Martha’s Vineyard Airport to renovate wastewater facilities

County commissioners approve the request to apply for loans to upgrade system. 

From left, airport director Geoff Freeman and airport commission member Richard Knabel address the Dukes County commissioners during a Zoom meeting.

Dukes County Commissioners unanimously approved the request by the Martha’s Vineyard Airport to start the borrowing process to renovate the wastewater facilities at the airport. The vote was taken during Wednesday’s Zoom meeting.

Woodard & Curran will be the company undertaking the renovations. 

“The wastewater facility is in dire need of renovation to meet EPA requirements,” Bob Rosenbaum, chair of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, said.

According to Rosenbaum, Dukes County qualifies for the Massachusetts State Revolving Fund, a program that provides qualified applicants with a low-interest, 20-year loan. The estimated borrowing amount for the renovation will be $6.7 million. Rosenbaum said Dukes County is now too wealthy to qualify for loan forgiveness, but grant options are also being looked at to lower the borrowing amount. 

Scott Medeiros, a representative from Woodard & Curran, said time is of the essence, as the borrowing authorization due date was August 24. Medeiros has already had a meeting with the Dukes County Finance Committee, which signed off on the borrowing request. 

According to Medeiros, the last time the airport’s wastewater facilities had an upgrade was in 1992. The renovation will bring various improvements to the facilities, such as upgrades to the ventilation system and electrical safety. 

The commissioners agreed to the request. Dukes County Commission chair Christine Todd added she hopes more cooperation can happen among the towns to approach wastewater issues: “I hope we have a more regional approach to this as we move forward.” 

Meanwhile, the Dukes County Steering Committee presented the findings of Cook County, Ill., for its American Rescue Plan Act funding. Cook County, the second most populous county in America, received $1.9 billion in ARPA funding. It hired consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to do research on what would be the best and most feasible way to use the funds. The steering committee also looked into ARPA best practices of Barnstable County, which has a situation more similar to Dukes County. The steering committee requested two motions from the commissioners. One was to allow them to formally accept the ARPA funding and authorize the treasurer to make a special-purpose fund for it. The other was the seeding and creation of a budget authority for implementing ARPA funding and its framework. If approved, the ARPA funds should arrive in October. The commissioners unanimously approved the request, and a future meeting will be held to further discuss the funding. 

In other business, the commissioners discussed the uptick in COVID-19 cases as a result of the Delta variant in Dukes County. 

“It took way too long for the Island to institute an indoor mask mandate. Nantucket had it way before we did,” said commissioner Keith Chatinover. “We should have done it sooner.”

The down-Island towns implemented indoor mask mandates on Tuesday, and Chilmark implemented an indoor mask mandate on Wednesday. West Tisbury and Aquinnah already had mandates in place from earlier this month.

Additionally, the issue of whether the county’s employees should be vaccinated came up. “I would strongly encourage it, but at this point the state’s not mandating it, the feds aren’t mandating it, and so I caution against mandating it,” said Dukes County manager Martina Thornton. On Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that state workers would be required to be vaccinated unless they showed a medical or religious reason to be exempted.

The requirement for town employees to be vaccinated has already started on Martha’s Vineyard. The West Tisbury select board and other appointing authorities approved a vaccine mandate for its town employees during a joint meeting on Wednesday.

Leon Braitwaite recommended tabling this issue for the next meeting. Todd agreed, mentioning the importance of employee input. Todd hopes Delta will pass soon, but recognizes “we’re not out of the woods yet,” as another variant arriving to Dukes County is a possibility. 

Adding discussion of changing meeting formats and the possibility of increasing commissioners’ pay to the agenda of a future meeting were also approved.