Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Our First Snow Job Of The Season

This is a bit much.

"DPW sidewalk clearing efforts spark debate in tough year"

That is the headline on page 9 of today's Sturbridge Villager. Now, read that headline again, and think of all that is says, and especially what it it doesn't say.

Done? OK, now let me fill you in and see if you are thinking the same as I am.

Let me first start off by saying that in the other communities I have been privileged to live in over the years the towns DPW has always taken upon itself to clear the sidewalks. They put them in for the safety of its residents, and they accepted their role in maintaining them. From repairing curbs, to filling cracks, and clearing snow, the DPW was responsible for their upkeep. Goes with keeping their residents safe. If one puts in sidewalks for the safety of people, then those that put in the sidewalks are liable for maintaining that safety of the sidewalks.


Now, there are certain exceptions to this. If a store front is directly on the sidewalk, and snow from their rooftop can fall onto the sidewalk and impede foot traffic, then of course, the owner of the store should touch up and clear the sidewalk once the town make s the initial sweep of it. The store owner should also make sure it is free of ice as well after the sidewalk is initialy cleared.

In the other towns I have lived in there were many sidewalks, sidewalks all over the town. They were there not only for the convenience of pedestrians, but for children walking to school. Here in Sturbridge we bus our kids to school. There are no sidewalks leading to the Burgess School, or to the high school. We bus all of them. Talk about an ongoing expense, but that is fodder for another time.

Greg Morse is right in saying that historically the DPW has been responsible for clearing the sidewalks in town, as it should be. I have watched them clear them and they do a fine job considering what they are up against.

Now, here comes the town Selectman Scott Garieri questioning that the additional $10-20,000 spent annually may not be well spent in a "tough year". A tough year that was chosen to rehab the Town Hall and the Center School.

So, we will leave the sidewalks to be cleared by resident abuters? Some of those abuters own a long length of land abutting the sidewalks, and although the town bylaw states that if you abut it, you clear it, it must be rewritten. Am I responsible for the 304 feet that abuts my property with Route 148? Am I responsible for clearing this road, too? Oh, only sidewalks. Whew.

Morse says the town has a vehicle to clear the sidewalks, however its "footprint" is bigger than the sidewalks.

Now, think on that for a minute. Why would we buy a vehicle to clear snow from the sidewalks that was too large for the sidewalks it is meant to clear? Sounds like shear stupidity to me, or something more, which I believe it is. The vehicles don't fit because their are utility poles in the middle of the bloody sidewalks!!!

Well, duh.

Contrary to the Americans with Disability Act, the poles are in the middle of the sidewalks making using wheelchairs, or motorized scooters nearly impossible to use unless one goes out onto the roadway to circumvent the poles. I have watched mothers with double sided strollers do just that, and last summer I watches as a lady on her Lark scooter scoot around a pole by going off onto the road because she could not fit by one pole in Fiskdale.

The Feds have been patient with Sturbridges continuing to to ignore the law, but those days may be coming to an end. Federal fines, and lawsuits by private persons could add up to well over the million dollars estimated to fix the problem. All it would take is a formal complaint made to the Feds, and watch what happens.

As a result of the poles in the middle of the sidewalks, it makes snow removal a long, and tedious task. Trucks are used with their blades to push the snow off the sidewalks and onto the road, and it is then plowed further and eventually scooped up and removed.

Time consuming, but the only way it can be done.

Now, let's think on those needed sidewalks for the reconstruction of Route 131. Will the town be plowing those sidewalks clear, or will they appoint the property owners along the way to maintain them. Might as well demand the property owners to build them, too.

When the town is spending additional hundreds of thousands of dollars in placing a slate roof on the refurbished town hall, instead of the asphalt shingle one in the original plan, then $10-20K is nothing.

The headline in the paper tries to make the economy the culprit in this debate.

It ain't.

It is poor planning. We should already have those poles removed from the sidewalks in town instead of turfing the responsibility to abuters. Don't put the responsibility on others for the poor planing the town makes.

And, don't listen to those that say the cost is too much. Enforcement of the bylaw will cost plenty as well, and while the town chases those not complying there will be a person that can't hobble over the snow on the sidewalk and walks onto the road, and into traffic.

Cha-ching. Lawsuit time. Precedence will speak for itself in this case.

Just fix the real problem of the utility poles, and put that snow removal vehicle on the sidewalk and watch it clear a path right down route 20 in no time.

All this ballyhoo about cost, machines too big to plow, and abuters responsibility is just a snow job.


  1. I have to agree with what you wrote. Sidewalks are for the safety of people walking along our roads, and the town installed them with that purpose in mind. They therefore accept responsibility for the quality of their construction, the planning of their construction, and their maintenance as well. It would be like building a new school, and then the town washing their hands of taking care of it after it is built. If the clearing of the sidewalks is difficult then make it easier by removing the telephone poles.

