2007-06-07 / Letters to the Editor

Highway barn decision factors

I had the opportunity to attend the Town Council work session that was held on May 21 for the purpose of discussing the site alternatives for the proposed DPW highway garage facility. The primary issues under discussion included: (1) Which alternative is the most suitable and cost-effective site?, and (2) Who should be the "decider" in this site-selection?… the Town Council, or the Jamestown residents, via a voter referendum sometime in the near future.

At the beginning of the meeting, Bruce Keiser, the town administrator, stated that the final site selection had been narrowed-down to two alternatives: (1) Lot 47 on the north end of the island, and (2) a site near the Newport bridge. I have my own personal thoughts and recommendations in this matter, some of which I discussed with Bruce Keiser immediately after the meeting, and which I subsequently forwarded to all council members. These include:

The "decider" issue: In order for the "decider" to make an objective, informed, non-partisan, non-NIMBY decision that is in the best interest of the entire community, the following must happen: (1) a thorough, highly objective and credible assessment of the alternatives must be undertaken, and (2) the details and results of this assessment must be fully communicated to and understood by the "decider." The foundation for a credible assessment, and a subsequent informed and impartial decision, is rigorous analysis of the technical merits and all of the relevant "facts," including the pros and cons and cost-effectiveness of the two alternative sites. This rigorous analysis includes, but is not limited to, determination and quantification of the following "facts" for the two alternative sites: technical merit, design considerations, zoning issues, potential legal implications, environmental risks….a potential show-stopper; delivery schedule, all relevant costs, including: site acquisition and preparation costs, design costs, construction costs, possible legal implication costs, and full 25-year life-cycle operational and maintenance costs.

The daily transportation costs can be enormous, particularly during these times of high fuel prices, if the chosen site is in an out-lying location rather than placed near the center of the DPW's predominant daily tasking/activities. The road traffic maintenance costs must take into consideration the cumulative effect of the daily wear and tear of the roads traveled by the DPW and associated delivery trucks…over a 25-year life cycle. Such repair costs can add up to big dollars. Furthermore, there can be subjective negative community "costs" associated with DPW trucks and delivery trucks transiting selected streets in selected neighborhoods.

Once all of the relevant "facts" have been objectively quantified, they must be communicated to, and intelligently understood, by the "decider" in order that the "decider" can make an objective, well-informed, rational decision. I presume that the Town Council has been doing its homework and has been gathering, and/or will gather, all of the relevant "facts" in order to help them in this critical decision. However, I seriously doubt that a voter referendum (since it is impractical and improbable for all of the voters to receive, absorb and understand all of the complex issues and relevant "facts") would yield an informed, objective and credible decision. Rather, in the absence of the "facts", it would be more like a "beauty contest" driven primarily by subjective, NIMBY opinion. That is not good democracy, but rather a travesty of justice.

The site-selection issue: I suspect that once all of the relevant "facts" are obtained and considered, coupled with good engineering judgment and some good old common sense, the results of a rigorous cost-effectiveness assessment of alternatives will point to the direction of the centralized site near the Newport bridge.

Regardless of my opinions in this matter, I hope that whatever group is chosen to be the "decider" that they do their homework properly, fully compiling and taking into consideration all of the relevant "facts," and that they have the courage to make a decision that is objective and fair and in the long-term best interest and welfare of our entire community. As good stewards of our island and its precious resources, we owe all of the citizens of this community, and the DPW workforce, no less!

John Shannon


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