Surprise rollback of Tisbury SUP 

Planning board and MVC members express reservations.

The Tisbury select board approved a reduction in scope Tuesday night for the Beach Road project. -Rich Saltzberg

Over the course of a marathon four-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Tisbury select board made a number of major decisions, led by a unanimous vote to narrow the scope of the Beach Road shared-use path (SUP) project. The vote, which took place at around 9 pm Tuesday night at a meeting that started at 5, essentially eliminated dedicated off-the-roadway paths for bicycles.

The vote followed a report from town administrator Jay Grande that indicated the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) informed the town Friday that it was willing to pare down aspects of the project that impacted local infrastructure, such as sewer lines. Grande reminded the board Tisbury town counsel David Doneski sent a letter to MassDOT on March 5 to express the town’s disinterest in paying to upgrade or relocate underground utilities. 

Grande gave the board a synopsis of what MassDOT was willing to do in lieu of the original project, and shared concept drawings. MassDOT proposed a half-foot expansion on either side of the roadway to accommodate bicycles and painting bicycle lanes within the existing road, redoing sidewalks to ADA standards from the Tisbury Market Place to Five Corners and adding curbing to them, and relocating utility poles. MassDOT’s proposal also included milling and repaving Beach Road, restoring a section of shoreline near the road, and rejiggering an outfall pipe near the R.M. Packer Marine Railway so it drains into Vineyard Haven Harbor instead of Lagoon Pond. A wholesale redo of roadway drainage would not occur.

In an email included in Grande’s written report to the board, MassDOT supervising project manager Thomas Currier offered better upkeep of existing drainage instead. 

“Existing drainage would be retained, but cleaned and restored to functioning status,” he wrote. “MassDOT commits to a more frequent regular cleaning schedule for the drainage system to insure it is functioning during storm events.”

Grande noted there were originally two concepts for the SUP, symmetrical and asymmetrical, and both accommodated bicycles and pedestrians. MassDOT’s new proposal was symmetrical and eliminated infrastructure conflicts, while the project originally undertaken was asymmetrical and didn’t. 

 “The town is really at a crossroads,” Grande said. “We desperately need the road repaired. We desperately need new sidewalks. We need the utility poles removed from the sidewalks so they can be ADA-compliant. We need bicycle accommodations, and they’re saying the project is underway, and they’re prepared to move forward with this change of project. They’re not willing to pay for all the changes that we feel are necessary to the infrastructure, and that’s where we’re at a crossroads.”

Grande said MassDOT wanted an answer “as soon as possible” in the proposed reduction of scope.

“That’s great news,” select board member Larry Gomez said. “So basically what we’re getting is a symmetrical program. That’s what people want to hear. They don’t understand about the poles and the electricity and drainage and all this stuff. They want the symmetrical road, and they’re going to get it.”

Gomez went on to say “those of us” who supported a symmetrical project “have won out.” He credited longtime SUP critic Frank Brunelle with helping achieve a diminished project. “I think this calls for a celebration,” Gomez said ahead of the vote.

Planning board member and Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) member Ben Robinson wasn’t bullish on the proposed new iteration of the project. “I would caution the select board from endorsing this conceptual plan the state has given us without a little more thorough review,” he said. Among other things, Robinson said he believed the new proposal would impact drainage and increase the likelihood of speeding. 

“This isn’t a symmetrical design,” he said. “It’s essentially what we have today. And the condition that we have today is that bikes coming from Oak Bluffs will cross the bridge on the Lagoon side, and they will travel along the Lagoon bike path that’s already built, and then they will just continue along the sidewalk on the Lagoon side.” 

He argued bicyclists will ride the sidewalk because they won’t want to be blended in traffic. 

Planning board member Cheryl Doble questioned simply paving over the roadway without evaluating what the subsurface materials and infrastructure conditions are. MVC staffer Dan Doyle said he supported Doble’s stance.

MVC senior planner Bill Veno suggested the board listen to “a lot of voices, not just the most vocal ones.” He said erroneous information about the project comes at a pace quicker than he can counteract it. 

Debbie Packer asked the board to weigh the needs of the working waterfront, including her parent’s marine and energy businesses, against the value of the SUP. Her father, Ralph Packer, has long expressed skepticism about the utility and legality of the SUP. 

Select board chair Jim Rogers acknowledged the MassDOT proposal was new. “I support going in this direction for now,” Rogers said. “But I do see merit before we take a final vote in letting the people, including the abutters, including those averse to the SUP, look at this plan, including the Packer family, to make sure this plan that has been delivered by DOT works.”

