Tisbury Center Plan Is Delayed
Failure to Issue State Permit Snags Main Street Sewage Project; Town Officials Raise Public Safety Concerns About Work
By JOSHUA SABATINI
On the eve of the planned groundbreaking for the Tisbury sewage project, two Island officials raised serious safety concerns regarding the renovation plans even as the town faces a snag in starting construction work due to a delay at the state level.
Tisbury selectmen had set a timetable under which construction work along Main street was to begin Oct. 15, end temporarily Nov. 22 and pick up again Jan. 1.
But in order for work to proceed, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has to issue a notice to proceed after reviewing final documents relating to the project.
Paperwork was submitted to DEP Oct. 1, said town administrator Dennis Luttrell. But when Mr. Luttrell contacted DEP on Wednesday, the agency had no record of the submission.
Officials from Earth Tech, the engineering firm hired for the Tisbury sewer project, confirmed yesterday that the papers did reach DEP on Oct. 1.
Steve McCurdy, deputy director of DEP's division of municipal services, told the Gazette there was a mix-up at his agency. He said a second copy was received yesterday and it has been put on "the fast track."
Ordinarily, the review process takes two to four weeks, Mr. McCurdy said, but that under the circumstances DEP would work to speed the process. He could not, however, say for sure when final approval would be given.
As of yesterday, Tisbury selectmen did not know how they would proceed with the project.
Selectmen chairman Ray LaPorte said yesterday that no work will begin next week. At best, he said, the board will have a preconstruction meeting with the contractor and decide upon a schedule for the work.
No matter what, Mr. LaPorte added, the board is committed to making sure the local businesses' holiday season will not be interrupted by contractors' work.
"The sidewalks and roads will be passable for the holiday season," he said.
Selectmen will not know the work schedule for sure until they know when DEP will grant approval.
Department of public works director Fred LaPiana, who is overseeing the project, said the original schedule already called for double shifts by workers in order to have a full layer of asphalt on Main street by Nov. 22. While that plan factored in the possibility of small delays, he said, it would be impossible to adhere to the same schedule as a result of the longer, DEP-related holdup.
Mr. LaPiana said consideration should now be given to not starting any work on Main street until Jan. 1. Everything depends on the new start date, he said.
"We all have to cooperate and pick up the pieces and figure out what's best for the community," he said.
Tisbury Business Association president Jeff Kristal said yesterday that his organization is "totally opposed to carry any work through November and December.
"The businesses really need the holiday season, which accounts for a good portion of the yearly revenues," he said. "Some shops would be forced to close down forever because of the financial impact that would cause."
Mr. Kristal said if the town can't observe the planned Nov. 22 stop date, it should hold off on all work until Jan. 1.
Selectman Tristan Israel said the most important thing to do amid the delay is to keep the public informed. He said the selectmen will discuss the issue further at their meeting at the Katharine Cornell Theatre this Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Along with the uncertainty of the start date, Mr. Luttrell voiced objection to the renovation plans for downtown streets and sidewalks - also known as the Main Street Project - after they are dug up to install new sewer and water lines and electrical conduit. All three projects were to begin Oct. 15.
Mr. Luttrell submitted a letter to the selectmen this week in which he said "the Main Street Project as proposed will diminish public safety."
Mr. Luttrell's objections were echoed by David Wessling, staff planner for the Martha's Vineyard Commission, who was given a copy of the plan for review.
Mr. Wessling cited a number of safety issues concerning proposed parallel loading zones, handicap spaces, sidewalks, location of crosswalks, placement of bike racks and the design for Union street.
At an April town meeting a design review committee was set up to present to the selectmen a final plan. In September, selectmen received the committee's recommendations for the renovation plans.
Selectmen have yet to sign off on the plans.
Mr. Luttrell's letter to the selectmen this week objects to a number of the committee's recommendations and advises bringing in professional assistance and taking more time.
"The new Main street created by the project will be a part of the board's legacy to the town for decades to come, and I would recommend that the board not succumb to the pressure to act quickly in arriving at its collective decision," Mr. Luttrell wrote.
He also advised selectmen to make use of Bill Veno, another MVC staff planner.
The selectmen may have more time to examine the plans if the project doesn't get under way until the winter.
According to Mr. Luttrell, they need it: "I have never seen a project of this magnitude and using this amount of dollars put together in this fashion."
For example, he said, the design review committee was using an artistic, not a technical, rendering of Main and Union streets - and putting Post-Its on it to represent parking places. He said there are no professional drawings that incorporate additions made by the design committee to the original plan.
Mr. Luttrell said that at least one consultant had offered, for $5,000, to study the committee's recommendations and have it completed by Oct. 15. The board declined the offer, he said.
The town administrator said that with some extra effort the selectmen can still plan the design properly.
Mr. LaPorte said the only aspect of the plan that might need to be finished as soon as possible if the project got under way would be the curbing and possibly the sidewalks. Everything else, he said, could be discussed further into the next year.
Mr. LaPorte added that he was focused on public safety.