Conflict and Turmoil

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of December 1982:

When the curtain opened in 1982 on the Vineyard political scene, argument arose whether precious county money would be better spent attracting more tourists and business or supporting community service programs. Proposition 2 1/2 had settled in as the grand, catch-all reason for fiscal austerity. Public officials publicly bemoaned the need to pit agency against agency, department against department. There was concern that the Vineyard community was failing to define clearly its priorities. Few stepped forward to say just what it is the Vineyard community holds dear and will protect at any cost.

Take the Steamship Authority. When Joseph F. McCormack took over as executive director early in the year, he said it was immediately apparent to him that the SSA was at a critical juncture in its history. What is the main purpose of the SSA? The Vineyard had better decide what it expects of the SSA and make that feeling known. As to the SSA itself, it may have been the year’s most glaring example of turbulence — authority governors at war, unions in revolt, legislation filed to consider a split of the SSA, competing boat lines filing suit.

But the authority was not alone in this political maelstrom. County airport employees were accused of pilfering gas and stealing money and an investigation showed the airport had been ripe for scandal for years. Developers, traditionally at odds with town boards, often raised their argument to fever pitch. Edgartown seemed a battlefield with Douglas Dowling, Louis Giuliano, and Dark Woods.

Members of the Chilmark community expressed outrage upon learning that the Darrow brothers of New Jersey and Washington expected to time-share a single-family home in their town. Washington architect Reid A. (Sam) Dunn appealed to a state agency and the agency overturned a decision by the Tisbury conservation commission to disallow his plan for a shopping center at the edge of Lagoon Pond.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission was defeated narrowly in the effort to bring Edgartown and Tisbury back into the fold. Soaring legal bills had officials saying that the Vineyard clearly had moved into the age of litigation. Crime and drugs captured Vineyard headlines as never before. In the summer of 1982, the Edgartown district court experienced a 79 per cent increase in criminal cases. The county jail was pushed beyond its ability to safely handle prisoners.

A cocaine-smuggling operation said to involve millions of dollars and the buying and selling of Vineyard real estate was uncovered. Those with responsibility of helping troubled youths wonder where teenagers will go to resist temptations to drink, to vandalize, to use drugs.

Recession arrived late to the Vineyard in 1982. The rental and real estate market went soft. Jobs and places to live were harder to find. Planners looked to the future offering a report that pictured miles of asphalt roads criss-crossing the Vineyard, ponds covered in green algae, freshwater shortages and towns unable to offer essential services. Moped drivers went careening out of control. Vineyard emergency medical technicians called the moped crisis outrageous and doctors joined in a call for action.

Gay Head was said to be tottering on the brink of economic disaster, and, as the year closed the Vineyard educational system recognized a financial squeeze that suggested either sports programs and long-term maintenance programs will go, or towns will need to approve increased assessments, bringing greater financial burden to towns already under pressure.

But a reading of the news of the year is not entirely of questions raised, problems waiting for solutions. Island Elderly Housing was officially dedicated Jan. 10. On April 29, a building at the complex was destroyed by fire. By year’s end the building had been rebuilt, the elderly returned to their apartments.

The hospital ended its relationship with University Hospital of Boston after one year of a two-year management contract. Indeed at year’s end the hospital was reporting itself in the black. But hospital president the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre Jr. had expressed worry early in the year that the hospital needed the help of the community to face an uncertain future. As 1982 ended, an impressive group of Islanders gathered in Vineyard Haven to begin a discussion of health care on the Island.

A coalition of Wampanoag Indians laid claim to land in six Massachusetts towns including all of Gay Head, Christiantown in West Tisbury and parts of Chappaquiddick. By year’s end federal judges in Boston had dismissed the suit. Attention was focused again on completing an agreement worked out between the Gay Head Wampanoag Tribal Council and the Gay Head Taxpayers Association.

Oil companies reported that after eight dry holes, they were moving off Georges Bank. West Tisbury voters agreed to buy 380 acres in town, with the help of the government, preserving the land as a future well field. And, West Tisbury, too, established an historic district preserving the character of West Tisbury village.

Compiled by Eulalie Regan