Rogers asked the other two board members their thoughts on delaying a vote for two weeks.

“I’ve waited 12 years,” Gomez said. “I’m ready to vote.”

Select board member Jeff Kristal said he too was already prepared to vote. 

After the vote, Rogers said he looked forward to input from the public going forward.

In other business, music promoter Adam Epstein, promoter of Beach Road Weekend, came before the board to request approval of a three-day summer concert this year to mark the town’s 350th anniversary. Despite delayed authorization from the board of health and a request to postpone the select board vote by Rogers, the board voted unanimously to conditionally approve use of Veteran’s Memorial Park for July 23, 24, and 25. 

The board also voted unanimously to segregate supervision of the fire department from supervision of the EMS department, and named ambulance coordinator Tracey Jones the town’s first director of EMS. 

After board debate, comment from local mariners, and a preface by harbormaster John Crocker, the board voted unanimously to grant Tashmoo Boatyard two additional commercial moorings, bringing the boatyard’s total to 10. Crocker made it clear, per policy, that the boatyard would need to pick mooring users from the town’s waiting list. “I don’t see that as being fair to the boatyard,” Michael Baptiste, who runs the operation, said. Baptiste said he has fewer moorings than similar establishments in Tisbury, and he has his own waitlist. He also said the town has a number of its own moorings. Despite his displeasure, Baptiste said he would go along with the rule. On Wednesday Rogers said he found the policy baffling. 

The board unanimously appointed Roshawan Groce and Anthony Fusaro as seasonal police officers, and along with several other people, unanimously appointed retired Fire Chief John Schilling as a traffic officer. 

“I think he will be terrific,” Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio said. 

“All I can picture is Chief Schilling in a Village People uniform,” Kristal said.

In another unanimous appointment, the board installed West Tisbury assistant animal control officer Kathleen Hoffman into the vacant position of Tisbury animal control officer. 



  1. Larry Gomez doesn’t think the public understands “about the poles and the electricity and drainage and all this stuff.” Says a lot about what he thinks of the intellect of his constituents.

  2. As a business owner on Beach Rd, I could not be happier that the absolutely horrible and dangerous SUP has been stopped! It was always a terrible option. What a breath of fresh air to have a board that actually stands up for the businesses and people in town. Bravo!!

  3. Finally a little common sense.This plan was ill conceived and never addressed the real problem. Global warming is causing higher and higher tides that are soon too make Beach Road impassable during storms and even some high tides. Let’s step back and take a breath and develop a long term plan for Beach Road.

  4. Best practices for public safety Nationwide find cities and towns upgrading infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians with the resulting decrease in automobile trips, traffic jams and overall improvement in quality of life which comes with increasing choices for people to move from place to place. It seems any plan which does not perpetuate the status quo in Tisbury is DOA. If you keep voting in the same old people with little imagination who fear the future you get a Town with tons of potential firmly stuck in the past, a government addicted to dysfunction, corruption and high taxes. Tisbury has so many pluses: great people, port, gateway to Martha’s Vineyard, the only thing holding back its potential is the town leadership or rather lack of it. Here is an project that can make a huge difference open up opportunities for future generations, this is a local project that can and should be done held back by old boys who only want to protect business as usual.

  5. It’s unclear to me, but it seems that an opportunity to work with MassDOT to reinforce Beach Road against rising sea levels and plan that roadway fro the next 30 years, including methods to provide for a way to address the need for better drainage of what is largely filled land on either side of the roadway, may be lost. The news reports never seem to get to the real meat of the needs for this roadway and extremely important area of Tisbury, which is to not just address parochial concerns of homeowners and transportation wishes, but to use the funding available to NOW undertake efforts to make sure the flooding all along that roadway that is more common these days than ever (as evidence of sea level rise) is addressed over the long term. That road is a critical arterial road that MUST be fully engineered and protected and not just repaved and made more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly (though those aims can and must be a part of the overall plan)! Please do not settle for half (or less) of a plan. MassDOT is guided by certain policies for such sustainability. See which is part of a Draft Environmental Impact Report long ago done for the expansion of South Station and addresses issues of sustainability that appear to be greatly lacking in the MassDOT planning process. I urge the Selectmen and the MV Commission and the Oak Bluffs Selectmen and all other stakeholders to work NOW on the long range plan for this area. Too many critical resources necessary to life on the entire island reside along State Highways that are in need of plans. While a part of the Beach Road across from Vineyard Scrips and the Whale Building is being undermined and washed away from scouring of tidal and storm influences, the State Highway at the end of the seawall in Oak Bluffs likewise is falling away into the rising seas.

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