Cape Cod Year in Review: 2016

PHOTO COURTESY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

HYANNIS – New political faces, a costly shellfish bed closure and our continued fascination with sharks were all stories that captured headlines in 2016.

We were also introduced to “Washburn” the manatee, welcomed the nation’s first-ever real pirate museum, and grew increasingly concerned about the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant.

From the beginning of 2015 to the closing days of December, it’s been another 12 months of non-stop news in Barnstable County. Here are some of the top stories you read on CapeCod.com and heard on our CCB Media radio stations, including Ocean 104.7, 99.9 The Q, Cape Classical 107.5 and Cape Country 104.

Winds of Political Change:

While the national presidential election kept everyone in suspense, Cape Cod voters had some other significant decisions to make in 2016.

Three incumbents in the state Legislature decided not to run for re-election, including Cape and Islands State Senator Dan Wolf (D-Harwich), Second Barnstable State Representative Brian Mannal (D-Centerville), and Barnstable/Dukes/Nantucket State Representative Tim Madden (D-Nantucket).

Their departures set up hotly contested races in all three districts. In two of them, young, political novices captured the attention of voters and won the seats.

CCB MEDIA PHOTO: Julian Cyr

After easily defeating County Commissioner Sheila Lyons in the Democratic primary, Julian Cyr moved on to the general election where he faced the former head of Joint Base Cape Cod, General Anthony Schiavi. In November, Cyr, who had never held political office, defeated Schiavi and will replace Wolf on January 4.

“I promise to be driven by the people and the community I serve, and by fulfilling the promised I made to better Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket,” Cyr said on election night.

The win marks a return to Beacon Hill for Cyr, who previously served as the director of policy and regulatory affairs for environmental health at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Cyr worked under former Gov. Deval Patrick as deputy director for government affairs at the Department of Public Health.

In the Barnstable/Dukes/Nantucket State Representative District, Democrat Dylan Fernandes, also a young, political novice, easily beat a field of five to win the Democratic primary in September.

In the general election, he defeated former Nantucket Selectman Tobias Glidden, who ran as an independent candidate.

In preparing to depart Beacon Hill and make way for Fernandes, Madden said he has enjoyed every minute serving as a representative.

“There’s been some that were more challenging than others and some disappointments you have but all-in-all I consider it, once again, a great opportunity, a learning experience and something that I really enjoyed representing the people,” Madden said.

In the Second Barnstable District, 21-year-old newcomer Aaron Kanzer easily beat Barnstable School Committee member Margeaux Weber in the Democratic primary.

Will Crocker

But he was overwhelmed in the general election by Republican Will Crocker, a current member of the Barnstable Town Council, whose political experience and organization trumped Kanzer’s grassroots movement.

“I want to work both sides of the aisle,” Crocker said after his win. “I want to learn what it is to be able to get up there and work in coalitions, work with people that we may have different views, but let’s look and see what we can agree on.”

His win was a major victory for the Republican Party, which took back the seat after decades of Democratic control.

In other 2016 political headlines, Republican incumbent David Vieira held off a challenge from Democrat Matt Patrick to retain the 3rd Barnstable State Representative seat. It was re-match for the two – Vieira won the seat from Patrick six years ago.

Barnstable County Sheriff Jim Cummings, a Republican, won a decisive victory over Democrat Randy Azzato by nearly 30,000 votes.

“There’s two ways to run, scared and unopposed, so that’s how we ran, we ran scared, and it certainly paid off in the end,” said Cummings on election night

The race was contentious between both campaigns, as Cummings faced a challenger for the first time in his years as Sheriff.

The Barnstable County Commissioners also got a new member in 2016. Republican Rob Beaty was elected to the seat left vacant by Sheila Lyons, defeating fellow Republican Linda Bond and Democrat Mark Forest.

Democrat Mary Pat Flynn was re-elected to her seat on the commission.

Fourth Barnstable State Representative Sarah Peake, 1st Barnstable State Rep. Tim Whelan, 5th Barnstable State Rep. Randy Hunt and Plymouth/Barnstable State Senator Vinny deMacedo were all unopposed in 2016.

The Shark Obsession Continues:

The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy continued its five-year Great White Shark research study off Cape Cod waters in 2016. And their findings and tagging work continued to fascinate people.

More than 20 sharks were tagged in 2016 by state shark expert Dr. Gregory Skomal and the Conservancy.

