2007-04-26 / Letters to the Editor

Lessons learned from highway barn saga

Late in 1997 the council began the seemingly straightforward process of building a much-needed highway barn on lot 47, the lot purchased for the purpose 10 years earlier. But some north end residents objected vehemently and asked if a highway barn on lot 47 would endanger their wells. The council hired the engineering firm GZA to answer that question. It took three years, but when the answer finally came, GZA said that a highway barn on lot 47 would not threaten the groundwater.

Nevertheless, the council in 2001 decided to study other sites. The council-appointed Highway Barn Committee recommended lot 47. They were dismissed and replaced with the Building and Facilities Committee, which also recommended lot 47. The engineering firm of Gannett-Fleming was hired to study the operational costs at both Taylor Point and Lot 47 and found no cost advantage at Taylor Point.

On June 24, 2002, the council voted for a split facility- five bays at Taylor Point, four bays at the landfill near the highway department's outdoor storage area. The citizens were outraged, and on July 15 the council rescinded the vote to split the barn.

In December 2002, the council voted to put the barn- all nine bays- at Taylor Point, with the outdoor storage to remain at the landfill. Vollmer Associates was hired to estimate the cost and 23 months later, in November 2004, $2.4 million for the Taylor Point site was on the ballot. The voters rejected the Taylor Point barn by a 2-to-1 vote.

Former Town Administrator Mark Haddad's recommendation to put the barn at the west end of the transfer station was approved by the 2005 financial town meeting. DEM requirements now make this proposal too expensive, and the council finds itself, yet again, deciding where to put the highway barn.

We've learned some lessons from our long struggle to find a new home for the highway department. Here are a few of them:

Any site at the north end must not endanger the groundwater. The Town hired GZA nine years ago to make that determination; lets listen to what GZA says.

The idea that Taylor Point is a more central and thus more efficient location just isn't true. We paid Gannett-Fleming $10,000 in 2002 to tell us that lot 47 is closer to Jamestown Shores (with nearly half the town's roads) and Taylor Point is closer to the streets downtown. When it comes to travel time to the job site (i.e. efficiency), Taylor Point vs. the north end is just about a wash- until the outdoor storage location is considered.

No matter where the barn goes, the highway department's outdoor storage will remain at the old landfill. It just makes sense to put the highway barn next to the outdoor storage. The citizens already recognized the inefficiency of the split facility in 2002. Putting the barn at Taylor Point with the outdoor storage at the landfill is just another version of the split facility. It would result in a lot of four mile trips between the barn and outdoor storage yard on the way to and from jobs.

Let's think ahead and leave room for future expansion.

A majority of voters want a reasonably-priced barn built at the north end. They need their elected representatives to present such a proposal to them and they will vote for it, just as they did in 2005. The barn is an urgent need, as it has been for 10 years. Five councils have spent those years looking for a location that would satisfy a small minority from the north end who may, or may not, be threatening a lawsuit. That approach hasn't' gotten a barn built. It's time to pick the site that has the support of the voters and will be best for the highway department. Then overcome any legal challenges that may (or may not) result, and build the barn.

Fear of litigation should not keep the council from picking the best site for the highway department's new barn.

Dennis Webster


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