It was a cold 21 degrees last Thursday morning as I headed down Laurel Street. My destination was our Department of Public Works for an interview. Mario Mazza, the DPW director for the past four years. He came from Springfield, where he was the deputy director for the previous 10 years. I drove south by 10 new trees planted along the way on the tree belt between Laurel and Bliss Parks. This initiative was accomplished through CPA funds and came to fruition with the help of Dave Marinelli the tree warden, who is an employee of the DPW. By the time I got to Pondside Road, where the DPW headquarters is now located in an antique train station near the tracks, it was a frigid 19 degrees. This outdated building is located in a flood plain near the Connecticut River. FIMA maps confirm this.
Recently, a 35-gallon black trash cart with wheels has been delivered to your home. After receiving a special state grant from the Department of Environmental Protection totaling over $200,000, we are revamping our system of garbage pick-up and disposal. Each homeowner in East Longmeadow and Longmeadow now has the same carts. Streets will now have a consistent look to our roads and streets on garbage day. That is great news! We thank Arlene Miller and Liz Bone for their foresight and work on this grant. Soon we will have an opportunity to recycle our old cans. Sometime at the end of November, the DPW will notify us about their plan. For over 10 years we have reduced the limit of trash while continuing to have unlimited recycling but rarely enforced. Change is hard, but we are overdue with several town issues. It is time to get up to date and improve communication on recycling and a myriad of issues.
Some folks love their new trash receptacles. Some people are disappointed with the size. I can empathize with both points of view. Certainly, the size is difficult for larger families and those who create more waste than usual. Hopefully, it will encourage more recycling, which is the goal for our environment. Overflow trash bags can be purchased at local retailers like Big Y, Carr Hardware and Rocky’s. I thought we were supposed to use less plastic, but in the long run, as people concentrate on improving their efforts to recycle, hopefully, this issue will resolve.
Remember that you are allowed to double your trash during the December holidays season from approximately Dec. 30, 2019 to Jan. 10, 2020 when boxes and wrapping paper use has increased.
Mazza and I had a chance to discuss several important issues relating to the DPW. We started off discussing the recent Special Town Meeting of Nov. 5. It was a very disappointing turnout despite the important issues on the warrant. As the town moderator announced at the beginning, there was no trash talk. The DPW issues involved trees, the microburst’s damage and the problems with asbestos at the new DPW site. The Tree Warden asked for $145,000 and $25,000 to refill the budget for tree planting and tree care. A total of 246 public shade trees have been lost so far in the past year. There are plans to plant 140 new saplings but the funds were spent on storm-related damage to trees. Both of these articles passed without discussion. Earlier in the evening a request for $15,000 to study the road conditions in town failed. It is perplexing to me why this happened. In the greater scheme of things, this seemed like a practical and prudent measure to keep up with roadwork, potholes and storm-related paving issues that are caused by bitter winters in our area. It was a truly pathetic turn out with less than 200 voters in attendance. There were more guests (non-voters) at the meeting from Glenbrook Middle School. A total of 219 eighth graders studying Civics and Government joined the meeting and were well behaved. The students were better behaved than some speakers who asked questions out of order or had bad manners. The Town Meeting tradition in New England is unique and democratic but not efficient in my opinion. What did the students think about the situation? We must have looked rather odd through their eyes and we voted in a seemingly arbitrary fashion at times.
Mazza and his colleagues are responsible for over 100 miles of streets, sidewalks and plumbing above and below. In fact, the DPW have their hands in almost everything! Coordinating roadwork, construction, flooding issues and plowing also fall under their responsibilities. Maintenance of public buildings and especially schools are a huge priority. Although the dump and recycling will remain in the area known as “The Meadows” the DPW staff are all looking forward to their new home on Dwight Street.
The construction has experienced several delays and the discovery of more asbestos on the site met with much debate and discussion at the town meeting. I wish more people cared enough to attend. It was actually disgraceful to see such a small group deciding these big expenditures of cash. Residents who did not attend really cannot complain about the $1.3 million that was added to the budget to remedy the contamination on the site. The motion passed by the majority after several complaints and observations were made. Communication about the landfill and delays were not readily publicized and made known on a timely basis. I try my best to keep up with the issues but it was necessary to avoid listening to rumors and accusations to get the bottom of the facts. Legal advice is being sought and residents have suggested getting more state assistance with the unexpected costs incurred.
The DPW staff, which totals about 35 people and sometimes 40 with extra summer help, is involved in many areas of the town. The Transportation Improvement Program or “TIP Program” has made available state funds for roads and lights. By the year 2022 you will see improvements to several areas near the north end of town towards the Springfield line. At least three intersections need work and better traffic flow. Traffic lights must be modernized and timed. We have also received our first check totaling over $200,000 from MGM, which will supplement the TIP Program plans. The north end of Route 5 will be widened and the intersection of Converse and Route 5 will also be widened. The town-owned tree belts in this area are very wide and private property will not be affected for these areas. Although changes come slowly in a fiscally conservative town like ours, many of these improvements are long overdue to bring things up to date. Old infrastructure needs attention, fields need constant maintenance, trash needs to be attended to, buildings cleaned and the DPW works with the Police and Fire Departments as well as The Park and Rec Department. After learning more about the DPW team, I now have a better understanding of how integral they are in the everyday functioning of our town. We need to find a balance between retaining the historical charm of this special community and bringing modernization to those issues that were long overlooked. Deferred maintenance can only go on so long. We are not being practical by kicking the can down the road and just using Band-Aids to fix problems. When I arrived here in New England over 20 years ago, I was simply shocked at how old-fashioned and out of date the condition of the town was.
Let me take this opportunity to welcome Lyn Simmons as our new town manager. I will look forward to meeting her. We should all help to include her in our ideas and hopes for this community. We are entering a new decade and will soon have a new Adult Center, the state of the art DPW building and improvements to Bliss and Laurel Parks as part of a Master Plan funded by the Community Preservation Act. I am thankful to live in this town and my hope is that next time there is a town meeting, more people will attend, participate and vote. Let’s be thankful for finally getting these building and planning projects done. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Betsy’s Corner is a guest column by Betsy Huber Port. Opinions are hers and do not necessarily reflect those of Reminder Publishing LLC, the Longmeadow News, its employees or advertisers.