Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande told the select board Tuesday night the town and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) were at an impasse about who will cover costs associated with utility conflicts discovered after the Beach Road project broke ground on a shared-use path.
Grande said the specific issue revolved around wastewater line improvements that appear necessary. He characterized these improvements as expensive. “We’re talking between $1 million to $2 million, potentially,” he said.
Grande said the town has been meeting regularly with MassDOT officials, and in fact met earlier that day with them. He noted some progress had been made, in that MassDOT appears to have agreed to cover the cost of waterline relocation, another necessity discovered after the project broke ground.
To press its points on utilities, notably the wastewater line, the town opted to send a letter to MassDOT. Grande’s packet to the board contained that letter, which was written by KP Law attorney David Doneski.
“The town is concerned that the road construction activity will likely damage the town’s water and sewer lines,” Doneski wrote in part. “MassDOT has proposed to relocate a portion of the water line; however it has not proposed to relocate the wastewater line, which is also vulnerable and needs to be addressed. This is highlighted by additional information the town has just received from its consulting engineer, Environmental Partners Group (EPG), regarding conflicts between drain structures and sewer components.”
Grande made it clear to the board he didn’t believe there would be any issues with the wastewater line if not for the Beach Road project. “The fact that the wastewater is still a question in MassDOT’s mind as to who’s paying for it is a big concern, since I am of the understanding if not for this project, that utility wouldn’t be vulnerable, to put it simply,” Grande said.
Asked by The Times during the meeting why the wastewater line and other utilities have arisen as problems after years of planning and after the project has begun, select board chair Jim Rogers placed blame on MassDOT.
“Yeah, because they just did test wells to locate where these things actually were. I don’t think we know why prior to that, DOT engineered a project and didn’t realize this was an issue. They’re supposedly the highway experts. We’re just amateurs. You know, all I can say is in my personal opinion, some of the DOT didn’t do their homework.”
A more blunt accusation was made in a March 1 memo from Environmental Partners Group to Tisbury wastewater superintendent Jared Meader, where it was alleged that during a Feb. 23 call, “MassDOT said there were no conflicts between the new drainage design and the existing sewer. However, MassDOT’s plans indicate direct and potential conflicts with the sewer main or sewer services.”
That memo was also included in the packet provided to the board.
As a whole, Grande was unable to tell the board what length of delay wastewater and any other utility issues would cause to the project’s schedule.
“The utility companies are coming out in April,” he said. “The project is delayed because of the subsurface issues. We’re not given a specific number of weeks the project is delayed. They [MassDOT] did indicate that they’re hopeful that other phases of the project, once these issues are resolved, could bring them back into their proposed schedule.”
The board didn’t deliberate much about the report Grande gave. However, in a unanimous vote, the board authorized Grande to send MassDOT a letter outlining the benefits of raising low areas of Beach Road to hedge against storm tide flooding. The letter, a draft of which was provided to the board, suggested raising the road in key areas would be advantageous as a “resiliency” measure, and should be considered as the Beach Road project progresses. Who would pay for that work and what it might cost wasn’t contemplated in the letter.
MassDOT didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The board voted unanimously to authorize what was described as “phase one” of a trio of Owen Park improvements. DPW director Kirk Metell and Cheryl Doble, a member of both the planning board and the open space and recreation committee, came before the board to report on the project, which revolves around a handicap-accessible terrace in the upper portion of the park.
Metell told the board phase two is the bandstand, and phase three involves improvements near the harbormaster’s shack.
Doble said the project is part of a larger plan for improving Tisbury’s parks so they have areas which comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She described the project as including “a larger, wider entrance” that leads onto “a level area at the top of the park, with benches in it.” She added there would be a set of steps installed to access the flagpole area, and a series of roadside plantings too.
The terrace area would be composed of compacted stone dust, a surface type she said was ADA-compliant for those with walking disabilities and those who use wheelchairs. As a whole, the improvements were meant to encourage people to walk through the park instead of walking down Owen Park Way.
Doble noted the project is funded by Community Preservation funds. A town landscaping contractor submitted an estimate for $40,301. That estimate does not appear to include benches. Doble said she and Metell were working on getting new benches with armrests, “so people can actually get up out of the bench and sit down on the bench more easily.”
Selectman Jeff Kristal said he wouldn’t support the project if new benches weren’t part of the plan. Doble said she hoped to have the improvements ready by Memorial Day.
Metell said he would “love to have it done before Memorial Day.”
Following a discussion about the bandstand that established that its renovation was still a work in progress, Kristal acknowledged the presence of planning board chair Elaine Miller on the Zoom, and took a surprise swipe at her board for denying developer Sam Dunn’s request to permit ground-floor residential units in his remodeling project at the former Santander Bank property.
“I was a little disappointed at the planning board vote that they took last week,” he said. “After the Tisbury [select board] came out in favor of Sam Dunn’s project at Santander and so did Harold Chapdelaine and the William Street Historic District. And I’m just a little bit disappointed about the planning board banning the residential housing in the B1 [business district] on the first floor … we’re trying to revitalize the downtown. I think Sam’s is a great project, and I hope he still goes forward with it.”
Later, during a discussion with the Tisbury Business Association about boosting cultural and business vitality in Tisbury, Kristal sniped again at the planning board, saying, “One way we don’t do it … is we don’t tie developers’ hands by restricting residential in a B1.”
In other business, the board voted unanimously to appoint Kristal as the select board’s representative to the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank (CCMVHB). The board also voted unanimously to allow a merger between the Vineyard Haven Harbor Cultural District and the Vineyard Haven Business Association to allow the business association to become fiscal agent for funds dispensed from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
The board and the Tisbury School Committee jointly agreed to pull Tisbury School addition and renovation solar panel funding off the 2021 warrant, because the installation date was projected to be too far off for the money to be of immediate use.