School over budget on turf lawsuit

Committee split on decision to proceed with turf field appeal 

The turf field proposed for the Martha's Vineyard high school — Courtesy Huntress Associates Inc.

Members of the MVRHS school committee were split in their decision to proceed with a controversial lawsuit over a proposed synthetic turf field, but ultimately decided to continue their appeal.

Members voted 5-4 to continue funding the litigation during a tense meeting on Monday, April 3rd. Funding is for the ongoing appeal against the town of Oak Bluffs in Massachusetts Land Court.

Discussions in May 2022 had led to the agreement to allocate $30,000 to the law firm representing the school, Mead, Talerman & Costa. 

According to MVRHS Finance Manager Mark Friedman, the $30,000 number came from an estimate from the school district’s attorney, and was based on similar lawsuits that took between 40 and 80 hours of litigation. 

Some committee members were upset that the newest invoices from the law firm exceeded the given estimate. Committee member Skip Manter said the $30,000 should have been “more than enough” to cover the expenses.

The board moved to pay the expense of two recent invoices from the law firm, totaling $3,112.50, which formally exceeded the $30,000 the committee had set aside. Friedman estimated the billing hours from Mead, Talerman & Costa would go 11 hours over the initial estimate.

Based upon my calculations and my discussion with the attorney representing the district, there’s probably another 5 hours of work left to go, to get through what he calls the summary judgment phase of the process,” Friedman said. “Those 5 hours plus the 2 invoices that we have right now would add up to an additional $3,456.23 needed in addition to the $30,000 discussed back in May in order to complete the phase through the summary judgment.” 

He said given how the school’s legal spending was looking for the year, he was “highly confident” that even with the additional expenses, they would not exceed the budget. 

The remaining estimated 11 hours will be spent on the summary judgment phase of the legal process, which includes a court date when attorneys will argue their cases. The additional hours will cover the time to analyze the decision once it’s been rendered, and then for the law firm to come back to the school committee in executive session to discuss the judge’s decision, Friedman said. 

While Manter and committee Chair Robert Lionette were frustrated with the legal fees exceeding initial estimates, other committee members, like Mike Watts, countered the sentiment. 

“We didn’t cap legal fees for immigration fees,” said Watts. “I don’t know why we’re doing it now… We voted on an estimate, and it’s coming in more. Would we tell our immigration attorney you’ve got 4 hours and if you come in at 6 forget the claim? We just don’t do that.”  

But other members weren’t convinced. “I just think it’s unprofessional to spend all the initial money,” Manter responded. “This is not a popular topic across the Island, when next week we’re asking for 2 million dollars [for the high school project], to go on further with this project. I just think it’s inappropriate.”   

Other committee members felt strongly that the remainder of the discussion belonged in executive session. 

“We had [the attorney] sitting here for almost 2 hours, so we ourselves inadvertently ate up a couple hours, and the money adds up quickly,” Committee member Kris O’Brien reminded the committee. “I want to be careful about discussing this any further outside of executive session except to pay for these bills.” 

O’Brien and several other committee members felt strongly that the particulars of the conversation belonged in the privacy of the executive session. 

The controversy and lawsuit comes over the use of PFAS in the synthetic turf proposed for the new field, so-called “forever chemicals” that pose a risk to the health and safety of the island’s drinking water and long term sustainability. 

The Oak Bluffs Planning Board denied the high school’s special permit request for a new athletic track and synthetic turf field almost a year ago on May 4, 2022, on the grounds of water resource protection. The planning board had received numerous letters of both support and opposition to the proposed field project, and ultimately denied the permit

At the beginning of the meeting, Rebekah Eldeiry made a public comment speaking out adamantly against the synthetic grass turf field and the decision of the school board to oppose the Oak Bluffs Planning Board’s decision. 

Eldeiry says she was speaking as someone born and raised on Martha’s Vineyard, a mother of 2, a long time participant of PTOs, and a self-proclaimed environmental activist.

“From the beginning to the end of its life cycle, synthetic turf contributes to climate change, threatens to contaminate our single source aquifer, and has unknown health consequences for our still developing young adults,” Eldeiry said, citing the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai’s recommended moratorium on artificial turf. “It is not the fault of this school or the people who lead it that our planet and our drinking water is in peril, but it is the reality. To ignore this and put convenience over conservation is a mistake and a substandard example to the next generation of leaders and problem solvers.” 

