The Oak Bluffs selectmen took a significant step toward construction of the controversial blinker section roundabout on Monday morning, signing documents for temporary easements to take some small parcels of land bordering the road by eminent domain.
Construction on the state-funded $1.5 million traffic improvement project is expected to begin in October.
Highway superintendent Richard Combra told the selectmen yesterday that the town would spend about $12,150 from Chapter 90 funds to pay for the easements, prompting selectman Gail Barmakian to balk.
“It was represented at town meeting that this was not going to cost us any money,” said Ms. Barmakian. “In light of the fact that the town is still divided somewhat with this, they were told it’s not going to cost them . . . it’s still something, and then you have a sharply divided Island [over the roundabout]. That’s my reservation,” she added.
Others were less hesitant. “Let’s get going here. I’ve been waiting for this day,” said selectman Gregory Coogan.
“I’m not worried about it,” said selectman Walter Vail. “I think we can explain it all . . . I don’t mind what other towns think about it, in terms of those voters.” He said he has heard only positive feedback from Oak Bluffs voters.
“I’ve heard otherwise,” Ms. Barmakian said.
“Traffic on the Island has become a big issue, and it’s just horrendous right now,” Mr. Coogan said. “We need to find a better way to move traffic,” he added, saying seasonal residents get the worst of the traffic situation.
In June 2011, voters at town meeting authorized the selectmen to acquire land by eminent domain to allow for construction of the roundabout.
Yesterday morning attorney Kathy Ham walked the selectmen through property easements for construction on the four corners bordering the intersection. On one northeast corner of the intersection, property owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank will need a temporary construction easement, with the land bank agreeing to and signing the document, Ms. Ham said.
But Sandra Lippens, who owns the property on the opposite corner, is “adamantly opposed” to temporary easements, Ms. Ham said. The town will pay $1,400 for those easements, Ms. Ham said, and the land will be returned to its original state after construction. The selectmen agreed to sign an order of taking for the property.
Selectmen also agreed to an order of taking for the southeast corner, which includes land that will require a permanent easement for 2,692 square feet for a bike path. The land is owned by the Island Housing Trust, an Island bank and a homeowner. There will also be temporary easements in the southeast corner for construction and the installation of a bike path.
The homeowner, Matthew Malowski, is against the taking, town administrator Robert Whritenour said. The town will pay about $8,000 in damages, Ms. Ham said, though she said they would ask the Island Housing Trust to waive the damages.
“It’s a philosophical thing; they know the project is moving forwarwd and they just don’t want to go along with it,” Mr. Whritenour said.
In the southwest corner, an existing bike path will be relocated. The property owner, Vineyard Youth Tennis, is on board with the plan, Ms. Ham said.
Mr. Combra said the $12,150 price tag, which also includes appraisal fees, would not affect other plans for paving and maintaining roads in town.
“For the town to spend $12,000 and to get a million and a half dollar infrastructure improvement project, I think it’s money well spent,” said Mr. Combra.
Ms. Barmakian voted against the easements, saying that the town has an obligation to voters to let them know about additional costs.
Selectman and board chairman Kathy Burton said if the town is forced to take the information back to voters, “the whole project will not happen.”
Mr. Combra said the project will go out to bid on August 25, and construction is expected to begin in October.
The roundabout has been at the center of much controversy on the Island this year. In nonbinding referendums this spring, voters in five of the six Vineyard towns (all but Oak Bluffs) came out overwhelmingly against the project. But the Oak Bluffs selectmen have stayed the course, and say they intend to go forward with the project.