Aquinnah, Chilmark voting on all-grass fields petition

Decisions will be made by voters in June at both town meetings. 

Warrant articles from petitioners asking for an all-grass MVRHS campus will appear at Aquinnah's and Chilmark's special town meetings. — MV Times

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School field will be making another appearance before up-Island voters in June. 

The Aquinnah Select Board unanimously approved the special town meeting warrant during a Tuesday meeting. Among the warrant articles, two are citizens’ petitions requesting nonbinding resolutions for the athletic field. One petition, which received 60 signatures, asks for an “all-grass MVRHS campus with no plastic fields”; the other, which received 52 signatures, requests a commitment that no anonymous donations over $5,000 for “legal action, experts, project design, and permitting related to any and all plastic fields” could be used for the high school campus.

Aquinnah town clerk Gabriella Camilleri certified the signatures for their inclusion in the warrant.

The Aquinnah special town meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 14.

Similar petitions were presented in Chilmark, both receiving 100 signatures, and will be voted on during the Chilmark Special Town Meeting on Monday, June 5. 

Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury voters decided to zero out their share of the MVRHS budget during their annual town meetings. This was done in protest of an ongoing lawsuit between MVRHS and the Oak Bluffs planning board over a proposed turf field. Voters in all three towns spoke to the detriments of the continued lawsuit, and some Aquinnah residents underscored concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Down-Island towns voted in favor of funding their share of the MVRHS budget, so only up-Island towns will need to hold special town meetings. 

West Tisbury will hold its special town meeting on Tuesday, June 13. 

The votes forced the budget back to the MVRHS School Committee for reconsideration. The school committee voted to recertify the same budget, with an explanation that no fiscal year 2024 money will be used for the field lawsuit, and any spending on the litigation will be capped at $20,000 of the remaining $25,000 in the fiscal year 2023 budget’s legal line. 

The school committee has also decided to enter into settlement negotiations with the planning board. 

After an executive session on Monday, school committee chair Robert Lionette read a statement saying the school’s attorneys presented a possible settlement agreement to Oak Bluffs two weeks ago. He said the planning board has since responded, and the school’s attorneys have been tasked with engaging in discussions to move an agreement forward. No further details were released during the Monday meeting about the settlement, and Lionette said he could not release further information on the possible agreement. 

During the Monday meeting, Martha’s Vineyard Superintendent Richie Smith also discussed potential cuts the high school may make if the up-Island towns reject the budget again during their special town meetings. If no budget is accepted, the high school will likely be forced to use the same budget as fiscal year 2023, which ends in July. This means working with $500,000 less than planned for the upcoming school year, according to Smith. The reduction could mean decreasing administrative positions and cutting some school programming. The superintendent said the last thing that would be considered are bargaining units — basically teachers, custodial staff, and other personnel. 

Smith said he didn’t want to discuss too many details “simply because we already have an anxious staff.” 

Four out of the six towns need to approve the budget for it to advance, so an approval at Chilmark Town Meeting on June 5 could settle budget discussions.

Reached for comment Tuesday, Lionette, who spearheaded the MVRHS budget rejection in Chilmark, said how residents voted during the special town meetings on the petition articles will shape how he approaches the settlement negotiations moving forward. If voters reject a synthetic turf field at the special town meeting, Lionette said, he will represent their views. 

“Voters need to have a voice, and we’ve never asked that simple question,” Lionette said of the petitions. “I want to hear from the voters of my town.” 

The school committee is expected to meet again on Thursday, May 24, in executive session.


  1. Lionette says the “voters need to have a voice”. What about the users, the kids and coaches? They were asked and they overwhelmingly voted for the turf but Mr. Lionette wishes to ignore them. Those voters up-island don’t use the fields. They represent a vast minority compared to the high school and youth sports teams who can’t wait for a turf field. Robert, why do you choose to ignore them? Please respond publicly. You are supposed to speak for the students you represent, but you continue to push your own agenda. Up-island you want a voice? Pay for it, vote for a school budget that is split 6 ways equally, until you do that, have as many non-binding votes as you want, but don’t hold the high school budget hostage, that confirms that you don’t care about the students and staff at the school one bit.

    • Ah, so kids are now the decision makers on our water supply! Interesting premise. I’m sure they are in no way influenced by delusional coaches and parents who think all student athletes are destined for Division 1 college scholarships! Tom Brady played college football on GRASS that was a replacement for plastic turf and he seemed to make out pretty good.

