Hospital on the griddle
MVC opens review of new building plan
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) opens a public hearing regarding the Martha's Vineyard Hospital's proposed new building plans tonight at 5 pm at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVHRS).
The MVC is reviewing the hospital's plans to build a new $42-million medical facility at the present site off Beach Road in Oak Bluffs as a development of regional impact (DRI). The hospital DRI hearing has been divided into three evening sessions.
Although DRI hearings often take several nights, MVC executive director Mark London explained, "This is a bigger project than we usually deal with, so we knew it would take three nights or possibly more to get through everything. We wanted to do a set of timetables so people would know when various discussions will take place."
Tonight's program begins with an introduction at 5 pm, followed by a hospital presentation by either hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh or board vice chairman Tim Sweet. There will be a dinner break from 7:15 to 8 pm.
There will be no public testimony tonight, Mr. London said, unless someone has come from off-Island and cannot come back to present testimony at a later session. Tonight's topics will include the hospital's explanation of the building project, questions of clarification, testimony from members of town boards, and requests from the MVC commissioners for additional information for the next night of the hearing.
In addition, a summary of the final report on a risk and vulnerability assessment will be discussed. During some of the MVC's initial Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) meetings with hospital officials, concerns were raised about the risks of flooding and coastal storms associated with the hospital's location off Beach Road near Vineyard Haven harbor.
Hospital officials pointed out to the MVC that the building architects, Thomas, Miller and Partners, are familiar with designing hospitals in areas subject to major coastal storms. However, in an effort to reassure the MVC that the site is viable, last summer they agreed to a risk assessment study if it would not lead to significant time delays.
The hospital board agreed to pay $24,000 for the study by the Woods Hole Group, selected by the MVC. The final draft of the risk assessment study released this week includes 61 pages. Its findings will be summarized at tonight's hearing, and additional information presented during the second hearing session.
"The key conclusions are about flooding, and as anticipated, storm-related flooding is the biggest risk," Mr. London said. "There also is an evaluation of what percentage of likelihood there will be in any given year of a Category 3 or 4 storm."
Although too lengthy to discuss in detail here, the report concluded that the hospital's risks for flooding during Category 1 or 2 storms are acceptable. A Category 3 hurricane, which could result in a partial compromise of the functionality of the hospital from flooding, would have about a 3.5 percent chance of occurring in any given year.
While that level of risk is low, the report indicates that the hospital's vulnerability to such storms could be reduced by mitigation measures. The study also concludes the hospital would be unacceptably vulnerable in a Category 4 hurricane. However, there is only a 0.5 to 1.3 percent annual chance of one occurring here, which has never happened in New England to date.
The study's recommendations for reducing the hospital's vulnerability during a Category 3 hurricane include elevating the generator and fuel tank above the Category 3 storm surge level of 14.6 feet above sea level; re-grading the perimeter access road and installing retaining walls where necessary to provide access on the north and west sides of the hospital during a Category 3 storm; and possibly upgrading the design of the hospital building to withstand wind loads of 120 mph as recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) coastal construction manual.
"We're looking to the Woods Hole Group to help us contextualize this information," Mr. London said. "The abstract numbers are difficult for anyone to evaluate. For example, a 3 percent chance of a Category 3 storm in any given year is not necessarily a meaningful number itself. We will be in contact with the Woods Hole Group and other people who have looked at similar projects, and see how these figures stack up, whether these numbers are normal for an institution of this kind and size."
Following the risk assessment summary at tonight's hearing, members of town boards will testify. The MVC commissioners then will make their requests for additional information, which will be presented at the next hearing session at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven.
On the second night of the hearing, following an MVC staff report and the presentation of additional information from the hospital, public testimony will be heard starting at 8 pm.
Mr. London said that if one person makes a statement and there are 10 others who planned to say basically the same thing, there is no need for the commissioners to hear it numerous times. He suggested that people submit their comments in writing in advance or at least prepare their testimony by writing it down beforehand so they can express themselves more clearly and save time.
On the last night of the hearing, scheduled for 7 pm on Thursday, Nov. 9, at the Oak Bluffs School Gym, the MVC commissioners will ask questions and hear closing remarks from hospital officials. The commissioners' deliberations and decision on the hospital's DRI application are tentatively scheduled at 7:30 pm on Thursday, Dec. 7, and adoption of a written decision on Dec. 21, at the MVC offices in the Old Stone Building on New York Ave. in Oak Bluffs.
Information on past meetings about the hospital project and studies to date are available on the MVC's web site at www.mvcommission.org.