Listen to the experts

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At their past two meetings, members of the West Tisbury board of selectmen have spent a lot of time talking about a culvert on Tiah’s Cove Road that experts say needs to be replaced.

That’s a key word — experts.

The conservation commission has asked the board to put an article on the upcoming town meeting warrant for $90,000 to $100,000 to make the repairs.

Thus far, selectmen have been reluctant to pull the trigger to support the project, despite the fact that the culvert and the need for repairs have been an issue for almost 10 years.

You don’t need to drive far to find a culvert that was in similar shape, talked about for years, and then finally collapsed, forcing officials to close a road and inconvenience people who live in that area of town.

A little over a year ago, a culvert on Lambert’s Cove Road in Tisbury failed after a heavy rain undermined it. Like the culvert on Tiah’s Cove Road, the failure of the culvert came as no surprise. It had been identified as a problem, but the town just never got around to the repairs. That forced some residents of Tisbury to drive into West Tisbury to get to certain spots in their own town. Inconvenience is one thing, but it was also a potential public safety issue. West Tisbury, through a mutual aid agreement, provided emergency responses to the areas cut off by the road closure.

While West Tisbury selectmen chair Cynthia Mitchell appears ready to move forward with the Tiah’s Cove Road project, there’s been pushback from Skipper Manter and Kent Healy. It’s particularly disappointing that Healy, a civil engineer, isn’t on board with the recommendations he’s getting from the town’s professional staff to make the repairs. “My feeling about this is, Don’t do anything until you have to,” he said. “Payment delayed is money saved.”

We’re not sure we understand this quaint, but tortured logic.

Almost always, a project that is delayed costs more money because of inflation. And if you have to do the project because it’s an emergency, it’s bound to cost more money.

All of this while Healy concedes that the culvert is not in good shape, and needs to eventually be fixed.

Delaying the repair feels irresponsible, particularly in the face of the town’s conservation administrator, Maria McFarland, advocating for it to be done now.

“The top of the culvert, the upstream headwall, has dislodged and fallen into the stream, forming a partial barrier for fish and wildlife movement,” she told the board. “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.” 

She’s not alone in advocating for making the repairs now, before there’s an emergency. The town’s highway superintendent, Richard Olsen, is also recommending the culvert be replaced, according to town administrator Jennifer Rand.

The town has been bypassed for state grant funding for the project, and while that’s disappointing, town leaders shouldn’t make that a reason not to proceed.

We understand the pressure to keep taxes down, but that’s no reason to imagine that a needed town project will fix itself or become less expensive. The town’s professional staff has made a recommendation, has backed it up with supporting information. It’s time to fully support those recommendations from the experts and let voters decide whether they’re willing to pay for it.