PHOTO BY GREG VINE
PHOTO BY GREG VINE
ATHOL — With fall still nearly a week away, it’s admittedly a little early to start thinking about the winter holidays. For Athol’s Downtown Vitality Committee (DVC) and Public Works Department, however, it’s not too early to start thinking about how sidewalks will be cleared once the snow begins to fly.
DPW Director Dick Kilhart and Assistant Director Paul Raskevitz met with the DVC during its meeting on Tuesday to discuss the department’s plans for ensuring that, as much as possible, heavily traveled sidewalks in downtown Athol and several other areas are kept clear for pedestrians following significant snowfalls.
“We have been authorized to spend some snow and ice dollars for rental equipment for sidewalk snow removal,” Kilhart told the committee. “Some of the area that we already clear are going to be added to, with the potential of having sidewalks on Templeton Road. MassDOT is going to have sidewalks going toward Market Basket. That’s on the TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan) plan. Right now, that’s a two and half million (dollar) project. It could be three million by the time it’s done.”
Kilhart said the town has also spoken to the state about possibly adding sidewalks from the area of McDonald’s and Cumberland Farms to Hannaford Plaza on Route 2A.
“When the DOT adds new sidewalks,” he continued, “the caveat there is that you maintain those sidewalks; and when I say ‘you,’ I mean all of us — the town. As these two pieces of sidewalk get added — and the town spent $250,000 to put a nice new sidewalk up Pleasant Street — and if you live on Pleasant Street, I’m not picking on you, but there’s a town bylaw that requires you to maintain your sidewalk. The kids go to school and they’re walking in the road up there.”
Kilhart then said he and Raskevitz are looking at purchasing sidewalk snow removal equipment rather than renting.
“We’re spending thousands of dollars on renting pieces of equipment,” he said. “Maybe we can at least initiate the process of adding a sidewalk snow removal machine, second hand, or something like that. We were successful this year in locating a traditional sidewalk machine that we hope to add to the fleet. We don’t have it yet. We’ve been authorized to spend a few dollars from snow and ice, which is where we normally spend rental money, to purchase a second-hand piece of equipment.”
The DPW chief told the committee his crews will continue to clear sidewalks that have traditionally been maintained in downtown Athol, with the potential of adding other locations, including Pleasant Street. The addition of the sidewalk machine, said Kilhart, will allow the task to be done more efficiently.
“It’s mine and Paul’s intention to kind of move in that direction of starting to clear as our staff allows us to do that,” he said. “But it’s not a piece of equipment that’s exclusively for downtown or Pleasant Street. We do do a good handful of sidewalks already and there will be some additional ones.”
Kilhart said one of the issues DPW has to deal with is a result of activity by the local electric utility.
“National Grid puts telephone poles in the middle of our sidewalks,” he explained. “We’re fighting an uphill battle with National Grid on that. You take a 45- or 50-inch sidewalk snow blowing machine, you can’t get through on the sidewalk. So, there are some things we kind of have to work through.
“Cleaning up downtown; we actually believe this will enhance our downtown cleanup effort when we do snow removal,” he said.
“It costs a lot of money in the middle of the night,” added Raskevitz, “to have 22 personnel come in for eight hours of overtime. We don’t clear downtown as much as we would like to, so we’re hoping now that it will swing that pendulum back to where it’s more cost effective. We’re going to be able to do more with less equipment to deal with snowbanks.”
Raskevitz said a new sidewalk snow removal machine costs in the vicinity of $160,000. He added that the town has been able to find a second-hand machine for $35,000 which only has about a thousand hours of use on it.
“We were a town,” said Kilhart, “but now we’re kind of a small city, and small cities do things a little differently than rural communities. There’s that balance in there of, what can we do with the resources that we have. Like everybody else, our resources are limited and we’re putting our DPW experience to work and saying, ‘What can we do to actually make the situation a bit better on the current confines (of the budget).’”
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PHOTO BY GREG VINE