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Selectmen Delay Decision to Set Referendum Question for Public Works Project

August 25, 2016 Environment, Farmington River, Government, Outdoors No Comments
The latest plan borrows heavily from the Barkhamsted facility, gets the facility to one level and brings the price below $4 million

The latest plan borrows heavily from the Barkhamsted facility, gets the facility to one level and brings the price below $4 million

Special Meeting to be Held Aug. 31

By John Fitts

CANTON – While it’s a near certainty that a proposal to rebuild the Public Works Facility at its current site will go to voters in November, selectmen on Wednesday deferred the decision another week.

And while selectmen briefly touched on the merits of the project and the process, the real controversy of the evening came during the public comment portion of the Board of Selectmen meeting.

The town is looking to construct a 14,140 square foot building at the 50 Old River Road site with approximately 11,500 square feet of storage space, 2,640 square feet of office space, a new generator, a new salt shed, revamped parking and relocated fueling station. The current facility consists of an old horse barn, a couple small bays and small office area.

On Monday, the Board of Finance approved forwarding a plan to voters for $3.825 million – $3.75 million for the project and $75,000 to cover the costs associated with bonding, the town’s method of borrowing for the project and paying it over time through a yearly tax levy. Selectmen now need to take final action to set a question, due in early September, for the November ballot.

There has been much discussion in town about the concept of rebuilding at the current site. Earlier this year, town staff came up with the plan for a garage that was smaller – and potentially less expensive – than previous incarnations. Most recently, in May of 2013 and November of 2014, voters defeated $5.4 million and $4.78 million plans for 325 Commerce Drive, at sizes of 19,000 feet or more.

In a public hearing earlier in the summer, numerous residents spoke against the plan to rebuild on site. Several have continued to do so and recently, the registered Political Action Committee Not On Our River  has continued to fight the idea, stating that it compromises valuable riverfront, doesn’t adequately deal with floodplain issues, is short-sighted and leaves virtually no option for future expansion.

On Wednesday some of the strongest public opinion, however, came from someone who is supporting the project and passed around a paper he feels “debunks” the arguments of NOOR, stating, for example, that the current site is actually least expensive, will meet the needs for the DPW, conforms to land-use standards and received a positive referral from the town Planning and Zoning Commission.

In his comments, Lans Perry went as far as to refer to some opponents as the “Chablis-swilling” elite” and his handouts take aim at “the river nuts,” “self-interested Satan’s Kingdom residents,” Canton Land Conservation Trust, Inc.”, “Self Interested land Speculators, developers and brokers” and more.

In his remarks, Perry referenced his family’s long history of activism and called this issue one of social justice.

“The brothers have suffered long enough,” Perry said. “They won’t complain because they are tough. But they suffer, too. We pay for it in rusting trucks and higher taxes.”

He later called the idea of those who say they will support it elsewhere a “worthless promise” and said neighborhoods will always fight if the project goes anywhere else.

“The current site is the cheapest and has a very real chance of passage with your support,” he said. “We need that support. Please help our suffering brothers now.”

David Sinish, who is treasurer of NOOR and has supported past Public Works proposals, spoke briefly at the meeting and addressed the comments, particularly ones that mentioned first names and streets.

“It’s not often that one gets attacked personally in a public meeting and I’m quite offended at that as well as I’m sure are the people I’m sitting with,” he said. “So I want to have that on the record.”

Sinish also gave selectmen two ideas – one for an ADA compliant launching ramp and the other to work the Permanent Municipal Building Committee to again look again at other sites with the reduced sized facility in mind.

Perry had left the meeting when Sinish spoke but in request of a response message Compass, stated. “Love Dave but the truth had to be said.”

On Thursday morning, Sinish said that with a clear plan shaping up, the PAC will be working to finalize its written statements about the plan.

While earlier in the year he voted to continue exploring the idea, selectman Tom Sevigny has been the only board member in recent week who has voted against moving the plan forward.

On Wednesday, responding to a request from a fellow member, he said his decision is based on further contemplation and review of other opinions and numerous studies, plans and documents that have advocated and documented ideas of getting the facility off the river.

“We’re basically paying for the sins of our forefathers who decided to put it on the river along with the dump and a lot of other things several generations ago,” he said. “Over the past 25 years, through various documents, boards, commission, this board, etc. have been trying to get it off the river.”

Sevigny said, later adding, “I think our primary best things about this town are our natural resources and its history and we should be trying to preserve both of those.”

Selectman Larry Minichiello said he’s retained an open mind but said other sites have not worked out. Earlier this year, selectmen agreed that it would be against the say of the people to try again for 325 Commerce. Minichiello said he doesn’t feel other sites on Commerce suggested for re-evaluation by the Permanent Municipal Building Committee, were feasible. Additionally, earlier this summer, the owners of the “Satan’s Kingdom” property declined the town’s offer of $670,000 (based on an appraisal) for the approximate 40 acres of land at 674,684 Albany Turnpike. Minichiello echoed an opinion most selectmen have stated previously – that it wouldn’t be financial responsible to offer more for the land.

“As we sit here in August it (the current site) still looks to be most economical, feasible site,” Minichiello said.

Selectmen also addressed some project concerns and many selectmen stated they felt they have not rushed the project, one charge that has been levied by some.

However, much of the selectmen’s discussion of the evening centered around a state statute that presents using town resources for any advocacy once a referendum has been set. Skinner told selectmen the rules are strict and even some factual information could be construed as advocacy. Minichiello also advocated a mailer but most selectmen were reluctant to send anything as a board once the referendum question is set.

Skinner did say individual selectmen, like anyone, can use their personal email addresses to send letters to the editor, etc.

While Minichiello stated he was ready to vote, most selectmen said another week would give the town time to freely disseminate some more information about the project.

Additionally Skinner  said the plan, which Fuss and O’Neill recently helped refine, is “conceptual,” meaning that the final specs could change and items such as access road improvements, a new road or recreational river access could be added back in should the town have leftover funds or get them from another source.

With that in mind, the resolution passed by the finance board Monday night was broad enough to tweak the plan or accommodate such extras should there be funding, Skinner told selectmen.

“We think it’s important those things could be met should there be available funding,” he said.

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