Two Boards Urging State: Slow Bridge

Oak Bluffs, Tisbury Selectmen Suggest Island Might Be Better Off Without Temporary Structure at Lagoon

By ALEXIS TONTI

The boards of selectmen in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury are urging MassHighway officials to make plans now for a permanent replacement for the Lagoon Pond drawbridge and to consider ways to avoid a temporary replacement - including the closure of Beach Road for a period of time.

At a joint meeting Tuesday, selectmen from both towns agreed to send a letter to the state highway department asking them to finalize the design for a permanent bridge before making any decision about a temporary replacement.

MassHighway is proposing to build a $3.5 million temporary bridge as the first phase of a long-term plan to replace the aging Lagoon Pond drawbridge.

By sending the letter, selectmen hope to add weight to Islander opposition to a temporary bridge, which many fear will become permanent. Officials in shellfish and water quality management also worry the temporary bridge will threaten the health of Lagoon Pond.

"We realize we need to replace the bridge, but we also hope to make a strong statement that both towns want to talk more about the temporary structure," said Richard Combra, chairman of the Oak Bluffs selectmen.

At a November public hearing MassHighway officials told Islanders to expect the temporary bridge to stay in place at least six years while they design, permit and build a permanent replacement.

Stunned at the prospect, Islanders urged the project engineers to think comprehensively about the project. And because of the hefty price tag for the temporary bridge, many asked if the money could be better spent nursing the existing bridge along while plunging ahead with plans for the permanent structure.

"Before we embark on any repair or replacement project, we should consider all the facets of the plan and its impacts," said Fred LaPiana, Tisbury public works director. "I don't think they have all been reviewed yet, and we need to press upon MassHighway to do that."

On Tuesday, some selectmen said they would rather live for a time without a roadway across the Lagoon if it meant seeing the state spend its money on a long-term solution.

"They need to design a bridge there that's permanent," said Tisbury selectman Tom Pachico. "With a little inconvenience, we'd get a permanent bridge and save the state a lot of money."

The selectmen did not discuss in detail how closing the bridge would affect Islanders, but Tristan Israel, chairman of the Tisbury selectmen, argued the greater burden would fall on Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Combra said pushing the state to consider the permanent bridge solution could ease concerns about the environmental impact of the project on the Lagoon.

"Filling in the pond wouldn't be necessary if they're not doing a temporary bridge," he said.

Mr. Israel also said he wanted both towns to play a role in finding a permanent solution to the issue. "We certainly are interested in speaking with one voice on this," he said.

The Martha's Vineyard Commission remains the primary liaison with MassHighway on the drawbridge project, and will host a meeting next month to continue discussing the issue.

The commission also has asked MassHighway to come to the Vineyard for additional work sessions with a small committee of Islanders, an idea the state agency has said it is open to.

Mr. Combra is drafting the joint letter with town administrator Casey Sharpe. He said yesterday it has not yet been finished.

"We're basically asking the state to slow down a little bit. They're well under way in planning the temporary bridge, and we're saying maybe the real solution is building the permanent structure," Mr. Combra said. "And although neither town was approached about closing the roadway for a period of time, we're more than willing to talk about it."

"MassHighway developed their plans under the assumption that closing the road would be intolerable, but maybe it wouldn't be," said Melinda Loberg, president of Tisbury Waterways Inc. "And maybe the road wouldn't have to be closed, if the money saved by not building the temporary bridge could be used to keep the existing one working."

MassHighway spokesman Jon Carlisle said yesterday that the agency can consider abandoning a plan for the temporary bridge only if a significant number of Islanders say they can get along without the roadway.

He added that it would be difficult to speed up the time line for the permanent bridge.

"If this is the path they wanted to take we would look into it," Mr. Carlisle said. "But we're talking years and years without a permanent solution at the site, and from a public safety and operational perspective a multi-year closure of the road would not be a good idea."