Old Stone Dock Association Gets Crash Course in Government 101

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By: Christopher Kazarian
Published: 03/22/13

Members of the Old Stone Dock Association got a crash course in “Falmouth Government 101” on Wednesday morning during a congenial session in which it heard from town officials on a host of topics, ranging from beaches to crime to drinking water.

Held at ShoreWay Acres Inn on Shore Street, Falmouth, the two-hour forum provided town officials an opportunity to update residents on items of importance to Falmouth while the roughly two dozen attendees could ask questions of importance to them.

Town Manager Julian M. Suso kicked off the event, but not before he was introduced by event chairman James M. Crossen of Salt Pond Road, who playfully noted, “I pulled my back a day or two ago. I guess I’m looking for some sympathy.” It was one example of the amiable atmosphere that pervaded the community discussion.

Joining Mr. Suso at the event was Beach Superintendent Donald L. Hoffer, Department of Public Works Director Raymond A. Jack, Town Engineer Peter M. McConarty, Fire Rescue Chief Mark D. Sullivan, and Acting Police Chief Edward A. Dunne.

Mr. Suso’s focus was on Town Meeting, which starts on Monday, April 8, at the Lawrence School. He highlighted the budget for the upcoming fiscal year that will be voted on in the annual warrant. That budget, he noted, includes 2.25 percent growth for operating expenses and another .25 percent dedicated to the town’s capital needs.

Overall, he said, the town “is in a very modest recovery phase and we appear to be making a modest recovery from the recession.”

He touched upon Article 24 on the Annual Town Meeting warrant, which seeks $5.6 million to help move the town’s wastewater efforts forward, and Article 25, which seeks $3.4 million to design either additional treatment or construct a filtration plant at Long Pond.

Combined, he said, that $9 million would be used to replace existing town debt that would be coming off the town’s books in what has been called a window of opportunity in which these projects could be funded without raising taxes.

Protecting Falmouth's Drinking Water

Mr. Jack later talked about the need to protect Long Pond, which serves as Falmouth’s primary source of drinking water. He noted that in May 2011 voters approved an $800,000 study to look at possible options for Long Pond.

From that study came a range of eight possible options, Mr. Jack said, with the least expensive costing $17 million and which would include additional chemical treatment to the chlorine currently being used. The most expensive would cost $47 million and would require building a filtration plant at Long Pond.

Mr. Jack pushed for the $47 million option, noting that “it is superior. Really, you get what you pay for and the more you pay, the higher the level of protection you will have.”

Among the questions posed to Mr. Suso was one by association vice president Kevin Doyle, who raised concerns about the power wielded by the Falmouth Conservation Commission over private property owners who have homes that border wetlands.

He asked if there is any way for other town officials to weigh in on potential projects those homeowners bring before the commission.

Mr. Suso noted that the town’s wetlands and coastal areas are protected by state and local regulations and fall under the purview of the conservation commission.

Mr. Jack pushed for the $47 million option, noting that “it is superior. Really, you get what you pay for and the more you pay, the higher the level of protection you will have.”

He said selectmen can exert some influence when they appoint members to the conservation commission, but outside of that there is not much that can be done.

Mr. Suso was also part of an interesting exchange when Richard A. Sherman of Shore Street urged him to appoint Acting Chief Dunne to be the permanent chief of the police department.

Mr. Suso did not take the bait, stressing that since former Police Chief Anthony J. Riello retired in November he has been committed to following a process in which candidates could apply for the position. From there a select group of candidates have since been interviewed and undergone an assessment center in which they were put through potential scenarios they may encounter as police chief.

Mr. Suso said he would be announcing his recommendation for police chief at the end of this month.

Neighborhood Has Little Crime

In his presentation Chief Dunne noted that in terms of neighborhoods the one in which members of the Old Stone Dock Association live is relatively safe. “Since January 2012 you have only had 30 incidents,” he said, that has included alarms, motor vehicle accidents and breaking and enterings. “That is a good thing.”

He was complimentary to residents in the neighborhood for being vigilant in reporting crimes and working cooperatively with Officer James Cummings, the department’s liaison to the association.

James B. Tynan of Walker Street asked about the department’s use of resource officers in schools.

Chief Dunne said they have one at the high school and another at the Lawrence School. After the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, he said, he received calls from teachers, students and parents to have an officer in each Falmouth school. “That would be impossible to do,” he admitted.

What he has done is have officers randomly patrol the school parking lots and enter the schools from time to time to provide a police presence. That has included encouraging his officers to sit with students at lunch to help instill a safer environment in schools. “It is the only fix I can do,” he said.

Among the topics Chief Sullivan talked about was the Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is made up of town officials as well as representatives from Falmouth Hospital, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Marine Biological Laboratory and administrators at local assisted living facilities. The committee, he said, meets once a month to take steps to prepare for local emergencies.

Recently those emergencies have been focused on weather-related incidents that have forced the town to open up an emergency operations center at the Fire Rescue Headquarters on Main Street as well as a regional shelter at Falmouth High School, Chief Sullivan said.

Paula Lichter of the Falmouth Heights/Maravista Improvement Association asked Chief Sullivan if there would ever be plans in an emergency to evacuate residents by boat from Falmouth.

“No, there hasn’t been,” Chief Sullivan said, though he admitted it would be one worth exploring.

Updates on Infrastructure Improvements

Mr. Doyle took time to praise Mr. McConarty for his department’s work in fixing the drainage issues on Mill Road, before putting him on the spot and asking him when the same would be done for Walker Street.

Mr. McConarty spelled out the process for fixing that road, which starts with doing an existing conditions survey. He noted there are homes nearby on Surf Drive with drainage issues that may be contributing to those problems. If the design for the road can be done this year, he said, he anticipated the actual road work would begin in a year and a half to two years.

Mr. Hoffer was the last to speak to the association, joking that “you folks are lucky. I had a two-hour speech prepared, but these gentlemen took care of that.”

He also discussed NStar and Comcast’s request for an easement from the town at the end of Mill Road to permit the utility companies to lay a cable to Martha’s Vineyard as a way to improve their service to the island. The town is still discussing what type of compensation it would get in return for the easement, Mr. McConarty said, with one option being possible structural improvements to Surf Drive.

Mr. Doyle suggested that perhaps the utilities could place some of their poles underground as a way to improve the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

Mr. Hoffer was the last to speak to the association, joking that “you folks are lucky. I had a two-hour speech prepared, but these gentlemen took care of that.”

He also talked about aesthetics in regard to the Ellen T. Mitchell Bath House on Surf Drive, which is in the midst of receiving a $50,000 facelift, thanks to approval at Town Meeting in the fall. That project is underway, he said, with the roof already replaced and work now being done to improve the bathrooms inside. “”It will look much nicer and be more functional than it has in the past,” he said.

He also took time to compliment neighborhood organizations like the Old Stone Dock Association for its work in helping to raise funds for beach improvements. While those revenues are welcome, he said, its real value is that it helps to increase awareness of the importance of the town’s beaches.

To learn move about the Old Stone Dock Association visit their website.

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