Intersection safety, Fire Dept. boat purchase headline Selectboard meeting

By Heather McKim

The Aug.14 meeting of the Selectboard offered an update on the Route 7 paving project, sidewalks, and other town projects. Two issues took center stage at the Tuesday night meeting.

First, the community had a chance to listen to a presentation by staff from Stantec Consulting and discuss the study of the Route 7/Harbor Road/Falls Road intersection in a local concerns meeting.

“This board has discussed this a number of times,” Chair Bill Smith said. Smith noted that the intersection is a priority in the long-range plans of the community.

The three roads that meet at the intersection are heavily traveled, with US 7 seeing the heaviest traffic. Each day, more than 17,000 cars use the road. Meanwhile, approximately 5,000 cars utilize Falls Road, and several thousand cars likewise use Harbor Road.

The stated purpose of the project is “to create a safe and efficiently operating intersection to enhance the mobility, access, and safety for all users including vehicles, transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists.”

Several potential alternatives that could be used to ease the strain on the intersection were discussed. Adding a roundabout, creating one-way southbound on Falls Road, split phasing of the signal, and eliminating left turns at intersection on US 7 were possibilities that had arisen from conducted research.

Community members voiced their thoughts and concerns regarding the project. One man raised the concern that, as a Shelburne resident and business owner, he had not received notice about the surveying.

Multiple citizens raised concerns about the heavy level of school traffic that passes through the intersection. One man noted that, during times when traffic is flowing to or from the school, people who live in the neighborhood are “virtually prisoners.”

The local concerns meeting was not the only hot issue of the evening. Also on the evening’s agenda was consideration of the purchase of a 1990 22’6” Boston Whaler Guardian Commercial Dive/Rescue Vessel for the Shelburne Fire Department for $36,150.

Currently, there is no way for the department to fight a fire on the water. It is also difficult to perform water rescues using the 16’-long Zodiac that is the sole vessel currently in use by the department.

Over the span of the past four years, the fire department has been dispatched to over 30 requests for marine assistance. This has included vessel fires, missing boaters and swimmers, vessel collisions, medical emergencies, capsized vessels, hazardous material containment, and vessel in distress calls.

The zodiac vessel was designed to be operated in flat, shallow water during daylight hours with good visibility and mild weather conditions. Due to the nature of its design, crewmembers must sit on top of the inflatable air bladders on either side of the open cockpit. This leaves them completely exposed to the elements.

“It’s hard for you to do your job, and it’s unsafe,” Chair Bill Smith said after hearing the initial presentation regarding the need for the vessel.

The boat would benefit not only Shelburne but other communities as well. Fire companies provide mutual aid to other towns.

Board members expressed interest in the purchase of the boat. However, there was a question of funding.

“We cannot fund things out of budget. We do not have discretionary funds [for this],” Smith said.

The only available option would be to put the issue on the ballot in November for voters to decide. However, there were concerns about the continued availability of the boat for that length of time. While the Santa Barbara-based owner has expressed the desire to sell the vessel to the department, the firefighters were unsure whether the craft would continue to be held for another three months until Shelburne voters could choose at the ballot box.

Unwilling to deny the request for the purchase of the needed vessel, the Selectboard chose to table the issue for the moment.

The meeting wrapped up with the Board denying a request from Craig Pepper for relief from penalty and interest for the late payment of property taxes and decided to set a fee of $15 for temporary signs in the Mixed Use District.

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