Aquinnah selectmen voted Wednesday to send a letter to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), requesting a public meeting to discuss the bingo hall now under construction.

Site of bingo hall is mostly cleared. — Jeanna Shepard

The letter marks the town’s first formal response to an announcement by tribal chairman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais last weekend that construction had begun on the class two gambling facility on tribal property off State and Black Brook Roads.

“Let us be clear: the board . . . does not contest the tribe’s right to establish a gaming facility on its property,” the letter says in part. “The board does believe, however, that the tribe’s gaming rights are not without limits, and that the tribe is required to engage with local and Islandwide planning authorities on issues peripheral to gaming functions, most importantly public safety and the regional impact of any proposed facility.”

Since heavy equipment arrived and land clearing began on tribal property about two weeks ago, a furious exchange of letters has taken place between the tribe, the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Aquinnah and Chilmark selectmen have both asked the commission to review the bingo hall as a development of regional impact (DRI). Tribal leaders and their attorneys have responded at length, threatening legal action and severed ties with town leaders if they decide to press for regulatory review.

The commission has met in executive session multiple times to discuss possible litigation in the matter and has requested a private meeting with tribal members.

MVC chairman Doug Sederholm said this week that a private meeting has been set for March 13 between some members of the commission and tribal leaders at tribal headquarters in Aquinnah. He also said the commission will meet in executive session again on Thursday night to discuss possible litigation.

On Tuesday, Aquinnah selectmen met for the first time since the volley of letters had begun during school vacation week, when all three board members were away. The board met first in executive session with town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport, and then in public to sign the four-page letter. The vote to sign the letter was unanimous.

“I think the letter speaks for itself,” town administrator Jeffery Madison said after the meeting. “That will be the extent of our comment on the gaming development at this time.”

Partly a response to last week’s letters from the tribe, which underscored the decision of the U.S Court of Appeals First Circuit upholding the tribe’s right to build a gaming facility, in the letter the selectmen offer their own legal interpretation of where things stand today. Among other things they cite the original preliminary injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Dennis Saylor that said certain local permits, including a building permit, would be required regardless of the tribe’s right to build the gaming facility.

Dump trucks carry dirt from bingo hall site to tribal property off Church street. — Noaah Asimow

“While the First Circuit reversed Judge Saylor’s judgment, it did not address the scope of retained local powers,” the selectmen wrote, including the Saylor ruling as an attachment

And responding to last week’s demand by the tribe that the town withdraw its referral to the MVC, selectmen instead doubled down on their assertion that the project falls under the commission’s purview.

“The MVC is expressly charged with reviewing developments which, because of their magnitude, are likely to present development issues significant to more than one municipality on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard,” the wrote. “In our view, a gaming facility in Aquinnah will have impacts which will reach beyond the boundaries of the town — in addition to the direct public safety issues affecting the town.”

But the letter also seeks to cool the recent rhetoric by calling for a broad dialogue — in public.

“All of us the tribe, the town and the MVC) should be meeting to discuss the proposed facility and what measures, if any, would be appropriate to mitigate the potential impacts . . . The board’s efforts to hold such a meeting are offered in good faith, and our referral to the MVC is intended to generate broader public discussion,” the letter says.

A response is requested by March 13.

Meanwhile, clearing remains under way on the former Wiener property off State Road where the bingo hall is planned.

Large dump trucks are rumbling between the site and Church street, where dirt is being dumped on tribal lands there.

In the announcement last week Ms. Andrews-Maltais said building construction is expected to begin sometime this month.