Tisbury selectmen agree to test town hall air quality

In June, Alpha Contracting of Dedham began stripping paint, repairing and replacing wooden clapboards on the 132-year-old building. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Tisbury selectmen voted to spend $900 on air quality testing at town hall because several town employees had complained of lingering health problems in the aftermath of an exterior renovation project.

The complaints began after Alpha Contracting of Dedham began stripping paint, repairing and replacing wooden clapboards, and repainting the 132-year-old building on Spring Street that was formerly a Congregational church.

On June 6, fumes from a chemical used to strip paint permeated some municipal employees’ offices. Health agent Tom Pachico visited town hall at the request of town administrator John Bugbee and decided to close the building for the day. Employees who were most affected by the fumes were told they could work temporarily at offices in the town hall annex off High Point Lane.

“We thought it would be helpful to have some kind of air quality testing done, so we know what’s in the air, if anything, at the moment, and perhaps when they start the scraping again, we’ll have an idea of what’s in the air right now,” Mr. Bugbee said at the Tuesday night meeting. “We just want to know what’s happening inside the building during certain parts of the process.”

Municipal finance director Tim McLean said two of his staff members and one from the assistant assessor’s staff, who work in the same office area, are still working at the annex.

In response to their concerns, Mr. McLean said last week he contacted an air quality testing contractor that did work for the Wampanoag Tribe in Aquinnah a few years ago, who suggested tests for mold and volatile organic compounds.

“He’ll run the tests, send them to a lab, and give us a read-out of what, if anything, is in the air in the building,” Mr. McLean said. “These employees don’t want to come back; they still feel ill when they come into the building. So unless we have something concrete to show them that the air is healthy, it’s going to be a hard time getting them to come back.

“And I don’t want to ask them to come back,” he added. “I don’t want to jeopardize their health if there really is something.”

Mr. McLean said the two tests would cost $450 each, and that the contractor said they could be done in the next week or two. He suggested using funds from the selectmen’s budget line item for consultants. The selectmen voted to approve the tests.

Mr. McLean said on Wednesday with Mr. Bugbee’s approval, he would contact Frank Zelinski of Bay State Basement Solutions in Orleans.

Alpha Contracting ceased work two weeks ago. Work will resume in September.

Oak Bluffs can relate

Tisbury’s town hall issues are similar to problems Oak Bluffs experienced with its old town hall, located on Oak Bluffs Avenue across from the Steamship Authority terminal. The building was vacated in 2000 for health-related reasons, following complaints by municipal employees that they were not feeling well. At the time, town officials dubbed it a “sick building.”

Five years later, town officials said that air quality tests in the building did not reveal any significant problems. They said that they had removed old rugs, replaced windows, and cleaned up areas that could have been harboring mold and mildew. After renovations in the fall of 2007, the town’s police department made what was thought to be a temporary move into the building. The department is still happily stationed there.

Pump-out boat dead in the water

In other business, the selectmen had lengthy discussions with harbormaster Jay Wilbur about buying a new pump-out boat motor and with members of the Harbor Management and Tashmoo Management Committees regarding their recommendations for the town’s wastewater pump-out program for boats.

Tisbury selectman chairman Tristan Israel said the town does not have $10,000 available to replace the engine that broke on one of the town’s two pump-out boats.

“We can’t order a new one unless we have the money in hand,” Mr. Israel said. “To me, the only option is to ask the FinCom [Finance Committee] to do a reserve fund transfer.”

Mr. Kristal disagreed, because he said the engine’s replacement did not qualify as a use for “emergency” funds. He and Mr. Wilbur said they had spoken with state personnel and were told that money for the engine would likely be included in grant funds to the town from the state to operate the pump-out service.

Mr. Kristal said that since the town would probably have an answer in a week or two about whether the state funds would be forthcoming, the town would have to make do with one pump-out boat in the meantime. Selectman Jon Snyder agreed with Mr. Kristal.

Mr. Israel suggested the selectmen should schedule a meeting for July 17, and if they do not hear from the state by that time, plan to meet again to discuss what to do about the boat.

Pump-out service concerns

Melinda Loberg, who serves on the Tashmoo and Harbor Management committees, led a discussion with the selectmen about the committees’ recommendations for improving the pump-out program, both short-term and long-term, to cope with increasing demand.

As background, Ms. Loberg explained that the no-discharge zone regulation under the Clean Vessel Act would take effect in Vineyard waters, with the exception of Steamship Authority shipping lanes, in 2013. The change will result in an increased demand for the town’s pump-out service, which is currently provided in the summer to boats in Vineyard Haven Harbor, Lake Tashmoo, and Lagoon Pond.

“Right now the pump-out boats empty wastewater into a tank that goes into our town sewer system at Ralph Packer’s dock,” Ms. Loberg explained. “If that facility is not available, we think it’s important to have a back-up land-based place for the pump-out boats to empty. One idea is to continue conversations with the Steamship Authority, as they put in a new facility to accommodate their ships. They seem to be open to the idea of an alternate system there for the town pump-out boat to use.”

Questions were raised about whether commercial marinas should have their own pump-out boats or put in facilities at their docks that would be hooked up to the town sewer system.

Mr. Snyder suggested hiring a consultant to review the town’s options and to make recommendations. Mr. Israel asked Mr. Bugbee to put together a scope of work and to report back to the selectmen in two weeks on what it might cost.

Cell phones, Café Moxie discussed

In other business, Mr. Israel said a municipal employee had requested an upgrade to the cell phone the town provides to a more elaborate one that would include a fee for Internet service. He questioned whether there should be a town policy to address the issue.

Mr. Bugbee said employees who might have a need for upgraded cell phones would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, because the town only has a general policy regarding electronic devices. He said he would discuss establishing a new policy regarding cell phones for town employees, including a procedure for requesting an upgrade, with the personnel board.

At the end of the selectmen’s meeting, Mr. Kristal said he had received several complaints about activities going on in the Café Moxie building, which does not have a certificate of occupancy yet, and asked building and zoning inspector Ken Barwick to look into the matter.

The selectmen voted to go into executive session to discuss strategy with regard to collective bargaining and also a personnel issue.