Dear Neighbors and Friends,
Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association (AGHCA) is a not-for-profit corporation supporting educational, environmental protection and conservation, historical preservation, and other civic activities. Our primary focus is Aquinnah, but many of our activities have benefited the Vineyard as a whole. We have written to many of you for a number of years to ask for your help in sustaining those activities. However, because of the continuing financial impact of the casino lawsuit discussed below we have suspended all other activities that call for material financial outlays. (For those interested, the enclosed “flyer” describes AGHCA’s activities and its policies regarding litigation.)
We are now writing to ask specifically for your support in helping us meet our considerable accrued and projected future legal expenses with respect to the action brought by the Commonwealth (in which both we and the Town of Aquinnah then intervened) against the Tribe alleging that it has contravened controlling Massachusetts laws pertaining to its proposed establishment of a casino in Aquinnah. This case was tried in a federal District Court, and in late 2015 the Judge issued his decision which strongly upheld our, the Town’s and the Commonwealth’s positions in all material respects. As anticipated, the Tribe has appealed to the Federal Court of Appeals (First Circuit). AGHCA is participating in that appeal, as are the Town and the Commonwealth. It is anticipated that the Court will hold oral arguments in the latter part of 2016. It is likely that whichever side loses this appeal will consider asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a further appeal.
The Tribe asserted positions in the litigation that, if upheld, would vitiate most of the Settlement Agreement’s key provisions and conditions. In particular, the Tribe is attempting to avoid the waiver of sovereign immunity embodied in the Settlement Agreement, which would have extraordinary impacts on all of us, including by calling into question the ability of the Town of Aquinnah or other Island jurisdictions or bodies to enforce zoning, building, and other regulations on any lands now owned or later acquired by the Tribe, wherever located. Thus, proposals by the Tribe to establish, say, a golf course, a resort, a shopping mall, etc. anywhere on the Island would not be subject to the review and approval processes such projects now receive.
Litigation like the casino case is extraordinarily expensive. Even though we had accumulated a sizeable “nest egg” in anticipation of such litigation, it is spent and our accrued “litigation debt” and anticipated on-going appeal expenses necessitate our asking everyone for an “extra measure of support” at this time. Frankly, we must ask that everyone be as generous as possible.
In this regard, a matching program remains in place! A few very generous Aquinnah residents have agreed to provide “matching contributions” (equaling several hundred thousand dollars in the aggregate). PUT SIMPLY, TWO CATEGORIES OF DONATIONS WILL BE MATCHED DOLLAR FOR DOLLAR – (A) ALL DONATIONS OF $10,000 OR MORE AND (B) ALL DONATIONS WHICH ARE DOUBLE (OR MORE) THE DONOR’S LARGEST PRIOR GIFT TO AGHCA.
AGHCA has Section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and contributions to AGHCA are tax deductible to the extent permitted under law. Our activities are funded entirely from contributions from individuals. We ask that you be as generous as you can and that as many of you who can “take advantage” of the match program.
The Casino. It is difficult to envision a locale less suitable for a casino than Aquinnah, both economically and in terms of the potential adverse environmental impact. We are a rural town at the far end of the Island, reachable by only one road. Chilmark and West Tisbury share many of the same features of being somewhat remote and with a limited and in many ways fragile infrastructure. The impact of casino traffic day and night on all three roads running through Chilmark and those running through West Tisbury is bound to be material. The potential environmental impact is profound on numerous fronts.
The Tribe. It seems clear that the Tribal members who live in Aquinnah are overwhelmingly opposed to having a casino in Aquinnah. But, only about one/third of the Tribal members live on the Vineyard, with the rest scattered all over the world but with a heavy concentration in southeast Massachusetts. Many of these members are from families that left the Vineyard as long as five or more generations ago, and they have little if any “engagement” with the Vineyard. The numbers tell the story in terms of overall Tribal elections and votes. We also wish to make it clear that we have great respect for the Tribe and applaud its overall efforts to develop projects that enhance its economic well-being.
Our Usual Activities. Our now curtailed activities have included substantial support over the years for the Aquinnah Library, the Aquinnah Cultural Center, island-wide conservation groups in support of their extensive and vital activities in Aquinnah (i.e., Vineyard Conservation Society, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and the Land Bank) and numerous civic projects in Aquinnah, including recently the Save the Gay Head Lighthouse campaign. We will continue our activities that have minimal costs (such as our small grants to Aquinnah residents graduating from high school and going on to college or specialized training) and such as our website and extensive email distributions which provide valuable information about current and historical matters of interest pertaining to Aquinnah. We will continue to hold our “annual informational meeting”, and our “annual reception” expenses have been minimalized in light of of our current and foreseeable litigation expenses.
Our Policies Regarding Litigation. We occasionally get asked why AGHCA also participates in litigation such as this “casino suit” when one or more governmental entities also are involved. The answer is simple – going back to 1974 when the then Tribal Council sued the Town for the return of the Town’s common lands asserting that when the Town had been formed in 1870 the transfers of the common lands to the new Town had not been approved by Congress as required by a 1790 Federal law. This suit had immediate and disastrous impacts in Aquinnah (then Gay Head) – it took title companies and lenders a nanosecond to decide that if this could be done to the Town’s common lands all prior and future private land transfers also were vulnerable. Banks stopped providing mortgages and title companies refused to insure titles. Yet, the Town declined to defend that suit. AGHCA (then known as the Gay Head Taxpayers Assn.) intervened and then played integral roles both in effecting the Settlement Agreement in 1983 and in Washington and Boston procuring the passage of both the Commonwealth and Federal enabling Acts in 1985 and 1987 respectively. Then, in 2001 the Town sued the Tribe alleging that the Tribe had violated the Settlement Agreement and those Acts by commencing construction of a storage structure without adhering to the Town’s review and permitting requirements as mandated by the Settlement Agreement. AGHCA again intervened to be able to participate if need be. The lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that the Tribe had not waived its sovereign immunity to being sued in the Settlement Agreement. The Town chose not to appeal. As an intervener, AGHCA did appeal and the result was a 6-1 determination by the highest court in Massachusetts that, indeed, the Tribe had waived its sovereign immunity to suit in the Settlement Agreement. Put simply, our experiences have resulted in an ironclad principle – we will “never rely on others” to defend or uphold the fundamental terms and conditions of the Settlement Agreement or the 1985 Commonwealth Act and 1987 Federal Act, respectively.