Tisbury selectmen greenlighted a letter of “strong support” for the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard $2.5 million project Wednesday night, Jan. 29, amid strong pushback from several Island environmental groups.
Philip and James Hale, who own and operate the marina, are looking to add a 48-slip marina in Lagoon Pond, add additional parking spaces, better manage stormwater runoff, demolish two existing buildings and build a new one, and make other significant improvements to the existing facility on the Lagoon Pond side of Beach Road.
“The selectmen are pleased to see your investment and confidence in Tisbury’s and the Island’s future. Your strategic vision for your business reminds us of our priorities as a maritime community, with the goal of maintaining the working waterfront as viable and prosperous,” the letter reads. “You provide a vital service to boat owners. You provide employment to a sizable workforce. You do this in an environmentally responsible manner.”
The letter goes on to call the Hales’ project environmentally sensitive because of its focus on managing stormwater runoff.
“The town partnership opportunities and the offers you have voluntarily put forth respond to the priority of needs for Tisbury. Your investment in the building and site improvements, increased employment, both temporary and permanent, and the anticipated increased tax revenue is vitally important to the town of Tisbury,” the letter states. “The successful redevelopment of your property and other properties in this waterfront area represent the single greatest opportunity for increased economic health for the town, which is the selectmen’s economic goal and vision for the waterfront-dependent businesses in Tisbury.”
In front of a large audience of town officials, business owners, and other stakeholders, selectman Melinda Loberg said the board has received many letters both in support and against the project. Loberg pointed out that letters from the harbor, police, and fire departments did not express any concerns with the project.
She reminded the audience that the selectmen do not review the project. It instead goes to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).
The Lagoon Pond Association, the Tisbury Waterways, and the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group were invited to voice their concerns with the project, after being initially told they would not have that opportunity.
Doug Reece of the Lagoon Pond Association shared concerns he previously expressed to The Times. He referenced a letter from the Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) from Nov. 27. “Given the shellfish resources and associated fisheries in the project area and the potential of this area to be closed to fishing due to the proposed project scope, the Mass DMF recommends a revised alternative analysis that considers relocating the marina to the northern shore of the shipyard on the Vineyard Haven inner harbor,” Reece said, reading from the letter. “This area is currently classified as conditionally approved, already impaired by boating activity, and have less impact on shellfish and associated fisheries and Lagoon Pond.”
He added that the Lagoon Pond Association and other environmental organizations spend thousands of dollars to improve water quality. “We think it’s not a good idea to have the marina there,” he said.
But on Jan. 24, the Hales submitted a letter outlining updates to their proposal after meeting with DMF on Jan. 13 to address concerns in their November letter. DMF confirmed the updates in a response on Jan. 27.
The Hales’ letter proposed a seasonal closure from April 10 to Nov. 1 to avoid shellfishing season; no overnight boating, enforced through a lease agreement; an $80,000 shellfish mitigation proposal that would work together with town and state agencies to improve shellfishing in the community; and other concerns.
Representing Tisbury Waterways, Gerard Hokanson said many parts of the project proposal needed to be substantiated before the town supports the project, specifically water quality. He stressed the town complete its Coastal Zone Management grant that will examine the harbor area and inform planning decisions in the Beach Road area. “We feel that that study at a minimum needs to be completed and the results assessed before this project moves forward,” Hokanson said.
Emma Green-Beach, co-executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, told selectmen the group had concerns with many aspects of the project. She cited the “irreplaceable value” of shellfish in the west arm, toxins from increased boating affecting marine wildlife, and other concerns.
“If we have to make a choice to support private business and recreational boats, then we’re choosing these things over traditional shellfisheries,” Green-Beach said.
Loberg also allowed Shelley Edmundson, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Fisherman’s Preservation Trust, to speak. Edmundson read from a letter sent to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Kathleen Theoharides. The letter details respect and appreciation for all the M.V. Shipyard does, but is explicit in its opposition.
“We do not support [the Shipyard’s] proposal to expand their recreational services and business footprint through construction of a marina in the West Arm of Lagoon Pond,” Edmundson said. “Construction of a marina would impact the marine ecosystem these species and their different life stages depend on, and displace the fishermen who have been sustainably harvesting these resources for generations.”
Edmundson went on to add that the trust feels “the benefits to 48 recreational boaters and one Shipyard’s profits are far outweighed by the demonstrable risk to the rest of the region’s maritime commerce and marine habitats.”
The audience, many of whom were opposing the project, applauded each person who spoke.
Despite opposition from environmental groups, selectmen stuck to their support of the expansion.
Selectman Jim Rogers said he cares deeply about the town’s waterways, and is concerned about the health of the pond. When he was younger, Rogers said, the M.V. Shipyard operated in both the harbor and the pond
“I see this project as helping us to address some of those concerns,” Rogers said. “We have a facility that for well over 100 years have been great stewards of Tisbury waterfront on both sides … They’re going to have a comprehensive review by highly qualified people about what the actual effects are going to be.”
Selectman Jeff Kristal pointed out that section of the selectmen’s letter that mentions the town’s efforts to better manage stormwater pollutants and contributions of nitrogen.
“We’ve done a lousy job at better managing stormwater pollutants and contributions of nitrogen in groundwater. If this is going to facilitate that conversation, I’m welcoming it,” Kristal said. “We do a lousy job, and if this project the Hales are putting forward gets us talking about it, talking’s [not] enough. We’ve talked so long, we’ve talked for decades about this; we need to really start doing things.”
After voting on the letter, selectmen did not take questions or comments about their approval.
Speaking to The Times by phone Thursday, James Hale said that he and his father, Philip, have been working with numerous groups to continue developing their project. Hale attended Wednesday’s selectmen’s meeting.
“We are very pleased with the letter of support from the Tisbury selectmen. We believe the selectmen accurately stated many of the project benefits and challenges,” Hale wrote later in an email. “It’s important for the community to know that my father and I have been working hard on this project. We have had meetings with the Division of Marine Fisheries (two meetings), M.V. Shellfish Group, [MVC], and Tisbury shellfish constable.”
Hale added that one of the positives to come out of the many meetings is a change to potential closures. The Hales are proposing that “all boats and floating docks will be out of the water by Oct. 31,” and “any closure will be conditionally approved, and not a permanent closure as previously stated.”
“We are committed to the continued dialogue with the community, and we are working on addressing all of the concerns,” Hale added.