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.