The Martha’s Vineyard Commission Thursday approved the new NStar poles that have already been installed along Island roads, but attached several conditions for future projects.
NStar’s installation of 44 new utility poles and 282 replacement poles that were taller and wider than previous poles raised concerns around the Island early last summer. The town of Tisbury referred the project to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission as a development of regional impact (DRI).
At earlier meetings, the commission took NStar to task for failing to meet with towns before making the changes and doing the work during the busy summer months. Some also criticized the quality of the utility company’s tree-trimming work near their power lines.
During earlier meetings, NStar said they did not think the commission has jurisdiction over their work. They said the process is permitted by state law.
NStar said the new utility poles were necessary to accommodate new, larger electrical equipment to provide adequate service on the Island.
The commission approved the poles with several conditions, including that NStar should consult with Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury in the next year to work on landscaping and that NStar should work with towns on a case-by-case basis when it comes to ongoing maintenance and minor projects.
At least twice a year, the commission stated, NStar’s community relations officer should meet with an MVC/NStar working group “to improve ongoing communications and collaboration with respect to Island-wide and longer-term issues.”
Executive director Mark London said the commission’s discussion was focused on the future and not the existing poles. “We’re talking about not the poles that have just been installed. We’ve been talking about how we are going to move forward over the next 20 years to better coordinate between the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the towns and NStar.”
Representatives from NStar did not attend Thursday’s meeting.
The commission added that NStar should relocate utility poles on Beach street to the other side of the street. They also approved a motion from commissioner Lenny Jason Jr. to ask NStar to dedicate two fiber optic lines from new submarine cables to fulfill the Open Cape and Island initiative. NStar has said in the past that they would not do so.
The vote was unanimous.
In other business, the commission debated the rules for participation in commission meetings.
The commission agreed to ask counsel to look into a procedure that would allow members who missed a public hearing to watch a video of the hearing and thus remain qualified to vote on the matter. Under existing rules, commission members who miss a public hearing on a DRI cannot vote on the project.
Several commissioners said the procedure would help with regard to public hearings that span a long period of time where it can be hard to maintain a quorum for several months or longer. Others said they did not think watching a video was an adequate alternative to attending the hearing.
“I think it’s an important tool to maintain a quorum,” commissioner Joan Malkin said.
“I missed the hearing last week and I am now disqualified for participating in [the Stop & Shop decision] . . . I am very upset about that and I think that I could be a fully qualified commissioner to participate in that hearing if I could view that [video]. I can’t imagine that I would not be as qualified as every other commissioner.”
The commission voted to refer the idea to counsel. They were less keen on the idea of allowing commissioners to participate in meetings remotely through speakerphone or Skype, citing technology concerns and awkwardness for the public attending the hearings.
Others said it would be a good idea for commissioners who cannot come to a meeting to join in on deliberations or discussions.
The commissioners present voted 6-6 on the matter, and agreed to take it up at a later time.
The commission also paused for a debate over the spelling of Clarence A. Barnes 3rd’s nickname, Trip. “Is it one p or two?” commissioner Doug Sederholm asked. Mr. Barnes, who was in attendance, said he did not have a preference.
Mr. London asked for clarification from reporters from the Martha’s Vineyard Times and the Vineyard Gazette. The Times reporter said two p’s and the Gazette reporter said one.
“It’s settled, one and a half p’s” said Mr. London.
DRI coordinator Paul Foley then pointed out that Mr. Barnes’s website spells his name as Trip. The matter was settled — Trip-with-one-p.
Mr. Barnes did not comment but seemed satisfied with the outcome.