Residents find flaws in proposed Wareham road bylaw
Residents of Wareham’s "unaccepted" roads are facing a choice: pay for the materials needed to repair their roads, or opt out of the town maintaining those roads at all.
The Town of Wareham Road Commissioners held a forum Monday night to get public input on a proposed Unaccepted Way bylaw revision, which would offer residents living on unaccepted roads the option of maintenance by Wareham’s Municipal Maintenance Department.
“Unaccepted” roads in this instance refer to roads which, for various reasons, are not yet eligible for acceptance by the town. Most unaccepted roads are open to the public with no obstructions, and look no different than accepted roads through the town.
Others, marked "private" are not eligible for town maintenance under the proposed bylaw. The private signage may be removed, but even after that, there is a 12-month moratorium before town maintenance will begin. Currently 531 roads in Wareham are unaccepted, of 977 total named streets. The hearing dealt mainly with the unaccepted roads open to the public, which are not currently maintained by the town.
The maintenance in question includes grading roads, tree trimming and snow plowing. The bylaw also proposes a "revolving fund" which will allow the director of Municipal Maintenance to draw funds for unaccepted road repair. The funds will be generated from billings to abutters of unaccepted roads.
Wareham Road Commission Chair Bill Heaney explained the proposed bylaw and asked for constructive criticism from those at the well-attended hearing. There had been rumbles of concern when Heaney told the audience that under the terms of the proposed bylaw, they would be responsible for any material costs incurred during repair. Any costs would be split evenly between the resident abutters of the road needing repair.
“Do we have the option of vetoing the cost if it’s too expensive?” asked Edward Pacewicz.
“Well, no, not under the terms set out here,” said Heaney.
“So the town can come in, say they need to do repairs, and charge me without my consent?” echoed Peter Barrows. “I pay taxes. Why do the people on the accepted roads not have to pay for materials and we do?”
Heaney told him those were the terms, but that if 51 percent of the street wanted to opt out of the bylaw, they were free to do so by submitting signatures to the Road Commission. “You don’t have to be a part of it, but the program is meant to repair roads, which is what the bylaw is created for,” said Heaney.
Wareham Town Moderator Claire Smith explained that 20 years ago the town did maintain unaccepted roads.
“At one point there was a lawsuit nearby, and the state clamped down, as the ruling is that you can’t use town money on unaccepted streets," she said. "If there was room in the town budget for maintenance of the unaccepted roads, it would be accepted, because the money would have been raised properly.”
Selectman Alan Slavin agreed.
“We did use Chapter 90 funds,” he said. “We were trying to do a good thing, but we weren’t supposed to do it. We got caught.”
Several attendees questioned how, if their street chose to opt out of the program, emergency services would get down the unplowed roads.
“If you choose to opt out, I think it’s a good idea to have a plan for how the roads will be plowed,” said Police Chief Kevin Walsh. “But that’s an emergency, we aren’t going to pass by because the roads are unplowed. We call a town snow plow and follow them in.”
Suggestions abounded for modifying the bylaw, most concerning resident approval of costs. Pacewicz offered the idea of a maximum cost, of which anything higher would need to be approved by the resident abutters of the road.
The question of why the unaccepted roads weren’t simply accepted was raised. Heaney explained that the roads, as of a law passed recently, required very stringent qualifications, and it would take a lot of time and expense to bring all of the roads up to par.
The bylaw is up for public vote at Wareham’s Town Meeting on April 24.