MVRHS considers appeal of planning board decision

School committee will meet with legal counsel to discuss litigation options. 

The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School is appealing the Oak Bluffs planning board's denial of their special permit application for a track and field project.

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee has tentatively scheduled an executive session, meeting with legal counsel to discuss appealing the decision of the Oak Bluffs planning board that stymied the school track and field project, due to concerns over synthetic turf.

At Tuesday’s special committee meeting, three options were presented to members as viable next steps in order to get a track and field project through the planning board and other associated town bodies. 

“We are at a little bit of a crossroads,” chair Amy Houghton said. “The special permit request as presented was denied by the town of Oak Bluffs.” The permit was denied due to water quality concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other environmental contaminants that were found in small amounts in components of the proposed artificial turf materials. 

The first option the school has is to appeal the planning board’s decision, which would go through a court process. The second would be for the committee to wait two years (the mandated wait time) to reapply with the same project proposal. The third option would be to reapply with a significant material change that satisfies the requirements of both the Oak Bluffs zoning board and then the planning board, which would require a majority vote by the planning board. Only then could the amended proposal be taken up officially by the planning board under its normal review process. 

Committee member Kris O’Brien was adamant during the meeting that school legal counsel should be available to answer questions with respect to litigation, thus an executive session would be warranted. 

Member Skipper Manter said he believes the committee should first reach a consensus on whether an appeal is the preferred next step, “then we can meet with the attorney and look into doing an executive session.”

“We should do what we can to move this project forward, and if we can’t get the turf, we should go with grass. It will take two years for the appeal, and that will take another two years for the approval process, and we will keep moving further and further behind,” Manter said. 

Before making a motion to look into what it would take to replace the synthetic turf component with all grass, member Robert Lionette said the committee could take a specific direction that wouldn’t require any executive sessions or any further legal expenditures. 

Member Mike Watts said Lionette’s motion ignores the extensive report created by Chris Huntress and Huntress Associates that stipulates the need for one synthetic turf game field to necessarily accommodate the high usage hours a high school game field would see.

“In order for all grass to work, we would need two additional fields. So we would be ignoring our consultants? I don’t understand that,” Watts said.

But Lionette said he had always questioned the data the Huntress report was based on, stating that he doesn’t think the numbers upon which the model is based are “very accurate.”

“I think they included things beyond the scope of the high school,” Lionette said. 

O’Brien said the committee should not be ignoring the expert opinion of Huntress.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that we need synthetic turf from an expert,” O’Brien said, adding that the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) list of conditions for approval of the project requires that any amendment be brought back to the commission, which means entering into another review process with the MVC.

Lionette’s motion to swap the synthetic turf out for grass fields and reapply to the town of Oak Bluffs failed, 5-3, with member Roxanne Ackerman abstaining because she said she doesn’t have enough information on the Huntress proposal.

O’Brien then motioned to postpone further discussion to an executive session, where legal counsel could discuss options for appeal. 

The motion passed, and an executive session meeting was tentatively scheduled for Monday, May 23, at 6:30 pm, with a backup time being the following day at the same time.


What’s next for MSBA funding?

The high school is closer than it’s ever been to achieving a significant monetary contribution from the Massachusetts School Building Authority (along with professional expertise) for the construction of a new or renovated building.

As the funding formula working group, made up of town and school officials, is moving to finalize and recommend an amicable funding formula for all six member towns of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District, the rest of the regional agreement is being reviewed with a fine-tooth comb.

Nancy Campany, a lawyer with Murphy, Lamere & Murphy, went through the existing regional agreement and made extensive red-line changes to verbiage related to statutory and regulatory requirements. Some of the changes recommended by Campany dealt with perfunctory and sometimes boilerplate language and requirements, but Campany said that nonetheless, there are some stringent requirements that an agreement must meet. “This is in order to move the document forward and into better alignment with what the state is looking for,” Campany said. 

In order to make an amendment to the regional agreement, all member towns must approve, along with Massachusetts Education Commissioner Jeff Riley. She noted that generally, before an agreement goes to the towns to be voted on at town meetings, a draft agreement is sent to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) for its preliminary approval. Following that step, the agreement would need to be unanimously approved by all towns.

Included in that agreement must be the capital formula that dictates how costs for the new school project will be apportioned to each town. Campany said an agreement sent to the commissioner could be singularly used for this one specific building project, and another agreement (and formula) could be used for other capital costs. 

If the high school can get the commissioner to sign off on a regional agreement (including a formula), the MSBA will accommodate Island towns by allowing them to wait until annual town meetings to vote on the amended agreement.

“I don’t think we have to have a special town meeting for the purposes of voting on an amended document, but we need some sort of approval from DESE before we go to the next step,” Campany said. 

Sam Hart, coordinator of special projects for MVRHS, said following DESE’s preliminary approval, the school could go to the towns in the spring of 2023 during the regular annual town meeting cycle. “It doesn’t have to happen before then, but they certainly want to see an agreement worked out,” Hart said. 