PHOTO COURTESY: Atlantic White Shark Conservancy. A necropsy is performed on a shark that died on Nauset Beach in Orleans

In late June,a great white shark got a little too close to shore for some, as it was spotted just feet from the beach at Race Point in Provincetown, attacking a seal and eating the animal in front of beach-goers.

Witness Sarah Chapman said in a Facebook post she and her children were at the beach for sunset when they spotted a large splash in the water, followed by a pool of blood about 30 feet from the shore. Chapman said they then noticed a severely injured baby seal being circled by a great white.

“Watching the whole event was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen,” said Chapman “Holy cow. What an experience. The kids are still reeling from the event.”

In other 2016 “shark headlines,” a great white was found dead, washed up on Nauset Beach in October, and a shark named “Jamison” that was successfully rescued from a Chatham beach in July, was spotted off Canada later in the summer.

The Conservancy also unveiled its white shark license plate that drivers can purchase, with proceeds benefiting shark research.

Pilgrim Nuclear: More Safety Concerns:

Again in 2016, many Cape Codders worried about the safety of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, as one of the nation’s lowest rated plants by federal regulators continued to struggle with shutdowns and equipment problems.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission cited the plant with 4 new safety-related violations in November.

They were all discovered during the agency’s third-quarter inspection of the facility.

COURTESY PILGRIM NUCLEAR POWER STATION

The violations included problems with the plant’s diesel generators, radiation monitor substations, several electrical relays and primary containment isolation valves.

The NRC listed all of the violations as “very low significance” and said all of the safety issues have since been addressed by Pilgrim.

“These are considered to be of very low safety significance, but nevertheless, we are always on the lookout for any trends or patterns,” said NRC Spokesman Neil Sheehan.

Entergy spokesman Patrick O’Brien said all the issues were quickly remedied once they were identified and the public was never in danger.

The NRC began a major inspection of the plant in late 2016 that will continue into 2017, as they determine whether Pilgrim can be upgraded from its current rating in Column 4, one of the lowest in the country.

Members of the Pilgrim opposition group, Cape Downwinders, continued to call for the immediate closure of the plant that it scheduled to shut down in 2019, but will have one more re-fueling before its final decommissioning.

Mashpee Wampanoag Casino Setbacks:

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe broke ground on a billion dollar casino in Taunton in early spring, intially paving the way for a full-scale Las Vegas-style resort.

With tribal members on hand, Chairman Cedric Cromwell climbed into an excavator and crushed the side of a vacant building in an industrial park where the casino would be located.

PHOTO COURTESY: Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe

“On this land, we’re building a modern Indian nation,” said Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell as he led hundreds in a lengthy, boisterous ceremony punctuated by Native American songs, chants and prayers during the groundbreaking.

“This is so much more than a casino. This is self-determination. We’re paving the way for our economic future.”

The first phase of the project was expected to be open by the summer of 2017, but one federal judge put the whole plan on hold during the summer.

US District Judge William G. Young ruled in favor of homeowners seeking to block the tribe from building the $1 billion complex.

Young ruled the U.S. Interior Department “lacked the authority” to designate the land as a Native American reservation.

The department’s 2015 decision to place over 300 acres in trust for the benefit of the tribe paved the way for the First Light casino project.

Taunton Mayor Thomas Hoye said local voters overwhelmingly approved the project and he hoped the Secretary of the Interior will appeal the ruling.

Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell said they were disappointed in the ruling.

“The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has been a continuous Tribe descended from the indigenous people who have lived on this land for the past 12,000 years. Furthermore, our tribe was indeed under federal jurisdiction before 1934. We submitted evidence of that with our land-in-trust application,” he said in a statement.

Cromwell said the issue has now been remanded back to the U.S. Department of Interior and an appeal of the court decision is expected.

As of late 2016, the appeal was still pending, and work on the billion dollar casino site was still halted.

“Our people have been challenged throughout history and we are still here, living on the land of our ancestors. I have no doubt we will prevail,” Cromwell said.

A Year of Major Municipal Change:

Several Cape Cod towns saw significant changes in leadership at the top of their municipal and school departments, as new managers arrived, and one moved to another Cape community.

Yarmouth experienced the most unrest, as it took most of 2016 to get a new town administrator in place.

William Hinchey retired in January, but two members of the Board of Selectmen held up the hiring process for months.

Following the initial search, Assistant Town Administrator Peter Johnson-Staub won the backing of 3 out of 5 selectmen. But a 4/5’s majority was needed under the Yarmouth charter.

