Zoning, ambulance on warrant for fall Town Meeting in Athol

  • Athol Town Manager Shaun A. Suhoski Contributed photo

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/24/2022 12:10:21 AM
Modified: 9/24/2022 12:09:43 AM

ATHOL — At its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, Athol’s Selectboard gave formal approval to the warrant for the fall Town Meeting. Voters will be faced with a total of 12 articles, half of which deal with town bylaw or zoning bylaw changes or additions.

Article 3, however, seeks voter approval for spending $425,000 for a new ambulance for the Fire Department.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski told the Athol Daily News that voters will be asked to approve the transfer of cash “from an existing revolving account where ambulance revenues are set-aside to accumulate and cover new ambulance and related costs. There is currently just over $428,000 in that revolving account plus ongoing revenues. So, no free cash or taxpayer funds (will be used) on this item.

“Our ambulances (two active units),” he explained in an email, “are replaced on an eight-year cycle. So, approximately every four years we would purchase a new unit. Pricing is astronomical for these heavy-duty vehicles, plus the lifesaving equipment and the supply chain like everything is now extending up to and beyond a year for delivery. That is why Chief (Joseph) Guarnera was looking to advance the Town Meeting authorization this fall rather than ‘lose’ another eight months of time waiting until the June 2023 Annual Meeting.”

Town officials are also seeking permission, in Article 6, to obtain property easements deemed necessary for work on the reconfiguration of what is known as the Five Points section of Athol. Five Points generally consists of the intersection of Chestnut Hill Avenue — sometimes called Bridge Street — heading toward MassGrow, as well as Laurel, Lee and Crescent streets. The location has been listed as a dangerous intersection for a number of years.

In addition to making improvements to the existing intersections, Athol Public Works Director Dick Kilhart told the Selectboard in October 2021 that the project will include reconstruction of a pair of crumbling retaining walls that bear the weight of those roads. Other work will consist of upgrades to the drainage and water system, repaving of the roadways, and the installation of new signs and flashing beacons.

To undertake the work, the town must secure a number of permanent and temporary construction easements. At the October 2021 meeting, Kilhart told the board that he and Assistant DPW Director Paul Raskevitz had reached out to approximately 35 property owners by certified mail to make them aware of the town’s needs.

“The town of Athol,” he told the board, “applied for and was placed on the Massachusetts TIP (Transportation Improvement Program), which is federal money that comes in to MassDOT (state Department of Transportation). Athol is on that list, and it’s a total amount somewhere in the vicinity of $5.1 to $5.3 million.”

Kilhart told the Athol Daily News the project has been moved up on the TIP list, thanks to the influx of ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding to the state. He said he expects 100% design of the project to be completed in the near future. Bid documents should be ready sometime next year, with construction likely to get underway in 2024. The work, Kilhart added, will take an estimated 18 months to complete.

“Once that work is done,” he said, “Athol will no longer have one of the most dangerous intersections in Massachusetts.”

Citizens petition

The final article on the warrant, submitted via citizens petition, would prohibit the use of all engine brakes in the town of Athol. Engine brakes are typically found in large commercial vehicles. They are used for stopping the vehicle through the engine’s power instead of through normal braking process. Many communities have banned their use because of the loud noise that results.

The fall Town Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 17 at Town Hall.

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

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