Selectboard wants state plan for Lake Ellis in writing

  • Athol DPW Dick Kilhart joins in recent Selectboard discussion regarding state plans to deal with water levels at Lake Ellis. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 11/16/2022 3:54:26 PM
Modified: 11/16/2022 3:54:24 PM

ATHOL — Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told Selectboard members Tuesday that the state Department of Transportation has developed a strategy designed to prevent flooding of properties around Lake Ellis. Members of the board, however, seemed less than impressed with the state’s assurances. Board members had wanted MassDOT officials and lawmakers to appear at a board meeting in the near future, but the state didn’t think such a meeting was now necessary

Fluctuating water levels at Lake Ellis have been an issue for years due to the activity of beavers in around a series of culverts that serve as outflow for the water of the lake. As the culverts, which run under Route 2, have become blocked with debris, the level of the lake rises considerably during periods of heavy rain. At least once in recent years, the lake has risen enough to encroach on adjacent properties and over local roadways.

Suhoski provided the Selectboard with copies of an email chain that included communications from himself, state Sen. Jo Comerford, and MassDOT District 2 Director Patricia Leavenworth.

In a response to Suhoski, copied to other state and local officials, Leavenworth said her department “will continue to monitor the site and clear debris on an as needed basis. We had our crews clear out the three (culverts) in the fall of 2021. We issued another work order recently to clear them again.”

Suhoski said MassDOT does have plans to install a grate, or barrier, in one of the culverts to prevent interference in the outflow of the lake due to beaver activity.

“They say custom fabrication for that is not as easy as we may think,” he said, “so it’s taking longer than expected. But they plan to do that to prevent debris and beavers from entering that middle culvert.”

“At this time,” wrote Leavenworth, “I believe we have a reasonable plan which will be mutually beneficial to the residents of Lake Ellis, the town of Athol, and MassDot. I do not feel attending a board meeting is necessary at this point.”

Board members, however, pointedly disagreed with this last point.

“So, the term ‘as needed’ I have a problem with,” said board Vice Chair Rebecca Bialecki. “I’m very disappointed that it takes getting out legislators’ offices calling these people before they finally respond, and then it’s only in writing. I think we do need to have them come here for a meeting.

“I’m sorry, but ‘as needed’; who determines the definition of that? Why can’t they tell us, ‘Once a month, we’re going to be out to check and make sure and it it’s jammed up, we’re going to clean it out.’ That’s all we’re looking for. But this baloney response is unacceptable for me, and I think it will be for the residents of Lake Ellis.”

“I totally agree,” said board member Kala Fisher. “My first thing is, well, when are you coming back out? How are we going to know? What’s the process if something does happen? Who’s going to contact who? Is it going to be Shaun calling Dick and Dick having to make a hundred phone calls to get to the right people? I think they need to provide a schedule of when they’re going to do it.”

Public Works Director Dick Kilhart told the board, “DOT suggests their regular maintenance staff come out weekly; that’s what they suggested to us on Route 2. They suggested that they come out to the culvert weekly, and they also suggested that they go to Beach Street weekly.”

“Can we get that in writing?” Fisher interjected immediately.

“I suppose we could,” Kilhart replied, adding, “their response toward the tail end of this has been much, much better than it was.”

“Because,” Bialecki interrupted, “there were legislative people hounding them, and those are the people who provide their funding. So, I don’t think it’s acceptable that they’re not doing their job until somebody is chasing them.”

When Selectboard Chairman Alan Dodge suggested that MassDOT contact Kilhart whenever they plan to visit the site, Bialecki asserted, “They don’t want to be accountable, and this is all about accountability.”

“Even if they don’t come to a meeting,” Bialecki continued, “I think we need to get an actual plan in writing. She (Leavenworth) says ‘we have a reasonable plan.’ What is that?”

Suhoski told the board that he would again reach out to Leavenworth to express the board’s concerns over the lack of a designated contact for MassDOT, as well as the absence of set schedule for the monitoring of the culvert. He was then instructed to report back to the board regarding the district director’s response.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.


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