Barnstable Town Manager Mark Ells

Selectmen Michael Stone and James Quirk refused to voted for Johnson-Staub, ignoring the overwhelming will of the town meeting which took a non-binding vote in favor of giving him the job.

Johnson-Staub eventually decided to leave and is now the assistant town manager in Falmouth.

Former longtime administrator Bob Lawton filled in until selectmen finally came to agreement on hiring former Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik, who was chosen over Harwich Town Manager Christopher Clark.

Meanwhile, Clark spent time in 2016 trying to get out of Harwich. In addition to being a finalist in Yarmouth, he was also a finalist for a similar job in western Massachusetts. In 2015, he was a finalist to become town administrator in Brewster.

There was a big change in the Cape’s largest town in 2016. Barnstable Town Manager Tom Lynch stepped down from office. He was replaced by his assistant, Mark Ells, who was also the town’s former longtime Department of Public Works Director.

“I was honored that they considered me as a finalist,” Ells said after he was hired. “And I am certainly excited and looking forward to this opportunity.”

Ells has worked for the town for 27 years.

In Eastham, selectmen picked Assistant Town Manager Jaqueline Beebe to take over from Sheila Vanderhoef, who will retire in 2017 after 25 years in office.

Former Mashpee selectman Wayne Taylor was hired as the town’s assistant town manager, while Dennis Town Administrator Richard White retired and left in September. Dennis had not yet chosen a permanent replacement as of late 2016.

There were also changes in top leadership at the Cape’s school districts in 2016. Meg Mayo-Brown became the new superintendent in Barnstable, Pamela Gould was hired to run the schools in Sandwich, Patricia DeBoer was elevated from interim to permanent superintendent in Mashpee and Nancy Taylor was hired in Falmouth.

Wellfleet Shellfish Bed Closure:

Just days before the Wellfleet OysterFest that attracts 50,000 people to the Outer Cape, the local oyster industry was dealt a crippling financial blow.

The state closed all shellfish beds in Wellfleet Harbor following an outbreak of suspected norovirus believed to be linked to shellfish from that area.

It happened just two days before the OysterFest. The event went on as planned, but without any raw shellfish.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued the ban after receiving reports of approximately 75 suspect cases of norovirus over a two-day period.

A statement from the DPH said they were all primarily associated with eating raw shellfish at weddings and restaurants in the Outer Cape area.

All affected shellfish that was harvested on or after September 26 was recalled and ordered not to be used.

The shellfish beds remained closed until mid-November, when the state said the oysters were safe to eat again.

In the weeks after the closure, Wellfleet SPAT, Shellfish Promotion and Tasting, awarded $23,000 in relief funding to shellfishermen in response to losses they suffered due to the 32-day closure.

The financial help came just in for the holiday season. The cause of the bacteria outbreak is still unknown.

Hello “Washburn”, the Wayward Manatee

A manatee that was seen floating around in Cape Cod waters during the late summer of 2016 captured lots of attention.

Named “Washburn,” for the island near where she was captured by members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), we would soon learn Washburn was pregnant after she was transported to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut for treatment.

COURTESY OF IFAW

IFAW’s spokeswoman Kerry Brannon said that manatees are normally found in warmer water near Florida.

“We’ve been following this manatee for several days and we were very eager to rescue it and bring it to warmer water, because it probably wouldn’t be able to survive the colder temperatures on its own,” said Brannon after the manatee was captured.

“It’s surprisingly big, we don’t get to see manatees here every day,” said Brannon. “It turns out that it’s about 1,100 pounds. It’s moving a little bit slower than what you would expect from a manatee, but we’re hopefully that it is in good health and that it will be doing well.”

And all was well, as the manatee was eventually flown to Florida for additional rehabilitation and eventually released. In late 2016, Scientists from the Sea to Shore Alliance and the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organization were able to track her journey from Florida to the Bahamas.

It’s the first time they have been able to do so with a manatee.

“As the number of manatees slowly increases, environmental conditions change, and public awareness of manatees rises, we have been seeing Florida manatees show up in unusual places like Massachusetts, the Bahamas and Cuba,” said Monica Ross, a research scientists for Sea to Shore Alliance.

A Pirate Museum for Cape Cod

A local explorer brought Cape Cod back in time in 2016 to when pirates roamed off the coast of Cape Cod with the nation’s first-ever real pirate museum.

The Whydah Pirate Museum, on Route 28 in West Yarmouth in the former ZooQuarium building, tells the story of the Whydah which sank off the coast of Wellfleet in 1717 after robbing 54 other ships.