  2. Comparing the funding of the slate roof of Town Hall to spending on sidewalk clean up is wrong to do. The historic architectural features of the Town Hall/Center School renovation project have been funded by CPA funds. These funds have been collected since 2001, through a very small surcharge, and can only be spent on Historic projects, Open Space, Recreation and Affordable Housing. Because of the use of CPA funds, the project expense to the taxpayer is considerably less. ½ of the slate roof cost and other historic renovation costs were paid for by the State. State funds are collected through a surcharge on real estate transactions. Without CPA funds the Town Hall/Center School project would have had a bigger impact on your tax bill.

    We could have slapped on vinyl siding, plastic windows and an asphalt roof, and the project would have had a bigger impact on your tax bill, and Sturbridge’s historic Town Common area would be greatly impacted.

    Please don’t use the well thought out plan of restoring Town Hall to maintaining sidewalks throughout town.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful article. I agree that the town should remove snow from the sidewalks, and, certainly, the poles should be repositioned. These are safety issues, and, in my mind, more important than a slate roof on the town hall.

    I have a question for the person who wrote the comment about the use of CPA funds. My question is this: What Affordable Housing is being funded?

    Just as we should individually live within our means and keep our homes safe, so should our "home"town be safe and affordable. Pretty is as pretty does.

  4. The CPA has funded the purchase of land to build an affordable single family home through Habitat for Humanities. Construction should begin in the spring. The CPA has also funded a a housing needs assessment, used to develop an Affordable Housing Action Plan for the Town. This report is being used by the Housing Partnership Committee to work towards securing more affordable housing in our town.

  5. Regarding safety (clearing sidewalks) and affordability (slate roof, not on original plan for the town hall renovation, versus a serious effort at affordable housing) in Sturbridge, I guess we put a lot more care into decorating the package than we do the quality its the contents...

  6. One Anonymous poster seems bent on smearing the town's decision to replace town hall roof with a historic-looking slate roof versus asphalt shingles: it's apparent you have no clue what goes on on the CP committee, or how CPA works, and you just want to smear. How about attending meetings so you can be aware? Further, you denigrate a committee of volunteers who have worked for years to do good things for Sturbridge. Perhaps you bear a grudge against someone on the committee?

    Some real estate transactions take a long time to cobble together, especially when there are multiple entities involved. When one considers that the committee has accomplished so much without being paid, your statements are pointless, accomplish nothing, and now you look like a narrow-minded fool.

    Also, everyone who knows business knows that a "pretty package" is part of a "whole package."

  7. garieri said that his busieness in southbridge doesn't get plowed by the town. he didnt mention his hair salon in southbridge is on a side street not "the main street" of the community. he has an agenda here somewhere. always does.

  8. It's pretty simple, the Main Street sidewalks should always be cleared by the town, and abutters should make sure they remain clear following a storm, and remove ice and obstacles that may get in the way of pedestrians later on. And, if the town requires sidewalks to be built in new developments, then they must accept the responsibility of clearing those sidewalks, with the roads, once the new road is accepted by the town. They go hand in hand.

    If I am reading the site listed above correctly, CPA funds which financed the historic looking slate roof at the town hall, may be also used in homes to help finance ramps, handrails, etc. to keep seniors and disabled in their own homes, and may even be used to help with utilitiy costs in homes???

  10. WELL - I was fined $50 last Winter after the series of storms we had for not shoveling my sidewalk in Southbridge. I counted over 100 sidewalks not shoveled the day afte that storm, and was never appraoched by an officer, just got the ticket in my mailbox. First of all, the fine is only $25, but you only found that out by digging deeply into the bylaws. How much money did Southbridge make on this storm? At the (illegal) rate of $50/driveway, they could have bought a fleet of sidewalk clearing equipment. Plus, NOW in Dudley, it COSTS $25 dollars just to TALK to the magistrate in a hearing befoer you go to trial!
    It is no longer the rule of law, it's rule of MONEY and the public be damned, or charged...

  11. Correction in link address for use of CPA funds:

  12. Readers can decide for themselves here how balanced our CPA priorities are or are not.
    Sturbridge CPA expenditures link:

  13. Dear Anonymous, Three Times At The End: I believe that if you check the town's website, there is an application there for you - a resident of this town - to fill out and submit to the CP Committee with this great idea.

    Once again, I am taken aback by the inclination to attack rather than to be proactive.

    If the application is no longer on line, then go to a meeting and make the suggestion. It's not about balance; it's probably they haven't thought it. Stop being so small.


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