Culvert project inches forward

West Tisbury selectmen reluctant to authorize warrant article to pay for repairs.

The intake end of the Tiah's Cove Road culvert. — Rich Saltzberg

Voters at the 2021 annual town meeting will decide whether to spend $90,000 to $100,000 to redo a culvert that runs under Tiah’s Cove Road. The culvert drains into Tisbury Great Pond. 

Conservation commission administrator Maria McFarland gave the board a bit of background on the project. “Back in 2012, we had a connectivity study done, and they identified the culvert as one of the issues; it doesn’t meet the stream-crossing standards,” she said. “The top of the culvert, the upstream headwall, has dislodged and fallen into the stream, forming a partial barrier for fish and wildlife movement. The bottom quarter of the existing culvert has corroded, leaving a sand and gravel bed at the base. The headwalls of the culvert are cracked and coming apart. The road surface hasn’t failed yet, and is still passable. However, failure of the roadway is imminent, given the deterioration of the headwalls.” 

McFarland went on to say the conservation commission approved a permit for a culvert project in 2019, and that permit is valid for three years. She noted the culvert and 100 feet of roadway in its vicinity have been identified in the town’s hazard mitigation plan, and is a target project for the climate change committee. The plan foresees a number of households left isolated if the road fails or is flooded. Per the plan, the road may need to be raised in the area around the culvert, she noted. McFarland said the conservation commission hasn’t contemplated the subject of raising the road. 

McFarland said insufficient information about the nature of the waterway the culvert serves, previously sent to the commonwealth, or the state’s misallocation of that information, appears to be the reason why grant money hasn’t been awarded. She said she’s looking into what the state would want for a future grant application, but cautioned there are lots of other culverts in worse shape that are likely to get funds before West Tisbury. 

Selectman Kent Healy, a civil engineer, reiterated his reservations about the project. He said he didn’t see it as an urgent issue, though conceded the culvert wasn’t in good shape. He also said the project amounts to “basically building a bridge” to replace the culvert. 

“My feeling about this is, Don’t do anything until you have to,” he said. “Payment delayed is money saved.”

Town administrator Jennifer Rand said after conferring with highway superintendent Richard Olsen, she came away with an understanding that he believes the culvert needs replacement, but he’s not sure when that needs to happen.

“The town has already spent $9,000 to have Vineyard Land Surveying do all the project construction plans that were approved under the permit,” McFarland said.

“$100,000 is better spent in other ways,” Healy said.

Chair Cynthia Mitchell asked if the conservation commission would like to see the project proceed.

“They’d certainly like it to,” McFarland said. “If you wait until the road fails, then you have a big problem on your hands.”

“I would disagree with that, Maria,” Healy said.

McFarland pointed out that the connectivity study was done back in 2012, based on conditions at the time. “It’s now 2021,” she said. 

Selectman Skipper Manter agreed with Healy that it didn’t seem urgent, but added it will be a more expensive project as time progresses. 

“Even if it was to fail, there’s other ways out of there for those people who live down there,” Manter said. “They could go out through Bailey Martin Road, so they wouldn’t be cut off from the outside world.”

In the end, the board did not vote to place the culvert on the warrant, but took a straw poll which saw Manter and Mitchell in favor and Healy against the idea. 


  1. Dear MR Manter, Are you going to fix Bradley Martin Road to make it passable for those of us that would have to use it if the culvert collapses? I am one of those people who live down there!!!! Also housing residents and school buses for the children! Think again please. This needs to be done. It has waited long enough….

  2. I started counting the vehicles that pass my house or that I know in my immediate vicinity. 28 not counting all the cars from the housing units which are one and 2 bedroom. Another potential 28 vehicles? up to 56… Rubbish pick up, ups or fed ex delivery. Fuel delivery. School buses. the list goes on. And the people that live further in and access town by Tiah’s Cove Road. How much longer do you expect the culvert to last? Not an emergency but collapse is imminent.

  3. lets look at a worst case scenario, and it collapses. My guess is the town still has those steel plates that they used last year on Lambert’s cove road. I’m going with Kent– I trust his engineering opinion.

  4. There’s nothing like waiting for an emergency to happen when you already know it’s imminent, and then do nothing. How does this make any sense at all? How long was Lambert’s Cove Road closed to thru traffic after the culvert there collapsed and took the road surface with it?
    I would think all the first responders – police, fire, and ambulance – would like to weigh in on this, and if I lived down there I would be up in arms. Delaying this repair is not responsible governing.

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