After discussion surrounding content changes in the regional agreement recommended by Campany, Houghton said MVRHS is trying to get everything approved and sent to the education commissioner by the end of July, in order to give enough time for him to approve the agreement by Sept. 1. The funding formula working group was scheduled to meet Wednesday, May 18, to potentially finalize a recommendation to the school committee. 


  1. The fact that the MVRHS school committee is considering suing its host town for the right to contaminate its water supply is beyond comprehension. Hubris reigns supreme when man thinks he can do better than nature.

    • Laurie, please cite your source that this project is going to contaminate the water supply. And please explain how you think maintenance of a grass athletic surface would be better? Please cite actual facts and use athletic facilities for reference.

      • John–A natural grass field will never produce “forever chemicals”.
        A plastic field will.

        • Then why does the dirt at the HS have more PFAS in it than the materials used for the field? And what is needed on top of that natural grass field in order to make it withstand athletic competition?? Chemicals? Pesticides? Fertilizers? Nitrogen?

          • John– Your question is worded in such a way that it is unclear to me what “the materials used for the field” are.
            It seems like you are saying that there are more PFAS in the existing field than in the plastic field.
            If so, could you please post some documentation about that ?
            While looking to verify your assertion, I read the “notice of decision” report. for those who haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. I found pages 7 through 10 to be the most direct, interesting and understandable part of it.

            I know that conservatives really hate the concept of anything being “organic” — perhaps because they confuse that word with something that pertains to sex.
            But this rather short video shows us that an organic field is quite doable. Yes, it requires organic fertilizer, which if properly applied, leeches little to no excess nitrogen into the surrounding water. No chemicals needed….

            And, if you let youtube roll with this concept after this video is over, it will keep on showing videos of organic fields.
            It’s not rocket science…

  2. While leaving the science on both sides of this argument to others, I see more island taxpayer money heading down the endless black hole. We have already spent over half a million on this project — money we will never see again — with no accountability to the taxpayers. I really doubt that this is what we all want. The tail is wagging the dog here.

    • If this project goes away it will require the school system to upgrade its track and athletic fields on the taxpayer dime or face lawsuits for all the unnecessary injuries that have happened due to all the tax money that was saved over the last 40 years by not installing and maintaining proper athletic fields.

        • Read the last 3 paragraphs of the article. Really. Just read them Your conclusion and the authors are different. This is classic pick and choose. That is why this entire debate has been so bad.

          • Sherry– I re-read the last 3 paragraphs of the article I linked to.
            I posted it in response to Mr. Gault’s assertion that there were more injuries on grass fields than on poison fields.
            The article I posted clearly stated there were more injuries on poison fields.. I await something other than his opinion about the injury rates.
            There was no pick and choose–I was addressing injuries and injuries only.
            I never said anything about, rain (third to last paragraph), maintenance, water or fertilizer needs (second to last paragraph) or the general advice to use good equipment( last paragraph) .
            My conclusion was in total agreement with the article.
            58 % more injuries occur on poison fields than grass fields.

  3. At the end of the day if MVRHS decides to sue and the OB Planning Board has to defend itself the taxpayers are on the hook for paying for both sides of the litigation! Enough already!

  4. My motto is that it really is better to be safe than sorry. If there’s even a remote chance that this will contaminate our incredibly pure water supply than it’s better not to allow it than to be sorry when it happens!

    • Incredibly pure water supply? Have you seen what the islands unfiltered well water does to copper pipes?

      • Jim– “incredibly pure water” can be acidic.
        Water that is contaminated with everything from lead, arsenic, e coili or PFAS, for that matter, will do nothing to copper pipes if it happens to be pH neutral (7) but you probably wouldn’t want to drink it.

    • All the science says it won’t. That is a fact.
      Why is it Every Ivy League campus has multiple synthetic fields? Ask them!! They will tell you they are better for the environment! That is fact.

      • John– you seem to have caught “andy syndrome”. It’s most obvious symptoms are telling people what others think and labeling unsubstantiated opinions as facts.

    • The chemicals necessary to maintain grass playing surfaces have been contaminating our incredibly pure water supply for decades and decades
      There is nothing natural about destroying grass with cleats.
      That chemicals can’t fix.

  5. I’m over this discussion … our children are at a complete disadvantage because they are playing teams that have fields for every season. If we need just one turf field to rest the grass fields we need to do it. We have so many talented professionals on this island that it is possible to mitigate the environmental consequence for 1 field. Let’s remember it’s about our children having the same opportunities as all kids around Massachusetts.

    • Put the turf field on top of the new high school building…. Half the problem solved 🙂

      • And everyone who is griping about this… it’s not about you… these children deserve better and you should do everything in your power within this community to support that. If it means raising private funding for the damn grass fields then do that saying “oh well” does not suffice

        • You are spot on!! If people followed this project they would know it’s actually a grass driven project! The one proposed synthetic field was needed in order to allow the other 4 or 5 fields in the project to succeed especially with the limits on watering and nitrogen. It’s 100% what is needed for our kids to compete.

