Oak Bluffs selectmen blast roundabout legal challenge

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File photo by Mae Deary

Oak Bluffs selectman Walter Vail Tuesday called on selectmen in Edgartown and West Tisbury to drop their lawsuit against the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) at Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting.

Mr. Vail made his request in a strongly worded statement read at the meeting, in which he criticized his counterparts over their potentially expensive legal challenge to the commission’s decision in favor of the roundabout.

Mr. Vail said he looked for a way to make the two towns pay for the legal costs the MVC will incur to defend the lawsuit, so that none of the expense will be paid from Oak Bluff’s MVC assessment.

“It is my understanding that those costs will be pushed back to the six communities, adding to the costs of running our towns, and without cuts somewhere else, will increase the taxes our citizens will need to pay,” Mr. Vail said, reading from a prepared statement. “As one selectman in the town of Oak Bluffs, I an extremely unhappy about this prospect, and I will try to find a way for Edgartown and West Tisbury to bear these costs, so that Oak Bluffs taxpayers will not.”

Mr. Vail, who supports the roundabout, said he had no issue with people who oppose the project, but questioned whether taxpayers in Edgartown and West Tisbury understood the cost of the legal challenge.

“Whether the lawsuit against the commission will derail the project or just delay it (which is more likely in my view), I don’t know,” Mr. Vail said. “But I wonder if those selectmen have a budget for this lawsuit and if they have shared this information with their constituents. And I wonder if they have assessed their chances of success (which I think are slim), however that is to be measured. I would not have entered into this lawsuit without a thorough review with my taxpayers of what I was getting them into.”

Selectmen, town officials, and the small group of citizens left at the end of the selectmen’s meeting, applauded when Mr. Vail finished his statement. He said he had intended to read it at last week’s meeting of the all-Island selectmen’s group, but was prevented from making the statement because it was not on the posted meeting agenda.

Selectman Greg Coogan also criticized the two neighboring towns. “It is a costly venture and it seems frivolous. In some cases it’s being done by people who have not been to these meetings and don’t know the real truth,” Mr. Coogan said. “Where accurate information has been presented, the vote has always been positive. The only time anything has been perceived as negative is when there hasn’t been full information.”

In an interview with The Times before the meeting, Mr. Coogan questioned the propriety of Edgartown and West Tisbury taxpayers paying a lawyer to sue the MVC, while all six towns, through annual assessments for MVC operating costs, pay a lawyer to defend the lawsuit.

“I think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Mr. Coogan said. “I hate to see taxpayers fighting taxpayers, at a time when budgets are being questioned. Is this a sensible use of money, when the courts have decided in the MVC’s favor, in all the cases in my memory?”