Both the town of Oak Bluffs and the regional high school committee believe the ongoing dispute over an artificial turf field should not go to a full trial, but the two parted ways on how the case should be resolved.

The school and the town planning board filed a joint report with the state Land Court Thursday saying they see no need for a trial after judge Kevin Smith ruled last month that the board overstepped its authority when it denied the school’s application for the synthetic field on the basis of ground water protection.

As part of that ruling in early September, Judge Smith ordered the planning board and the school to collaborate on a plan to move forward within the next 30 days. But the two parties have yet to find common ground on how the field lawsuit should proceed.

In this week’s report, the school, which has sought the field as part of larger athletics facility overhaul, asked the judge to reverse and vacate the planning board’s 2022 denial and write an opinion saying the town’s water resource regulations are not applicable to the project.

The planning board believes the project should be sent back to the board for further deliberation on the location of the field at the high school campus.

“We don’t see eye to eye,” Ewell Hopkins, the chair of the planning board, told the Gazette this week.

The two parties filed the report after the school committee met Wednesday evening and gave an update on the case, which started when the school appealed the planning board decision last year.

What happens next is in the hands of the judge.

“We anticipate a status conference and await the court’s instructions,” school committee chair Kathryn Shertzer said in a prepared statement Wednesday.

At Wednesday’s meeting, school attorney Brian Winner told the school committee that the judge has several options, including rendering a decision based on the previous arguments or asking the parties to file new briefs on the best path forward.

There is no timeline for the case to proceed. The judge could put the issue on the docket in the next few weeks or it could take longer depending on the court calendar. 
“I have no crystal ball and no control over the court’s calendar,” Mr. Winner said.

The planning board’s denial hinged on concerns that chemicals from the synthetic turf could harm the area’s water quality. Judge Smith issued a ruling in the school’s favor in September, saying the planning board couldn’t base its denial on ground water protection.

While safeguarding the Island’s main aquifer is important, a state law — known as the Dover Amendment — exempts educational projects from most zoning regulations.

“I recognize that the protection of groundwater is of critical importance to any municipality, particularly when that municipality is on an island in the Atlantic Ocean,” the judge wrote. “But I am constrained by the language of the Dover Amendment and the cases that have construed it.”

In the joint report, the town asks that it be allowed to consider if it would be feasible for the district to locate the field outside of the town’s water protection district.

Mr. Hopkins previously said he believes the school still would need to, at the very least, file new paperwork for a site plan review. This week he reiterated the town’s intention to remain involved.

“It’s fair to say the town will not prematurely relinquish any authority in the matter,” he said. “We are prepared to honor the law as interpreted by the courts.... We’ll see what the judge has to say, but we don’t think it’s over.”

Either party could appeal the judge’s decision once it is made.