MVRHS begins appeal discussions

New project and resubmission after two years ruled out. 

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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.

Updated May 25 @ 9 am

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee will seek to appeal the Oak Bluffs planning board decision to deny a special permit for a track and synthetic turf field project on campus. The vote to authorize two committee members to retain attorney Mark Bobrowksi, as recommended by school legal counsel, passed narrowly, 5-4. The deadline to file an appeal is June 3. A vote to fund the appeal process via the legal line in the high school budget also passed by a hair, 5-4.

Reached on Tuesday, Bobrowski told The Times he has accepted the job. Bobrowski has had success waging and winning legal battles with communities over synthetic turf fields. In 2019, Bobrowski invoked the Dover Amendment for a field in Northborough proposed by the New England Futbol Club for an indoor soccer facility. The Dover Amendment, which was also invoked by MVRHS when it first went before the planning board, is a state law that allows educational institutions to bypass some zoning regulations.

Brian Mazar, the president of the New England Futbol Club, is a seasonal resident of the Vineyard. Bobrowski said his representation of Mazar and the NEFC played no role in him being picked for the job.

Bobrowski also represented Tabor Academy in Marion in its efforts to have a synthetic turf field and lighting approved for athletic fields at its Marion campus — again invoking the Dover Amendment as protection for the school. The field was installed, but the lights remain sidelined because of mosquito-borne illnesses, Bobrowski said.

As for whether he’ll use the Dover Amendment in this case, he said, “I don’t see why I wouldn’t consider it. I haven’t looked at the facts yet. Next week is the deadline for the appeal. I’ll make my policy choices as we go.”

Bobrowski was chosen ahead of another firm, Anderson and Krieger, that was also recommended by the school committee attorney.

When the field went before the Oak Bluffs planning board, synthetic compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, more commonly known as PFAS, served to be the sticking point for members of the planning board who voiced concerns over the Island’s aquifer, particularly for the high school campus, which sits in a critical wellhead protection area. Independent consultants who reviewed the synthetic components of the game field for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission determined that “de minimis” amounts of certain regulated PFAS compounds were identified. This means the levels were too small to be meaningful.

Following the denial of the project — the first step of a multiphase athletic campus overhaul — the committee had only two other legitimate avenues besides an appeal: to make a significant material change to the project, such that the planning board would begin a fresh review, or wait two years (the minimum statutory period) and resubmit an identical application. 

Prior to going into executive session to discuss litigation for an appeal, the committee had a brief back-and-forth about the reasoning behind going into executive and not open session. 

Chair Amy Houghton said the basis of the executive session would be to discuss strategy with respect to litigation, but wondered if information-gathering and strategizing with legal counsel at this initial stage would warrant one. 

Houghton said she spoke with officials from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, who said that the only appropriate topic of discussion in executive session, in this case, would be if there were imminent litigation expected. “It is up to the chair to determine whether or not there would be a detrimental effect on our litigating position,” Houghton said. “As the chair of this body, I am struggling with how this fits. We haven’t even voted as a body to engage in litigation.” She said she will not object to an executive session, but stressed that the only thing to be discussed would be an appeal. 

Legal counsel for the school Peter Sumners suggested that the committee enter into executive session, stating that it would be appropriate under state law. “It is my opinion that this would be a proper topic of discussion for an executive session,” Sumners said. “The open meeting law guide is clear that when litigation is demonstrably likely, an executive session may be appropriate.”

Prior to entering into executive session, committee member Kathryn Shertzer read a disclosure statement regarding the concerns of an individual community member who came forward with a conflict of interest regarding her husband profiting from the installation of the turf field. 

“My husband is a photographer, he has acted in an unpaid volunteer capacity for a not-for-profit, and has received no compensation of any kind,” Shertzer said. “I will perform my duties impartially and without bias.”

Member Lou Paciello also disclosed that he is the booster president of the Martha’s Vineyard Touchdown Club, but said he never once received financial compensation, and has no vested business interest in the construction of the field.

Member Kim Kirk disclosed that she is the secretary of the boys lacrosse booster club, and also stressed that she has received no financial gain from this role, and has acted purely on a volunteer basis. “I feel that I can participate with complete fairness and no bias,” Kirk said.