A recreation of pirate treasure aboard the Whydah Galley. (Whydah Pirate Museum)

The museum features artifacts removed from the wreck site, tells stories of the crew and highlights what life was like on the ship.

“The crew and everybody who has worked on the project – we want to be able to preserve the ship for Cape Cod and I think this is the heart of the Cape,” said Barry Clifford, the explorer who discovered the wreck and the museum’s founder. “We have so much more material to bring back here. I think it’s the perfect location.”

Artifacts on display at the museum include iron bars, branding needles, shackles, canons and guns.

The museum also includes a treasure room which includes the valuable gold and silver that has been recovered including an Akan jewelry collection and a royal stike coin.

Interactive displays are also available for children as they can hoist the Jolly Roger flag and view exhibits which depict what life was like for the crew of the former slave ship.

Clifford said the treasure to him is the stories of the crew and the research that has been done. Among the artifacts are a leg bone and small shoe of a young boy named John King. His remains were found trapped under a canon and actual documents led to his identification as a ship he was on was robbed by the Whydah crew.

Visitors will also be able to watch as more artifacts are found for the first time and removed from concretions excavated from the site.

Lives Cut Too Short

Cape Cod mourned the lives of several young men in 2016 who were killed in horrific car crashes that left more questions than answers.

In October, 3 Cape Cod men died in a fiery head-on crash on Route 495 in Middleboro.

Facebook photo of Kraig Diggs of Osterville, 20, who was among 5 people killed when the car he was in was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver.

Kraig Diggs, 20, of Osterville, Jordan Galvin-Jutras, 19, of Hyannis and Jordan Fisher, 19, of Harwich died in the accident.

A fourth person in their car who also died was identified as Cory Licata, 18, of West Babylon, New York.

State Police said a car driven by Valantein Burson, 31, of Fall River, was going the wrong-way when it slammed head-on into the car in which the other 4 were riding.

A candlelight vigil was held on the Hyannis Village Green and drew hundreds to remember the men.

Diggs’ father Kip stood on stage in front of the crowd and expressed his gratitude for the support he received from the community.

“I’m lost for words, but I’m amazed at the turnout and the love that you’re showing,” said Diggs. “From the bottom of my heart, I know my family, my extended family, I really appreciate it.”

He also told the crowd about how this is the second tragedy his family has gone through, when his brother was involved in a fatal accident in 1978.

Diggs and Galvin-Jutras were students at Anna Maria College in Paxton, while Fisher and Licata were students at Becker College in Worcester.

In December, just days before Christmas, two star athletes from Falmouth High School were killed in a crash just moments after they had left hockey practice.

James Lavin and Owen Higgins, both 17 and from East Falmouth, died in the accident.

Falmouth Police Chief Ed Dunne said Lavin was the driver of the vehicle and was killed when his car went off Thomas B. Landers Road and crashed into a tree near Geggatt Road.

Higgins, a passenger in the vehicle, was extricated from the car and medflighted to a Rhode Island trauma center. He died the next day at Hasbro Children’s Hospital with his family by his side.

At the crash site, pictures of Lavin in his high school football uniform, notes and sports medals were mixed in with flowers left by a steady stream of young students. Many huddled and cried together as they remembered their lost classmates.

“Everyone is just devastated that this happened,” said student Charlie Peters, who stopped by the growing memorial.

At the high school, hundreds of students gathered on the same football field were Lavin and Higgins played. Just weeks before the crash, their football team celebrated a high school Division 2A Super Bowl Championship at Gillette Stadium, a stark contrast to the grief that poured from students as they wept and hugged on the field.

The investigations into both fatal accidents is ongoing.

Tick Trouble

A new, and potentially deadly deer tick virus was found across Cape Cod in 2016.

A spring study by Cape Cod Cooperative Extension and the Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMass-Amherst conducted surveillance for Powassan virus at six locations on Cape Cod.

The virus was detected in Falmouth, Brewster, Orleans and Truro.

Powassan is a rare disease that is transmitted by the bite of a black legged tick, which is also known as a deer tick.

Since the beginning of 2013 the Massachusetts Department of Public Health has received just nine reported cases of the virus in the state, occurring in Barnstable, Middlesex, Essex and Norfolk Counties.

The Cape Cod Cooperative Extension’s Deer Tick Program Coordinator and Entomologist Larry Dapsis said Powassan is a lot like the West Nile virus.

