State signals no halt to operations at Goodale's pit
Photo by Ralph Stewart
After a site visit to the Goodale Construction Company sandpit Monday, a state biologist said concern about protected species will not prevent owner Jerry Goodale from continuing his sand and gravel-mining operation. The state designates Mr. Goodale's land, like much of Martha's Vineyard, as priority habitat, because it is home to several species of protected moths.
The issue surfaced after Mr. Goodale put up fencing and began clearing land to expand the current pit. Mr. Goodale sells sand, gravel, crushed stone, mixed concrete, and pre-cast concrete products to Island contractors. He rents land to White Brothers-Lynch Corporation, which operates an asphalt plant on the property.
Neighbors in the Little Pond Road area, concerned about safety and property values, asked the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program to review the mining operation.
"We're not looking to shut down the future extraction," said biologist Kristen Black, the endangered species biologist reviewing the project for National Heritage. "We think they can come up with a mitigation proposal. They're definitely going to be able to keep working in that area. The question is how much can they expand."
Mr. Goodale had a somewhat more pessimistic view of the site visit. In a phone conversation with The Times Tuesday, he was asked how it went.
"Not good," Mr. Goodale said. "They want to put all kinds of restrictions on me. We're negotiating. This thing could really crimp us. It seems like the moths got more rights than me. What I've got to give up to continue the operation is ridiculous."
Often, in cases such as this, a mitigation plan includes a permit to continue operations, as long as the owner sets aside other land for permanent protection. That is one aspect of a mitigation plan Mr. Goodale and the state are now negotiating. He has hired a lawyer to represent him.
Ms. Black said this case is a little different, because land already cleared without a permit may violate state law.
"They were fairly cooperative," Ms. Black said. "It's never a comfortable conversation."
Mr. Goodale agreed to stop clearing his land until the permitting process is complete.
Mr. Goodale also faces a new regulatory hurdle with the Martha's Vineyard Commission. At its April 26th meeting, the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen referred the mining operation to the MVC for review as a development of regional impact (DRI), following a request from neighbors.
Selectmen referred the project under two "triggers," from the DRI checklist, the criteria used to determine whether developments fall under the authority of the MVC. Both criteria call for "concurrent reviews," not mandatory reviews. The MVC must first decide whether to accept the referral, or send it back to the towns for review by their own regulatory boards.
Edgartown selectman Michael Donoroma, a former MVC chairman and now a frequent critic of the powerful regional planning agency, does not think review is warranted.
"I can't imagine the commission taking this," Mr. Donaroma said Monday. "It doesn't require a permit, it shouldn't be at the commission."
He called the mining operation a critical part of the Island infrastructure, and he questioned whether alternatives would be more costly, or more intrusive. "Would we rather have five of those places spread all through residential areas, or would we rather have this one that's been there since the '40s," Mr. Donaroma asked.
No guidance from the Plan
The Island Plan, an MVC project five years in the making, at a cost of more than $300,000, offers no guidance for the role of the Island's limited industrial infrastructure. The final plan document does not mention the Goodale pit, or the role the availability of construction materials will play over the next 50 years.
In a phone conversation with The Times Tuesday, Jim Athearn, chairman of the Island Plan steering committee, said the Goodale pit did come up during the many hours of debate over the draft plan.
"It was discussed because it was a good example of a finite resource that if used liberally would only last so long," Mr. Athearn said.
The Island Plan did extensively address the impact of housing costs. "The lack of affordable housing has a significant impact on who arrives, who stays, and who leaves," wrote the authors of the Island Plan Overview. "The Island Plan outlines strategies for adding hundreds of housing units at prices our residents can afford."
The plan also devotes considerable attention to making local commerce thrive. "We need to inform and remind Islanders — in ways that influence individual and institutional actions — of the interrelated issues of buying local products and services, reducing the economic leakage off-Island, and expanding the Island's capacity to provide more and better services," the plan's authors wrote.
Supply and demand
The prospect of limiting or curtailing mining operations has riled local contractors and town officials, who say it would significantly increase the cost of nearly every building, excavating, paving, sewer, or septic job.
Jim Glavin of DECA Construction said his excavation company sends trucks to the Goodale pit every day. Comparing current prices, Mr. Glavin illustrated the cost difference.