Eldeiry continued by reminding the committee of the school’s decision to oppose the Oak Bluffs planning board after denying the permit for the proposed synthetic turf on the grounds of environmental protection, saying, “this school committee with a 5-4 vote has moved to litigate against the town of Oak Bluffs. Where do the taxpayers stand, especially those from Oak Bluffs? Is there a cap on spending and when will this ruling occur?” 

​​PFAS have caused a great deal of concern since environmental findings were released back in 2021. Most recently, state lawmakers began pushing a bill to tackle PFAS issues, and in May 2022, the Oak Bluffs board of health began considering a synthetic turf moratorium to prevent the spread of PFAS in town.” 

The committee closed the public portion of the meeting to further discuss the litigation in executive session. 



  1. Hard to believe this lawsuit is going ahead. This is taxpayer money, and I’d venture that most taxpayers are opposed. Enough is enough. Tell us what a well maintained grass field will cost. We want our student athletes to have the best. I’m sure we would pay. But let’s stop pandering to plastic and the millions of dollars behind this ill advised project.

  2. So, and correct me if I’m wrong, Oak Bluffs residents get to pay for both sides this battle., right? Nice job MVRHS Committee!

      • The Regional School Committee is not voted for as a board directly by the voters. Members are appointed from each of the local town School Committees.

        • Do you mean to say that Oak Bluffs voters vote for School Committee members who vote for Regional Committee members?
          That is such an important distinction

  3. I think the risk alone of PFA’s should be enough to halt the project and go a different avenue. Safety of students and residents should come first.

    • Agreed —-
      They found athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during athletic activity on artificial turf. Injury rates were significantly higher for football, girls and boys soccer, and rugby athletes. Lower extremity, upper extremity, and torso injuries were also found to occur with a higher incidence on artificial turf.
      Ok–A proponent of turf fields will say that study is “fake”
      How about this one ?
      There were 142 ACL tears on turf in Divisions 2 and 3 compared to 111 on natural grass despite athletes spending more time on grass. The difference was even greater for PCL tears: 3.3 tears per 10,000 competition exposures on turf compared to 1.1 per 10,000 on grass.
      Ok– that one is “fake ” also ?
      Well, I did hear from some of my conservative friends that Google is run by a bunch of “woke leftists”. I will admit that the 6 studies that I took a quick look at out of thousands found by google all had the same results.
      Since I am a “woke leftist” I figured I would leave it to the turf proponents to find their unbiased studies funded by the turf industry themselves to show otherwise.

      And not to get off topic, but I would rather see the school spend $30,000 on school lunches than legal fees.

      • Don, no one is saying those studies are fake, they are just the ones most of most often sited as they pop up in the first 6 articles on the google. Here is one that you obviously ignored, done by the NFL and the NFLPA, both non turf industry unbiased companies. I think even you can agree that the NFLPA have their players at their best interest.

        You find 6 studies to support you and I can and have done the same, but when it all comes out in the wash the consensus from sports medicine professionals is that the information is inconclusive. You also have to take into account that most studies are done on college and professional athletes, playing on professionally maintained fields with budgets much higher that what any public high school can afford.

        In addition, this is not the topic of this article and certainly not about the money spent by the town of Oak Bluffs to fight this battle for their planning board chair who has been, from the start, biased against this project.

        When it was proposed by several town residents at a recent select board meeting, who are in support of the turf field, that the select board stop funding the planning board defense in light of the recent information coming out about PFAS in our fields, why no head line in this paper or even a mention of it? I find that interesting reporting. Did you see that in any headline?

        • Patrick I understand that the issue has been more on the FRAS issue.
          I have consistently posted that I think putting a half million pounds of plastic on the football field is a bad idea for a number of reasons.
          I for one don’t think the PFAS issue is as dramatic as some others. But I do think it’s an issue.
          My comment to Dan was backing up his point.
          So let me be clear, I did not ignore anything.
          I am not responsible for the algorithms that google uses to put things at the top of the list. I do not have unlimited time to find things that contradict my biases.
          If the first 6 studies showed that injury rates were higher in all cases that’s not my fault. Your comment sort of backs up my point that some people think everything is biased and “fake”
          Ok– I appreciate you taking some time to investigate further– Please don’t take my word for anything–
          So you found an article that notes that injury rates are higher for professional players on turf fields but only at only statistically insignificant levels (last year).
          Your link does not seem to support any argument that turf fields are safer. Very weak at best, considering the comments from the professional players themselves.
          There are many issues associated with this.
          Safety is one of them.
          Cost , issues about chemicals, recycling and water quality for future generations are a few of them.
          My comment is about safety.
          That’s all — on topic considering it was a response to someone who brought up the safety issue.

