By Beth David, Editor
Citing some “issues” with the Conservation Commission, Fairhaven Town Administrator Angie Lopes Ellison summarized for the Select Board and the public, the contents of a seven-page report by Town Counsel Heather White, clarifying the roles of the ConCom members and staff.
At the SB meeting on 5/15/23, Ms. Ellison told the board that individual ConCom members cannot act on behalf of the commission without getting authority from the board for that particular item.
“Board members cannot speak on behalf of membership,” said Ms. Ellison.
ConCom members should not be “patrolling” looking for violations.
“Municipal officers do not have the authority to conduct warrantless, non-emergency searches of private property without permission from the owner,” writes Ms. White.
Commission members need to have an administrative warrant or the permission of the owner, to enter the property. This also includes drone surveillance.
Ms. White makes it clear that the Town Administrator has the authority to establish procedures for the administrative matters in the Conservation Department, including guidelines for the preparation and content of minutes and packets.
One issue was that the administrative assistant was being asked to transcribe minutes because, Ms. Ellison said, “one member felt every single detail needed to be in the minutes.”
Ms. Ellison said the AA was spending 3/4 of her time just preparing minutes, and it was not necessary. Mass. state law is very specific that a summary is sufficient.
Ms. Ellison also pointed out that all meetings are recording and available online. If anyone needs that kind of detail, they can watch the meeting.
ConCom cannot rescind administrative approvals simply because a member wants to review it.
“No action should be taken that is inconsistent with a previously granted administrative approval without prior consultation with Town Counsel,” writes Ms. White.
Ms. Ellison also told the board that the ConCom is routinely using consultants for peer review for all petitions. She said that process needs to adhere to the procurement law.
The full report is on town’s website under Select Board packets for 5/15/23.
The board also heard from public works superintendent Vinnie Furtado for an update on the water flushing program.
Mr. Furtado said the water treatment plant is located in Mattapoisett and operated by the Mattapoisett River Water District, which includes Fairhaven, Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. The plant is scheduled for a major upgrade, but that will take time.
Meanwhile the town is embarking on an aggressive water flushing program called “unidirectional flushing.”
Typically, the town would open up a few hydrants and let them flow until clear. The current program is more aggressive.
“This is a very systematic approach,” said Mr. Furtado.
They pick up where they left off the day before and keep pushing the water in the same direction. It moves the sediment out of the pipes, which causes discoloration of the water going into people’s homes.
Mr. Furtado said that alerts are going out to houses in the neighborhoods that are being flushed. He said it was hard to say how long they would be in each neighborhood because some have more valves than others.
The program should be done in a few more weeks. He said they do not want to flush in the middle of summer when water tables are low.
“It all depends on what we find when we’re doing this,” he said.
The reason there is so much sediment, he said, is that the town has “never gone after this as aggressively.”
The phone calls have subsided a bit, though. As they move along the system, there should be less disruption to people’s homes.
When residents get notified that flushing is happening in their neighborhood, they should run the outside spigot, or the one closest to the street. If the water inside is discolored, run the tap until it is clear.
Do not run the hot water, said Mr. Furtado, because it will draw the sediment into your boiler and water tank. Then, he said, you are “at the mercy” of how many gallons are in the tank before it gets out.
The discoloration is from iron and manganese, so it is not harmful.
Call the water department at 508-979-4032 for more information.
In another matter, Ms. Ellison told the board that she signed an Intermunicipal Agreement with the town of Holbrook to move police and fire dispatch services to their Regional Emergency Communications Center.
Ms. Ellison said she looked into a number of options to regionalize dispatch and the Holbrook facility was the best option. The Fire Chief and Police Chief have signed off on the deal, she said.
The five year agreement will start 7/1/24, although some details are still being negotiated.
Ms. Ellison said the state will pay part of the costs for the first three years.
It was not clear what it means exactly for the Dispatcher Union employees or the staffing of the police station.
Ms. Ellison said the station will still need to have someone there when “someone comes in off the street.”
Ms. Ellison told the board that the town would have to double its staffing due to a new regulation requiring dispatchers to stay on the phone with all medical calls.
She said the town will save in the long run, but it will increase costs intially.
In a followup phone interview, Ms. Ellison said the Collins Center had done a study a few months ago and strongly recommended that the town regionalize dispatch services.
“I’m happy to hear it,” said SB member Stasia Powers at the meeting. “It think it’s a smart move.”
She said she was at an event with other town officials and they encouraged Fairhaven to do it. She said it was encouraging to hear it has been successful in other communities.
Ms. Ellison said the town will get a lot of new technology upgrades, including getting rid of the “dead” zones on Sconticut Neck. It will be state of the art equipment, she said, and the town will not be on the hook to fix it if it does down.
“They take over everything,” she said.
They will also upgrade the town’s in house system to be a backup in case their system goes down. At the end of the five year contract, the town will keep the equipment.
SB member Bob Espindola said he was glad Ms. Ellison brought up all the benefits, but he would like to see the agreement.
In another matter, Ms. Ellison said she met with MassDOT officials who presented some alternatives to the traffic pattern in Benoit Square. The town met with MassDOT. Several town officials had met with MassDOT back in September of 2022, along with members of the North Fairhaven Improvement Association.
On Monday, Ms. Ellison presented two concepts for improving traffic flow. Concept one paints lines in the street, giving more clarity for how each lane, from Main Street and Adams Street, should approach the merger. It creates a clearly delineated point, instead of the wide, unmarked area at the end of the square now. It also adds a “Yield” sign on Adams Street to finally give some clarity on who has the right of way.
Concept two would make Adams Street curve to the left to make a nearly normal intersection for Adams Street traffic to turn right onto Main Street to continue north. It eliminates on-street parking in front of the old Oxford School building.
Ms. Ellison and the board seemed to agree that concept two was the better option, even with the loss of parking spots.
The board also discussed how the changes might be affected by the closing of the swing bridge on Route 6. it will be closed to vehicles for months and much of that traffic will be redirected to Benoit Square.
Mr. Espindola pointed out that most traffic will turn down Howland towards New Bedford, which before the square.
“I’m glad to see that something is being done” said SB member Charles Murphy, adding that he goes by there every day and the merge at Adams and Main is dangerous.
He said concept two looked like it would solve that issue.
Ms. Ellison said MassDOT is not at the point of moving forward. They just wanted an opinion.
Click here to download the 5/18/23 issue: 05-18-23 StampOutHunger
Click here to download the Ice House fight video: 05-03-23 IceHouseParkingLotFight
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