Oak Bluffs says school argument on turf field is outdated

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A high school field project remains on hold while a legal battle continues in Land Court. - Courtesy Huntress

The Oak Bluffs Planning Board has submitted its response to the athletic field lawsuit first filed by the Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District vs. the Town of Oak Bluffs Planning Board is currently ongoing in Massachusetts Land Court because of the planning board’s rejection of a special permit for a synthetic turf field at the high school over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) concerns.

In the response filed Monday, the town of Oak Bluffs, the Oak Bluffs Planning Board, and individual planning board members — all named defendants in the case — state opposition to the school district’s motion for summary judgment.

Legal representatives for the school district have relied heavily on the Dover Amendment —legislation that allows properties with an educational component to bypass certain zoning bylaws — to make their case. A ruling in favor of that argument could find that the planning board was outside of its jurisdiction when it rejected the special permit. 

In response, the town states in their filing that the Dover Amendment was “written in 1950, before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed, before the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act were enacted, and before most people knew what PFAS are and how toxic they can be.”

“It is not likely that the 1950’s Legislature foresaw that, in 2022, a public school would seek to place three acres of artificial turf, containing hazardous or toxic materials, over a longstanding playing field neutrally zoned to protect a town’s water supply, the very water consumed by students and staff,” the town argues. “Indeed, the first artificial turf field was not constructed until 1964. It is hard to imagine that the legislature at the time would allow drinking water for an entire community to be compromised under the guise of the Dover Amendment.”

Similarly, the town takes issue with the district’s interpretation of “open space” cited in their argument. 

“The District’s construction of ‘open space’ reads the Dover exemption too broadly and the Town’s zoning authority too restrictively,” the town’s response states. “The district cannot read out of the Dover Amendment the Board’s right to place conditions not only on the location and the boundaries of an educational institution’s open space proposal, but also on how the institution treats the open space itself, if the proposed ‘treatment’ may harm an interest that zoning is designed to protect.”

Oak Bluffs argues that the planning board’s initial decision “did not deny [the] proposed use” of the field, and per that decision, the district cannot “install the Field, located over the Town’s aquifer, with materials containing the type and amount of PFAS the Board found will be used, and which the scientific community and regulatory agencies have deemed harmful to humans.”

The town argues for the denial of the school district’s motion for summary judgment, as it is “not the proper vehicle to resolve this dispute between public bodies.”

A judge will review the argument before issuing a decision.

A copy of the response is available on The Times’ website.