  6. I have not followed much of the discussion here on synthetic turf. As with any island community with one water source, and with direct links with PFAS found in water, I agree better safe than sorry.
    I wondered if the pros and cons of Synthetic turf with Plant Based infill were considered. There is one immediate health concern of allergic reactions. There seems to be a way to alleviate the allergen concern, but that solution is a potentialy dangerous coating applied so no dust created. But maybe a good alternative to consider.

    • Your first sentence disqualifies your comment. Had you followed this project you would know that a synthetic field is safer for the aquifer. Don’t believe me? Read all the data on the MVC website.

  7. When the MV scientific, environmental , farming , boards of health community at large , write credible opinions against importing this plastic to our island , and the leaders of our high school ingnore them , it is a real problem. Leadership roles in education are tax payer funded . Coaches , teachers and school commitee members are all PUBLIC SERVANTS. This endless fight will be your legacy . There is a vacuum of leadership as our Superintendent leaves and the fight grinds on for the next football coach and the next Superintendent. Not to mention the division of local friends.
    While this 1 field wastes all of our time , we could be thinking together as a community about the best grass fields , teacher retention and housing and building a new school . Many tax payers will have a bitter taste to fund any of this without a move to positive leadership to support best practices for our environment and local and global scientific opinions . Encouraging our student athletes that they need and deserve plastic turf is irresponsible and unsustainable .

    • “When the MV scientific, environmental , farming , boards of health community at large , write credible opinions against importing this plastic to our island , and the leaders of our high school ingnore them , it is a real problem.”

      Key word in your statement is “opinion” shall we go by opinion or science and testing?

      Also, please tell us the credible opinions on being against the synthetic turf but for a crumb rubber track?

      • John–Could you post something backing up you opinion of the “science and testing” concerning this issue?
        You have repeatedly talked about the “science” but have yet to produce anything but your own opinion.
        How about showing us some of the “science” — you know, peer reviewed studies, actual facts, etc.
        I’m still waiting , by the way, for some evidence to back up your claim that poison fields have fewer injuries to high school athletes than well maintained natural grass field.
        Mike, with all due respect, if you are going to assert something, you should at least make an attempt to back it up when challenged on it.
        Key word– “opinion”

  8. There was an obvious fourth option that the School Committee should be considering; that of giving up on this synthetic field idea, not only because of the chance of contamination of our water supply by these “forever” chemicals, but also because of the eventual need to dispose of the gigantic plastic field (ah, but immediate gratification seems to have triumphed in this instance), not to mention the absurd amounts of money already spent to push this in the face of opposition that is not going to give up.
    Of course Huntress Associates is going to argue for the “need” for a synthetic field. That’s what they do; are they an unbiased source of information?
    All the talk about the contamination resulting from so much pesticide and fertilizers needed to maintain natural grass fields, simply ignores current, organic practices. The Field Fund is already doing an excellent job maintaining grass fields on MV. What is the reason that the School Committee is unwilling to consider that alternative?

  9. “Of course Huntress Associates is going to argue for the “need” for a synthetic field. ”

    Taxpayers should not have spent a cent on the report that Huntress provided to the MVC.

    It was basically a sales pitch for plastic turf.

    If litigiousness is in the air, or the water, maybe towns that voted hundreds of thousands of dollars in public funds to pay for this “report”/sales pitch should think about clawing back those funds from Huntress.

  10. the science has been debated, people have enough information to come to their own conclusions which I respect. That said I believe there is another equally important question that needs to be answered.
    This decision came about in what i consider an unprecedented manner.
    the project went in front of an all island board of elected officials, the high school committee.
    then the project went to the all island MV commission, made up of elected representatives from the entire island.
    This process cost hundreds of thousands of all island peoples tax dollars.
    the project was voted on by both regional bodies and a decision was made.
    like it or not the process was fair and democratic.

    That decision was then reversed by a 4 voting member board from one town. The way the rules were written, only one dissenting vote was required to fail the project to fail the project.
    This action sets a huge precedent for all projects going forward on the island, public and private. It also begs the question what is the purpose of the MV commision under these new conditions.
    I for one am willing to spend a few more of my tax dollars to hear what the Highschool’ s lawer and the Oak Bluffs town counsel have to say about the legality of this process.

    • This is exactly what’s going on. A fair vote was had on multiple occasions. Then, when given the first chance to overrule the will of the people, it was done. Those four people should not have had the ability to overrule the votes.

      • Zeke–
        As far as I can tell 29 people actually voted on this in 3 separate votes. While the majority of those people voted for the poison field, I hardly think that represents “the will of the people”.
        I also disagree with Mr. Packer that the time to figure out if a decision making process is legal or not is after the final vote.

  11. I have pointed this out several times in the Times comments, and I am always surprised that people are not more outraged.

    Only three towns were given the opportunity at town meeting several years ago to vote on spending $350,000 to design the artificial field and all its fancy trimmings. (Actual amount spent, so far, is over $500,000) The select boards in the three down island towns chose to allow tacit approval by not putting it on a warrant for town meeting voters. Taxpayers in those three towns were never allowed to weigh in, but they still owe the money. Are those voters concerned that their elected boards kept this important and expensive decision from them?

    Big legal fees are now looming, and OB taxpayers will have to pay for BOTH sides of the litigation!!

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