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A Game of Legal Cat-and-Mouse Damages the Public Interest

The supply of low-cost, highly reliable electric power is one of the great blessings of living in this town. As the American economy has become increasingly sophisticated and complex, a reliable supply of electricity becomes crucial for protection of people and property, not to mention the local economy. Ice and heavy snow storms of recent winters have highlighted how much more safe and secure the supply of electricity is in Groton compared with surrounding towns which have often suffered through long power outages during bitter winter weather. Typical of what happens in many surrounding towns, my elderly parents living in Harvard endured without power for more than three winter weeks not so long ago, forced to run a generator that needed to be refueled every six hours. This and other power interruptions were due to long-deferred tree work on public ways by National Grid. Power outages in Groton are usually measured in minutes or hours rather than days because of intensive line maintenance and tree trimming along the town's roads, and the fact that the management and crews are local people familiar with the locale.

We hear much--rightly so--about the dedicated and dangerous work of our firefighters, but not so much about the equally dedicated and dangerous work of Groton Electric Light Department employees. Both departments' work is equally important in protecting the health, property, safety and security of residents. Unfortunately, a dismissive attitude toward GELD seems to us to exist in some quarters of town government. While the town indulges seemingly endless arguments about a new Fire station, GELD seems to get nothing but roadblocks in their quest for much-needed new facilities. How can this be?

Since GELD is an independent agency not under direct control of town government, could there be a subtle tendency within town government to see its plans as vaguely alien or suspect? We understand the political and emotional motivation for such attitudes, but to the extent that such bias exists, it needs to stop now. It is not in the best interest of the health, safety and security of town residents.

Specifically, we are concerned about delays in approval for GELD's plans to remain in its current location on Station Avenue. There have been suggestions to move GELD entirely to make way for more gentrified, mixed use development. There seems to be a feeling that Electric Light Department operations are somehow 'industrial' and would be better suited for a remote location.

We disagree. In our view maintaining GELD's Station Avenue location has value for social and symbolic reasons, in addition to providing for the best service. Many residents like to pay their bill in person by dropping it off at the office. This is an important social ritual and a point of personal connection between ratepayers and the department. If the office were in a remote location, it is unlikely that this ritual would continue for many. In addition, it is important to have our institutional, public buildings near the seat of government, town hall. Main Street is not only for business. It is the public plaza, a place for the public face of our institutions, a place for the public to gather and be seen. These buildings and their occupants help keep us all in touch with our common work and goals as a town.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the ultimate purpose of our bylaws is to help guide us to fair reasonable and just results. In trying to find such solutions we often seem to focus on details, on legalisms. These legalisms end up leading to a game of 'gottcha'.

In our view, the Conservation Commission is playing an unfortunate cat-and-mouse game with the Electric Light Department. The whole Station Avenue area along the rail trail has been used for industrial purposes for well over 100 years. May and Hally was the site of coal and fuel oil storage and distribution for many years. Buckingham Bus company has been used to park and maintain a commercial bus fleet for many years. The Rail Trail itself was the roadbed for trains and the Groton Depot was used to store and distribute coal for the trains for years.

For the Conservation Commission to be unwilling to quickly reach a fair and equitable solution, preventing GELD from moving forward quickly and stopping them from building infrastructure that is so clearly in the public interest, is wrong. Under the Charter it appears to us that Selectmen have the right, even the responsibility, to intervene in such cases. We hope they can find a way to remove the roadblocks from this project.

Groton Herald

Mailing Address
P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
[Prescott Community Center]

Telephone: 978-448-6061

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