Utility poles spark sharp debate among Edgartown selectmen

Edgartown selectmen Art Smadbeck, Margaret Serpa and Michael Donaroma attended to town business Monday. — Photo by Steve Myrick

There was sharp disagreement among two members of the Edgartown board of selectmen at their Monday meeting over whether to support a Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) review of new utility poles now being installed along two of the Island’s main roads.

The public utility NSTAR is installing the new, taller poles as part of an electric service reliability project for Martha’s Vineyard that includes the installation of a new submarine cable from Falmouth to the Island, according to NSTAR spokesman Mike Durand. The poles are needed to support the heavier wire, he said.

The upgrade project involves 167 poles on the roadway, roughly split between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and West Tisbury Road, and approximately 84 located off-road along NStar’s right-of-way.

Tisbury formally referred the project to the MVC last week. The MVC can accept or reject the referral.

Edgartown town administrator Pam Dolby said it’s unclear whether the town has any authority over the public utility.

“People need to know there were no secret meetings,” Ms. Dolby said. “NSTAR never came before the board, they did not have to come in for approval from any boards to put up the new poles.”

Selectman Michael Donaroma asked the board to send a letter of support for Tisbury’s referral, and consider joining the effort.

“It’s turning Edgartown road into Jurassic Park, it’s horrendous,” Mr. Donaroma said. “We may not be able to do anything, but I think Edgartown should give it support. The sooner the better.”

Selectman Art Smadbeck said the board needed more information before it took action.

“It might turn out that this is something that is necessary, something we want them to do,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “We should ask NSTAR to come in and ask why they need these new poles, and what would happen if they didn’t put them in.”

The board, including selectman Margaret Serpa, agreed to invite an NSTAR representative to explain the project, before deciding whether to support an MVC review.

Also Monday, selectmen appointed Gail Avakian as interim treasurer, following the retirement of town treasurer Sharon Willoughby on June 30. Ms. Avakian was the town’s treasurer for 15 years before her retirement.

Ms. Dolby said a plan to have other town finance officials fill in until a new treasurer is hired wasn’t working.

“We were going to care of it in-house between the existing accountant and the tax collector, but there are certain things they cannot do,” Ms. Dolby said. “[Ms Avakian] has been enjoying retirement, but I thought I would call and beg her to come back for a little while so we would have someone to sign checks.”

Ms. Dolby said she expects to have a new treasurer in place by September.