      • John, will you get off the scholarship kick because you’re the only one who has ever brought it up, never in testimony, or these comments, has anyone but you said it. What was said, was that the kids, on their own volition, told the school that they want a turf field but it’s clear Mr. Lionette either didn’t listen, or, doesn’t care what the kids want. They go off island weekly and play the vast majority of their league games now on turf, yes, those would be Cape schools. That’s what is influencing their request. They just want a chance to compete on a level playing field, figuratively and literally. Lastly, the voters you talk about have completely ignored all the facts associated with this project. Read the scientific evidence presented under testimony with an unbiased eye, the evidence associated with THIS project, not the scare tactics being imposed by the Field Fund, you’d see that the field won’t affect the aquifer. What was glaring to me was the actual lack of data saying turf fields affect aquifers. That lack of evidence says to me that they don’t. You’d think the Field Fund, with all the money they’ve spent fighting this, would have found at least one study, but they didn’t. Likely because they don’t exist. That, to me, speaks volumes. They brought up fire fighting foam, clearly that’s not the same as this field. The field will improve the water quality, by removing contaminated soil at the school.

        • ” What was said, was that the kids, on their own volition, told the school that they want a turf field ”

          Many students did not want a turf field.

          Those who wanted a plastic turf field were catered to and got all of the attention at public hearings. They were treated as though their preferences were the law of the land.

          And, even if all the students and teachers were to want a plastic field, which is not the case, that is not the only deciding factor. They are NOT the only stakeholders in this situation and it is not really fair to them to convince them that they are.

          Furthermore, there are other criticisms of the current design quite apart from the plastic turf.

          • Interesting take on the public hearing statement you make. Anyone, for or against, could have testified. Are you saying the MVC and the planning board gave preferential treatment to those kids supporting the field and didn’t allow kids who didn’t support the field to speak? I find that completely appalling. Everyone was allowed to speak. What I have seen is a student demonstration of athletes who support the field along Edgartown Road. I have seen athletes, and past athletes, testify in support of the field. I have seen coaches all support the field project. I don’t know where you are seeing all these kids oppose the field. Lastly Katherine, every “criticism” you mention has been discussed and addressed, from recycling, to maintenance, funding, field direction, cleaning (the only chemical allowed to be used is alcohol, per the MVC), lighting, traffic, and a whole host of other issues that the MVC put on their contingencies list. So, we all know you don’t want the field, and you are allowed to have that opinion, but no one convinced the kids to do anything, and no one stopped anyone from testifying, as you state in your post. The evidence is there for all to see and it supports the field plan scientifically, fiscally, environmentally, player safety, and athletically.

  2. The fields should be all natural grass.
    All natural GMO grass seed, all natural chemical fertilizer, all natural pesticides, all natural herbicides, all natural diesel fuel for the mowing machines.

    • albert– how about all natural organic seed ? it actually grows you know. — not that we need organic seed– there are plenty of varieties of grass seed that grow quite well that are neither organic or genetically modified, they are just grass seed…. organic fertilizers don’t have chemicals —your ridiculous comment about “all natural chemical fertilizer” is an oxymoronical statement that is tautologically absurd.
      Why would we need any pesticides ? A healthy organic , or even just a “natural” field” would have a healthy biome that would involve many species of insects and little creatures that naturally regulate the balance of different species of insects and “pest”and keep them all in balance. Are you really worried that that there may be so many ants on the field that it would alter the outcome of a game ?
      And FSM help us if there is a single freaking dandelion somewhere on the field. Would you really be ok with the school spraying Roundup on a place where our children are playing sports ? Tell me why we would need ANY herbicides, natural or otherwise.
      And really, man, there are mowing machines that don’t run on diesel–
      Please, come back at me and debate this stuff —
      I’m open to a dialogue about this–
      But I advise you to be careful–if you throw out easily debunkable hysterical hypothesizes or outright lies, i will call you on them.
      let the games begin—

      • Everything has a down side.
        How much water will grass use?
        How much fuel/electric will be needed to maintain?
        What does your research show as to the life cycle cost of grass versus plastic?
        If the Island truly loved it’s children it would resod all of our school’s grass surfaces every summer.
        Our taxes are too low.

        • Albert– Thanks for suggesting that I really get into the weeds about the actual costs. — What is the term for using the word “weeds” in this context ? It’s not a pun, or ironic– Does anyone know ?
          Anyway, I began looking into the costs of turf vs natural.
          The first thing I found was a pdf file that the school posted in 2019.
          it was an estimate for the entire master plan and not really about the current one field plan. It was also very small print ( I’m almost 71 and clicking on the “+” tab moved the text off the right side of the page for some reason.
          Then I went to an analysis of cost by a manufacturer of turf.
          Of course they are biased (i’m ok with that) but there were 2 things that bothered me on their site.
          #1 — they claim turf reduces injuries– that is not true.
          But that’s a different issue than we are addressing.
          So sticking to your question about water–
          They say;
          ” According to the Sports Turf Managers Association, a grass football field will typically require an inch of water per week, or 60,000 gallons of water per day. Considering a typical 6 month growing season in the Northeast as an example, a conservative estimate is approximately 1.5 million gallons of water in a single season. ”
          Ok , an inch of water seems like a lot, on average,(it does rain sometimes ) but ok– I’ll go with that.
          But I think their math is off about that 60,000 gallons a day- or mine is.
          A regulation field is is 360 ft long and 160 ft wide
          That’s 57,600 square ft. or 691,200 square inches. If you put one inch of water on it per week, that would be 691,200 cubic inches of water. According to the google conversion page, that equals 29,992 gallon of water. That’s per week. Pretty far from 60,000 gallons per day.
          They lose a little credibility with me on that one.
          So it’s a bit sticky to figure it out.
          Perhaps we could converse through e mail and not bore the good people here with details, and then issue a joint statement when we figure it all out.

