O.B. talks environmental initiatives 

The select board was presented with two potential grants geared toward enhancing climate change resilience and impact mitigation.

Ben Robinson, shown here during a Tisbury special town meeting, recently pitched a climate change assessment to the Oak Bluffs select board. — Rich Saltzberg

Martha’s Vineyard Commission representatives want the Oak Bluffs select board to provide a list of town priorities for an upcoming climate risk assessment. The assessment would be done through a grant, and conducted by the Woodwell Climate Research Center, which specializes in performing climate risk analysis for municipalities, Ben Robinson, MVC commissioner and member of the MVC’s climate action task force, explained at the select board’s Dec. 27 meeting. 

He said because the organization has offered to assist in the efforts to achieve the goals laid out in the commission’s climate action plan, which encompasses the whole Island, it would be helpful if each town were to submit a list of high-priority areas expected to be most at risk. 

Dubbed “The Vineyard Way,” the MVC’s 85-page climate action plan aims to both identify at-risk areas and mitigate climate change–related impacts on the Island. The plan highlights upwards of 180 actions specifically designated to lessen the burden brought on by climate change, and enhance the Island’s resilience to its ubiquitous effects, such as sea level rise, shore erosion, and increasingly powerful storms.

MVC climate planner Liz Durkee said the assessment would allow the opportunity to address concerns specific to each town that haven’t necessarily been addressed in regional assessments.

Select board members raised a few questions on the need of a climate risk assessment, and what it will mean for the town.

“What is the science that they use, and what do we expect to gain from it?” select board member Gail Barmakian asked. “Is it just data, and what do we do with it?” She said the town would benefit more from boots-on-ground surveying, “as opposed to just using general data.” 

Select board member Jason Balboni agreed, stating that with climate risk assessments, “it seems like [the town] has been doing it over and over again.” He inquired as to what “the final product” would be.

Robinson explained that Woodwell’s research will consist largely of data collection and organization geared toward each municipality, and involve more detailed information and mapping. 

“A lot of the larger data sets that we see lack the granular information that would help a small town or municipality make choice[s],” he said, adding that it would help to have assistance from an entity who specializes in that kind of work. 

“When we say we’ve been doing this over and over again, I think what we’re doing is refining what we know,” Robinson said, especially regarding the Island’s future and its vulnerability. “The more precise we can get with our predictable choices, the better decisions we’ll be able to make … especially when we’re thinking about long-term infrastructure projects.” 

Durkee highlighted a few key areas that the town may want to focus on, such as future impacts on coastal roads from increased precipitation, and future stormwater management. 

Provided with only a preliminary list of priorities, the select board opted to reach out to additional town officials to get a better grasp of the town’s needs concerning climate change risk.

Reducing waste through composting 

The select board also heard from member Emma Green-Beach concerning the possibility of applying for a solid waste innovation grant through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would help create an aboveground compost unit for the town of Oak Bluffs. 

If awarded the grant, Green-Beach said, the unit would be fully funded through the EPA, which has put pressure on municipalities to regulate commercial food waste disposal. 

“It is essentially illegal for [commercial businesses] to be just throwing away food waste and sending it to landfills and incinera[tion] facilities … Currently our community is not provided the infrastructure for that,” she said. 

Wood Filley, 2020 Vineyard Vision Fellowship recipient, and representing M.V. Food Waste Initiative and Island Grown Initiative, said the goal is to establish multiple composting sites, after realizing that one centralized facility was unlikely to get underway. The EPA grant program offers a rare opportunity for the town to enhance its solid waste management, he said, as it would “pay 100 percent of the materials, installation, and everything else.” 

Filley said the compost unit could act as an improvement to the town’s existing waste transfer station, and would complement IGI’s composting resources. 

More than 200 truckloads of food waste leave the Island every year, Green-Beach said, and over 300 truckloads of compost come back. “This is largely about creating this circular economy and providing resources to our businesses that they need [to abide by state regulations],” she said.

With the highly competitive grant proposal due mid-February, Green-Beach asked the select board whether they would be interested in moving forward with the application. 

A number of logistics, including how to proceed with existing contracts with waste management companies, would still need to be worked out, but it would be a “no-brainer” to take advantage of the grant opportunity, select board chair Ryan Ruley said. 

“I think it’s an amazing idea,” said select board member Jason Balboni, noting the amount of money that will be saved by the town by not shipping so much waste off-Island. 

Select board member Gail Barmakian raised concerns about having to possibly expedite the application process, as the deadline doesn’t allow for much planning beforehand. 

“What does it mean by way of traffic?” she inquired. “Who builds the covering, and what does that actually look like … is it going to affect neighbors, will there be a smell?”

Barmakian said she’d want to look further into the specifics before approving the submission of an application. “Let’s look at the good and the bad,” she said, in order to be “better prepared.”

Oak Bluffs energy committee member Bill Cleary called for support of the proposal, noting that details can be worked out afterward, and highlighted a number of benefits that would be reaped by the town from introducing a new composting unit, including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the compost materials on-Island for Islander use. Richard Toole agreed, also calling the project “a no-brainer.” He added that Oak Bluffs would be an ideal location to spearhead the initiative. 

