The Oak Bluffs select board approved lead testing to be conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard on town land adjacent to the East Chop Lighthouse where it believes contamination has spread.
The approval gives the Coast Guard access to several small areas outside the 60- by 60-foot parcel of land it owns surrounding the lighthouse.
“What we’re here today to discuss is to get access to a few areas outside that land to conduct some sampling to figure out if some of the contamination might have extended beyond those borders, as our initial sampling appears it might have,” Coast Guard Capt. Eric Bader said.
Bader said the Coast Guard was using a heat map to detect lead contamination, and said there are several areas on the town property they believe have contamination.
The Coast Guard recently completed its survey for suspected lead contamination around East Chop Lighthouse, and found contamination, which it will remediate.
Bader said the Coast Guard would come back to the town if lead is detected, to get permission for remediation. Testing will begin in May, and take one or two days. Following an archaeology survey in July, remediation is expected to start in September, and be completed by October.
Oak Bluffs board of health member Tom Zinno said the lead contamination is “probably beyond” the lighthouse borders, and sampling should be done on the full 1.3-acre property. The board of health hardened its stance on the lighthouse lead issue, after initially treating the issue lightly. “If you’re sending people there, it’d be great to test the whole thing,” Zinno said.
Bader said the Coast Guard was limited to testing near its property, and didn’t know if they could legally test the entire property. He said the Coast Guard only owns the lighthouse portion, and the other areas were transferred to the town in the 1930s.
“At this time we’d be exploring the contamination with the Coast Guard property, which is the lighthouse, and that would be the limit of what we’re tackling at this point,” Bader said.
Select board member Gail Barmakian asked if the Coast Guard would be open to discussion for further testing on the property.
Bader said the Coast Guard wouldn’t be responsible for remediating lead contamination on town property because the date it transferred the land was in the 1930s, before Resource Conservation and Recovery Act laws.
“It’s the same thing if you bought a house during that time period and it had lead paint; the person you bought the house from wouldn’t be responsible for remediating the lead because it wasn’t a known hazard at the time,” Bader said.
Select board member Brian Packish said it was important to understand why the Coast Guard was only testing and remediating on their property. “Your explanation, while disheartening on some level, is understandable to most folks that have a home that’s a little older and understand lead paint,” he said.
During a Zoom appearance before the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard, U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Bourne, addressed the contamination issues at East Chop. “We have contacted the Coast Guard. We are working on that. It’s an issue that has affected other facilities, you know, around the country as well. We’re in the process of trying to get them to remediate … ther, and to provide them some funding to help supplement what they might need to do it. It’s an issue we’re well aware of, and we’ve been working on it over the last year at least, and continue to do as we’re speaking now.”
In other business, street closures are not likely this summer in downtown Oak Bluffs.
The Oak Bluffs Association, along with 25 businesses, met Monday to discuss what to expect this summer. The goal of the meeting was to develop a request for street closures, outdoor dining, and outdoor entertainment, but the group couldn’t think of what they wanted to ask.
“We came away with more questions than we did answers,” OBA executive director Christine Todd said. “There are so many moving parts, and things are changing all the time.”
In the end, the OBA decided to not request any street closures due to mixed reviews, and said it wouldn’t be fair to ask the board for any events this summer due to the uncertainty still posed by the pandemic. Instead, Todd asked for the board to approach events individually throughout the summer, especially as regulations are changing — such as Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision to relax outdoor mask orders — as more people become vaccinated.
“Honestly, we just want you, as a board, to maintain an open mind and spirit to the individual scenarios that will unfold before you with particular businesses coming for increased seating outside,” Todd said.
Nancy’s owner and OBA board member Doug Abdelnour said that the majority of businesses that were in favor of street closures were restaurants such as MV Salads, Dos Mas, Toccopuro, Red Cat, and Seaweed’s.
“Until we’re ready and the regulations allow us to have a really good event on Circuit Ave., it didn’t make sense to close the street down,” Abdelnour said.
To find a middle ground for businesses for and against street closures, Abdelnour suggested having some outside seating for restaurants during the evening, in sectioned-off parking spots.
“We don’t have a plan in place yet, but we will,” Abdelnour said.
As businesses on Circuit and Kennebec Avenue work on how to accommodate outdoor dining, the board approved outdoor dining permits for the VFW, Lobsterville, the Holy Ghost Association, and Lookout Tavern. An outdoor dining request from the Alley was postponed so the board could review state rules and regulations for serving alcohol without food for outdoor seating.
In a changing of the guard, select board member Jason Balboni was the tiebreaking vote that elected Packish as the new chair, in a 3-2 vote.
Following each local election, the board reorganizes its leadership, selecting a new chair and vice chair.
Packish beat out fellow board member Barmakian — both have previously served terms as chair.
Longtime selectman Greg Coogan was slated to take the chair position, since he served the past year as vice chair, but Coogan did not seek re-election, leaving the board in what Packish called a unique situation. He said his past experience as chair during the early stages of the pandemic, his ability to lead Zoom meetings, and management style would make him a good chair.
“It’s about trying to pick a vision and working within that vision if it’s consistent with the membership of the board, and then identifying that the tremendous amount of time necessary to complete that work is available,” Packish said.
Packish and Barmakian voted for themselves, with Balboni and board member Ryan Ruley voting for Packish, and newly minted board member Emma Green-Beach voting for Barmakian. Ruley was elected as vice chair.