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Nantucket leads state in population growth

Nantucket is the fastest-growing area in the state, according to new population figures.

Nantucket County's population rose to 10,724 in 2003, an increase of 2.5 percent from 2002, the highest percentage increase in the state, according to US Census Bureau estimates released yesterday.

Linda Holland, executive director of the Nantucket Land Council, an environmental group, said she was worried that too much growth on the island, which has seen population grow nearly 80 percent since 1990, could ruin its appeal.

"I think that the rapid growth on Nantucket is a threat to the natural resources of the island and to the economic success of the island and to the general popularity of the island," she said. "If we keep growing and growing, we will destroy what people come here to see, to enjoy, to learn from, to appreciate."

Tracy Bakalar, executive director of the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged there were some growth troubles, such as a scarcity of affordable housing, but said the island retained its appeal.

"There's always someplace on Nantucket you can go where no one else is and I think that's important," she said.

Other counties that led the state in population growth from 2002 to 2003 included Dukes County -- the island of Martha's Vineyard -- with 1.1 percent growth, and Hampshire and Worcester counties, with 0.9 percent growth. Suffolk County shrank by 1.1 percent, while Berkshire County and Middlesex County also saw small declines.

On any summer day, the Nantucket population might be 45,000 to 55,000. Tourist spending has boosted the island's economy, created a demand for more workers, and ultimately has fueled the increase in the island's year-round population, said John Pagini, director of the Nantucket Planning and Economic Development Commission. The island has also had its share of growing pains.

Demand is very high for houses and prices are sky-high, with the average house cost at more than $1.7 million and median costs at $700,000 to $800,000, making it difficult to find affordable housing, Pagini said.

The island is also seeing some traffic problems, though not of the same magnitude as on the mainland, and it has been ordered by state regulators to improve its wastewater treatment plants, Pagini said.

Bob Nussbaum, executive director of the Nantucket Housing Office, a private nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing, said the problem on Nantucket is unique. Prices are so high that even those with incomes of more than $100,000 may need help to buy, he said.

"Everybody else is talking about `low-' and `moderate-' income. We talk about `low,' `moderate,' and `middle' because even the middle can't buy a house here," he said.

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