The Massachusetts Environmental Police are investigating an incident of vandalism at an affordable housing complex under construction by Island Housing Trust (IHT).
The suspect allegedly tampered with the water system at the site by removing a cap on a well and pouring an undetermined amount of motor oil into it, Philippe Jordi, executive director of IHT, told The Times. No contamination appears to have reached the aquifer, and IHT is working with a company to remove the hazardous waste.
Authorities are calling it an “environmental crime.”
Tisbury Sgt. Max Sherman confirmed that police were called Jan. 26 to investigate. He said the state Environmental Police are taking the lead in the case, and Tisbury Police are working with them.
Sherman said local authorities will work with the state to determine what charges might be leveled. “We’ll see what comes of it,” he said.
“Well, it was very deliberate, so I think it goes beyond vandalism,” Jordi said. “That’s really the question that the state and the Attorney General’s office is working on right now.”
IHT board members are offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to a conviction in the case.
Security at the site has been stepped up, and the police are also on alert, Jordi said. Wells at the site now have locked caps.
The Keuhn’s Way project is being modeled after the successful Scott’s Grove project built by IHT in West Tisbury. The project, which is scheduled to begin construction this spring, will feature 20 apartments of various sizes, including one, two, and three bedrooms. As with any project that IHT proposes, there was some pushback during public meetings as the project made its way through the permitting process, but IHT officials are shocked by this incident.
“No, my gosh, never,” Jordi said, asked if IHT had ever seen this kind of incident. “It totally took us by surprise. It was a shock. It really was.”
The incident endangered the wells at the site, and ultimately other private wells in the area, Jordi said. He called it “truly disturbing.”
In a separate interview, Doug Ruskin, president of IHT’s board, said the project will move ahead.
“We need the public’s help to find who did this,” Ruskin said. “We’re not slowing down. We’re moving ahead undeterred, and fully expect this to be done on time.”
Jordi said the housing project is on schedule to be completed by late 2021 or early 2022.
The incident comes with a hefty price tag. Not only does IHT have to pay to have the hazardous waste cleaned up, but Jordi estimated it would cost $50,000 to have new wells drilled for the project. There are also test wells that have been drilled, he said.
Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact Detective Andrew Lieberwirth of the Massachusetts Environmental Police at (617) 963- 2657.