On Martha’s Vineyard we prefer to fight in the winter — it is our off-season sport — and at this point the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival is a coming attraction. Before a plan was displayed or a permit application filed, last week a hue and cry rose up across the West Tisbury Facebook landscape over a broad proposal by Film Festival leaders to purchase a 12-acre property off Old County Road and build a campus.
Islanders like their controversies in crystallized form. If personalities are in play, all the better. But even as our focus turns to summer, and more easily digested storylines, a looming court case that hinges on complex legal issues, and which has significant consequences for the character of the entire Island, has attracted scant attention. That is unfortunate.
On Friday, a team of lawyers in the Department of Justice filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in support of the view that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) “implicitly repealed” the Settlement Act that has been the bedrock upon which the longstanding legal relationship between the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the rest of the Martha’s Vineyard community has stood.
The suit was brought by the town of Aquinnah, the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to stop the Wampanoag Gaming Corporation from building a Class II casino — think flashing high-stakes bingo parlor — in Aquinnah.
The Justice Department’s letter raises the stakes. Although the feds are not a party to the suit, their interest in the case will carry weight. And unlike the town and the Commonwealth, theAquinnah/Gay Head Community Association, which has stood tall where others might shrink away, cannot dig into tax coffers to pay
Continue reading This fight is for real – Editorial, MV Times…
The Wampanoag tribe said it plans to complete its community center even as it continues to battle for the right to open a gaming facility on tribal lands.
The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped into the legal battle over the rights of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to build a casino on tribal lands in the smallest town on Martha’s Vineyard. In a brief filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Justice Department lawyers argued that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act “implicitly repealed” the Settlement Act that has checked the tribe’s gaming ambitions for almost three decades.
The tribe is seeking to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, issued Nov. 13, 2015, that the tribe could not turn its unfinished community center into a class II gambling facility. Judge Saylor said the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), signed in 1988, does not trump the Settlement Act, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987.
The settlement agreement stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time, and it has formed the bedrock of the longstanding legal relationship between the tribe and the rest of the Martha’s Vineyard community.
Following a detailed analysis of the issues in the case, Judge Saylor said, “In summary, the tribe has not met its burden of demonstrating that it exercises sufficient ‘governmental power’ over the settlement lands, and therefore IGRA does not apply. Furthermore, and in any event, it is clear that IGRA did not repeal by implication the Massachusetts Settlement Act.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) brief states: The district court’s judgement should be reversed
Continue reading Obama administration sides with Wampanoag tribe in casino appeal…
There’s a lot of buzz around town stemming from the airing of the NOVA documentary about the move of the Gay Head Light. The film, which was shot before and during the historic relocation of the iconic structure last spring, appeared on WGBH and other PBS stations on May 4. It is now available for streaming at http://www.pbs.org/video/2365738223/.
And Popular Mechanics magazine sent a reporter to cover the move. His article appears online here: How to Move a Lighthouse.
Visit the lighthouse website to learn more.
This map shows the approximate location of the tracts of land that the Appeals Court ruled are entitled to access.
The highest state court in Massachusetts issued a very significant opinion on April 19, holding that there are no easements by necessity for “setoff” lots in the Town of Aquinnah. This is in connection with a legal action known familiarly as the “Decoulos/Kitris” litigation, which was brought against the Town, the Land Bank, the Vineyard Conservation Society, and a number of individual property owners off Moshup Trail and sought rights of way over a number of properties from “landlocked” properties owned by the plaintiffs.
This litigation was commenced in 1997 and has required the expenditure of much time and money by all of the defendants. A number of statewide organizations and both AGHCA and the Tribe filed amicus briefs in this matter. Click here to read the Kitras Slip Opinion 4 19 16.
MV Times article
MV Gazette article
Land off Moshup Trail has been at center of heated legal battle for nearly two decades. Mark Lovewell
The state Supreme Judicial Court has handed a decisive legal victory to the town of Aquinnah, the Vineyard Conservation Society and others who have been battling a private developer for years over whether a wild expanse of land off Moshup Trail can be opened up for development.
In a ruling issued today, the state’s highest court said that landowners James Decoulos and Maria Kitras do not have legal access to two landlocked parcels totalling about 30 acres off the trail, a public road that runs through the remote western reaches of the Vineyard.
Moshup Trail, Aquinnah
In a significant and far-reaching victory for the town of Aquinnah and Island conservation organizations, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Tuesday that a group of property owners who had sought to develop landlocked parcels they own off Moshup Trail have no rights of access.
In his 26-page decision, Justice Francis X. Spina reversed an Appeals Court ruling issued in January 2015 that the owners of three tracts of land off Moshup Trail in Aquinnah had the right to access their properties based on the historical “custom and practice of common access” by members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head.
Moshup Trail in Aquinnah, on a quiet day. — File photo
The Appeals Court decision, which overturned an earlier Land Court ruling that there was no access, nor was access intended, opened up the prospect of development in an area long considered landlocked, and which is bordered by conservation lands.
The unanimous SJC decision is rooted in the 19th century history of Gay Head, its incorporation as a town, and the “paternalistic system of governance” in effect at the time for tribal members, which gave way to full citizenship.
The case hinged on the legal question of easement by necessity, a doctrine that considers whether an easement was really intended, and whether at the time the state legislature set off lots from the common lands of what was then Gay Head in the 19th century, there was an intent to create easements by necessity to create access to the plaintiffs’ lots.
Justice Spina said no access was granted or implied, irrespective of tribal customs in effect at the time. Citing specific instances where access rights were granted, he said the there was no omission but an intent
Continue reading SJC rules no right exists to access landlocked parcels in Aquinnah…