Soil cleanup, transfer of duties on Athol warrant Dec. 7
ATHOL — The selectboard on Tuesday voted to approve the warrant for the special town meeting to be held on Monday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m., in Memorial Hall.
Voters will have two articles to consider.
Article 1 seeks to appropriate a portion of the $275,000 liability the town must pay as its share of the cleanup of lead-contaminated soil at the site of the former Athol Rod & Gun Club on Pinedale Avenue. The property has been town-owned for several years.
Article 2 asks to transfer the powers and duties of Planning Board to the Board of Planning and Community Development.
On Wednesday, the Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee voted to recommend approval of both articles. Additionally, on Tuesday, Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said the BPCD and the Planning Board met jointly with him in a public meeting on Nov. 2 and each voted to support the article.
Regarding Article 1, Suhoski, at the Oct. 20 selectboard meeting, said, “As the board is aware, the $275,000 settlement agreement recently negotiated between the town, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice associated with the $3.4 million cleanup…requires a $100,000 payment this fiscal year.”
If approved, the funding for the FY2016 payment is recommended to come from the stabilization account, said Suhoski, who also noted, “The balance of $175,000 can be funded in the two successive fiscal years.”
Suhoski added, “The town has received a very favorable outcome, given the circumstances and potential financial exposure.”
The initial payment of $100,000 will bind the negotiated settlement, said Suhoski at this week’s selectboard meeting, and it must be paid prior to the end of the calendar year.
Selectboard members agree that paying $275,000 over three fiscal years is easier to swallow than the town being required to pay its full $3.4 million share of the cleanup expense.
Suhoski noted the negotiation efforts on the part of the town and the fact the Department of Public Works aided with the cleanup through in-kind assistance, which included equipment and manpower, resulted in the low settlement amount.
Additionally, Suhoski previously pointed out the settlement closes out the involvement of the EPA; however, there are still some concerns on the part of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection which must be addressed. Those include the deteriorating remains of clay pigeons on the site which release hazardous chemicals. He said he would likely seek grant assistance in order to obtain a second professional opinion on the matter.
Chairman Lee Chauvette agreed there will be ongoing costs associated with the site, including the need to hire a licensed site professional as a part of the DEP reporting process.
Board members on Tuesday expressed the importance of a quorum being in attendance on Dec. 7 to approve the initial settlement payment.
In discussing the article on Wednesday, FinCom chair Ken Duffy said he sees the settlement as being a fair one. He added that in talks with Suhoski ahead of an agreement being reached he suggested trying to get the first payment put off until FY17.
Duffy also said that if the article fails or there is a lack of a quorum on Dec. 7, there needs to be a back-up plan to ensure the first payment is made by the end of the year. He advised FinCom members he has suggested to Suhoski that the $85,000 in the reserve fund be used, with the remaining $15,000 coming from within the operating budget. If that avenue is needed, he said the money could possibly be recouped from stabilization after the first of the year.
The current stabilization balance is $668,420. It takes a two-thirds approval at town meeting to use stabilization funds.
As stated, Article 2, if approved, would transfer the powers and duties of the Planning Board to the BPCD.
The Planning Board was established by Article 60 of the Feb. 16, 1931, town meeting. Transfer of its powers and duties is allowed for under Chapter 9-1-3 of the town charter. If approved, the transfer would be effective Jan. 1, 2016.
In asking for the transfer, Suhoski noted, “The current Planning Board has benefitted from long-term incumbents that have volunteered their time for years to keep the wheels of progress moving. But, a lack of technical and staff support, dwindling membership, and long-time members that have indicated a desire to resign make this an ideal time to transition to the type of coordinated efforts envisioned in the charter.”
Regarding the latter comment, Suhoski said presently two boards are doing the job that one board could do.
“We owe the members of the Planning Board a debt of gratitude for their service,” said Suhoski, who noted current Planning Board chair Calvin Taylor has offered to fill the single vacancy on the BPCD during the transition.
In a related matter, Suhoski, in his weekly written report to the selectboard, noted the town is currently seeking applicants for the vacant position of director of planning and development.
“It is [my] intent that a person with proven experience and education in the planning field will be able to offer consistent support and technical assistance to the BPCD, thus strengthening the town’s oversight of new development and ensuring that technical deadlines, legal postings or records of votes are timely recorded and filed,” said Suhoski. “This makes for a better process for residents, members of the board, staff and the private sector.”
The FinCom on Wednesday voted to change its regular meeting date to the second Tuesday of each month.
The next meeting is set for Dec. 8, following the special town meeting on Dec. 7.