Planning board releases official field decision

The Oak Bluffs planning board, shown here at a meeting in 2019, has released its official decision on the MVRHS sports complex. - Lucas Thors

The Oak Bluffs planning board has released its official decision on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School application for a special permit for the installation of a synthetic turf field after voting 2-2 to deny the application

In a 32-page document, the planning board states that the application was denied in order to protect the Island’s sole-source aquifer from potential contamination, particularly from per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly known as PFAS. The decision found that the “adverse effects of the proposed artificial turf do outweigh the beneficial impacts,” and also encourages school officials to submit a request for natural grass fields.

Leachable PFAS compounds were detected in four of the five components proposed for the project during an environmental review by consulting firms Horsley Witten and Tetra Tech during the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s review of the proposal. Although the application also included plans for the installation of a 400-meter track, the uncertainty of the science surrounding PFAS was what drove the planning board’s decision under section 8.2 of the Oak Bluffs zoning bylaws for what is called a Water Resource Protection Overlay District.

The area where the proposed game field would have been located sits atop a high-value water resource area that is connected to surface water, lakes, streams, and coastal estuaries, according to the decision. 

“Accidental spills and discharge of petroleum products and other toxic and hazardous materials have repeatedly threatened the quality of such groundwater supplies,” the written decision states.

Under a section of the decision titled “position of votes to deny,” it’s stated that PFAS are contaminants known to have deleterious effects in humans, such as on the liver, blood, immune system, thyroid, and fetal development. 

Another concern of the planning board is that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will be regularly updating the maximum contaminant level for the six currently regulated PFAS compounds, and that regulation will likely expand to encompass more compounds. 

Now that the high school has been denied a special permit, it must figure out how to move forward with a project proposal that meets the qualifications of section 8.2 and all other pertinent bylaws of Oak Bluffs. A Zoom meeting scheduled for 6 pm on Tuesday, May 17, will discuss next steps for the school. The meeting will also deal with the regional agreement as it relates to the Massachusetts School Building Authority providing financial assistance for a new or overhauled high school.



  1. So if any of this 32 page abuse of power document is true, can anyone explain to me how the MVC, THE MVC – looked at the same proposal and APPROVED it with a 10 to 6 vote. Anyone??

    • John, Take a look an their enabling legislation. They are not the final word on such projects. Town boards can have more strict requirements but not less strict than the MVC’s decision. The MVC does not have the final say if the town wants to be more stringent.

  2. What a shame
    Colleges, and lucky high schools all over the east coast, have synthetic turf fields.the benefits to the players and the earth( little water use, no fertilizers, no petroleum “run off”) are immeasurable

    Lynn vera
    Oak bluffs

  3. So disappointed that after all these years this shut down decision has been made. My husband worked for many years doing sub service remediation for big gas companies like Amaco…as an environmental consultant. ‘Nonsense’ was the the word he used thru-out this matter. Such a shame that our children won’t get to play on their deserved fields.

  4. Our Children deserve the finest grass that our environment can support . The MVC is just one advisory board . Luckily we have state mechanisms the protect watersheds . We don’t want to import a 2+ plastic turf for an 8+ year life span that turns into a pile of unusable , garbage to pollute other people land , anywhere! This was as never a good idea . The time wasted and fingers pointed at the community at large about the condition of the fields is shameful and ultimately rests on the people running the MVRHS. Time to move on . If you don’t want to see more of this plastic mess being proposed …. Please run for public office ..the people who show up ; run things AND if you want to clear cut and old growth forest because it’s been said that we don’t have enough fields , you may want to consider building teacher housing.
    Some of us were born here , some of you moved here because we don’t have the things that they have off island . Think about that .

    • Hi Beka you do know me and I was not born here but I’ve been here a long time. My children attended school here. I would love your budget solution to maintaining all grass fields. If you can present that plan I’d love to get behind it but I have yet to see one. Therefore we should have one turf to rest the grass. Our children are the only group losing. I understand your concerns but I’m not hearing a solution….. ever. I’d love to discuss the solutions you have further. I have been a part of building housing etc. I’m no longer looking for no I’m looking for “how” I believe a lot of people agree. You have been so against turf so what’s the new plan? You can’t throw no at our boards and be proud of yourself.

  5. What a shame
    Colleges, and lucky high schools all over the east coast, have synthetic turf fields.the benefits to the players and the earth( little water use, no fertilizers, no petroleum “run off”) are immeasurable

    Lynn vera
    Oak bluffs

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