“We would reduce the number of trucks going off[-Island] every day by over 50 percent,” Toole said; “we would be keeping a usable, organic product here on the Vineyard, which can be turned into salable compost, instead of importing compost, thus again reducing the number of trucks on the boats.” 

Durkee said she would be willing to assist in preparations for the grant application, as the potential project mirrors current goals of the commission’s climate action plan.

“We’re not going to put the town in the position to get funding for something that we’re not ready to implement,” Green-Beach assured board members before the select board decided to table the vote for the Jan. 10 agenda in order to be better prepared to discuss particulars. 

“I think the board supports the concept,” Ruley said.


  1. A climate risk assessment is a welcome, if scary, opportunity to get some clarity on what will likely evolve and how it will affect Oak Bluffs. In numerous attempts to get an assessment of what the impacts are from a VTA that runs buses mostly empty on many routes, most of the time perhaps Woodwell Climate Research Center could take a look at that and offer some suggestions as to what amount of carbon from diesel and electric buses are contributing from these empty and nearly empty trip routes.

    The MVC itself has embarked on ventures to obtain funding for Shared Use Paths on our island. Very few people are aware of the fact that DOT guidelines frown on SUPs on any two lane road in Massachusetts due to safety issues including a stern warning in its policy manual for Mass DOT engineers. The MVC forbade any DRI (Development of Regional Impact) reviews saying that Mass DOT was exempt. This is an error and it cost a 10 year battle over bad planning that eventually was finally put to rest with a sensible and very well designed plan that had to be fought over, and it must be mentioned that Mr. Ben Robinson was on the side of a Shared Use Path for the entire time.

    Oak Bluffs, now becoming the beneficiary of a grant to examine climate assessment would be in a good position to examine the defective drawbridge gates that break down and cause long delays as vehicles both gasoline and diesel, sit and idle engines un-necessarily while gates costing $2 million dollars, according to sources, struggle to operate under a Rube Goldberg system of switches and relays not recommended for salt water environments, break down, and require as a result at least one extra bridge tender to operate.

    In addition, Oak Bluffs did approve through its select board a Shared Use Path. This is now under construction and has resulted in a massive cutting down of red cedar trees, renown for absorbing water through its routes, adding to sanctuary for wildlife, and absorbing Co2. These were replaced by black tar – heat absorbing not only contributing to Co2, not recommended for two lane roads according to AASHTO and Mass DOT guidelines but we would like to know what the environmental impacts are of this decision. The collateral damage to property owners is definitely a matter of concern.

    I have debated these issues with Mr. Robinson personally and he is a good, if mis-guided person, but it is hoped that this opportunity will bring out the best in him. He is certainly sincere, and could possibly be able to help us to understand how all of thee issues came out of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

    • Frank– I gotta say that I don’t always agree with you, but we can always count on you to frame the issues in a sane and comprehensive way.

      Great comment.

    • Should the hours and frequency of the VTA be reduced to increase ridership?
      What is the ridership of the average car?
      Do three cars put out as much pollution as one bus?

  2. Lets assume that climate change is as apocalyptic as some assert. There is nothing you could do on MV to change the outcome. It is like peeing into the ocean. If you want to feel good about your accomplishments then go head but you are simply taxing more people. The things you will do will be cancelled out quickly by a couple of DeCaprio jet trips to St Barts.

  3. I guess this is as good of a time as any to offer my annual “easy money” bet to climate deniers.
    I will give 10 to one odds that this year the world’s major meteorological organizations will declare that 2023 was one of the top 10 warmest years on the modern record ( starting in the late 1800’s)
    I will put up $100 to your $10– Sign up now– I will only take 10 bets.
    All monies can be put in escrow accounts.
    Natural events such as Large impacts by celestial objects, volcanic eruptions on a scale that can clearly be deemed responsible for either rising or falling global temperatures as verified by the world’s major meteorological organizations or the large scale detonation of nuclear weapons that affect the global temperature voids the wager regardless of it’s impact either increasing or decreasing the earth’s average temperature.
    I have to say, I have been offering this for about the last 7 years, and I have not gotten one taker– surely, there should be at least one climate denier out there that will put a measly $10 where their mouth is. Oh, And did I mention that in the unlikely event that I actually win any money I will donate 100% of it to Planned Parenthood

    • Don, I’ll put $1,000 down if at the end of the year you can point to a peer reviewed study that provides direct evidence that global temperature rise is solely due to human activity.

      • I posted 2 well researched response to your comment here.
        It included links to literally thousands of peer reviewed studies, many of which provide direct evidence that global temperature rise is solely due to human activity.
        I don’t know who is doing the moderating here, but I already see that people like andy are calling it censorship.
        I will stick with the term “moderator” for now.
        I reviewed 3 comments I have posted since George left that do not violate any of the rules, and would certainly have been approved by George, but have not been posted.
        So, to whoever is the new moderator, perhaps you could introduce yourself
        and give us some new guidelines.

  4. What is wrong with unnamed people who feel the need to comment x times a day on an article? Seriously? what self respecting person would want to regurgitate worn out talking points and parrot others to look knowledgeable? Why? What is wrong or right with you people? I need to know why!!! Cause for myself and I would ‘bet’ many other people we shake our heads at the constant foot and mouth disease. The truth is, most comments are laughable at best.

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