With one of the largest projects ever untaken by Mattapoisett about to begin, the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen met the winning engineering team on February 16. It didn’t take long, however, before the gauntlet was thrown into the middle of Main Street.
The project is the 25% design of the town’s historic village streets. With both state and federal funding weighing in the balance, the 25% design will allow the Town to advance through Mass DOT’s process as it vies for TIP funding (Transportation Improvement Program).
VHB, a large corporation whose offices span the eastern seaboard from Maine to Florida, made the cut after vetting by Highway Superintendent Barry Denham, Town Administrator Michael Gagne, and the Town’s peer review team of Bob Field and Jon Connell of Field Engineering.
Gagne gave a detailed report on the vetting process that included determining the capabilities of the firms in competition to complete 200 specific tasks on time and on budget. He reminded everyone that during town meeting, the voters had passed an article authorizing $300,000 in monies from free cash for this project.
But Selectman Jordan Collyer took exception to VHB’s expertise.
“You guys worked on the bike path. It is my humble opinion you did a poor job … were over budget…. To be quite forthright, VHB left a sour taste in my mouth … [I’m] less than pleased over the performance and customer service.”
This comment seemed to surprise the VHB engineers. VHB’s Jamie Pisano, director of transportation engineering, and Joseph Wanat, managing director, both stepped forward to address Collyer’s concerns.
While Pisano concurred there had been problems in achieving an on-time and on-budget program during the development of the bike path design, he said that unforeseen problems such as the Town’s right to the railroad easement could not have been built into the project scope. Both Pisano and Wanat assured the selectmen that new scheduling failsafe processes are utilized, making cost estimates and timetables easier to achieve.
Denham said oversight would be handled by Field Engineering, whose ability to analyze VHB documents to keep project costs in line was not only critical but something he trusted without question.
Denham said he was unaware of any glaring problems with VHB during the bike path project and that subsequently other firms found difficulties with the bike path site, driving costs up. He also said the finished portion of the bike path was a “good product” in spite of surrounding wetland issues.
VHB, Denham, and Field Engineering also discussed the importance of VHB’s ability to identify “non-conforming” designs – designs that the townspeople may want versus what state and or federal guidelines dictate.
Gagne said that when VHB reaches the 10% marker, they would be able to help the Town lobby regulators for acceptance of locally desired options. Given the character of the village streets, all felt that this capability was critical to the end result.
VHB ultimately received a unanimous vote from the selectmen.
In other matters, a letter received from Shellfish Warden Kathy Massey regarding the aquaculture application from Nick Wright was discussed.
In her letter to the board, Massey wrote that the proposed area would not conflict with shore activities and water depths were such that there shouldn’t be a conflict with scallop harvests.
The selectmen voted to send a letter to the Division of Marine Fisheries that would allow a survey of the area. Wright’s application is pending further review.
Also during the meeting, Gagne reported that the Town’s elected boards members may, under a state provision, allow remote open meeting participation.
He said specific reasons for participating remotely must fall in one of the following categories: personal illness or disability; emergency; military service; or geographic distance.
While Selectmen Tyler Macallister and Collyer were in favor of the provision, Selectman Paul Silva wanted more time to think about it saying, “I’m not sure.” Silva added, “I’m afraid people elected to boards might take the easy way out doing it remotely and not attend…. We’ve survived for a hundred years without it; we can survive a couple of weeks.”
The item was tabled until the first meeting in March.
The selectmen approved the use of public spaces for a variety of activities that includes Ned’s Point where a summer homecoming picnic is planned by the Mattapoisett Congregational Church, as well as summer yoga classes, summer tai chi classes, and the Mattapoisett Road Race and Lion’s Club Triathlon. Shipyard Park was approved for use by the Lions Club for their annual Harbor Days, summer movies, Easter Egg Hunt, Earth Day Clean Up and Children’s Fall Festival. Approval was also granted for summer band concerts, car shows, and a square dance for Shipyard Park. In other locations around the town, the Pilgrim Sands Trail Riders will hold events at the Mattapoisett transfer station, the Mattapoisett Land Trust will host the Tour de Crème bicycling event, and Helping Hands and Hooves will hold their annual Christmas Day plunge.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Board of Selectmen is scheduled for February 28 at 6:30 pm in the town hall conference room.
By Marilou Newell