Approval extended for controversial turf field project

If MVRHS prevails in court, Martha’s Vineyard Commissioners will consider a two-year extension.

— MV Times

The Island’s regional high school has been granted its request to extend the approval for the installation of a synthetic athletic field until after current litigation is resolved.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional School District vs. the Town of Oak Bluffs Planning Board is currently ongoing in Massachusetts Land Court, and has yet to be resolved. It is unknown when a judge will rule on the case. 

After the Martha’s Vineyard Commission approved the project in 2021, the high school’s field project failed to get the support of the Oak Bluffs planning board, who had been tasked with deciding whether to grant the school a special permit to construct a new athletic field. 

The planning board’s 2-2 vote on the request last May was recorded as a denial.

In their decision, board members cited concerns over per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), toxic chemicals that are often found in synthetic turf.

The MVRHS-launched appeal in land court was in response to the planning board’s denial. 

Without a special permit, the high school has been unable to begin any work on the project. As a result, the school risks having its approval from the MVC expire. 

Per the MVC’s August 27, 2021, decision, MVRHS had exactly two years to begin construction on the field. 

In order to avoid going through the development of regional impact (DRI) review process a second time, the high school requested an extension of the 2021 approval until after litigation is settled.

Earlier this week, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s land use planning subcommittee (LUPC) voted unanimously to recommend the extension; on Thursday, the full commission concurred with the LUPC in a 10-2-1 vote. 

Per that vote, the approval will be extended until 60 days after the lawsuit has reached resolution, either after the judge’s ruling and the expiration of any appeal period, or following the stipulation of dismissal with the appropriate court. 

If the Oak Bluffs planning board prevails in court, the project’s approval becomes moot. 

In the event the land court judge rules in favor of the high school, the commission will then take up potential regional impacts of a two-year extension; that application will likely involve a public hearing. 

Still, some commissioners questioned whether the 60-day extension is too generous. If the school wins its appeal, a 30-day extension would be appropriate, Commissioner Kate Putnam said. 

“We want to give them enough time, so that by the time they come to us, there’s something for us to talk about,” commission chair Joan Malkin responded. 

Commissioner Ben Robinson pointed out that if and when the high school does return to the MVC requesting the two-year extension, it wouldn’t involve particularly complicated and prolonged discussion. 

“They’d just be coming for the extension,” he said. “They’re not modifying it, they’re just asking for the extension. That doesn’t take time, that’s one phone call.” 

But Doug Sederholm noted that it’s normal to have lengthy application and permitting processes. Particularly “when you’re dealing with a political body [made up] of elected officials, on a very controversial project,” he said.

He added that the high school would still need to hammer out a handful of details before beginning any construction. 

Malkin said that while the commission typically approves requests for extensions, the regional agency still asks for evidence to support why that extension is needed, “whether it’s change of ownership or a downturn in the economy,” she said.

But given the circumstances, “this one is a little bit different.” 

“We’re essentially delaying or deferring the substantive discussion as to whether or not an extension is appropriate,” Malkin said. “[The high school] will need an extension when this is all done, if they win.” 

At that point, the commission would determine whether the extension is a matter of regional impact, and whether a public hearing would be necessary. 

In response to commissioners who briefly expressed some interest in denying the temporary 60-day extension, Sederholm said, “It would be patently unfair to not extend it without at least considering it on the merits … It would be outrageous.” 

In response to some commissioners who again raised concerns that if in fact the school board wins its lawsuit, they could technically begin building within that 60-day extended period, Sederholm said it’d be “totally impractical.”

“A, they don’t have the money; B, they have to enter into a contract, and because [the school] is a public entity, they probably have to put out requests for bids,” he said. “It’s a very complicated process they have to follow.” 

In the meantime, “there won’t be people out there with shovels,” Commissioner Fred Hancock assured wary commissioners.

“There will be people out there with machine guns if they do that,” Malkin added. 

Sederholm recalled the 2021 public hearing for the project, which involved around 100 testimonials and a number of experts. “We had experts coming out of our ears,” he said. 

“[It was] probably the longest public hearing I participated in, in the last 20 years.” 

At the time of eventual resolution, “we don’t know what the political situation will be on the school board,” he said. “We all know this is a hot potato, to say the least.” 


  1. “THERE WILL BE PEOPLE OUT THERE WITH MACHINE GUNS’ did anyone also read this statement from Joan Malkin. There have been many lows in this process, between the disgusting name calling and now violence, all I can say and think is “WOW”! Is there nothing the “grass only folks” won’t do to get their way? It appears that Ms. Malkin is anti turf but to suggest that machine guns will be used as the the next step for the” grass only folks” to take, if they don’t get their way, now that is a new LOW!!! I find it incredibly threatening and a very trump like posturing. Do people forget the power of words? Do people forget how influential the MVC is? I can hear folks now suggesting she did not mean actual machine guns or that it was tongue in cheek. Schools in our country are under violent attack and there is nothing subtle about what she said.

