A major proposal to expand the Edgartown transfer station had its first public hearing before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission this week, drawing concerns from nearby residents and raising questions about the future of the district.

The $2.5 million project was approved by all four member towns — Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah — at town meetings last fall and this spring. The Edgartown planning board referred the project to the commission in September for review as a development of regional impact (DRI).

The Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District, which operates the transfer station, plans to add a new road for residential traffic, a new dropoff area for residential trash and recycling, and a second garbage scale for vehicles and commercial use. The project would more than double the station’s existing footprint of about seven acres.

District handles trash removal for four of the six Island towns. — Steve Myrick

“We’re trying to make the traffic flow smoother, easier and safer,” district manager Don Hatch told the commission on Thursday, explaining how most vehicles use the same road for trash, recycling, yard waste and other purposes. He added that the trash separation building was running out of room. Residents currently use two large windows along the north side of the building beyond the recycling containers. “If those windows weren’t there, that would give us a lot more room to expand those walls in order to separate material inside,” Mr. Hatch said. He noted that on busy days, construction waste is piled up to the base of the windows, with heavy machinery crushing things inside and separating the waste. “It is a hazardous situation inside that building,” he said.

But so far the district has provided little more than a conceptual plan, developed by the engineering firm Environmental Partners, which shows the locations of the new access road, dropoff facilities and drainage basins. The same plan had circulated to Island boards of selectmen beginning last fall.

Commissioner Linda Sibley, who chaired the hearing on Thursday, asked Mr. Hatch for more a detailed rendering of the proposal to show what the site would look like after construction.

The commission’s land use planning committee, which considered the proposal in October, asked for more information about food waste disposal, and a plan for storm water and waste runoff. Mr. Hatch said Thursday that the district had no immediate plans for handling food waste separately, despite a recent ban on organic waste disposal for businesses and restaurants in the state that produce more than one ton of food waste per week.

The current transfer station was reviewed and approved by the commission in 1995. Conditions at the time required vegetative screening between the station and Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, and a 15-foot pit to serve as a sound barrier. A DRI modification review in 1997 led to a number of new conditions, including a limit on the cutting of trees on the site, and the installation of monitoring wells. In 2001, the district returned to the MVC with a detailed plan for screening the station.

The district handles trash removal for four of the six Island towns; Oak Bluffs and Tisbury withdrew from the district some years ago and handle their trash removal independently. All Vineyard trash and recyclables are shipped off Island for incineration and other processing.

Under the current proposal, a large portion of the project would extend into the 200-foot buffer zone around the station. Part of the new road would also cut through the 100-foot buffer zone closest to Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. Landscaping plans had not yet been submitted as of Thursday.

Some residents who live near the station have expressed concerns that the project will lead to an increase in noise and vibrations and be more visible through the trees.

All Vineyard trash is shipped off Island for incineration and other processing. — Steve Myrick

In a letter to the commission dated Dec. 3, Paul Hannigan wrote that conditions near the station already range from annoying to unbearable. Among other things, he urged the commission to require a “demonstrated, measurable reduction to the noise and vibration levels currently experienced by nearby residents.”

Elizabeth Harrington wrote that the vegetative screening has been inadequate, and that efforts to dampen the noise from vehicles and machinery were “all but nonexistent.” She said Thursday that the noise was especially loud in winter, when the trees are bare.

Further complicating matters, the entire area that the district plans to clear cut, west of the existing station, is considered priority habitat by the National Heritage and Endangered Species Program. Mr. Hatch said he had not yet contacted the state agency.

MVC DRI coordinator Paul Foley said he anticipated that an area to the east of the station but west of the new access road would eventually be clear cut as well, although Mr. Hatch said that was not the case.

Given the scale of the expansion, many have speculated about the district’s future plans. In an interview with the Gazette last fall, Mr. Hatch said that a second phase of the project may include a new building for construction and wood waste material, and an area for composting. On Thursday, he said the expansion could temporarily handle trash from all six Island towns, but not all of their commercial waste.

Environmental Partners reported in 2011 that consolidating with Oak Bluffs and Tisbury would mean a doubling of traffic at the Edgartown station — amounting to about 25,000 tons of waste per year. A series recommendations in the report are mirrored in the changes now proposed by the district, including a 100-foot reduction in the buffer zone.

The 2011 report also states that consolidation would depend on retaining some of the processing and shipping operations of the other Island facilities, including those in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury.

Two residents on Thursday raised concerns about the scale of the expansion. Joanne Hathaway said she had visited other facilities in the region for comparison. “They are working with a lot less space,” she said, “and they are doing more business than we are.” She noted that the congestion in Edgartown was mainly a seasonal issue.

Donald Harrington recalled the moment when the current plan was unveiled to residents at a refuse district meeting some time ago. “Everybody there gasped and said: Oh my god, are you kidding me? This has to be smaller,” he said. He added that the district had ignored suggestions to reposition the access road to increase the forested area. “This is exactly — exactly — what they showed us at that meeting,” he said, motioning toward the proposed plan on an easel. “We were also told that there are no plans to make this an Islandwide facility,” he added, noting public comments by Mr. Hatch that the station could potentially serve the whole Island.

At the outset there was disagreement over whether the hearing should proceed, since some of the nearby residents had not received notice by email. Mrs. Sibley decided to continue with the hearing but keep it open. The hearing will continue on Jan. 21.