Select Board Rejects Pitch to Back Petitioners’ Article

The Bedford Select Board is recommending that Annual Town Meeting reject a petitioners’ article calling for establishment of an ad hoc committee to review information that could support construction of a Fire Department substation and “assess the overall current public safety need.”

Although the text of the article doesn’t mention a central fire station, the petitioners’ explanatory notes say, “Residents need to consider if this matter 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.”

The petition was filed shortly after the Historic District Commission voted to deny the demolition and design approval required by the town to construct a new fire station at 139 The Great Road in January. Among the 13 residents who signed the petition were several who have opposed that plan.

Since then, the Historic District Commission reconvened to consider amended design plans, and the outcome was reversed in February. The town is scheduled to vote on a fire station construction funding article at a Special Town Meeting on June 10.

The text of the petitioners’ article to be decided in the Annual Town Meeting on March 25 stipulates a seven-member committee, including two at-large members, to meet in April and May and report to the Select Board in June. It also wants the committee to “ask the Board for permission to present the findings at the next Special or Annual Town Meeting.”

Michael Seibert, a former Finance Committee member, is one of the signers, and he presented the petitioners’ article to the Select Board at its Feb. 26 meeting. His slide presentation, and almost all of the discussion, focused on the issue of a substation.

He presented data showing slower response times by emergency vehicles to the northeast part of the town, where over the past several years there has been residential population growth and additional facilities to store flammable materials.

The article is not advocating, but setting up a framework to collect and assess updated information, done by volunteers at no cost, Seibert explained, adding that the Select Board can decide what to do with the report after receiving it.

Several Select Board members felt it is unrealistic for a volunteer committee to do a comprehensive study in a couple of months. 

“I don’t really see what value can come out of a study like that without a consultant,” said Shawn Hanegan. “The main station is a priority and this just has to wait.” 

Margot Fleischman said, “If we are looking for an analysis of the needs of the department, having a consultant come makes sense.” 

Paul Mortenson said, “I don’t see any compelling need.”

A 2015 professional study on the Fire Department’s facility needs took about a year, noted member Emily Mitchell. “How does a volunteer committee with no budget do that?” Seibert replied that the process is intended to “get the process moving,” giving the Select Board options to pursue.

“I respect your position. You are doing what you think is best for Bedford,” said Hanegan, acknowledging the prudence of an eventual consultant’s study on “the possibility of a substation.” 

“There’s actually not a lot that we disagree about,” Mitchell told Seibert. However, she pointed out that in an earlier interview with the Finance Committee, Seibert said he didn’t know who drafted the presentation he made, as the author preferred anonymity.

“We put our name behind what we believe,” said Mitchell, who has been the board’s point person on the fire station for two years. If the authors of the substation remain anonymous, “Why should we take them seriously or even believe that they exist?” 

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