        • The NFL study has major flaws, its numbers were massaged because the NFL owners don’t want to be forced to install grass. Ask the players, they want grass by a huge margin.

      • Please read all the way to the end of your first article and evaluate the conclusion of the author. The author doesn’t recommend grass fields. The author suggests education regarding the proper footwear. Too bad the article is being used to push an agenda and not used in the way it was intended. I didn’t bother to read the second. You lost me on the first one.

        • Grant– You’re kidding ,right ?
          You think I am using this article to “push an agenda”? What agenda is that, exactly ?
          The article was about injury rates. Excuse me for pushing for a safer playing field for the students–
          Do you have any idea what an actual statistically based study is?
          But I really have to give you credit for pointing out that the athletes should have proper footwear.
          I would never have thought about that..
          Perhaps you should contact the coaches and tell them that.
          Of course you didn’t read the second one– Why would you ?

  4. Funny, but of the 30 NFL fields that are played on, 16 are grass, yet we continue spending taxpayer’s money to push for a forever chemical field.

    • Funny. Nearly unlimited budgets for those NFL fields. Funny. Many of those cold weather teams have heated fields to extend the growing season. Funny, Lambeau field is a hybrid of grass and turf but listed as grass. Nissan stadium just announced switch to turf. Please read beyond the headline google search. Repeat. Nearly unlimited budget. If you want your taxes to have no cap. Spend like the NFL does.

      • “Nearly unlimited budget?” MVRHS now has an “ACTUALLY unlimited budget” to spend on this lawsuit to get the result five school board members crave. There is no longer any mechanism in place to stop the spending. Without even another school committee vote they can and will keep spending until the budget line for “legal expenses” is gone; keep spending into the red; pull money from other needs of the school to satisfy the deficit; take money out of the “emergency contingency fund; etc.; etc.; infinity.

        We have been hoodwinked my friends.

  5. Buckle up island taxpayers! This school board vote has lifted all limits on their spending on this folly. Without the need to notify the towns (no transparency) nor the need to seek another vote from their own board (no accountability), MVRHS can and will now spend UNLIMITED funds on this lawsuit. In a 5-4 vote they have now lifted any and all constraints on the lawsuit spending. (And yes, OB taxpayers pay both sides.)

    As a lawyer, I promise, cases can go on forever and cost a lot. And these five school board members do not take no for an answer — the tail (the five) is wagging the dog (islanders). The five are very likely to lose this current motion and, if they do, they will appeal and appeal and appeal. There is always another judge from whom to seek the answer you demand.

    • Vicki, why don’t you ask the same thing of the town of Oak Bluffs? They can stop this at any time, especially in the light of the newest information reported about the PFAS in the soils at the school. Their argument no longer is valid. Why do you believe it is only up to the school board to stop this? As a lawyer, you know that there are two sides to a fight and either one can concede. I say the town is not on solid ground because their fight is to get the Dover Amendment overturned. Indicating to me that they must believe their decision was incorrect, so change the law. BTW, the town is asking for a jury trial vs a summary judgement that the school requested, who is driving the bills up now?

      • As I understand it, OB Planning Board is arguing that the Dover Amendment does not apply to THIS situation. They are not trying to “overturn the Dover Amendment” altogether. Does anyone actually want the 9 member school board to be able to do anything they want at the high school without any ability for the town to say “no?” As we head into a massive building project, you want OB to have no role whatsoever on anything — parking, traffic, etc.? YIKES!!???

  6. So, why is everyone here criticizing the school board? Why isn’t anyone here criticizing the planning board or the town of Oak Bluffs? It was the planning board who didn’t follow the law and didn’t allow the special permit. If you read their argument they want to change the Dover Amendment saying it is out of date….really? That tells me they know they were out of their lane and want to force a law change. That tells me they are admitting guilt. So they should concede and allow the special permit and end this. There are two sides to this argument, that is how appeals work. The school committee is being held hostage by their budget while it seams the town of Oak Bluffs will spend tens of thousands defending their side, even though they are admitting they were wrong. I personally don’t want to pay to defend the town’s stance.