The total year-to-date expenditures in the legal line for the high school is $38,752, and Sumners said that the range of anticipated work hours required to move through the appeal process is anywhere from 40 to 80 hours. Sumners said Bobrowksi’s running rate is $375 per hour, meaning that the range of cost for an appeal could be anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000, although Sumners warned the committee that litigation is an inherently uncertain process, and there’s no way to know definitively how much it would cost or how long it would take.

Manter noted that the school is in a negotiation year, so the total legal expenditure figure could be skewed.

 

Editor George Brennan contributed to this report.

20 COMMENTS

  1. And they voted to appeal. Thank you to the committee members who voted against dragging this process on longer. Thank you for hoping athletes could get their fields sooner. Thank you for not wanting to sue Oak Bluffs. Thank you for trying to be fiscally responsible. For those who voted to appeal…shame on you.

  2. Interesting story about how a few lawyers are justifying raking in another hundred grand or so from Vineyard taxpayers.

    • If you are so worried about high costs and taxes, why do you live on the vineyard. This is the 21st century, Children must grow past their parents and the ideology of the past. You might not have noticed because you where on an island but the world is evolving. your taxes will go up everyday! the island is a paradise and there are billions of people in this world
      all wanting to live in paradise, I do not understand what you expect??? each year we have lost a player due to our fields horrible conditions whiuch you refuse to fix and in the past two they have been our sports teams captains but yet your justifying children getting injured so you can get a tax break… these families do not get a break when they have a torn ACL now do they??

      • Dear Jacob,
        Many of us are more than willing as tax payers are more than willing fix the MVRHS fields. It is up to the School Commitee and the Administartion to put the costs in the budget, get it approved and get to work on the fields . Yes , our taxes will go up but there is nothing I would rather pay for than education. sports or any other extra curricular activity . It is up to the MVRHS to make reasonable , sustainable and ecologically safe plan. There is no excuse for the fields being in such terrible condition. The world IS evolving but our water quality is also deteriorating , we cannot ignore this locally or globally. Our local goverment is using the law to protect our water and the MVRHS wants to use their own lawyers to go around the fact that the school sits on top of an aquifer , a single spring of water that we all drink from. We can get on with fixing the fields if we adults could stop fighting. What a terrible example we are showing in plain sight for all of you students. I am ready to be part of the solution that does not include a plastic field . I’m very sorry that you students have been the victims of this endless fight.

      • Jacob– I’m not sure why you picked me as an example of someone complaining about high taxes.
        I have been a “tax and spend” liberal all my life. I have voted yes for every ballot question that has had anything to do with increased spending for education. I can’t quantify how much has been spent so far on the studies , litigation and endless meetings concerning the issue of a poison field vs. a grass field. But, it went through the process, and was voted down by our elected officials.
        I am also an environmentalist. I happen to care about what kind of a world my generation leaves to your generation. I have a daughter and grandchildren. I vote for people who I think have the same concerns that I do about issues such as chemical contamination of the environment and climate change. I am willing to pay extra for a cleaner environment.
        We do not know if a poison field will be cheaper in the long run than a grass field. If you look back at my comments concerning this issue, you will see that the cost either way is not my main concern.
        I have had 3 main concerns:
        1) The safety of the students. Contact sports where people are running comes with some risk.
        As I posted previously, I have not been able to find a single peer reviewed study that indicates that a poison field is safer than a well maintained grass field.
        Quite the contrary, actually.. There are many such studies that clearly conclude that grass is safer. I posted this one:
        https://www.uhhospitals.org/for-clinicians/articles-and-news/articles/2019/08/artificial-turf-versus-natural-grass
        Recently , another commenter (Vicki) posted another such study that shows lower injury rates on grass fields.
        I have asked anyone to post a study that shows otherwise at the high school level.
        I haven’t seen one yet.
        2) I am concerned about the environment. Regardless of what the purveyors of this snake oil say, it does contain “forever chemicals” and they will leech off of the field and into the surrounding environment. It is debatable about how much, and the potential damage they may cause to your grandchildren. But the fact is they will contaminate the environment.
        Others claim that dangerous chemicals are needed to maintain a grass field. Not so :
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nws-ZpeaQJc
        3) I am concerned about plastic contamination , both in the manufacturing of it, what happens during its useful lifespan and the recycling of it.

