Doesn’t pass sniff test

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The owner and managers of the Mansion House Inn — Sherm, Susan, and Josh Goldstein — are dedicated business leaders of the Island community. Let’s get that out there up front.

The town’s select board did them no favors by trying to keep an issue with an illegal sewer hookup at the hotel hush-hush at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting. At issue is the hotel’s geothermal system, which was installed in 2010 to deal with groundwater that was infiltrating the hotel’s basement ever since it was rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2001. The town has reported the discharge into the town’s sewer system in a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is awaiting a resolution, according to a spokesman for the agency.

The water was supposed to be discharged into a leaching field that got overwhelmed and caused flooding — at some point the system was tied into the town sewer system. No one has said when or how. It was discovered by a town sewer department official in May.

At that Nov. 17 select board meeting, the issue was listed on the agenda — “9 Main Street inflow and infiltration update.” There was no mention of the Mansion House. No mention of the Goldsteins.

And when the board finally arrived at that item, chair Jim Rogers was cryptic. “I don’t want to spend a long time on this, because we have the letters on this, and everyone is acting cooperatively,” Rogers said.

Contrast that with how the board treated another Island business owner recently over a common victualer’s license. On Aug. 11, the board had a similar item listed on its agenda under the town administrator’s report. This time it stated: “Vineyard Grocer, 294 State Road.”

Elio Silva, the owner of Vineyard Grocer, had been serving prepared foods at his Vineyard Haven business without the proper permits. He applied for the permits, but town inspectors would not sign off on the fire suppression system because it had not been properly tested.

The issue dragged out for months as Silva waited for a contractor to finish the job.

Because Silva was not at that Aug. 11 meeting — after he had been at repeated meetings previously — the board took punitive action. They denied Vineyard Grocer’s common victualer’s license, and called out Silva. “We gave them two years to straighten out a fire safety issue. It’s just unfathomable,” select board member Jeff Kristal said.

“We have a hard time getting these people to the table to talk about anything. Business owners should be readily available to talk about anything,” Kristal added.

Select board member Larry Gomez said he voted against Vineyard Grocer’s permit to “prove a point.”

While we understand the board’s frustration with the Vineyard Grocer situation, their job is to treat all business owners fairly, without playing favorites.

Fast-forward to Nov. 17. Josh Goldstein was on the select board’s Zoom call. He was asked if he wanted to say anything about the situation at 9 Main St. — the first hint to the public that this was about the Mansion House — and he remained silent.

And, unlike his rant about Silva, Kristal appeared to defend the length of time it was taking to get the situation at the Mansion House fixed. “It’s an update to the DEP, not a notification,” Kristal said. “It’s not like it was the first time they were told. This is an update.”

Well, it was the first time the general public was being told, and they weren’t being told much.

According to a letter from town administrator Jay Grande to Josh Goldstein dated Nov. 13, the town first notified Goldstein of the issue in May. Here we are in December, and Goldstein is still working with an engineer to find a solution to install a new leaching field.

There are unanswered questions about this — questions select board members should be asking in their role as town leaders.

How long has the Mansion House been tied illegally into the town’s system?

And, most important, has the Mansion House been properly billed for using an additional 15,000 gallons of flow daily at the town’s sewage treatment plant?

When we asked these questions of Josh Goldstein, a member of the town’s sewer advisory committee, he would only say that the Mansion House pays its bills on time.

In their Letter to the Editor published last week, Sherm and Susan Goldstein didn’t address the additional flow either. When we asked them direct questions in response to their emailed letter, we never got a response.

The public deserves answers, and the public deserves transparency. And the public deserves to know that all businesses will be treated fairly and equitably when issues arise. The select board didn’t handle the issue with Vineyard Grocer well, and their attempt to cover up the issue with the Mansion House wasn’t any better. There has to be a middle ground.