Albiston appointed O.B. health agent

Town will keep Albiston on as conservation agent too.

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Garrett Albiston is now both the conservation agent and health agent for Oak Bluffs. — Rich Saltzberg

The Oak Bluffs board of health voted unanimously Tuesday morning to appoint Oak Bluffs conservation agent Garrett Albiston as the town’s health agent. The appointment came with the understanding that Albiston will serve as double agent going forward. 

Albiston isn’t new to the board of health. Since former health agent Meegan Lancaster resigned in February, Albiston was serving as acting health agent for the town. Last year Albiston had served as assistant health agent before landing the job as conservation agent in late summer

The vacancy Albiston filled came about after Lancaster resigned in February after finding 10mm shell casings in her tote bag. Lancaster deemed the casings a threat. She previously told The Times she suspected the shell casings were connected to her work on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) regulations. The Oak Bluffs Police Department investigated the shell casings, but weren’t able to come up with any leads to work with, and closed the case

Albiston told the board conservation and health have complementary elements. “I think that these two departments mesh in a lot of different ways,” he said. “You know, in terms of nitrogen and groundwater pollution, I think having them combined, we can really strengthen our regulations and have a really, really good outcome trying to protect the ponds. I’ll know what’s going on with both of these departments.”

Assistant town administrator Wendy Brough told the board that until a decision is made on the conservation agent position, the town is presented with an “amazing” opportunity to “trial” the combination role of conservation agent and health agent. Nonetheless, Brough said she would be “recruiting immediately” for a conservation administrator to assist the conservation department. A few months in the future, if the town finds the combination is “untenable,” the combination role can be split apart, Brough added.

Health board member Tom Zinno said that if the combined role for Albiston is doable, he supports it because the work happens to “cross over in many areas.” PFAS testing of septic systems was a “big thing,” that will become “mainstream throughout the country.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission is preparing to embark on a testing program. The town’s wastewater department is ready to conduct testing too, he said.

Once a “baseline” is established for how much PFAS is in local wastewater, Albiston said, regulation and remediation can be explored. Albiston said he hoped for the best and most inexpensive solutions to septic PFAS. “Most people don’t have a lot of extra money to go throwing in filters and things like that in their septic systems. But I think it’s a very important thing to try to stop it from entering our groundwater, if it is.”

When asked by The Times if a combination role might invite conflicts in decisionmaking, Albiston said he didn’t believe so. “There are several towns on the Cape that actually have merged conservation and health departments, and there’s one agent to do both roles,” Albiston said.

“How we might address an issue like PFAS, for example,” health board member James Butterick said, “might be just slightly different from the conservation versus the board of health angle, but you know our point is still going to be to reduce whatever is going into the groundwater that’s going to leach into our estuarial ponds, whether it’s nitrogen or PFAS.”

Butterick went on to say, “I think it’s worth trying. You know there’s not total overlap of conservation and board of health, but there’s significant overlap. You know, a lot of our goals are the same — to clean up the water, reduce what’s going into it.”

“I think immediately we don’t have any options — that’s the other end of it,” Zinno said.

“There are always options,” chair William White said. “That’s the way I look at it.” White added that he had faith in Albiston, and over the next few months, the board will see if the experiment “works out.”

White said Brough was going to hunt for a new assistant health agent. “That’s really out of our hands,” he said. “It depends who bites.”

Finance committee member Maura McGroarty raised the issue of PFAS as it related to proposed regulations on artificial turf, and questioned whether the board should be evaluating something that she felt hadn’t scientifically been “identified as dangerous.”

White became irked at McGroarty’s remarks, defended the integrity of the board, and said, as he had in the past, that science on the subject was evolving. 

McGroarty apologized, and said what she was really troubled over was the regulatory process. She asked Albiston what he intended to do in regard to the regulations.

“That’s what the board’s for,” Albiston said. “That’s their responsibility, to make a decision. I just bring them the information so they can make informed decisions. So I will not be issuing anything.”

He added the subject wasn’t on the agenda, and would be addressed at a future meeting.

1 COMMENT

  1. I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Albiston on my building project recently. He was one of the miracles I needed to get the building going. I found him to be thoughtful, open-minded, and considerate. I wish him well in his new position and as a resident of Oak Bluffs, I think we are very fortunate to have him in our Town Hall.

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