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Letter to the Editor: The Garage by the River

November 7, 2016 Government, Opinion, Referendum No Comments

To the Editor:

There have been many strong arguments and opinions presented regarding the upcoming Canton Department of Public Works Facility replacement referendum. Regardless of which side of the issue people choose to support, my hope is that everyone who votes has done their homework, read the proposals, and has considered the many thoughtful letters both for and against the proposal. This is an issue that has been ongoing for numerous years and multiple referendums, and it would be nice to arrive with a solution that is reinforced by voters who are well informed. The information about this proposal is plentiful, and with good voter turnout, should give us an accurate idea about how the public truly feels. That said I’d like to offer a few observations.

While I think it would be a wonderful thing to have a park down by the river, I can’t ignore the reality that three referendums, over the better part of a decade, to relocate the DPW garage to alternate sites have failed. I supported previous referendums, but my vote was in the minority. The message seems to be that a majority of voters would prefer to keep the garage where it is, in its increasingly deteriorating condition, rather than move it to one of the proposed alternate sites; namely 5 Cherry Book Road or 325 Commerce Drive.

At the time leading up to each referendum over the years, I noticed a pattern of behavior that started to develop. Many people who were against the proposals (for any number of reasons) would state something to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing): “We all agree that the town needs a new garage, but putting it at location (X) will be a horrible choice. We need to vote no at this time, and then we will all work together, putting the best minds, our hearts and souls, and hopes and dreams for the future on finding the ideal site that will make everyone happy. It just can’t be this site at this time.”

All wonderful sentiments, and I’m sure that most people who expressed them were being sincere, but what actually happened after each “no” vote, was that people would go back to their normal busy lives, and gradually the importance of the garage issue would fade from their most pressing concerns of the day. It’s understandable human nature. Life gets in the way sometimes. Unfortunately the hardworking DPW staff does not have that luxury of putting it on the back burner. Their everyday business involved going back to the same failing facility day after day, month after month, year after year, and pretty soon we will be talking about decades.

I give the PMBC and Boards of Selectmen credit for their tenacity in trying to solve the DPW Garage problem over these many years. After each failed referendum, they would dust themselves off and go back to the drawing board, trying to come up with a plan that would pass. Sadly that never happened and the Garage is right where it’s always been; down by the river. I can only surmise that the majority of voters find that acceptable.

Therefore, we are faced with a garage that still needs replacement, and a lack of alternative sites to choose from. Out of the 80 available sites, the best two as selected by the PMBC, have already been proposed, and failed at referendums. While it’s true that the latest proposal is somewhat smaller than previous plans, it’s still a 14,000-foot facility with a salt shed, fuel station, and trucks traveling in and out on a daily basis. The need for a sizeable piece of land with appropriate setbacks, away from neighborhoods, and many other considerations including municipal/industrial vs. residential zoning, reasonably centrally located and access to public utilities have not gone away.

I took a walk down to the trail along the river by the DPW garage this morning, to refresh my memory of the space, and to get a feel for the distance of the river to the site, the grade of the riverbank, the view from down in the river looking up, and the relationship of the existing buildings including the Fire Department, The DPW garage, the Wastewater Treatment facility, and the Police Station, along with the ball field. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, rather than just looking at pictures and plans on a computer screen.

While I was down along the trail, a group of three lovely ladies on bicycles stopped and asked me to take their photo with one of their phones, which I did. I then took the opportunity to ask them their opinion about the Garage referendum; which as it turns out they were unaware of. One woman was from Manchester, one was from West Hartford, and one was from Avon. Obviously they don’t get to vote in our referendums, but I was curious how they would feel about it, as visitors from other towns. I asked them if a new larger garage at the existing site would keep them from coming to the river and enjoying the trail, and they said absolutely not. They said that as long as it didn’t get built “on” the actual trail, and they could still ride their bicycles along the river, they would be happy. They didn’t even seem to mind the Sewer plant…..it didn’t seem to affect their enjoyment of the trail at all. I realize that a sample of three people is unscientific, but it wasn’t a particularly busy morning on the trail.

If we could dial the clock back 10 years, I would absolutely recommend pursuing alternate locations. But the reality is that we have done that many times without arriving at a viable solution that will pass. And it’s now 2016. If there truly are alternate locations that will pass, I wonder where they are….or why they haven’t been included on previous proposals.

Whichever way the vote goes on Tuesday, one thing is certain. When the sun rises on Wednesday morning we will still have a garage by the river. It’s just a matter of if it will be the old one, or if a plan will go forward to replace it with something new. I suppose it’s possible that an ideal site exists. But based on the pattern of fail and forget as demonstrated in the previous three referendums, I’m beginning to have my doubts. Best of luck to all, and do your homework!

Todd Atkinson






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