He said he now pays $5.50 per ton for coarse sand from Goodale Construction. "It would cost roughly $40," Mr. Glavin said, if he had to transport sand from off-Island. "Inch and a quarter stone is $27. If you buy the imported stuff, it's $40. We're paying $125 (per cubic yard) for concrete. You're maybe looking at $200. That percolates through everything. This affects everybody."
Mr. Glavin drew a direct line from a sharp increase in housing costs to a flight of young people leaving Martha's Vineyard.
"It's going to send people off-Island. It will be that many more kids who can't afford to live here, that many more people taking their last boat off," he said.
Oak Bluffs highway director Richard Combra Jr. said it would be impossible, as a practical matter, to pave town streets without a local source of asphalt. He estimated the cost would increase 10 times or more. "I don't think we would be able to pave any street ever again," Mr. Combra said. "A $100,000 road would be $1.5 million to do."
Contractors on Nantucket chafe under the cost of trucking construction materials to job sites. Nantucket has no viable source of loam, gravel, or crushed stone on that island.
"Pits on the island, they've dug to the edge of the bank, there is no more bank to dig," Tom Nelson, a Nantucket building contractor, said. "Trucking those materials in, normal fill and concrete, easily double, and some of those items triple, the cost of trucking, time, the boat, everything else."
Mr. Nelson said the lack of a local supply leaves contractors with little room for competitive pricing or negotiation.
"They've got you," Mr. Nelson said.
The Massachusetts Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973. It charges Natural Heritage with responsibility to protect and promote biodiversity.
"We do that by making sure species don't go away," Ms. Black said. Among the 176 animal species specifically protected by the law, there is one species of moth that lives nowhere else in the world but on Martha's Vineyard.
The law protects three other species of moth because they are rare. Extinction of these particular species might not significantly affect the ecosystem. But scientists have identified a rapid acceleration of the natural process of species extinction in the last 50 years, as development encroaches on animal and plant habitat. The law is an attempt to slow that rate of loss.
Natural Heritage has review authority for any work that would be done on the properties that fall within the category of state-designated "priority habitat." It is a designation based on the known geographical extent of habitat for all state-listed rare species, both plants and animals.
In more developed areas of the state, that review authority is not a factor. But on the Vineyard, where approximately 75 percent of the land is considered priority habitat, Natural Heritage review of private projects may, even if not requested, be required by law.
For example, a private property owner who decides to cut brush and maintain a path through a woodland or meadow is required to file for project review. The same holds true for someone clearing trees to increase the size of a backyard.
Applicants, including towns and nonprofit conservation organizations, must pay a filing fee that depends on the size of the area disturbed. The fee for an area less than five acres in size is $300; five to 20 acres is $1,800; and an area more than 20 acres in size or greater than one mile in length carries a filing fee of $4,000.
The state and local conservation commissions maintain updated maps of priority habitat — generally any land the agency considers habitat for state-listed rare species, based on records of state-listed species observed over the past 25 years.
For example, according to the Natural Heritage website, habitat for the Coastal Heathland Cutworm and the Pine Barrens Zale moths of "special concern," includes much of Edgartown and West Tisbury, land that is for the most part considered priority habitat.
Landowners can proceed with projects that may affect listed species, termed a "take" in conservation jargon, but must first apply for a conservation and management permit.
A permit for work on a property of under five acres will cost $600, and for up to 20 acres the fee jumps to $4,000. If the project involves wetlands, or is larger than 20 acres, the fee is $6,000, and if the project is more than one mile long, the fee is $7,500.
A permit may be granted if the impact is minimal, if there are no good alternatives, or if there is an accepted mitigation plan. For example, a property owner might clear an acre of priority habitat, and permanently protect two acres of priority habitat elsewhere.
What is a take? Pretty much everything, according to Natural Heritage: "In references to animals to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, hound, kill, trap, capture, collect, process, disrupt the nesting, breeding, feeding or migratory activity or attempt to engage in any such conduct, or to assist such conduct, and in reference to plants, means to collect, pick, kill, transplant, cut or process or attempt to engage or to assist in any such conduct. Disruption of nesting, breeding, feeding or migratory activity may result from, but is not limited to, the modification, degradation, or destruction of Habitat."