The majority of the Tisbury board of selectmen appear ready to walk away from more than $5 million in state money to build a shared-use path on Beach Road in favor of seeking a symmetrical design that would improve sidewalks and add a bike lane to the busy road.
After hearing a lengthy discussion from Frank Brunelle, a resident of the road who has rallied opposition to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation proposal, chairman Tristan Israel and selectman Jim Rogers said they support sending a letter to the state for a symmetrical plan. They opted to wait to take a vote until selectman Melinda Loberg, who left Tuesday’s meeting early, is available to vote.
“When I supported the hybrid plan, it was based on a plan that I thought that I liked … It was a compromise plan in my eyes,” Israel said. But when MassDOT came back with the same plan pitched in the beginning, without improving sidewalks, Israel said he can’t support that.
“I’m not averse to sending a letter to the state in support of the symmetrical plan,” he said.
Loberg was criticized by opponents to the Beach Road for leaving early, but Israel, without saying why, said her departure was for “legitimate reasons.”
Rogers concurred that any vote should happen with Loberg there.
Brunelle went into great detail about two petitions he has gathered from property owners and businesses on Beach Road, many of them worried about losing parking spaces to eminent domain. He called the proposal unsafe because of all the curb cuts that would put cyclists and pedestrians in harm’s way.
“That is the most insane, ridiculous idea, I think, that any bike path proposal has ever had in the history of the world,” Brunelle said.
Brunelle pressed selectmen to add to any vote that property would not be taken by eminent domain, and even suggested he would be willing to give the town some of his land for the right proposal.
“You should not take land without necessity,” he said.
After the meeting, in an email, Brunelle wrote that the plan should have never gotten this far. He wrote that he feels “vindicated” by the comments. “Hopeful that we will arrive at a beautiful and safe and wonderful solution as we should have with the good people working within the boards who, given their natural instincts, should be able to accomplish a sensible and safe and beautiful result,” he wrote.
Selectmen also heard impassioned pleas from Debby Packer, whose family owns the Shell station on Beach Road. Under the MassDOT plan, the station would essentially be put out of business, she said.
“This 100 percent plan is hurting people, affecting people’s health, and our ability run our businesses and live our lives peacefully,” Packer said.
Her father, Ralph Packer, who owns a large swath of land for his marine-related businesses, said the MassDOT plan, and the 55-foot utility poles planned, would be an eyesore affecting the view of the $25 million investment made by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to renovated the former Marine Hospital into its new home. He called it the “focal point” of Vineyard Haven. “Those people have opened up their pockets and given millions for us. We’re going to stick up 55-foot poles, and it’s not going to be desirable,” he said. “We can make a golden path on Beach Road for bicyclists to get to Oak Bluffs, but the first thing we should do is make a red carpet for Martha’s Vineyard Museum.”
At a recent public hearing sponsored by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission with MassDOT, project manager Thomas Currier warned any substantive changes in the 100 percent design plans would likely delay the project for years.
Geoff Cassel of Wind’s Up, a surf and paddleboard shop on Beach Road, acknowledged being late to the opposition, but urged the selectmen to walk away from the state funds for a better plan. He noted that the redesign does nothing to fix the flooding that plagues Beach Road during storms.
“Yes, Beach Road could use some help, it could use a lift,” Cassel said. But the MassDOT plan creates new problems, he said. “Don’t be afraid, let them cut off the funding. Revisit it and get it right in a couple of years because you’re going to have to do it anyway.”
Ralph Packer had urged hitting the pause button, too, and put it in maritime terms. “When you’re on a ship and you’re in doubt, you go in reverse or you stop,” he said.
Next step for Tisbury School
Amy Houghton, chairman of the Tisbury school committee, met with selectmen to discuss the next steps for the town’s school. In April, voters rejected a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion to pay for the town’s $32 million share of the school. In the process, the town lost out on $14.6 million in state funds.
After some bitter exchanges since the vote, Houghton and Israel have gotten together in an attempt to find a way forward, Houghton reported.
Both sides will work on their own to come up with bullet points — school officials looking at school and educational needs, and town officials looking at finances — and will get back together in late August to compare notes, she said.
The initial meeting will likely be a workshop meeting before opening up the next steps to the community, she said.
The two sides are looking to “get on the same page,” Houghton said. “With some tempered discussions, we probably could make some good headway,” she said.
Israel said he’s hopeful the two sides can work on a plan to move forward, as well.
In other business, Gov. Charlie Baker is coming to Vineyard Haven for a ribbon-cutting at Lake Street Landing, harbormaster John Crocker said. The project, which included repairs to the bulkhead and pier, was paid for through a Seaport Council grant.
The event is scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 pm, Crocker said. A podium, ribbon, and scissors have been secured for the event, he said.
Family and co-workers of Greg LeLand provided a strong show of support as selectmen unanimously approved his appointment as assistant chief of the Tisbury Fire Department.
LeLand is a fourth-generation firefighter, a lifelong resident of the Vineyard, and a U.S. Army veteran, Chief John Schilling said. LeLand’s father, who was in attendance, served on the department for 44 years, Schilling said. Schilling praised LeLand’s “strong commitment to the professional development of firefighters.”
“Greg joined the Tisbury Fire Department in 2014 after serving three years on the Oak Bluffs Fire Department,” Schilling said. “Upon moving to Tisbury, Greg joined Engine 1, following in his father’s footsteps. He displayed strong organizational skills and natural leadership instincts. Greg was quickly promoted to company lieutenant by his company peers.”
After his appointment was approved, town clerk Hillary Conklin swore him in, and LeLand’s wife, Caitlyn, pinned his new badge to his uniform. His young sons, Deacon and Killian, were also watching the proud family moment.
Schilling pointed out how important it is to have the cooperation of LeLand’s full-time employer to have the volunteer fire department work effectively. LeLand is a skilled carpenter for Holmes Hole Builders, the chief said.
Selectmen also received an update from Mark White of Environmental Partners, the town’s consultant on wastewater issues. White told selectmen that the town’s advisory committee is working toward making recommendations at next year’s annual town meeting for possible upgrades to the plant to increase capacity. The town is also looking at land behind its emergency services building for a leach field, White said.
Town voters approved a new sewer district in the State Road business district at the town meeting in April.
Israel expressed frustration at a so-called wicks system, a way to leach effluent that’s been tied up in red tape with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“If this is where we are going at this point,” he said of the proposed leach field, “we shouldn’t keep shifting around and spending any more money except on the two wicks we already have.”
The board authorized Rogers to look at possibly consolidating committees that review the town’s waterways. There are presently a harbor management committee, a waterways committee, and a dredge committee.
Rogers also raised questions about appointments to various town committees, which were approved by the board Tuesday, asking how the positions are advertised. He specifically mentioned the shellfish committee, which was criticized at meetings this winter.