Energy DCPC decision faces voters
Next week voters at annual town meetings in West Tisbury, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs will be asked to begin a process that has as its goal the creation of an overarching set of regulations that would govern future energy use on Martha's Vineyard. The rules under consideration could determine how Islanders heat their pools and the ways houses are built and renovated.
The regulations would be promulgated in the form of an Island-wide energy District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) that would fall under the superseding authority of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), the Island's powerful land use regulatory body. Ultimately, the rules would need to be adopted by town meetings in the several towns.
An article on each town meeting warrant asks voters to support the process of creating a DCPC. Chilmark voters will be asked to follow suit when they gather later this month. Aquinnah voters approved the nomination effort at a special meeting last month.
Only Edgartown has refused to follow suit. Town leaders questioned the timing and lack of public process. As a result, the article will not appear on that town meeting warrant.
The DCPC warrant article initiative is an ad hoc effort led by Aquinnah selectman Jim Newman and a small core group of supporters. It was launched even as the MVC moves forward with an ambitious long-range planning effort known as the Island Plan, which is designed to help chart the future direction of the Vineyard concerning a range of issues including energy use.
The Island Plan is built around a steering committee and a number of smaller working groups that includes an energy and solid waste work group. In the next fiscal year, the MVC budgeted $120,000 for the work of the Island Plan.
Mark London, MVC executive director, said the energy DCPC is an unrelated effort.
"We were not behind this at all," said Mr. London. "The Island-wide DCPC is not a commission initiative."
Mr. London said there seems to be a wish to do something about energy, and the Island needs to figure out what it wants to do. He added that while that is one of the goals of the Island Plan "some people felt it should happen more quickly."
Mr. Newman said he sees no conflict with the Island Plan effort. "I think we are both on the same course," he said.
Mr. Newman said energy use is a crucial issue, and both initiatives could well intersect. Told that Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck had described the DCPC push as premature, given that the MVC's planning effort was underway, Mr. Newman reacted critically. "He may feel that it is premature but he won't feel it is premature when water is up on his doorstep," said Mr. Newman.
Mr. Newman said the DCPC may not be a priority for Edgartown, but that is out of his hands. He said his initial plan only included Aquinnah. But he was advised that the state Attorney General would likely not approve the regulations in the form of town bylaws but that the MVC's legislation provided a surer legal route.
Town boards, taxpayer groups, and the MVC may nominate critical districts. Once a nomination is presented to the MVC, the MVC votes to accept or reject it.
If the nomination is accepted, a moratorium on the issuing of development permits of all sorts goes into effect. It may allow for exceptions by special permit. The next step is a vote on whether to accept the DCPC designation, followed by the creation of new regulations that must be approved by voters at town meeting. The entire process may take up to one year.
One town could forward an Island-wide DCPC nomination to the MVC, which if accepted would result in a moratorium. But Mr. London said the MVC has historically been unwilling to take action without the support of Island towns and would be unlikely to take a step that would result in an Island DCPC without broad support.
The Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury warrant articles ask voters to support the appointment by selectmen of three representatives to draft a nomination with proposed guidelines and regulations for an Island-wide energy DCPC.
The Tisbury warrant article bypasses the advisory board step altogether. Placed on the ballot by petition, it asks voters to support a nomination by the board of selectmen of an energy DCPC "to mitigate the environmental impact of energy use in new or renovated structures, and to foster Island energy independence."
The article that will be presented to Chilmark voters on April 23 differs from that presented to other Island voters in one respect. It requires that any draft guidelines and regulations be approved at a town meeting prior to sending the nomination to the MVC.
Riggs Parker, chairman of the Chilmark selectmen, said selectmen want to know what the effect of an energy DCPC will be before going forward. "We did not want to have an unexpected moratorium declared in our town without the town voters having a say in it," he said.
The article as presented to Aquinnah voters at a special town meeting on March 7 included language describing some examples of the type of structures targeted by the new district's regulations, "for example, structures having more than 2,000 square feet of interior space within their weather walls at ground level."
Voters questioned the vagueness of the language and the possible burden on small homeowners. After dropping any reference to regulatory examples, Aquinnah voters supported a nomination by selectmen of a DCPC designation.
Not the forum
Edgartown selectman Art Smadbeck said his town's reluctance to embrace an energy DCPC proposal is about process and not goals. He outlined his objections.
Mr. Smadbeck said the MVC's Island Plan has created a framework for discussing ways to support wise energy use. "It is very premature to suddenly take a left turn and go somewhere else when we have not even heard from the group that is designated as the planning agency for the Island," he said.
Mr. Smadbeck said the DCPC is a very powerful regulatory tool that should not be invoked without careful consideration. "There is not enough known to have something this powerful that widespread," he said.
And there was no public process, according to Mr. Smadbeck. "We have had no discussion at all at the town level," he said, noting that the planning board is in agreement with the selectmen.
Finally, said Mr. Smadbeck, a town meeting article is not needed to appoint three people to a committee. Nor is it the forum to begin a discussion on an open-ended issue like energy use that could be discussed for the entire evening on many nights, he said.
The minutes of the energy group (available at www.islandplan.org/ docdb.html) and the steering committee provide a glimpse of what could be regulated in the future.
At a meeting on March 10, the Island Plan steering committee, chaired by James Athearn of Edgartown, discussed energy and waste proposals that rated more attention. They included: a requirement that new pools be solar heated; an energy audit and upgrade at the sale of a house similar to Title Five requirements; harnessing local renewable energy generation to meet electrical and hot water needs; creating a building materials reuse facility and an Island-wide composting facility; and new Island-based energy efficiency regulations for building codes.
The energy and waste work group generated a separate list of priority items outlined in the group's minutes of a Jan. 3 meeting. The suggestions and goals included: approach businesses that have unnecessary lighting; establish per capita energy allowance above which people would pay extra; fund energy efficiency programs; identify what areas could be used for large-scale wind turbines; get SSA to use biodesiel in new boat Island Home; ensure that all new buildings are energy neutral; and develop a fossil fuel impact fee.
Suggestions not included from an earlier work session included: a gasoline quota per car; parking meters that charge more for SUVs; playground equipment that makes electricity; and builders required to take an energy course.