MVC decides NSTAR DRI with conditions, and says, ‘Let them sue’

New, thicker, taller light poles along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road are the focus of a hearing before the Martha's Vineyard Commission. — Photo by Nelson Sigelman

In a sort of regulatory dance that has persevered over the course of several months, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) concluded a development of regional impact (DRI) with NSTAR on Thursday, November 14.

NSTAR had not applied or submitted to the MVC’s DRI process, but the MVC went through the motions anyhow and ultimately accepted offers from NSTAR to improve its coordination with Island towns in the future.

But the MVC went further. Although it had no application or applicant before it, its decision imposed several conditions, to which NSTAR has not responded.

The awkward interaction between the utility and the regional regulatory agency led commissioners to anticipate a legal collision with NSTAR.

Throughout the public hearing process, NSTAR representatives told members of the MVC that the utility is in compliance with the law and did not require additional permits for a project that is necessary to beef up the Island’s utility infrastructure. NSTAR came to the attention of Tisbury officials who sent the matter to the MVC, when the utility was replacing smaller electric poles with bigger ones along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

“We felt it was very important that this final decision be worded in a way that indicates that we believe the MVC does have legal authority here,” West Tisbury commissioner at large Linda Sibley said in response to the imposed conditions. “I think it’s really important that if they’re (NSTAR) going to push, that we push back just gently to make sure that this decision is worded in a way that sounds like we have a DRI process and that we have some authority.”

“If we want them to come and talk to us about other stuff, we put it in here,” commissioner Douglas Sederholm said. “We’re not going to have any other chance. Why not do it and see what happens? If they don’t like it, let them sue us.”

After a lengthy deliberation and a unanimous vote, commissioners agreed on several conditions that include a collaborative effort between NSTAR and a working group composed of town officials, to address issues as they arise in the future. Two more conditions, taken from an August 22 letter from Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande, would require NSTAR to dedicate two fiber optics lines from the mainland to the Island for municipal use as well as require NSTAR to relocate utility poles on Beach Street from the Five Corners to Main Street.

“These conditions aren’t exactly onerous,” Mr. Sederholm said before the vote. “We’re just saying, listen to us, talk to us so that when you do things in the future we won’t get blindsided like the last time.”

The MVC took up the utility’s pole replacement program as a DRI at the request of Tisbury selectmen, who complained on June 17 about new taller, fatter poles. The MVC closed the NSTAR hearing on September 19, with a written hearing record open until October 3, to allow for public comment.

NSTAR said has installed the new poles as part of an electric service reliability project for Martha’s Vineyard that includes the installation of a new submarine cable from Falmouth to West Chop. The upgrade project involves 167 roadside poles, roughly split between Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road and Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, and approximately 84 located off-road along NSTAR’s right-of-way.

Rymes Propane

In other business, the MVC voted to accept an offer from Rymes Island Propane to operate a new propane delivery business.

Located in a light industrial district on Evelyn Way off State Road in Tisbury near the Park and Ride lot, Rymes’s proposal was approved as offered Thursday, although there was some discussion among commissioners about ensuring that the landscaping in the area is maintained.

“It’s appropriate to have a service facility in this area, because it’s zoned for it and it’s off the main road and it’s a necessary function for the year,” longtime commissioner Christina Brown of Edgartown said.

Rymes Island Propane, a New Hampshire-based company, leased a 20,000 square-foot parcel, part of a 10-acre property owned by Goodale Construction.

At a public hearing in June 2012, the MVC reviewed a proposal by John Rymes to operate a propane delivery business off High Point Lane in Vineyard Haven. Since the operation involves fuel storage, it triggered a referral from the town of Tisbury for review as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The site has been subdivided and currently serves as a staging and storage area for several construction and industrial companies.

Fuller landscaping containers

Finally, commissioners offered a written decision to approve an application from Fuller Landscaping to place eight storage containers off Dr. Fisher Road in West Tisbury.

The 20- by 8-foot containers will be used to store irrigation equipment, lawn mowers, tools, and hydro-seed supplies.

The MVC voted unanimously to approve a request at a brief public hearing on October 24.