Petitioners’ Pitch for Fire Substation Study Fails

March 29, 2024
Michael Seibert presented Article 18 at Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday.

Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday rejected a petitioners’ article proposing a two-month study by an ad hoc committee on the need for a Bedford Fire Department substation.

Michael Seibert, one of 13 residents who signed the petition, presented the article, describing it as a tool to ignite serious consideration of a facility to improve emergency response to residences and employment centers east of Route 3.

Seibert acknowledged that the construction of a new department headquarters is top priority, but stressed that the town needs to also collect data to determine if there’s a need for a substation. 

“The longer we put off assessing the need, the more critical it gets, and the more it costs,” he told voters.

He cited a 2015 study recommending consideration of a substation, and said, “We are still basing our decision on information that hasn’t been updated in nine years.” 

He provided numbers showing significant increases in calls and population in the town’s “northeast quadrant.” (That area includes Carleton Willard Village, Governor Winthrop Estates, and Shawsheen Ridge as well as neighborhood streets and the area east of Route 3.)

The petitioners’ article asked Town Meeting to “authorize” formation of a committee that includes former town officials and Fire Department leaders, as well as two residents at large, and reports to the Select Board in June.

Select Board member Emily Mitchell said the town has prioritized public safety needs, and “we have a clear roadmap ahead.” A substation could be a future project, she said, but with projected population growth on Carlisle Road and the town’s southern section, the site is an open question.

Regardless of location, Mitchell said, a substation would require significant funding and would not impact the size or timetable of the new headquarters. 

“Our focus in April and May is refining design and cost estimates,” she said. “Shifting our attention would not be the best use of our time and resources.”

Although Seibert focused on the substation aspect, the petition language also said the special committee would “assess the overall current public safety need.”

Explanatory notes supplied by the petitioners added that residents should consider if a substation “should be part of an overall solution before any project is set in stone. It should also consider whether addressing the town’s safety outlook comprehensively would be more or less cost-effective than pursuing the substation issue separately.”

Several of those who signed the petition have actively opposed locating a fire station at 139 The Great Road. 

Speaking against the article, Nina Tate told Town Meeting, “We must let the current project be completed. I see this article as a continued attempt to derail” the plan. 

Marc Levitin said the petition was advanced by opponents of a fire station at 139 The Great Road. “Let the process go forward,” he said.

Anne Bickford, one of the petition signatories, said when Town Meeting votes on bonding the new headquarters – expected at a Special Town Meeting in June – “we need to know what the full picture is for public safety needs. We should have the information about what is coming next when we vote. This article does not seek to undercut; it seeks to get the project moving.”

In answer to a comment from Joel Parks, Mitchell said she could envision turning to the substation issue once the town breaks ground on the headquarters facility.

Peter Ricci, who is a veteran firefighter in Lexington, asked what would be the harm in creating the ad hoc committee.

“I don’t see anything in this petition that would give me confidence in its output,” said resident Jim Katz. “I don’t see how, in two months, a committee that doesn’t even exist is going to provide any kind of valid output.” 

Angel Pettitt felt that specifying the composition of the study committee is a “disservice” to other qualified candidates, and he added that it lacks professional expertise in compiling and presenting data.

Erin Rathe pointed out that the Planning Board is preparing to launch a comprehensive planning process that could incorporate the issue.

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