        First, plastic is made from oil. Need I say more ?
        Second, those little blades of fake grass will disintegrate into microplastics and get into the air and the water. The environmental consequences of that on future generations is currently unknown.
        Third- there is only one facility on the planet that does anywhere near an adequate job of recycling this stuff- It is in Belgium. I don’t like the idea of shipping 500,000 pounds of materials to Belgium every 10 years.
        Fourth– Once that field gets covered, everything under it dies. It will be extremely time consuming and costly to ever go back to a grass field. We commit future generations to this stuff.

        And finally,Jacob, I appreciate you taking the time to address this issue.
        I understand your concerns about the safety of your fellow athletes.
        I understand that you are frustrated with the condition of the fields.
        That is something that should change. I for one will be happy to pay more taxes to have a well maintained organic field that is safer for both the players and the environment. No problem.
        I am not happy to pay exorbitant fees to lawyers to argue about something that has been thoroughly debated and legally settled.
        Thanks again for your comment.

  3. That 5 down island members of the MVRHS school committee can commit the entire island to this embarrassing and expensive debacle is unfathomable. Over the surface of a field, really?

    • Each year we have lost a player due to our fields horrible conditions which you refuse to fix and in the past two they have been our sports team captains but yet your justifying children getting injured so you can get a tax break… these families do not get a break when they have a torn ACL now do, they?? so inconsiderate maybe if it happens to your children, you would change your mind.

      • Jacob,
        As A taxpayer I apologize for the conditions of the fields, I understand your frustration things were the same 40 years ago when I attend MVRHS.
        You and I both can see there is more than enough wealth on this island to provide the students with a top notch school and good playing fields whatever they are made of.
        We as adults will not let that happen because we won’t do what we taught you to do in kindergarten, SHARE AND WORK TOGETHER,
        We say we are all part of one big island community.
        but when it comes to or regional high school we don’t all work together and share our resources.
        For example Chilmark is a large town in land area with some of the most expensive real estate in the country but they have a small student population.
        when i was in grade school 50 years ago chilmark realized it was too expensive to build their own middle and high school so they sent their children to the tisbury school. made better economic sense and allowed the chilmark students to enjoy the advantages of a larger school with sport teams, a school band etc.
        You are correct this not the same island it was 50 years ago.
        many more people have moved to the vineyard, we have more teachers, medical personnel, service people and trades people. These people serve the entire island. they do not however live evenly across the island. My town, Tisbury, for better or worse has always been a town where working people could find a home. We currently have another very large affordable housing project opening its doors in town.
        the problem is Jacob we are still funding our school based on a student count from each town.
        therefore Tisbury which is a small town in land area and value pays around 28% of the highschool budget. Chilmark which is a large town with high land values pays 6% of the budget.
        May feel this is fair, it may be, but it is not sustainable.
        So Jacob, I will apologize for my myself and my fellow town’s people, because no matter what playing field design everyone decides to build the people of Tisbury can not afford to increase our taxes to pay for it.
        Jacob, it breaks my heart that as an Island born person that we islanders and those who have come here to be islanders can not come together and pool our resources to the benefit of our children. SHAME ON US ALL.

        • Thankyou I feel horrible this is being dragged out and you have opened my eyes to a bigger problem so thank you for enlightening me on so kindly on the problem! I was aware of this but did not realize how much of a serious problem it is. I hope we can work this out or at least work towards a better solution. I now understand why it is unfair for people to be taxed far more than other towns! thank you for the knowledge!

      • Jacob– choose your words carefully here. More people are reading them than you may think. You are quick to accuse people who are opposed to this project and projecting what their motivations may be.
        Your May 24 th reply to Vicki is particularly unfair.
        She had expressed her displeasure at the school committee for what she perceives a waste of money to continue litigation. She has every right to that opinion. Then you attacked her personally and inferred that she does not care about the safety of the students.
        That is wrong on many levels.
        Neither she nor I have personally “refused” to pay for anything concerning the fields at the school.
        As I have said, I appreciate your input on this issue.
        If nothing else, this has focused the community on the need to change something.
        That is a good thing.
        Personally accusing people of doing things and attributing motivation to them on issues they have no control over is not.

