Time to approve the turf field


To the Editor:

It’s time for the Oak Bluffs planning board to end the delay and approve the special permit to allow MVRHS’s track and field project to be built, while avoiding another lawsuit for the town. The MVRHS’ plans to improve their athletic facilities lie stalled again, this time by the Oak Bluffs planning board while another generation of high school students prepares to graduate.

The planning board’s process began on Oct. 24, 2019. It wasn’t until two years later that the hearings for site plan review were held, in October 2021. The planning board had in hand the town attorney’s approval to hold a concurrent review while the MVC reviewed (and has since approved) the high school’s athletic facilities improvements. Talk about taking a page out of a playbook: This would be on page 1 of the bureaucrat’s playbook to defeat a project they oppose — “a delay is a win.” It is important to understand it was not the intention of all the members of the board to use this delay tactic.The board’s agenda is set by the chair — the same chair who was asked twice to recuse himself from the review of this project, due to his bias against it. He was asked by both a member of the select board (now chairman of the select board) and the president of a youth sports organization. The chair’s bias has been clear and obvious well before the beginning of the planning board process. On Oct. 24, 2019, the chair took testimony outside of a public hearing “to educate the board” on topics which included the heart-wrenching testimony of a cancer survivor who had experienced exposure to a forever chemical, the fear of poisoned breast milk, and the fear of contaminated shellfish. None of these topics have any scientific link to the project at hand.

The chair’s bias was exposed again on the town’s planning board Facebook account. There were more than 40 instances of the chair posting propaganda supporting the opposition. He agreed to remove them only after meeting with the previous town administrator. He refused to do so when asked on three separate occasions by a taxpayer. He also has a history of forwarding emails of the propaganda with a familiar note — “the planning board wants to hear all voices.” The chair did not do the same with the information provided by supporters.

Sadly, I was not shocked by the chair’s more recent delay tactics during the special permit hearing process he presided over, as he postponed it for months awaiting a study that never came. This study was to be published by University of Notre Dame Professor Dr. Graham Peaslee. In a board of health meeting on Dec. 14, 2021, on the subject of the turf field, Dr. Peaslee implored the board “to have the wherewithal to send a message to the synthetic turf industry.” I doubt the chair would have waited for positive information on the project. Dr. Peaslee is also one of the “PFAS gang,” as Ayesha Kahn, PFAS activist from Nantucket, called the group as she addressed them in an email on Dec. 13, 2021. The “PFAS gang” included Dr. Peaslee, Medgan Lancaster (previous health agent), Dr. Kyla Bennet, Kristen Mello, Courtney Carigan, and Jeff Gearhart — outspoken opponents of the project.

What’s done is done, and now the Oak Bluffs planning board has the opportunity to evaluate the science that has been presented and move forward with the integrity they have displayed throughout the process. Board members have thanked and encouraged our young adults for their participation in the process, pushed to keep the process moving rather than follow the most recent chair’s suggestion to delay. Every one of the planning board members volunteer graciously with their time, effort, and energy. I hope the chair’s actions represent the integrity of all the board members. I hope they use their voices often without being belittled or diminished by the chair, who may oppose their views. I hope they clearly cite the extensive scientific data the MVC commissioned, so this hearing reflects well on all of them. I hope they ask questions of all the experts, paid for with our taxpayer dollars, so they can vote to approve with every confidence while following the town attorney’s advice back on Sept 9, 2021. That direction was very clear:

  • “The board cannot refuse to issue a special permit to MVRHS because the board would prefer MVRHS to construct Field No. 1 in another manner, or not to construct Field No. 1 at all with the materials MVRHS has chosen. The board may not impose conditions on the project that are ‘unreasonable,’ or are designed to prohibit the installation of Field No. 1.
  • “I am constrained to advise you that the board needs to exercise caution in considering conditions that are more onerous than those imposed by the MVC.
  • “In the absence of a scientific record indicating that infiltration of toxic substances into surrounding soils and groundwater would occur to a greater extent than the MVC determined, it is my judgment that based on the limited case law to date, a reviewing court would likely find that more stringent conditions than those imposed by the MVC to be in excess of the board’s authority. Whether the board has the legal authority to impose conditions that address different types of monitoring, reporting, and remediation from the MVC’s conditions will depend on the evidence before the board and adopted by it in findings.”


Now is the time for the planning board to approve this special permit while ensuring the safety of our groundwater, by guaranteeing that the application includes all safeguards permissible by law and state regulations. Both are possible with your vote to approve the special permit. We believe in you, O.B. planning board members! See you May 4 at 5 pm at the Oak Bluffs Planning Board Zoom meeting where the votes will be cast.


John Zarba