  2. Due to the stream of new science and changes in PFAS guidelines this project should have to go through another review process. An extension is ludicrous.

    • What new data are you sharing? The materials have been tested. The EPA has new draft guidelines. The state has draft guidelines. This field is still within those guidelines. I hope the commission reviews those draft guidelines. I hope the OB board of health reviews those draft guidelines and the testing that has been done on the field products. I hope everyone does as has been suggested. I hope they compare these results to normal household usage outputs of pfas. I am pretty sure if this was done that the affordable housing project across the street from the high school would have to be denied based upon what those septic systems will pump into the ground over the water protection overlay district. It’s just this one project that you have chosen to hate. It’s not really pfas. If it was then people would be terribly inconvenienced. How about a drive to get rid of all non stick cookware on the island for starters. Then all waterproof rain gear. Check your dental floss! Here is a quick reference. It is a good read. Plenty of links to other scary products we all use daily. Please provide your new data.

    • Susan, that’s your opinion. Just because you don’t like the project doesn’t mean you can change the rules. Approved DRIs get extensions all the time, is absolutely the right thing to do because it was approved and, with no fault of the school, they haven’t been able to begin construction.

  3. It is my understanding…..The 60 day extension does not mean it will not have to go through another review process. It appears everyone is on hold til the judge makes a decision one way or another. However, let’s get back to bringing machine guns to a shovel in the ground fight as basically stated in a the article. No outrage over that. Fascinating what is permitted to be said and what’s not and by whom.

  4. On Thursday evening, at a meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, I made a very thoughtless comment about guns and violence. Intended to be light-hearted and in the moment, I failed to consider the potential implications of my remark in light of the gun violence issues facing our country. Although the comment has been interpreted as an indication of an anti-turf bias, that could not have been further from my mind. I meant no disrespect to either side in this contentious Island issue.

    As Chair of the Commission, I have a special responsibility to preserve and enhance the reputation of the Commission and to set an example with behavior beyond reproof. In my 2 ½ years as Chair, I have worked hard to maintain professionalism. Last night I did not meet my own standards of decorum, and I failed my commissioner colleagues and the Island public. I am sorry I said what I did, and I regret it. I hope this does not impact the public’s view of the Commission’s credibility.

    • The Commission lost any credibility years ago. And then doubled down on loss of credibility when they fast tracked that mess going in on Union St.

    • No problem. No need to censor yourself. No need to apologize. Of course we know you didn’t mean it literally. It’s okay to use colorful language.

    • Apology noted. We all make mistakes and say things that, initially, seem like a light hearted comment to possibly lighten the air around a certain proceeding or topic. However, it was in bad taste using a gun reference and I see you regret the reference and made a public apology.

      Although it is clear you are anti-turf, please keep an open mind when using your power as chairperson. Please don’t have a bias without basis. The MVC made the school, taxpayers, pay for an independent company to do testing and it seems that that information may be being ignored. They all said the field is safe, and recent testing shows that the PFAS levels currently in the field are higher that what is in the turf, and, the turf won’t likely leach PFAS, unlike what is currently present. In the thousands of pages of documents provided in testimony there wasn’t one study that shows that turf fields add PFAS, or any contaminant, to the environment? These fields have been around for decades and not one study to support the claims being made was provided to the MVC.

      Thank you for your service to the MVC and your willingness to clarify your statement.

  5. I have only been paying attention to this topic for the last year maybe a little longer. In this time I have heard some very serious and at times awful comments, even despicable comments made from both sides. I am reminded language can both incite and hurt and when this project either moves forward or ends, we will all still have to live together, seasonally or year round, in civility. I hope everyone can appreciate an apology when one is given, regardless of who gives it. I certainly do.

  6. Even in Summer the snowflakes are prevalent! Get over it folks, this was not a comment with malicious intent. It was an off the cuff comment that merely reflected the divisiveness within our community about this project. Most likely the court will side with the OB planning board and we can all move on.

    • John take a step back
      We all know you can never say the N word
      When the C word was mentioned at a commision meeting we all learned you can never say that and no matter how much you apologize you won’t be forgiven
      When a crossing guard mentions a gun at school over breakfast, he is arrested, and humiliated, his house is search and his guns taken
      I think we all understand the chairman spoke off the cuff as you say. That said the words were spoken – machine guns at the school
      The apology has been made I can accept it
      What I can not accept is brushing those words under the table
      For children and teachers who practice and have actually had lock down drills
      Guns at school is no joke, those words cannot be spoken in any context
      This is a heated debate we are all in, words will be spoken that shouldn’t be. I urge all to accept and learn from the chairman’s words and apology, I also urge everyone to learn from and accept the apologies others have made regardless of which side of the issue you and they are on.

  7. There is no worse way to settle this than a court proceeding. I have no bias and I could mediate and settle this in a week or two at very little cost. I don’t know any of the details but I have 45 years experience in construction settlements. It simply takes willing participants.