    Dave Billings, you are absolutely right. Grass can’t work here, it has been proven by the NFL. Mike, you can’t afford a well maintained grass field because it won’t work, as shown during the MVC hearing by the expert they brought in. Dan, the science and experts have said, “if you want to decrease the PFAS, a turf field will do that”, the current levels of PFAS in the soil is higher than what “may” be present in the turf. Remember, the testing done on the turf indicated that there MAY be PFAS present, and the levels got a rating of “de minimus” or barely detectable, unlike the school soils currently.

    I get it, people may not want a turf field but there is technically no reason not to do it, at least none by law. It is safe, it is durable (unlike grass), it is wanted by the users of the fields, it will lower our PFAS in the aquifer risk, it is recyclable, it is ADA compliant, it won’t dump nitrogen into the aquifer (remember our ponds), it is better for the athletes safety, it bring our teams equal to their competition, as most schools now have turf.

    Pressure can also be put on the Town of OB to stop this as well. Why aren’t you doing that?

    • Most towns also have Walmart’s, Home Depots, McDonalds, Burger King, malls, traffic signals etc. Do we really want to be like “most towns”

    • Patrick…the planning held hearings then voted. The MV High school committee didn’t like the decision so brought suit. It’s on those 5 people that our kids don’t have healthy, natural grass fields to play on.

      Why should OB back down, science is on their side. Read the facts.

    • Because we don’t want turf that causes more injuries and adds more forever chemicals to our environment. Does that clear it up for you?

    • Patrick — to answer your first question—simple reason– the OB planning board had the final say.
      But — May I politely ask you why you are so adamant about this issue ?

      • Don, although my first thought was, I don’t need to answer to anyone as to why I support this project, but then I thought it over so here you go.

        The one group that has been ignored through this whole process are the athletes at the school. They have been pushed aside as if they didn’t exist. Some have spoken up in favor but they are likely not going to comment here. They have lined up on Edgartown road carrying signs asking for this field, but again, is anyone listening? So I am, I am speaking for them because they go to other communities and ask, “why can’t we have this” referring to a turf field. Why don’t our leaders listen to us and put aside this quarreling and build it?

        I speak as one of them. I know them. I was one of them. No, I didn’t get a college scholarship to play sports, although I did play in college. I am not a professional athlete or an Olympian, but I have spend my entire adult life in the field of athletics. Athletics do so much for kids that translate into adulthood. There are thousands of these fields across the globe and there is not one scientific reason not to have one here. I can tell you that PFAS is a cop out and a scare tactic developed by the “anti-plastic” coalition to shoot this project down. Carver put a turf field in the middle of their cranberry bogs. You don’t think they care about their water quality? They put in water monitoring stations around the turf as we are planning. Their water quality from the turf run off is clean. No pesticides, no nitrogen, it is clean.

        So, I would like to think I speak for the kids who want this field. I bet that many here who comment have never spoken to the athletes and coaches at the school about what they think and what they want. It is 2023, and no we don’t have a Walmart or Home Depot, but at one time we didn’t have a Stop & Shop either, we got over that. I strongly support this project because it is the right thing to do for our student-athletes and if someone doesn’t speak for them, who will?

        And to respond to your other comment: The planning board doesn’t necessarily have the final say if their ruling was illegal, that is why there is an appeals process, to find out if they acted outside of their jurisdiction. The judge will have the final say.

        • Patrick– Thank you for an articulate response.
          Bit I have to disagree with you that this is the best thing for our students. The studies clearly indicate that turf has higher injury rates. Can you yield that point ?
          Some of the students clearly think turf is a good idea, but some of them don’t.
          If the O.B vote wasn’t legal, why was it allowed to happen?
          Why didn’t the school board challenge that issue before they lost ?
          I have to say, it sounds a little like election denial to me.
          Sometimes you lose.

          • No Don, I won’t concede that point because it’s not correct. I’ve researched this as well and the total volume of the data says the injury data is inconclusive. You pointed out two, I can do the same. Our own physician, who treats sports injuries, says the same thing. The evidence to support your claim isn’t there, sorry, I will not concede that point because my personal and professional experience supports my claim, that turf and grass injury data is virtually the same over the total volume of the literature and one, or two, or even three studies does not create an absolute, you’re smart enough to know that.

