Public Hearing

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.

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to Public Hearing

  1. Tom Hodgson says:

    New hearing (continuation) September 22.
    As usual, it’s a Thursday evening, when I have other committments.
    But I wrote the MVC, feeling a tad curmudgeonish.

    Dear MVC,

    Your roundabout hearing this September 22 falls on a Thursday, a date on which I have a permanent evening commitment. I would attend the hearing if it were possible, so this email will have to take my place.

    I reiterate my opposition to this ill-conceived project.

    The design specifications continue to change, and they continue to change for the worse.

    The MVC is charged with preserving our Island’s beauty. The roundabout, as proposed, is invasive roadway surgery that will leave a permanent and ugly scar on our landscape.

    The existing situation, with four-way stop signs, while imperfect, is adequate. Safety could be improved by the addition of painted crosswalks.

    There is absolutely no need to waste over a million dollars in public money on a local project of minor importance, when throughout this country, bridges are falling down and where there is storm damage to repair, such as from Irene’s recent rains.

    You must rigorously question the assumptions, assertions, and “data” presented by the government proponents of this project. Common sense analysis says that their reasoning is flawed, and that they continue to advocate this project demonstrates a lack of ability to see a forest for the trees.

    It should also be noted that many of the proponents have direct and indirect financial interests in the completion of this project. Conflict of interest will lead otherwise reasonable people to distort facts, and to present specious arguments in favor of work that could fatten their pocketbooks.

    To sum up, please, deny permission for this project to proceed, let well enough alone, and let a million dollars go where it might actually be needed and well-spent.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas Hodgson
    West Tisbury
    MA02575

    Like

  2. Sharon Stewart says:

    I get your frustration. Love your description of the whole exercise! But I must say you’ve granted your politicans more maturity (college-aged) than I grant ours (sandbox-aged).

    Wish you were here to write about our city council meetings. We could use some “powdered with time” and “wind-up dolls” injected into our boring newspaper accounts. One good thing, though—our rapporteur, like you, is not afraid to criticize. He sees right through the ploys of council and has been covering their antics for so long he ought to run for mayor—I’m sure he would do a better job.

    Like

    • Have to admit that my own age slipped perilously close to sandbox when I realized we were going to have to sit through that long, unfocused, drown-you-in-irrelevant-statistics lecture again. I came pretty close to heckling. Devil made me do it . . .

      Like

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