Simmering tension between neighbors and the owners of Goodale’s sand and gravel pit bubbled over before the Oak Bluffs selectmen this week, who decided to refer the entire matter to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission for review.
Neighbors claim the pit is expanding without permission in possible violation of zoning rules for the area and encroaching on their use and enjoyment of their property.
“We knew the pit was there when we moved in 11 years ago but you couldn’t see it,” said abutter Jo Maxwell at the standing-room-only meeting on Tuesday night. “On our road it was 100 yards of forest, now we are just astounded because there is no forest left and the sand is right up to the edge.”
The Goodale family says current activities at the pit do not violate town zoning bylaws.
The well-known pit predates modern zoning and sits on a 100-acre lot that has been used for sand and gravel mining operations since the 1930s. In 1943 an asphalt plant, the only one of its kind on the Island, was installed at the plant and in 1962 ownership of the facility transferred to current owner Jerry Goodale’s father, Robert. On Wednesday Mr. Goodale said that a new larger asphalt plant tower that has recently alarmed neighbors is merely a replacement for an older worn-out structure. Mr. Goodale said the plant had not expanded its use but merely updated it.
“At one point in the 1970s there were actually two asphalt plants in there,” he said.
Mr. Goodale said the Lawrence-Lynch Corporation which operates the asphalt plant has to submit data to the EPA each year to comply with regulations. That came as a surprise to neighbors like Barbara Ronchetti, who owns the Island Alpaca Farm that abuts the plant.
“The other day I was unable to continue to work because they weren’t odors or smells, they were more like toxic fumes,” she said.
“Asphalt has a smell. I won’t argue with that,” Mr. Goodale conceded. “But it’s not toxic.”
Many who attended the meeting to complain also praised the good work that the Goodales have done through the years.
But in a letter, members of the Little Pond Road Association said efforts to contact Mr. Goodale about the facility had been ignored and that inquiries to the town zoning inspector were met with dismissal. The road association also submitted material to the selectmen documenting the health hazards of asphalt plant pollution.
Ms. Maxwell said that at times six to eight inches of sand have blown onto her road from the pit during the winter.
“Living on Martha’s Vineyard I don’t know any of us that can do whatever we want with our property,” she said. “I don’t know anyone that can even put up a shed without some kind of permit, so it just doesn’t make sense to me that the Goodales, in respect to everything good that they do, can just do whatever they want without consulting us.”
Town administrator Michael Dutton said the town had no power to halt the pit’s expansion.
“We don’t think that there’s any bylaw requirement that would require [Mr. Goodale] to look for an additional permit of some sort to expand,” he said. Mr. Dutton also said that as a piece of industrial equipment, the new asphalt tower did not require a building permit. He suggested proposing a new bylaw at the next town meeting to address the zoning gray area.
But neighbors are not the only ones raising concerns. Mr. Dutton said the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program asked Mr. Goodale to stop expanding the pit after aerial photos revealed that he had cleared five acres of trees in recent years in habitat deemed significant for rare and endangered species. Mr. Dutton said he was coordinating a site review with the state agency.
West Tisbury resident Mike Shabazian asked whether the Goodales had established a reclamation plan once the pit outlived its usefulness. Mr. Goodale said that was in the works.
Meanwhile, the selectmen said some independent review may be in order. “I feel like we need to buy time, we need to get expertise and we need to get a plan in place so we know where this [facility] is going,” said selectman Greg Coogan. “That pit was a small pit and it’s grown over the years as the Vineyard has grown.”
Selectman Walter Vail suggested referring the matter to the MVC for review.
“If we could get help from them, I would love to get that started as soon as we can,” Mr. Vail said.
Selectman Kathy Burton agreed. “This is I think a perfect case where their expertise would be very helpful and their authority would be very helpful,” she said.
Mr. Dutton, echoing a presentation made earlier by Doug Reece of the Little Pond Road Association, said that the plant tripped two criteria on the commission’s checklist for referral as a development of regional impact: the topographical alteration of land that is deemed by a state agency to be significant wildlife habitat, and the increase in intensity of use on industrial land.
Mr. Goodale’s son, Peter, was surprised by the turn of events.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “We have not expanded the operations beyond its original bounds.”
Selectmen voted unanimously to refer the matter to the commission.
“It’s not our intent to stop operations,” said selectman Gail Barmakian. “It’s very important that we make that clear to the commission that that not happen in this instance.” She also said: “I don’t think it’s just a local issue. I think 100 acres of Goodale is a regional issue and I think the fact that if it’s left without a reclamation plan it should be a regional issue.”