The Bedford Citizen report on the Finance Committee’s October 6th meeting included a few quotes related to the Fire Station discussion, but we think a more detailed analysis of what transpired will provide much-needed insight into good-faith objections to the current plan and the process that produced it.
While the title of the report in The Citizen accurately stated that “FinCom’s Division on Articles Reflects Broader Local Differences,” another accurate way of characterizing the meeting would be to point out that a majority of those present voted against recommending that the articles be “disapproved”.
As the piece pointed out, the votes reflected a division that has been prevalent in the community for more than a year. The following few weeks offer a way to bridge that gap — not by digging in and refusing to question but by using the time between now and the Special Town Meeting on November 14th to examine and discuss the complex issue for the good of all the town’s residents and its first responders.
Short of sitting down and watching the lengthy YouTube video, this analysis aims to provide voters with important information on the discussion of the issues that took place…
Don Corey, who is sponsoring Petitioner’s Articles 4 and 5 on the Special Town Meeting Warrant, prepared remarks for the Finance Committee to consider when voting to recommend or not recommend the articles. He was speaking from notes that he said would be submitted in an article to The Bedford Citizen.
Before turning to practical concerns he touched on two historical items for perspective. First, he read a comment by Town Historian Louise K. Brown after the Historic District was established in 1964, during a period of much destruction to the old town. She expressed relief that “the citizens were able to set aside a small portion of Bedford and to preserve it for the enjoyment of future generations.” Concluding that “the current Select Board’s strategy just mirrors the prior destructive action,” he noted that would be for the Historic District Commission to decide.
He then pointed out that the property at 139 The Great Road is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and that the property’s purchase price earmarked Federal funds, even though the National Historic Preservation Act specifically prohibits any expenditure of Federal funds on any project that might damage a National Register district. He then introduced two of his practical concerns, with more to follow at the Special Town Meeting.
First, Mr. Corey remarked that the Select Board has sold the current plan based on the financial advantages it may present but “totally squelched discussion” on other aspects of the plan, including the significant incremental costs associated with destroying the stone wall and grading the property. He objected to the fact that the grading had not been mentioned.
He also objected to the lack of information related to the traffic challenges presented by the station and the addition of a traffic signal. (When Ms. Mitchell and Chief Grunes addressed the Committee members, they point to the Traffic Study posted on the Town’s New Fire Station Project page, but his central concern seemed to be that these issues had not been discussed at Town Meeting.)
His other concern was the matter of a substation, which he explained had been of concern since he was a selectman decades ago. He said he had been very involved when the town hired former State Fire Marshall Bob Ulm as the Fire Chief and that Chief Ulm believed that a substation was not a matter of “if” but “when”. He discussed some of the many changes to the Northeast Bedford quadrant since then and that the people in that zone “can’t get the same kind of excellent response time the rest of the town enjoys.”
“If that can is going to be kicked down the road for another twenty years, it is not right and I think we need to have it brought up at Town Meeting and if Town Meeting decides a substation is appropriate that opens up the potential for sites for the main fire station enormously.” He concluded his presentation by saying that “the hair-splitting that is going on because they ignored the potential for the substation is very troubling to me.”
When Chair Paul Mortenson asked Committee members for their comments, Ben Thomas said he had nothing to add to the discussion and Erica Liu said that her only comment was that she could see why the new articles needed to be added.
Abigail Siebert said, “Don, thank you for coming. I pretty much agree with everything you said. I don’t know if there is anything that is going to happen about it, though, and that’s unfortunate.” She went on to discuss her concern about the structure of the proposed committee seeming fairly narrow and he agreed that there would need to be a workaround to involve the Fire Station and the whole community. “The intent is to have a much broader participation”.
She went on to ask if the process of evaluating any site that was suggested could get “unwieldy and unrealistic.” He agreed that it was always a possibility, ” but added: “I think that, based on a lot of input from a lot of people about this whole Issue, I am pretty confident that it would be quite instructive.” And she replied that it would probably be “quite instructive, indeed.”
Elizabeth McClung said, “I feel that your description of the need for a substation assessment is quite compelling. I think in Bedford we’re very fortunate to have a very active and engaged community with a lot of resources and experience and it’s really nice when we tap into the resources in the town to make some significant decisions.” She concluded by wondering at what point the HDC had first been consulted before the ATM.
Ronald O’Brien had no questions. Stephen Steele then said that he was “in the same place as Abby. I like the concept but don’t know if the wording of the article does it any justice.”
Chief Grunes and Emily Mitchell then took their places at the table and that segment of the meeting will be covered next. It was harder to hear them but those questions and answers were also very informative. /
Before getting to work on Part II, it is important to point out that none of the justifications for the current plan are valid or make sense if it is determined that 139 The Great Road is not the only — or the best — property for this purpose. Part II looks more deeply into that question.
Please Note: The rest of this report did not materialize. At the end of the hearing, a motion was made to recommend against Article 4. It was not seconded. Therefore there was no point in making the same motion for Article 5. A motion was made and seconded to make no recommendation.
The 7 members voted 4-3 in favor. The FinCom rules require 5 votes to pass because there are nine seats on the Committee; one member was not present and one seat is currently being filled.
A few weeks later, the Chair of the Finance Committee was part of the Bedford Commons roundtable and stated that efforts to reach a consensus had so far failed because no one was “budging”.