          Anyone else who wants to jump into an actual factual discussion about this is welcome to e-mail me.

          • ok sam– I see you posted my first comment while i was writing to you– sobe it– put em all up and let the FSM sort it out– I make some mistakes– I will admit it.

          • Ok– my mistake on the math
            57,600 square ft on a standard field —
            8,294,400 square inches, at one inch depth of water 8,249,400 cubic inches of water. 231 cubic inches in a gallon. or 35,906 gallons per week —5,129 gallons per day. That’s a long way from the 60,000 gallons per day that the turf company states.
            Also the vineyard gets a low of 2.4 inches of rain in July, and 3.8 inches in November and march.
            So, not really a whole lot of water used — and the turf field has to occasionally be cooled with water on hot days.
            we already have the irrigation system for the fields, not the turf.
            That’s my take on the water issue.

  3. If you google the question Why do NFL players prefer grass?, this is one of the articles that comes up. The NFL Players Association president explains why players prefer grass.
    It is very clear if you do a little research that grass is undoubtedly the best choice, just ask the athletes who have to play on it day in and day out, they are the experts. The statistics say that the injury rate is higher on plastic grass. The scientists say that the toxic chemical substances in turf and the chemicals used to kill weeds growing through it and to clean the surface of plastic grass are highly dangerous for the environment. What are we going to do with the plastic carpet that will deteriorate in 8-10 years. The earth and the ocean are choking in plastic. “481.6 BILLION plastic bottles were used worldwide in a single year. That’s 40 billion per month and 1.3 billion per year.” “You eat thousands of bits of plastic every year” this is a quote from the National Geographic article below. These are unconscionable facts. Our earth, animals, ocean creatures, birds and insects are begging for help, do you hear them?

    • Pam, your conclusions are on one subjective article. Here are two peer reviewed studies that say just the opposite. So, at best, injury data on grass vs turf is inconclusive. Also what you need to understand is that the turf fields the Pros play on are not the safe as what’s proposed here. Their turfs are harder so they’ll play faster. A recent study from the NFL states that injury rates are fewer. So, please don’t use injury data as if been unequivocally proven when it hasn’t.

  4. Don, you speak of a 6 month New England growing season, which moths are those? Let’s guess May thru October? Sports start playing on the field in March and play through till November. In March many years the ground is still frozen, that’s when a lot of damage occurs. At the MVC a gentleman who the MVC brought in from Weston, unsolicited by the school BTW, testified that in New England it’s hard to keep grass playable and one of the main reasons his several grass fields survive is because his turf field does the heavy lifting. Yes, SEVERAL grass fields, we don’t have that option here, and he’s got a full time crew to manage the fields. I know you like your research so I’m sure you’ve read that playing fields in the Northeast are very difficult and expensive to maintain. Hence the reason that Gillette and most professional teams in the Northeast went to turf. Even with their full time maintenance crews. A luxury, I think even you will admit, we don’t have. And also know, your injury premise is not confirmed so please don’t say it’s true because it’s not, it’s assumed and there are studies that contradict that claim, as I’ve provided to you in this forum, and not all turf fields are the same.

    • Patrick– that 6 month growing season comment was not mine– I was quoting Turf factory direct ( a manufacturer of turf fields) that was quoting the Sports Turf Managers Association about how much water a grass field needs. I was addressing Albert’s question about the amount of water that is needed for a grass field,
      Something is certainly wrong with THEIR conclusion that is takes 60,000 gallons of water per day. To actually use that much water would require approximately 12 inches of water on the entire field every day.
      And yes, we have talked about the injuries before–
      I think I posted links to 3 studies that were very wide in scope which concluded injury rates were higher on artificial turf and another link to literally hundreds of studies on the subject.
      I think you posted one relating to professional sports. Repeat– I think …
      I’m open to seeing more verifiable information about injuries.
      You are also correct that grass fields are more expensive to maintain, mostly because of labor costs, but the math gets much closer when the cost are amortized over the 10 year life span of the turf.
      So, the school could give jobs to a few more people that would spend their wages here rather than give the money to some large corporations in who knows where and we would be close cost wise and have better fields than we do now.
      Of course, the cost calculations can go either way, depending on whether you are for or opposed.
      But one thing for sure– a football field does not require 12 inches of water every day.

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