  4. The MVRHS school commitee members ( O’Brien, Shertzer, Kirk, Paciello, Watts) voted to appeal the decision made by the Town of Oak Bluffs (see decision below). MVC failed to vote to protect thier own charter for a DCPC area ( see below) and we are all living with this consequence . I’m not a lawyer, but National and State goverment has enacted clear laws to protect communities that rely clean drinking water. This division gridlock from folks who prefer their own opinions and those from the industry that benefits from this project, have damaging consequences and sub-par solutions for our high school and Island community. As PFAS science evolves and the realities of contamination proliferate, the logical step would be to move on to the best design for an environmentally sound , all grass option.

    https://www.epa.gov/compliance/clean-water-act-cwa-compliance-monitoring
    https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/information-about-public-water-systems
    https://www.oakbluffsma.gov/DocumentCenter/View/8471/MVRHS-Special-Permit-Decision—-signed-May-16-2022 – SEC. 8 PG 3-5/32

    FROM MVC WEBSITE :
    A District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) is a special area on Martha’s Vineyard. It is an area that is important to more than one town on the Island or to the Island as a whole. Because of the importance of these areas, they require special regulations to guide the type and manner of development that may occur.

    Development in many of the most significant and beloved parts of the Vineyard has been strictly controlled as a result of the creation of DCPCs. When the Commission was new, a large number of nominations were made for DCPCs. From thoughtful consideration of those initial requests, the early Commissioners crafted the three Island-wide DCPCs that still form the framework of the Commission’s DCPC protection. The Coastal District, Island Roads District and Special Places District protect the Island’s most sensitive areas from inappropriate development. The designated DCPCs include the original three Island-wide Districts; Districts protecting various ponds, harbors and other special areas; and a District protecting the entire Town of Aquinnah.

    There are eight types of District, described in the DCPC Qualifications section:

    Drinking Water Resource District,

    Fishing Resource District,
    Farming Resource District,
    Wildlife, Natural, Scientific or Ecological Resource District,
    Cultural or Historic Resource District,
    Economic or Development Resource District,
    Major Public Investment District,
    Hazardous District.

  5. Thank you, Beka, for your thoughtful comments. We all need to be reminded why the Vineyard is a special place in need of protection. That is why the MVC was formed. Thank goodness the Oak Bluffs Planning board held the line.
    If you want the island to remain protected, call your MVC representative, call your MVRHS school committee member. If you don’t care, then the island is no longer so special, is it. The harder we work to protect Martha’s Vineyard’s uniqueness, the more people try to shape it to their will!
    The school committee members who voted to appeal should be ashamed of themselves for wasting time and taxpayer money to continue this silly dispute. We are all paying for this.
    This is an island, with one aquifer, not up for grabs by people who can’t take no for an answer.
    As I always say, when you lose, you lose; when you win, you celebrate like crazy.

  6. I think we need more! More! more! more! More petroleum based, plastic products! More! More plastic straws! More plastic bottles! More plastic bags! More of this glorious material that the Big Oil Companies just can’t do without! More! More! More!

    The artificial petroleum-based, plastic turf for a football field weighs about 14.5 TONS. There are about 4,000.00 colleges and universities and about 24,000.00 high schools in the United States. I think they should each get an artificial field: A field for you and a field for you and a field for you…..That’s almost 30,000.00 fields! That’s 435,000.00 TONS of plastic! On this little island we should certainly set a good example……

    Let’s face it. More is better, and we need MORE!
    Even a total moron like Trump would want a fancy, brand new, slimey, (oops I meant shiny), plastic artificial field, wouldn’t he? Let’s be reasonable! Mother earth can easily handle another 435,000.00 TONS of plastic, can’t she?

  7. Anyone who thinks this is going to be 40-80 hours of legal fees is delusional. Maybe per month?? Anyone want to place bets? We could start a fund for the wonderful people of OB who are getting hit by legal fees on both sides of this case.

  8. Oh Great! Island tax payers pay to sue Oak Bluffs tax payers because? Oak Bluffs tax payers get a double hit….so fitting. If you don’t want your water protected, get a different group on the committee. Why bring in the lawyers school board? Waste of time and money for what? Plastic Grass? Give me a break.

  9. The independent research is clear that Artificial turf has minimal effect. The large amount of fertilizer and grass watering on the additional fields will be much worse for the environment. You will need separate grass fields for football, lacrosse and soccer games plus practice fields for each sport. It is impossible for one grass field to support multiple sports let alone games no practices.

  10. Keep on fighting the good fight. The high school needs this upgrade. It has needed it since I was in school 25 years ago.

Comments are closed.