“A lot of people may be exposed to the virus and not get sick at all,” Dapsis said. “In the rare instances where this thing takes another pathway into your body, into your nervous system, then it can be quite serious.”

Some may become severely ill with meningitis or encephalitis. Signs and symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, speech difficulties and seizures.

About 10 percent of people infected with this severe form of the virus die and survivors may have long-term health problems.

There is no specific treatment for the virus other than supportive care, rest and ingesting fluids to prevent dehydration.

Honorable Mentions:

Several other stories caught the attention of Cape Codders in 2016.

Wareham Police detectives were involved in a large scale New York investigation that resulted in the indictment of 84 alleged gang members, who were charged with drug trafficking and violent crimes. Police said that the gang members were connected to 22 shootings in the west Bronx and flooded towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including Bourne and Wareham, with cocaine, fentanyl and heroin. The arrests of the gang members is regarded as the largest gang takedown in Bronx history.

There was an overwhelming show of support from the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School community for the Calmer Choice mindfulness program in 2016. After hearing from parents and students who support the initiative, the regional school committee voted to keep it in place. The Calmer Choice initiative came under fire from school committee member Michelle Conover, who said in early 2016 that it is “psychologically dangerous” for adults and potentially unsafe for children.

Yarmouth selectmen refused to support a resident’s petitioner article at the May town meeting that would have impacted veterans memorial rides in town. Harris Contos has submitted two articles calling for required muffler screenings before large motorcycle rides and the release of noise-testing results to the public. While explaining the rationale for his articles, Contos also told selectmen that he saw no reason for the memorial rides to be held in the first place. Both were rejected by voters.

Readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine voted Provincetown as America’s Top Beach Town. In the 2016 America’s Favorite Places Survey, readers named the town, stating that “a winning trifecta of gorgeous natural scenery, charming architecture and an everyone-is-welcome cultural scene, earned Provincetown top honors.

A group of high school students across Cape Cod called for the cancellation of singer Don McLean’s concert at Barnstable High School in April. McLean, who is known for his hit song “American Pie,” was arrested on charges of domestic violence assault in January in Maine. Student presidents of the Mentors in Violence Prevention programs at four high schools across the Cape requested a stop to the performance, which was eventually canceled.

A group of fishermen had an unexpected encounter off the coast of Chatham in 2016: a pod of orcas. Alex Wyckoff, Matt Ward, Mark Ward, and Captain Justin Daly were tuna fishing about 12 miles east of Chatham when they came across the killer whales. All four were aboard the vessel Fish Box, which is homeported in Pleasant Bay. “It was hard to count exactly how many, but there were definitely 4 different whales. One was significantly bigger than the others, one was very small which we thought was a baby, and the other two we could only tell they were different by their dorsal fins,” the fishermen said in a post on the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy twitter page.

The state Department of Transportation pursued, and then dropped a project that called for renumbering of exits 2 through 12 on the Mid-Cape Highway. The project was part of a larger, national renumbering initiative for state highways that is directed by the Federal Highway Administration.

The Muddy Creek restoration and bridge project designed to restore tidal flow from Pleasant Bay was completed in 2016. Local, state and federal officials gathered to celebrate the completion of the 94-foot single span bridge built to improve water quality and ecological vitality for the tidal creek system. “This has been a project that has gone very smoothly. The residents have been very, very supportive of this project,” said Christopher Clark, the town administrator of Harwich. “Pleasant Bay is shared by four towns so it’s a project that will benefit four towns.”

(National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

Transcripts released in 2016 show that crew members aboard a doomed cargo ship expressed increasingly dire concern as a hurricane gained strength. It culminated in one crewman lamenting “I’m a goner” as they scrambled to abandon the listing ship. The 500 pages of transcripts provide a new glimpse at the final hours for the crew of 33, all of whom died when El Faro sank in October 2015. Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduates Keith Griffin, 33, and Jeffrey Mathias, 44, were working on the ship.

After serving as Superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore for over 11 years, George Price announced in 2016 that he will be retiring in May. Price made an announcement to the Seashore’s staff and Advisory Commission that his last day will be May 5, 2017. Price has spent 43 years working for the National Park Service.

The 2016 CapeCod.com Year in Review was compiled and edited by News Director Matt Pitta, with story contributions from Matt McCarthy, Brian Merchant, Justin Saunders, Adam Forziati, Mike DeFina, Jay Rogers and Rob Woodard. Additional assistance was provided by Director of Digital Strategy Brian Barth and the digital department’s James Bone.

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