MassDot explores handing maintenance of state roads to Island towns

West Tisbury selectman “Skipper” Manter says no: Big burden, no promise of funding to assist.

West Tisbury selectman “Skipper” Manter holds up a sign saying "No" to the town taking on “routine maintenance” of its nine miles of state roads. —MVTV

Updated, Thursday, April 6*

West Tisbury selectmen heard a “somewhat unexpected [MassDOT] proposal” on March 22, for the town to take over the “routine maintenance” of its nine miles of state roads. The state did not specify how the funding of the additional maintenance the town would have to do would be handled. Administrative assistant Jennifer Rand passed along the proposal.

Routine maintenance includes ice and snow removal, tree trimming along roads, and shoulder repair, among other work. The state would keep responsibility for capital projects and major repairs.

Ms. Rand told selectmen the town would need to hire a full-time head of public works. She said down-Island towns would not need to do the same. And, she added, “we don’t have enough equipment.”

The state is offering the same deal to all six Island towns, but board chairman Richard Knabel said West Tisbury has the most extensive state road network, mileage-wise, of the six towns, and will have the greatest expense, imposed on an already overburdened highway department.

The state’s District Five, which is responsible for the state roads maintenance on Martha’s Vineyard, has struggled with staffing the region. There is a state worker on the Cape, but as of two months ago there is no staff on the Vineyard.

“It’s not that there’s no budget [to house a MassDOT employee on the Vineyard], it just looks a little pricier here,” selectman Cynthia Mitchell said. “Was there any talk about additional funding?”

The answer was no. The head of District Five told Jennifer Rand, “We just want to float an idea.”

“I can’t believe they would ask the towns to take over the roads and pay for it,” Ms. Mitchell said. “That is completely unreasonable.”

Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter had his own unambiguous opinion on the topic. Asked if he had something to say, he replied, “Boy, do I.” He hand-wrote the word “No” in large letters on a blank piece of paper and held it up for the MVTV camera and the audience.

“I think they should contract out for the whole process,” Mr. Manter said.

Ms. Rand suggested that she speak with the town treasurer about staffing expenses, and talk to the highway superintendent about what equipment would be needed.

Ms. Rand said it is “plausible” that the down-Island towns will say yes, and then West Tisbury would be “swept along with that.” Ms. Mitchell agreed that she did not want West Tisbury to be swept up with the down-Island towns.

Selectmen thought the idea could be considered if West Tisbury would not be made to pay for the added burden.

Ms. Rand informed selectmen that Nantucket has already taken over the regular maintenance of its state roads: “But it’s a town and a county with six miles of state roads. It’s not the same animal in any way.”

Martha’s Vineyard has 69 “lane miles,” which translate to about 35 regular miles of state roads. West Tisbury has “17.9 lane miles,” or roughly nine miles of state roads, and 13.5 miles of town roads, which makes it “close to doubling our responsibilities,” according to Ms. Rand.

“It would effectively change the way West Tisbury does business,” Ms. Rand said. “We are at the max for what our crew can handle with town roads. I would expect Chilmark and Aquinnah would feel the same.”

The three down-Island towns have fewer miles of state roads than the three up-Island towns.

Mr. Knabel concluded that there needs to be “some sort of negotiation” and that the issue needs to be “flushed out.” Selectmen took no action.

Geoff Rose medical marijuana update

Selectmen also revisited the topic of Geoff Rose’s proposed medical marijuana facility, which may be located seven-tenths of a mile from the West Tisbury School on Dr. Fisher Road. The issue is undergoing a review process at the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC); how long that process will take is unknown. Ms. Rand said it could take six weeks or two years, and depends on a variety of issues.

“The last I heard, there is a land-use planning meeting on April 3 or 4,” Ms. Rand said. “They are very early in the process. How long it will take at the commission is anyone’s guess.”

According to the MVC website, the medical marijuana dispensary will be discussed April 10 at 5:30 pm at MVC headquarters in Oak Bluffs.

In other business, Pat Mitchell (husband of Ms. Mitchell) reported for the building maintenance committee on the major projects to be tackled with the $100,000 on the warrant article for the April 11 annual town meeting.

The Field Gallery roof “has to be done,” Mr. Mitchell said, who also reported that the Howes House basement leak is “serious,” and that the force of the water into the building is “like a garden hose,” and the “bump” at the back of the library has mushrooms growing out of it.

The FinCom wants to see a plan, and they need a “best guess” at the prioritization of the top projects, and an estimate of cost for each.

“The bottom line is, It’s going to be easy to spend $100,000 no matter the order we put the projects,” Mr. Knabel said.

The goal is to keep the town’s building stabilization fund flush with money to handle expenses such as these, but at the moment the town is playing catch-up, and will be doing so for many years to come.

There will be no selectmen’s meeting March 29, because Ms. Rand will be unable to attend. The next selectmen’s meeting will be April 5, and the annual town meeting is 7 pm on April 11, at the West Tisbury School. The town election is April 13 from 7 am to 8 pm at the Public Safety Building. There will be no childcare available at town meeting, but selectmen will revisit this topic for next time.

*This story was updated to correct a misimpression: We originally said that the state had not offered to pay for the additional maintenance work the town would take on. The Mass Department of Transportation says it is still exploring options.