Three months after its first meeting, the Tisbury natural resources committee is still struggling to find its sea legs.
At a special meeting Wednesday night, committee members reviewed a charge draft given to them by town selectmen outlining the committee’s makeup, role, and duties, but felt much of the draft’s language needed to be tightened up and further defined.
The committee is an amalgam of the former shellfish, dredge, and harbor management committees.
Committee member Amandine Hall asked selectman Melinda Loberg, who was at the meeting, if the town decided to form the committee based on town departments on the Cape. Hall said she called Mashpee and Barnstable, who have natural resources departments, but still have separate shellfish and waterways committees.
Loberg said the town looked at models for a natural resources department. They looked at the best way to organize efforts with the town’s natural resources, and the charge was supposed to be the beginning of a dialogue to understand how the committee will operate and what would be the scope of its work.
“So how many years is that going to take before we accomplish it?” committee member James Tilton said.
Loberg said it should have already been accomplished, but was asking the committee to give their input now on what should fall under its purview.
Hall said the committee was raising concerns now about the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard’s expansion project, but still hadn’t seen a presentation from Shipyard owners Philip and James Hale.
According to committee chair Sally Rizzo, the committee has invited the Hales twice to present their project, but each time the Hales have declined.
On Friday, James Hale said he’s following the advice of the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission in seeking the nine permits for the project. “The natural resources committee is not part of the permitting process,” he said.
At a Jan. 8 meeting, the committee agreed to send a letter to selectmen requesting the town hold off on sending a letter of support for the shipyard project until the committee has had a full presentation of the project and is able to advise selectmen. Selectmen said at a meeting earlier this month they would consider the shipyard project and a letter of support at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 4.
“This request is consistent with the mission and charge of the NRC, and the responsibility that the board has given the NRC to review and advise on matters affecting the natural resources of the town,” the letter reads.
Rizzo told the committee Wednesday night that she had not received a response to the letter, but she did receive an email from town administrator Jay Grande on Jan. 15. In the email, Grande wrote that he met with the Hales after their presentation to selectmen and that selectmen have “indicated strong support” for the project.
“The Hales mentioned meeting with the Natural Resources Committee. They explained the statutory review authorities they are processing their proposal through. I concurred with them that they should focus their efforts on those formal reviews at this time,” Grande wrote.
Despite Grande’s response, Hall said the committee should still review the project’s notice of intent (NOI) and offer their advice to selectmen on the impacts the project may have.
“When the selectmen are in agreement or are in disagreement with our opinion, they should hear it, and they should hear the full picture before they put their entire support behind this project,” Hall said.
Loberg said the selectmen have not had a discussion about a response to the project, and are still discussing what a response would contain. “We are inclined just unofficially right now, because we haven’t had a conversation, to support the project for its commercial value,” Loberg said.
Committee member Jeffrey Canha called a point of order, saying the committee should follow its agenda and discuss the charge draft before moving on to the shipyard discussion. “Well, that’s not the agenda item. That’s part of the dysfunction. We’ve moved on to another agenda item when we’re already working on one,” Canha said.
Other committee members raised concerns about the charge draft and its “loose language.”
Tilton said he came into the committee with some skepticism, but felt it’s an opportunity to get things done.
“What’s missing here is communication from the selectmen and the administrator of a clear idea how this works in the real world,” Tilton said. “We need communication of what exactly are we doing in here, and how is this going to work.
“What this committee definitely needs is to focus and act quickly and efficiently on things, because there’s a lot to deal with,” Tilton added. “If we had clear things to deal with and know exactly what we’re trying to do, that would be helpful.”
Committee member Roger Moffat suggested the charge should further define what natural resources are. “None of these charges mention water. From the outside, you have no idea what these are referring to,” Moffat said.
Committee member Matt Hobart suggested the committee narrow its focus, then expand it as time goes on. He said charges such as “the committee shall consider appropriate maintenance and repair of the town facilities” were too broad.
“Maybe if we just all agree on the basic principles we want to start with, we can go off of that,” Hobart said.
Rizzo said the committee did a good job of establishing its mission statement, “to preserve, protect, and enhance the natural resources of the town of Tisbury,” and act in an advisory role, but agreed the charge draft needed work. She agreed to take the committee’s suggestions, consolidate them, send them to the selectmen, and possibly schedule a joint meeting between the committee and selectmen.
“It sounds like the frustration that everybody is feeling is, We’re trying to sort our way through, and without a lot of direction from the selectmen, and we’re trying to make our way through this, and it’s confusing and it’s unclear,” Rizzo said.