GROTON -- With little debate on the main motion, residents attending the Jan. 26 special Town Meeting voted to appropriate $7,734,000 to pay for construction of a new Center Fire Station on land off Farmers Row.
The historic decision, involving one of the largest spending measures ever approved by voters, was made by 285 residents who braved record cold temperatures to attend the meeting whose warrant featured just four articles.
The most high profile of the four articles, the fire station was something that residents have been wrestling with in one form or another for almost two years. After an exhaustive review process, town officials finally settled on a location along Farmers Row, close to the existing Public Safety Building.
When construction is completed in the spring, the new building will include a four-bay garage and a two-story administration complex with offices on the first floor; fitness room, dormitory, kitchen, dining room, and day room planned for the second floor; and HVAC and other mechanical equipment to be placed in the third-floor "attic" space.
Although the 227 to 58 vote in favor of the fire station measure featured little debate, that was not true of a motion to amend the article suggested by resident Rule Loving.
Loving rose to offer an amendment to the main measure that would have made any approval of the appropriation article contingent upon approval by a townwide vote at the ballot box.
"This is a real large resource allocation and all voters should have a voice in it," said Loving, adding that historically, the town has gone to the ballot for such high ticket items.
Loving's motion was supported by the Finance Committee and others at Town Meeting as well as member and former state representative Robert Hargraves, who told those in attendance that every voter deserved "a bite at the apple."
But the motion was opposed as well, including by Board of Selectmen member Peter Cunningham, who pointed out that turnout at the ballot box has always been barely more than the number of people who show up for Town Meeting.
In response to questions from the floor about how the project would be paid, Haddad explained that through an act of fiscal legerdemain, the town would borrow the money and pay it back over a number of years with no increase in local property taxes.
Thus assured, the amendment was voted down by a vote of 200 to 92 and the main measure passed by a two thirds majority of Town Meeting.
Also at special Town Meeting, residents again overcame objections by the Finance Committee to approve the appropriation of $385,409 to pay for the removal and replacement of Fitch's Bridge, which spans the Nashua River.
Built and installed in the late 19th century by the Berlin Iron Bridge Co. of Connecticut, Fitch's Bridge has been closed to auto traffic since the 1960s and in recent times has been used mostly by teenagers looking for a good spot from which to jump into the river.
Plans laid out by consultants hired to do the work of replacing the bridge called for removal of the existing span and its replacement by a new, truss style, 10-foot-wide span intended for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Finance Committee Chairman Jay Prager asked that the article be postponed at least until annual Town Meeting in the spring so that more time could be bought for research to find out if the work could be done any cheaper.
Disagreeing, Cunningham defended the measure, saying that delay would only result in higher construction costs that would vitiate the surprising results of a bidding process that had proved "highly competitive," offers that included doing the whole job at costs much lower than anyone had expected.
"The time is now to move ahead with this," concluded Cunningham.
Cunningham's position was bolstered by a number of residents, including Marion Stoddart, Groton's grand dame of conservation, who recalled her efforts over the years to clean up the Nashua River and the land along its banks.
The measure was backed up by other residents who argued the bridge would once more connect West Groton with the rest of town and complete over 100 miles of trails now officially separated by a span closed to the public.
In the end, it turned out to be an easy victory for the Greenway Committee, sponsors of the article, who won a two thirds majority of voters to pass the measure.
A third spending article dealing with the appropriation of $95,000 to cover the cost of a weed-killing program to be conducted at Lost Lake using an herbicide that has proven safe and effective in other Massachusetts ponds and lakes also passed easily with a majority vote.
Although the issue of invasive plant species such as milfoil, combomba, water chestnut, and free floating filamentous infesting the town's lakes and ponds has been around for many years, only recently has the problem reached crisis proportions, with forests of plants carpeting the bottom of bodies of water such as Lost Lake.
With the failure of such traditional methods of weed control such as mowing with a weed harvester, frustrated supporters of the lakes turned to the use of herbicides to solve the problem once and for all.
Lastly, residents at special Town Meeting voted to allow the withdrawal of an article that if approved would have established a Lost Lake Sewer District but without any funding appropriations to go with it.
According to Board of Selectmen member Jack Petropoulos, who supported the citizen's petition effort, the measure would not have sought funding but simply approval by residents to form a sewer district so as to place the town in a position to qualify for any state or federal grant money that might become available.
Unfortunately, said Petropoulos at Town Meeting, the timing was off. Even if the article were to be approved by residents, the action would come too late for the new district to qualify for state and federal grants.
In addition, by the time it could reapply for grant money, the latest population data would force the town to conduct another time consuming income survey and put it beyond the minimum number of residents needed to qualify for the money.
And so, with some reluctance, those residents who still remained at Town Meeting following action on the more high profile warrant articles, voted to withdraw the motion.