Islander's Blog

Spring on Nantucket

Riding my bicycle into the office this morning for only the second time since last fall, I realized that spring – or at least what passes for spring on an island that’s more often gray and blustery than anything else this time of year – has finally arrived.

Brilliant yellow daffodil blooms are everywhere, the mercury has been hovering above the 50-degree mark pretty much every day now and reports are filtering in from a little further southwest that the striped bass are on the way.

So while we’re waiting for the legal schoolies to arrive and the weather to warm up just a little bit more, there’s still plenty to keep us busy: like talking politics.

Speaking of fish, with Town Meeting and the Annual Town Election just behind us, the fallout from Tuesday’s resounding no-vote on the Sconset Beach Preservation Fund’s beach nourishment project is generating a lot of buzz. While the fallout from Question 5 is still up in the air, it’s definitely an issue that promises to enflame passions well into the summer.

Question 5, of course, was the non-binding referendum asking voters if they agreed with the SBPF’s dredging offshore around Bass Rip – one of the most fertile fishing grounds on the Eastern Seaboard – to replenish the rapidly-eroding beach beneath the sprawling summer homes on Baxter Road, one of the wealthiest enclaves on the island.

Fishermen – both recreational and commercial – are dead-set against the project, saying it will lead to environmental devastation and the loss of a fishery. Bluff residents, faced with the loss of their homes, some of which have been in the same family for generations, deny the claims and say they’ve bent over backwards to address the fishermen’s concerns about the environment and their livelihood.

Some people say it’s an issue of class warfare: rich summer people vs. the working fishermen. Others say it’s about supporting your neighbor. OK, but which neighbor – the fisherman or the guy on the bluff? Stay tuned. This is one debate that promises to rage for quite some time.

Down at the Town and County Building on Broad Street, the Board of Selectmen remains without a chairman, because for the first time that anyone who follows town politics can remember, the board decided not to elect a new leader the morning after the election.

It went a little something like this: Incumbent Selectman Brian Chadwick, fresh off a successful reelection bid, nominated Patty Roggeveen for chairman, and waited for a second. And waited. And waited. Roggeveen finally had to second her own nomination, and lost on a 3-2 vote. Selectman Allen Reinhard, entering his second year in office, said he needed more time to think about who should be chairman, and wanted to wait two weeks. His fellow incumbent Selectman Michael Kopko and newcomer Rick Atherton agreed, and the board remains rudderless. At least for the next two weeks.

The move is being hotly debated on bar stools and in coffee shops around the island – former selectman and state Senate candidate Doug Bennett even weighed in with disdain from off-island this week – with some skeptics seeing an ulterior motive behind the maneuver. What that motive is, however, depends on who you ask. But one thing’s for sure. It doesn’t bode well for the prospects of the board operating like a well-oiled machine any time soon.

The political season wasn’t without some feel-good news for a lot of islanders, however, at least on Town Meeting floor last week. Nantucket soccer and lacrosse players may have some new playing fields to look forward to, after voters overwhelmingly approved more than $4 million in spending for a new 15-acre playing field complex off Nobadeer Farm Road. The vote was never in doubt, despite the Finance Committee’s negative recommendation on the project, once the heart-felt appeals from parents and coaches began. There’s a real need for new fields, given the island’s growing population and the heavy use the only other public fields are receiving, but the spending still has to be approved at the ballot box in May or June. We’ll just have to wait and see.

– Josh Balling, I&M Managing Editor

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