MVC rebuts charges in roundabout decision lawsuit

Mass DOT traffic engineers gathered at the roundabout with local utility managers on December 19 to coordinate utility engineering. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Responding to a lawsuit brought by the towns of West Tisbury and Edgartown challenging approval of the proposed roundabout at the Blinker intersection, lawyers for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) argue that the towns have no legal standing to sue. And, the MVC reply asserts, the regional planning and regulatory agency’s approval of the roundabout was supported by the testimony and data presented at a public hearing convened by the MVC.

Attorneys Brian Hurley and Gareth Orsmond of the Boston firm Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster filed the MVC response on December 27, in Dukes County Superior Court.

The two-town complaint Richard Renehan, a trial attorney with the Boston firm Goulston & Storrs, filed December 7, charged that the MVC did not make a reasonable decision based on the evidence and exceeded its authority when it approved the development of regional impact (DRI) roundabout project for the intersection of Barnes Road and Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

MVC lawyers said there was plenty of evidence and the decision process was proper.

“The introductory paragraph, which purports to summarize the claims and allegations of the complaint, is factually inaccurate,” the MVC attorneys wrote. “MVC voted to approve the proposal pursuant to its procedures and regulations. MVC had all necessary information before it on which to base a decision. MVC had available to it three traffic studies analyzing the intersection and the benefical impacts of a proposed roundabout. MVC also had available to it a complete set of design plans showing the layout of the proposed roundabout.”

Long road

Nearly 10 years in development, the roundabout was referred to the MVC for review as a DRI by the town of West Tisbury on June 22. The commission accepted the referral.

On October 6, following several contentious public sessions, the commission voted 7-6 to approve a circular traffic interchange for the intersection that is now controlled with four stop signs.

On November 3, the commission reconsidered the action, but deadlocked 6-6. Failure to get a majority in favor of overturning the approval meant the earlier decision remained in place.

In the MVC’s response to the charges set out in the complaint, attorneys Hurley and Orsmond outlined their legal defense of key points in the appeal.

They said that commissioners relied on three different traffic studies relating to the intersection, which independently reached similar results.

“MVC denies that traffic studies undertaken have been limited and contends it had available to it various and complete traffic studies of the intersection and the traffic volumes on each of the roads during peak season,” the lawyers wrote.

In their response, the MVC attorneys noted that in 2003, when Oak Bluffs selectmen changed the intersection to a four-way stop, they said it was an interim measure, as recommended in a 2001 traffic study, until a permanent solution could be implemented.

Sudden impact

The MVC lawyers refuted the contention that the roundabout would have a substantial impact on Edgartown and West Tisbury.

“MVC denies that construction of the roundabout at this intersection Oak Bluffs will have any ‘direct and substantial impacts’ on traffic management in either West Tisbury or Edgartown,” the lawyers wrote. “Edgartown had every opportunity to participate in the public hearing process before MVC in connection with the roundabout proposal, but did not do so.”

The response also addresses charges that the commissioners relied on incomplete plans to make decisions. It contends that the plans were typical of other projects considered by the agency for proposed projects.

“MVC denies that the plans prepared and presented by Greenman-Pederson, Inc. on behalf of MassDOT were incomplete design plans,” the attorneys wrote. “The 25 percent plans clearly described the proposed design and were sufficient for MVC development of regional impact review.”

The attorneys made several points to rebut the charge that the MVC rushed its decision.

“MVC agrees that it offered to move the process forward as expeditiously as possible but denies that it in any way affected MVC’s adherence to its procedural and legal requirements.”

The response also addresses the MVC’s vote to reconsider its approval. In the original lawsuit, Mr. Renehan wrote that “Commission member Leonard Jason expressed concerns about the MVC’s failure to obtain necessary traffic and other studies prior to its approval of the roundabout. Mr. Jason noted that because the plans were not complete, the MVC ‘really didn’t approve a plan – [it] approved a concept.’ Mr. Jason concluded that the MVC failed to perform its obligations.”

In their answer to the lawsuit, attorneys for the MVC denied those charges.

“MVC denies that it disregarded its own regulations, expedited review of the roundabout proposal in a manner that disregarded its own regulations or relied upon incomplete design plans or limited traffic data,” the commission’s attorneys wrote. “MVC denies the accuracy or relevancy of the statements attributed to Mr. Jason.”

Standing question The commission’s attorneys also challenged the right of Edgartown and West Tisbury to sue the MVC. As an affirmative defense, the attorneys wrote, “Neither West Tisbury nor Edgartown is a person aggrieved within the meaning of section 18 of the Act (enabling legislation).The court therefore lacks subject matter jurisdiction due to the plaintiffs’ lack of standing.”

In its lawsuit, the two towns cited the same section of the enabling legislation as evidence of a town’s right to appeal a decision.

The legislation reads, “Any party aggrieved by a determination of the commission may appeal to the Superior Court.”