Early in August the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) did the right thing, albeit much belatedly, and voted to accept the roundabout project as a development of regional impact (DRI). I discussed the issue and reported my impressions of the August 4 public hearing on the subject in “Roundabout.”
Well, tonight (for the record that’s Thursday, September 1: the clock’s about to toll midnight and I may turn into a pumpkin when it does) I attended another MVC public hearing. This public hearing was about the DRI. This public hearing was a lot like the last one: the public got precious little time to speak. First the commissioners turned the floor over to Mr. Diaz, the representative of Greenman-Pedersen, Inc. (GPI), the engineering contractor. Mr. Diaz, we were told, and his buddy Tom Currier from the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT), had to catch the 9:30 boat. Mr. Diaz proceeded to deliver an extended version of the presentation he gave last time, jam-packed with statistics that have little to do with us. It was even more boring the second time around.
Then the commissioners asked Mr. Diaz questions. I wanted to jump up and say, “Wait, am I in the wrong place? Wasn’t this supposed to be a public hearing? Like isn’t it supposed to be about input from the public?”
With one or two exceptions (thank you, Lenny Jason), the commissioners asked Mr. Diaz embarrassingly insipid questions. For their sake I wished the meeting were taking place in executive session, behind closed doors with no visitors allowed. Couldn’t they have done all this at the MVC office?
Once again I was reminded of the student government meetings of my youth, when elected 19-, 20-, and 22-year-olds pontificated ineffectually on the issues of the day and were raptly recorded by reporters for the college newspaper. Some 40 years have gone by, all the participants are powdered with time, and their energy has drained away. They reminded me of wind-up dolls going through the motions without remembering the reason why — if there ever was one.
Finally the fidgety public got to speak. At first we could only ask questions of Mr. Diaz, technical questions. This posed a challenge, because here’s a classic case of a question becoming an engineering matter before its political underpinnings were addressed. When this happens, you’ve supposed to stick to the technical stuff, which means the reasons why never get addressed. We asked some good questions. Mr. Diaz, apparatchik, got flustered a couple of times.
Mr. Diaz and Mr. Currier left for their boat. I gave Mr. Currier a STOP THE ROUNDABOUT bumper sticker as he left.
The public finally got to speak. First we had to hear from “the applicant,” which is to say the town of Oak Bluffs. Of course they’re all gung-ho roundabout because it was their sleazy dealings that got us into this mess. Then we had a couple of overwrought mothers of teenage drivers going on about how confusing their kids found the four-way stop because people don’t follow the rules! Oh horrors. Learning to drive involves learning that many drivers don’t follow the rules. Some drivers make it from one end of Old County to the other with their left turn signal flashing. Others hang a sharp right without signaling at all.
One woman got all emotional and asked, “What if it’s your relative who gets killed in that intersection?” Then, she thought, you’d think it was worth $1.2 million. No, sorry, I wouldn’t, the same way I don’t think suspending the Constitution is a good idea just to prevent one terrorist from slipping across the border. I wanted to lean over and ask, “What if your town had to pay for this boondoggle? Would Oak Bluffs town meeting spend $1.2 million to save one hypothetical relative? Don’t think so.”
A brilliant move was made by those who managed to sever support for the project from the obligation to pay for it. Oak Bluffs town government is the laughing-stock of the island. They’re so broke they can’t afford an animal control officer, but they wax eloquent in support of an unnecessary project that the state and the feds are paying for. Do we think the OB board of selectmen alone did the conniving and wheeler-dealing to get that state and federal funding? We do not.
The hearing’s been continued for three weeks. This is good. What’s not so good is that I don’t believe these gutless wonders have the nerve to pull the plug on the project. The reason has virtually nothing to do with the (de)merits of the project. The reason is that the MVC and the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen have snuck this project through with zero regard for the rest of the island, and to pull the plug on it now would be to acknowledge that they’d pulled a fast one on the rest of us and regretted it, a little bit at least. Ain’t gonna happen.