            Regarding your legal statement. The school board couldn’t stop it from happening. They made there case but the chairman ignored all their evidence, because IMO, he was prejudice against this project before it even got to his board. The school board’s only option was to appeal, and that’s what they are doing and it’s well within their rights. BTW, school provided surveys from the coaches and athletes and the vast majority of athletes support and want the turf. Yes Susan some spoke up but they won’t here, so I am carrying that torch for them. The athletes want the turf, you were at the meetings, you saw that.

          • Patrick.
            I find it interesting that you won’t yield the easily verifiable fact that injury rates are higher on turf fields. You say I linked linked to 2 studies. Correct on the narrow interpretation– I mentioned 6, and provided a link to view hundreds.
            You SAY you can do the same and find studies that indicate otherwise, but of course you don’t.
            Then you say, it is “inconclusive”.
            Give me a break.
            We’ve been hearing that kind of stuff from the climate and election deniers for years. Please don’t take their tact, and cite one study by the industry or pull out one fact that you don’t bother to publish and claim “inconclusive” .
            Inconclusive doesn’t cut it. Tell that to the student in the E.R with a torn ACL
            I have gone onto some of the sites of the companies that make this stuff, and apparently, since the current state of “recycling” is severely inadequate, they are just promoting rolling a new turf field right over the old worn out one.
            Great– we kick every other environmental and financial problem we have to the next generation, why not this one ?
            The people who sell this stuff even have the audacity to promote that they are “eliminating the massive co2 emissions caused by grass clippings” .
            How far down the rabbit hole of denial does one have to be to believe that one ?
            You can’t make this stuff up !

        • Patrick…you need to check your premise. The athletes and students as well as many on their behalf have made themselves heard numerous times. Check back over the minutes from MVC, OB Planning Board and MVRHS school committee meetings.

          • So you say they were heard, then they were pushed aside and ignored. In addition, I don’t see any of them hear fighting, you who when you lost at the MVC continued to push your agenda until you got it to one of your own, the planning board chair. The exact same person who posted a picture of himself proudly sporting a Field Fund shirt on his Facebook page, prior to his board getting the project. To me that’s a conflict of interest. So yes, I’m here supporting the athlete’s wishes, a new turf field. I’m guessing you haven’t talked to many athletes at the school. I’m done with this. Build the turf field because it’s the right thing to do for our kids. BTW, one of my posts didn’t get printed arguing your science. But you’ll never be convinced so why waste my time with your inaccuracies.

  7. We want fields that use all natural grass seed, fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides.
    We won’t have to mow, not enough grass to bother.

  8. This is no longer about the field it is about the process. the project went to the Oak Bluffs planning board, they kicked it to the all island commision. the commision spent more time on this project then any project in the islands history. they decided, as an all island elected body, for better or worse the project could be built. Oak bluffs planning board then decided a special permit was needed. As the things worked out it came down only one member needing to vote against it for the project to fail. That person, the chairman by the way who pushed the special permit, is the one who cast the dissenting vote. The is not a democratic process that is tyranny. It is exactly what our ancestors fought against on the green in Lexington. It is why the Dover amendment was created. At this point it doesn’t matter whether we build the field or not. What matters is that we do not set a president where one person controls anything we what to do at the all island regional high school.
    We are fortunate the we do not have to stand in the village green and be shot at to fight tyranny, we just need to pony up some more tax dollars. money well spent.

  9. I want to know why some keep saying that grass fields can’t be done on the Vineyard.
    What about those grass fields at Chilmark, Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury schools and several others on the Vineyard, and many off-island places with similar weather conditions?
    Why did Nantucket reject plastic and decided on grass?

    And I want to know the ACTUAL cost comparison between grass and plastic – what’s the cost to install, and what’s the total cost comparison over 20 years, including the cost of removing and recycling the plastic field after its short 10 year lifespan, and then replacing it with a new plastic field at whatever the cost will be in the future.
    A grass field will never need to be replaced, it can be maintained forever.
    And because it will be managed organically, it will pose no risk of nitrogen or pesticide contamination of our groundwater.
    Playing on plastic fields guarantees that our teenagers will all be breathing in whatever chemicals the field is made of, including PFAS.
    I want to know, who are the 5 members of the school committee who are pushing so hard for plastic? We need to know their names, and we need to hear from each of them why they are so willing to risk the health of our young ones, who will then pass on the resulting genetic mutations to their children.

    • Anna, you can’t compare an elementary playground to a competitive athletic surface. Also, Nantucket can afford to install and maintain grass as they already have a synthetic turf field that handles the bulk of their usage.

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