Emergency center location a thorny issue
by Margo Avakian
Feb 21, 2013 | 1689 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- Emergency management co-director Justin Berry presented the selectboard with a written report profiling the various possible sites for the town’s emergency operations center. Calling the report “a good start,” vice chair Edee Edwards asked the EMDs to summarize it and give their recommendations. Berry said that, while his co-director, board chair Lewis Sumner, considers keeping the EOC at the firehouse to be the best option, Berry himself recommends moving the EOC to the town office. His secondary recommendation was to locate it at the town garage.

“Any of these places will need work,” Berry concluded.

Town clerk Patricia Dow then submitted her thoughts on the issue. Dow said she wants to “really discourage putting the main operations of the EOC here (in the office).” Dow considers the firehouse “more amenable” for EOC operations even if “it doesn’t look as nice to some people.” She noted that the firehouse has some kitchen facilities, and that changes such as rewiring and removing excess furniture could make it suitable.

Dow’s two principal objections to locating the EOC at the town office are that it could compromise the security of the town’s records, for which the clerk is responsible, and that it could threaten the security of the school. The town office is in the school building. Saying that she is “deeply concerned about the safety of the school,” Dow suggested that school officials “might not even let children out during recess for fear of (there being) too many people here.” Dow further speculated that an attempt to site the EOC in that building could spark “an uprising” among parents and “maybe the school board.”

Edwards pointed out that, “We lease these offices. We don’t normally have to ask permission to use them.” Taking some exception to the suggestion that her concern was how “nice” things look, Edwards reiterated that she is concerned with efficient function; she also reminded everyone that during Irene, she had been unable to get into the firehouse EOC because of flooding.

Wayne Courser rose to say that a recent emergency drill held at the firehouse went well and that he has heard no complaints. The EOC, Courser said, should not be moved “just to make one member of the selectboard happy, and maybe others behind the scenes.” Courser dismissed the suggestion of adding a trailer to create a mobile communications and equipment storage unit. “It’s just another headache,” Courser concluded.

Board member Earl Holtz commented that “it is also important to preserve the functionality of the firehouse,” which could in some circumstances be impaired if the EOC is monopolizing some of the fire department’s space and facilities. Holtz also noted that the school board may be willing to share its facility with the EOC if necessary.

Former town clerk Laura Sumner emphatically supported Dow’s position, repeating many of the arguments made earlier. Sumner also brought up some ongoing security issues with the office, implying that putting the EOC there would exacerbate them. Most of the personnel handling an emergency, Sumner said, are fire department, highway, and emergency medical crews all of whom are comfortable at the fire department.

“I hate to say it,” Sumner added, “but could there be a hidden agenda behind this rush to decision?”

Both Holtz and Edwards objected strongly to the suggestion that there is any “hidden agenda” behind the open and inclusive process the board has been following. “We’ve been trying to do this since one month after Irene,” Edwards pointed out. “We’re not rushing!”

The lively discussion continued for some time, touching on a variety of issues without a conclusion. Margaret Bartenhagen summed up the topic by expressing her concern that “resistance to even looking at” other sites “suggests to me that we haven’t learned anything” from the experience of Irene.

In other business, the board signed the annual highway mileage report, which includes Weir and Sumner Farm roads, bringing the total of class 4 roads in the town to 6.94 miles. Because of ongoing questions from the state regarding the history of those two roads, Edwards suggested consulting town attorney Robert Fisher on the correct way to officially “dedicate and accept” Weir and Sumner Farm roads while stipulating that the town has maintained them for close to 100 years, even though the board cannot find documentation for the original “dedication and acceptance.”

The board also voted to contract with environmental engineers to do the work necessary to safely and officially close out well monitoring and ground water testing at the site of the old town garage, and to pursue previously unclaimed reimbursement for monitoring and testing expenses. The cost of the current proposed work is $6,000 (or less, if the town’s own excavator is used); the reimbursement would total $10,000.

A six-month report on FY13 expenditures showed that spending on the selectboard budget is well below 50%, and the highway department has spent well over half of its allotted funds. Much of that spending was for gravel and maintenance. The board concluded that highway supervisor Bradley Rafus “needs to be part of this conversation.”
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