Marion. None of them have this feature. If you sail in here and want to row ashore, you can row almost to the front doors of the A&P. It’s pretty unique, and it’s pretty nice,” he said.

Mr. Coogan said the drive to regulate the harbor represents an attempt to freeze time. “I guess I’d like to see [the harbor] stand still, which of course it’s not going to do. The reason that we’ve all been talking about it is to figure out how do we protect it, to keep our memories alive and still allow for the future. When I see kids out there from the yacht club, people in kayaks, sailors who know the tide runs from east to west, west to east, it’s really a special triangle that allows people who love to water to enjoy it safely,” he said.

Peering at the children diving off the sailboats in front of Gannon & Benjamin, Miss Gamble said she, too, would like to freeze time. She still remembers when the harbor was quieter, when the Boch property was the Hancock property and there was a music store next door.

“The dogs, the children, the people who come here and have to wait in line for the Black Dog, they get a taste of a special way of life here. I don’t want to judge, but I can’t help but feel there’s something wrong with someone who comes into town, buys a crucial piece of property, and decides to park 99 cars there. We do have a problem with parking, we do need parking, but not on the beach. Is this really the way should things be done?” she said.