The West Tisbury select board requested that the town’s energy committee return with more information on its plans to do away with fossil fuel use by 2040 during a Wednesday, Dec. 14, afternoon meeting. Voters unanimously approved of this effort during the 2020 annual town meeting.
The committee developed a five-year plan to eliminate fossil fuel use in West Tisbury by 2040, with a stated goal of having “town residential and commercial structures transition to all-electric from renewable sources and [be] resilient to the impacts of climate change.” This plan was developed in the fall. Among the various tasks at hand and facility updates, there are several major projects on the “list of works” document, also to be presented to the West Tisbury capital improvements planning committee, that will have higher costs for electrification or improving climate change resiliency that could require feasibility studies. According to the document, West Tisbury School, “our biggest energy user,” is anticipated to carry the heaviest burden for renovations, with a current estimated cost of up to $30 million, less than the up to $37 million presented to the Up-Island school committee in an energy assessment in September. The school was also discussed as a possible emergency shelter, which would add to the costs. A feasibility study would be required before work can be done on the school, and entering the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA) funding process, as is the case for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School replacement project, is being considered.
“It really is up to you guys and the capital improvements committee how this rolls out, and the energy committee is very aware that the high school is about to start; we have the Howes House underway. So we have some projects already,” energy committee chair Kate Warner said to the board.
Board chair and capital improvements committee member Cynthia Mitchell recommended making a list on a spreadsheet so the town has details on the capital projects that will be needed and their anticipated costs “to the best of your knowledge.”
“That’s what the [capital improvement] committee is going to want to know, the size of the project in dollars, even if it’s a range,” Mitchell said, later continuing that an idea of “the proper sequences of these things in the energy committee’s views … and how to prioritize them within that [period]” will be necessary to reach the 2040 goal considering that there will be competition for funds and resources with other projects.
Warner said the 2040 goal is “for climate mitigation,” but the “urgency of the projects is a little different” because it is to improve the buildings’ resiliency, such as against major storms. However, the school will not be the first improvement project to be worked on, despite how important it is in the energy committee’s eyes.
“We have to move past the school … because it’s too big. It’s hard to know when to do it. It’s hard to know if you wait for the MSBA funds whether we’ll be in the same situation as Tisbury, where the cost will double because we waited. I don’t know the answers to that. But the other buildings are in order [of importance],” Warner said, referring to the list of works. She also later said a lot of it comes down to money and how the town plans to spend it.
Board members Skipper Manter and Jessica Miller agreed that costs will be a point of consideration. Miller added that prioritization in the plan’s timeline will also need to be kept in mind.
“We’re already starting to see extreme weather. Some of this stuff really should not wait or be pushed off,” Miller said later in the meeting.
According to Mitchell, the town’s facilities team will also need to consider how the improvements requested by the energy committee could be advanced, “although it would not be so neat and tidy.” Zoning inspector Joseph Tierney requested a copy of the energy committee’s Clean Energy and Resiliency (CLEAR) report, released in March 2021.
When Warner asked whether some of the smaller maintenance requests, such as rewiring West Tisbury Public Library’s critical loads panel, would need to go to the annual town meeting, West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said it would depend on the expenses and funding availability.
Mitchell suggested Warner bring the more detailed documents to the capital improvements committee. “The townspeople want it. I’m just encouraging you to educate the various town boards, and the CLEAR report is one way to do it,” Mitchell said.
Warner also said she will return to the select board to present “the [municipal opt-in specialized stretch] code,” which the energy committee wants as a warrant article.
“It is a municipal bylaw, I checked that with the [Massachusetts] DOER (Department of Energy Resources), and it is being adopted or considered for adoption across the state,” Warner said. “The stretch code is becoming more stringent, and the specialized code is an overlay on the new stretch code. It’s not radically different from the new stretch code, but it does have a couple of pieces that are more stringent.”
In other business, the board unanimously approved fiscal year 2024 budget requests from several town departments. Most of them saw an increase compared with last year, and they will appear before West Tisbury voters during the annual town meeting. The building department’s budget was put on hold until the next meeting because of a decision to further consider Tierney’s request for a part-time administrative assistant.
A full list of the budget requests reviewed during the meeting are available on the town website.
The board unanimously approved Elaine Weintraub to the West Tisbury task force against discrimination. Weintraub is the co-founder of the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard.
The board unanimously approved sending a letter of support for Navigator Homes.