    • It does take willing parties. According to this paper the school made multiple offers. Executive sessions were cancelled by the other side. This paper reported a joint settlement pre meeting was attempted. Hard to imagine the school that asked for the meeting was the party unwilling to meet. You are correct Mr. Jenner. Both sides have to be willing. Seems a bit one sided. Remember, the Town wanted a trial. They pushed against summary judgement. I wish you luck when the parties don’t want to meet.

    • Mark, this could have ended a month ago. The school gave a settlement offer to the planning board. The chair never put it on an agenda to discuss with his board mates. What does that tell you? He is so hung up on his hatred of a synthetic field that he won’t even come to the table. So, this isn’t about PFAS, and never was, this is about the idealistic idea about being anti-plastic, but that isn’t a legal reason for a denial. So, he and his “PFAS GANG” created fear that gave him “reason” for denial.

      So yes Mark, if you have two sides willing to negotiate and mediate this could have been done months ago, but the town isn’t a willing participant. What does that say about the town’s stance on this project. Grant’s comment above is absolutely correct.

  8. imagine if the pro-turf people said something about bringing machine guns to the MVC or OB planning board meetings…..Tongue in cheek comment would not be the narrative. They would have called the police for threatening them. The simple fact that an extension was legally correct is being lost. I mentioned before a town “overwhelming vote” which was a mistake, however the facts remain the same, a majority of towns approved the project and Ewell Hopkins has thrown himself into the mix as some sort of savior to the island. One man should not have so much obstruction power. Eventually, in my opinion, this project will go thru, and the only thing detrimental will be the loss of playing time on a great field for the current students.

    Since we’re back to discussing water pollution.
    The above 3 min video explain the variety of reasons our environment is being poisoned by forever chemicals. The only way to stop this pollution is for the federal government to use their power to hold these manufacturers accountable and make new laws that ban these micro pollutants. In the meantime we hope our elected school officials and educators will consider the bigger picture and look towards the future .Turning off the flow PFAS will feel drastic and we will have to rethink and retrain our consumption and consumerism . Local government is as important as federal government. Europe is ahead of us and have already banned many of these chemicals in consumer products. We are all in this together, one planet , one ecosystem.
    Our schools are educating our future citizens who will be forced to eliminate plastic and chemicals from the environment not because it’s a trendy thing to do but for the literal survival of humans.
    The suggestions of Gun violence is not funny or relatable for anyone engaged with opposing opinions, especially at local government We are neighbors on this 100 square mile plot of land and will need to work together on many upcoming topics including climate change , emergency preparedness, growth , environmental issues and housing .
    There is much work ahead for those who care deeply for our Island .
    I do hope we can agree to move on and plant what nature has given us, as imperfect as some see it . For those pushing for a plastic field , many understand and are grateful for your dedication to supporting athletics but please widen your scope on this project ,every action has a consequence . This field will become tons of micro plastics in 8-10 years. Is it worth it ? We will also need to mitigate grass chemicals. This debate has brought awareness to chemical output and brought so much science to light. Let’s use that to evidence as fodder to Move forward towards sustaining cleaner waterways and drinking water for generations to come.
    Thank you for reading .

    • Please advise if you only sell pfas and plastic free products. Have they been certified as such? We all know they eventually end up in landfill. Are you walking the walk or just talking.

  10. SHAME ON THOSE COMMISSIONERS WHO VOTED NOT TO HOLD A PUBLIC HEARING on a significant change to a major provision of a final decision of the MVC. This vote is anti-American and like a Politburo vote to avoid the unpleasant anticipation of the necessary re-opening of a prior decision with a firm expiration date! The expiration date is part of the final decision where the MVC vote and decision on this DRI were NOT appealed, thereby rendering the decision FIRM and FINAL! Now, certain MVC Commissioners have voted that they alone have the authority to simply vote to extend an expiration date without fully re-opening the decision, holding a public hearing, taking testimony (much of which will directly relate to new information on the threats to health from PFAS obtained since the prior hearings), and then voting a new decision. Keeping the public out of the process is against the law, not authorized by the MVC Act, and is Politburo like. Is the MVC now the dictator of MV? NOT SO! VOTE THOSE MVC COMMISSIONERS WHO VOTED NOT TO HOLD A PUBLIC HEARING OUT OF OFFICE!

    • Ana, this extension is first, standard protocol for the MVC to extend DRIs deadlines due to unforeseen circumstances. It is not only fair but the right thing to do. In addition, the school has not changed the plan at all so where are you getting the “significant change” from? It’s exactly the same as when it got passed. The only difference is that the planning board could have ruled illegally and the school has every right to appeal and that process takes time. Timelines not set by the school. The town could have accepted whatever settlement offer that was on the table and ended this but they didn’t, they wouldn’t even meet to discuss the offer, thus dragging out the process. The commissioners voted the way they did because it was the right thing to do. Give them credit for following past practices and using common sense.

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