The noise, dust and torn-up roadways they could tolerate, but not the huge electric panel boxes sprouting up all over downtown Oak Bluffs in the midst of the town sewer construction project.
The metallic boxes, each of them set on a concrete pad, measure about six feet across and five feet tall and are topped with a red light. Plunked down in front of tiny cottages in the Camp Ground and along roadsides in the historic district, they look like so many commercial-sized refrigerators.
And they have enraged residents who complained to selectmen this week that the boxes block people's porch views and ruin the historical integrity of the town.
"My blood is boiling over this. I can't believe we allowed this to happen," said Renée Balter, a member of the Copeland Plan review committee and executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association. "The engineers knew how we felt about the character of our town."
This week, selectmen demanded that sewer contractors stop installing any more of the panel boxes. They also called for a meeting with engineers and are expected to sit down with them today.
"We were told these boxes would be small and very low to the ground," said selectman Roger Wey. "Now, it looks like you're in the city. I can see why people are so upset."
But any solution to the dilemma could be very costly. Selectman John Leite 3rd this week suggested electric boxes buried in underground vaults. But sewer project manager Bill Reich told the Gazette that making any changes at this stage will be difficult.
"It could be a very, very expensive process - dismantling and replacing them," said Mr. Reich. "With engineering redesign and construction labor, I can't even fathom what it would cost."
While Mr. Reich said he does not know the exact number of boxes already installed, the total number planned for installation is 39. The boxes hold the electrical wiring and circuit breakers for a system of grinder pumps. The pumps were a cost-savings alternative to a gravity-fed sewer system that would have required more manholes, deeper trenches and much larger pipe.
Mr. Reich explained that the narrower pipes used with the grinder pumps are actually able to bend along the twisty streets and lanes in the Camp Ground. In a gravity system, each bend in the line would have required a manhole cover.
That explanation may explain the rationale for the big electric panel boxes, but selectmen are still left with the dilemma of balancing costs with an outraged public.
Mr. Leite, who is also a member of the wastewater commission, said his board was "appalled" by the boxes. He promised residents who came to Tuesday's meeting to complain that something would be done. "Obviously, it will be expensive, but you should be able to have something," he said. "What's there now is not in keeping with the character of the town or the Island."
Residents who turned out for this week's meeting of the selectmen came prepared with snapshots of the offending boxes. They waited the entire length of the meeting for their chance to sound off during the public comment period. Scott Dawley told selectmen that he and his wife had just bought a house on the Camp Ground last July. He can see the concrete pad near his house where the next electric box is set to be installed.
"Progress is great, but at what cost?" said Mr. Dawley. "I grew up in there. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. Now I feel like chaining myself to that pad. It's like a bad dream."
Another resident pointed out that the electric boxes could do damage to the Camp Ground as a major tourist attraction.
But while residents and selectmen expressed shock and dismay, Mr. Reich said that the boxes have always been part of the plan.
"We're married to certain code requirements when it comes to electrical work. We jumped through a lot of hoops to get [the boxes] as small as we did," he said. "I understand the concern, but we're dealing with major-league infrastructure. I don't know how to get around it."
Mr. Reich added that he is not surprised people are upset, but this kind of reaction happens on most projects because people cannot tell from a blueprint how something will appear until it is actually built.
"They sit up on a concrete pad, and that makes them even more ominous," said Mr. Reich. "You can do anything in construction if you have the money. The only option is to try to bury them, but that's a major design change."
Meanwhile, construction of the treatment plant is back in gear after the original contractor walked off the job under a cloud of financial troubles. Mr. Reich said a new contractor, Carlin Construction, is on the job with a target date of Sept. 1 for completion. The project was supposed to be finished by late June, but has been beset by delays in planning and weather.