Finding a way out of the regulatory morass

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) made the right call this summer when it chose not to review the Goodale Construction Company’s mining and manufacturing operation as a development of regional impact. The decision, respecting as it did the limits on the discretion granted the MVC in its enabling legislation, meant that the MVC members refused to be abused by neighbors of a target residence or business undertaking who, as history has demonstrated, regard the regional planning and regulatory agency as a lever to achieve special interest goals.

But, for those who may have thought the MVC decision would clear the way for Goodale’s to get back to business and to its expansion and modernization plans, news this week is sensationally disappointing. Sensational because Goodale’s business is an important part of the Island’s regional economy and because it is moth habitat that is at issue in negotiations that have been ongoing between the company and state environmental officials for six months.

Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) ordered Goodale’s to stop clearing land it owns next to its mining operation off Edgartown Vineyard Haven Road, until a mitigation plan is worked out that will allow it to continue mining its property for sand, gravel, and stone.

Goodale’s property, like most of Martha’s Vineyard, is priority habitat, in which several species of protected moths may sojourn, and thus requires state review when changes are planned for the land.

As Times writer Steve Myrick reported this week, “For now, the company is still operating, but the time is approaching, company owners said, when Goodale’s will no longer be able to mine construction materials without clearing more protected land. Goodale’s is the only large-scale source of construction materials on Martha’s Vineyard and used by nearly every contractor building on the Island.”

The review of Goodale’s plans is expensive as well as time-consuming, requiring biologists, lawyers, and other experts, all paid for by the landowner, but subject to decision-making by state authorities who have no skin in the game. The current slump in building activity relieves some pressure on the business, because the need to expand its mining activities is somewhat less pressing than it might have been were the real estate economy healthier. But, the variety of work that Goodale’s does supports construction of all sorts, whether the pace is modest or accelerated. When it is modest, the immense costs attached to the habitat review on behalf of the moths are destructive, and when construction activity increases, the need for expansion will quickly become acute.

The MVC did not proceed with its own development of regional impact review, but it did refer the matter to the NHESP. The commission may also act responsibly now, in the interests of Goodale’s and all Islanders, by working hard to encourage a reasonable and economical resolution of the state’s review of the company’s expansion plans. There are services that the MVC could offer that, in assisting a business that is unquestionably important to life on Martha’s Vineyard, correlate exactly to the regional land use planning and regulatory agency’s mandate.

As this page has argued, the MVC can be proud of the changes its review has wrought on projects legitimately before it as developments of regional impact. The land use planning committee preliminary review of such projects — before formal hearings begin and even in the background as hearings continue — can help guide developers to make better plans, better for their projects and better for the Island as a whole.

But the Goodale’s issue is different. Here is a substantial and irreplaceable enterprise, of immense regional value, for which the MVC might very well do all of us a service by helping to find the path out of the expensive morass that is the interplay of state regulators on behalf of moth habitat and an Island business, begun in the 1930s, that is vital to Martha’s Vineyard’s economic life.