Editorial : Regional implications
The November 5 decision by the Martha's Vineyard Commission to create a district of critical planning concern (DCPC) for wind energy projects across the Island, but excepting Edgartown, demonstrated unusual discretion on the part of the regional agency. Spreading, not restricting, its portfolio is the customary MVC practice. Several commission members were not happy about the exception, going so far as to suggest that heeding to the Edgartown selectmen's request that their town be left out of this particular DCPC was unwarranted. After all, their argument went, it was just three Edgartonians asking for the exception, not really the town.
The wisest voice in the long debate over Edgartown's status was Linda Sibley's. Ms. Sibley of West Tisbury is perhaps the most veteran political member of whatever political organization in which she participates. She's been guiding, directing, scolding, and riding herd on Islanders and their activities for decades. She's watched Edgartown and Tisbury, fed up with MVC intervention in what the two towns regarded as their affairs, leave the regional planning and regulatory agency. And, she's seen the two towns return when they sought the MVC's comforting protection. In her remarks to her colleagues on October 5, Ms. Sibley urged the MVC to ride the towns with a loose rein and without spurs. She said the commission would be wise to avoid the political implications of a decision to spurn the Edgartown request for exclusion.
Ms. Sibley's argument favoring the exception included a minor chord in which she suggested that the effort to control the development of small wind turbine installations might not be important enough to justify ruffling Edgartown's feathers. We think she's right, and by extension, we wonder whether there is anything of regional importance about a wind turbine or two. It seems perfectly possible that Edgartown, or any of the other five Vineyard towns, can adopt development rules guiding the installation of non-commercial wind turbines, or even small scale commercial wind turbines, that will have no regional implications whatsoever. After all, not every blessed thing is regionally affecting.
MVC history is dotted with the agency's intrusions into what ought to be local decisions about modest, even immodest private residential and commercial developments. A prime example is the MVC's acceptance of a referral from the Chilmark selectmen of the Girl Scouts' plan to rebuild and modestly expand their Middle Road campground. The proposal met all the town rules, but it was referred because neighbors of the campground wanted a public hearing before the MVC to put pressure for plan changes the Girl Scouts resisted.
The question of what is actually of regional importance and what was intended by the MVC's legislative authors to be addressed by the agency from a regional viewpoint needs careful and rigorous review, but by Island voters and political leaders, not by MVC members. The intention of the 1974 legislation that created the MVC was to provide a mechanism by which Island towns, threatened with intensive and far reaching development pressure, could access more powerful review and regulatory means of controlling the growth. Although the Island has changed enormously since 1974, for good and for ill, the pace of change and development has been outrun by the rapid metastasis of the MVC's reach into what ought to be town affairs. Ms. Sibley certainly did not extend her argument this far. But her suggestion that there is reason for the MVC to choose its battles carefully hints at an important debate that needs to be joined by Islanders, sooner rather than later.