Geothermal energy fuels Y debate at MVC
The Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) wrapped up a public hearing last Thursday night on the YMCA's proposal for building a new facility. The commission members also voted unanimously to accept for consideration a nomination that calls for the expansion of Edgartown's Island Road District to include five additional ancient ways.
The YMCA's project to build an $11 million, 35,000-square-foot building on five acres leased from Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), behind the skate park and across the street, has been undergoing review as a development of regional impact (DRI). Although the MVC closed the public hearing on the project, the written record will remain open for 10 days.
The Y's staff, board members, and project team have been anxious to finish up the MVC process as quickly as possible, in order to meet construction schedule deadlines, with a goal to break ground on the building in November. However, although the end of the MVC process is in sight, Y executive director John Cleese said last week that financial considerations could delay the project.
So far, the Y has raised $9 million of the $11 million it needs for the building. Because the YMCA board and capital campaign committee do not want to borrow money and carry debt on the new building, Mr. Cleese said they decided in a meeting last Thursday, the day of the MVC hearing, that unless they raise another $2 million by Sept. 15, they may have to delay the project for another year.
"The general contractor and people who have been hired to go forward with the building need to know by Sept. 15 whether this is going to be a 14-month project or not," Mr. Cleese said. "That's the deadline we're facing right now. If there are people out there who are on the fence about donating, now is the time to step up to the plate and write those checks, because we're in the home stretch and need support to get this building off the ground."
At last week's final public hearing session, the YMCA provided additional information requested by the commissioners at meeting on July 18, about endangered species and habitat concerns, wastewater issues, stormwater runoff, and geothermal energy. The question of whether or not a geothermal energy system will provide a cost effective yet affordable alternative to an oil-fired system remained the unresolved issue and the reason the written record was kept open.
A geothermal heat pump system taps into heat underground that has been absorbed from the sun for heating and cooling. In response to the commissioners' request for more information about geothermal systems, Ken MacLean, the Y's lead architect, commissioned a study from Rist-Frost-Shumway Engineering to perform a life-cycle cost analysis. Using energy modeling software, the engineering firm compared a geothermal heat pump design approach to the Y's proposed HVAC heating and cooling system for the new building.
Figuring the cost of fuel oil at $2.20 per gallon, the study projected it would take 45 years to recover the cost of the geothermal system through the energy savings. Mr. MacLean said a geothermal system did not seem feasible for the project, given the lengthy payback period.
Tisbury commissioner Peter Cabana took issue with the study, because, he said, it did not take into account the amount of fuel oil needed to heat water for showers and the swimming pool. He also questioned whether the $2.20 per gallon cost of fuel oil was too low.
Paul Pimentel, a member of the Island Plan energy and solid waste core work group, supported Mr. Cabana's push to get more information before ruling out a geothermal system.
West Tisbury commissioner Linda Sibley suggested leaving the written record open on the subject of geothermal energy, and closing the hearing so that the MVC's land use planning committee (LUCP) could start reviewing the other issues.
"I think it is incredibly important for this project to do geothermal, if at all possible," Ms. Sibley said. "I think this project is a role model."
His frustration evident, Mr. MacLean said he thought the commissioners had been given all of the information they requested, and he asked the commission members to clarify their questions.
MVC chairman Douglas Sederholm advised the commissioners to submit their questions about the geothermal issue to MVC staff next week, for submission to Mr. MacLean.
In an update on habitat protection measures, architect Stephanie Mashek explained revised site plans made necessary by findings by the state's Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program (NHESP). Two moth species of special concern, the Gerhard's Underwing moth and Pine Barrens Zale, and two threatened species, the faded gray geometer and the Imperial moth, were identified in an area behind the proposed building site that contains their preferred habitat and food, pitch pine and scrub oaks.
"In reading the letter from Natural Heritage, I'm glad they reiterated that these endangered moths like scrub oaks and pitch pine, things we take for granted," said MVC land use planning committee chairman Christina Brown, who chaired the public hearing.
To address the NHESP's concerns, YMCA vice president Judy Crawford said the Y negotiated a plan to create a moth "flyway" by moving 11 parking spaces to another parking area and moving an area designated for future expansion to the west side of the building. In addition to the Y agreeing to a conservation restriction on its parcel, the NHESP requires a conservation restriction on the rest of the open space portion of the entire 25.2-acre parcel owned by the high school. Ms. Crawford said school administrators agree to the conservation restriction, and the issue should be resolved by the end of September.
With testimony concluded, Ms. Brown closed the hearing but left the written record open. The LUPC began its post-hearing review on the YMCA project on Monday, with a goal to complete the review and vote on whether to recommend approval of the project on Aug. 20. The full commission is scheduled to deliberate and make a decision on the YMCA DRI application on Aug. 23.