Road Commissioners pull back on controversial bylaw
The Wareham Road Commissioners made a U-turn on a controversial bylaw that would have dramatically altered how “unaccepted” streets in town are maintained.
Instead of the sweeping changes initially proposed, the commissioners have recommended rules that slightly tweak the existing bylaw. The bylaw change will be voted on at the April 24 Town Meeting, set for 7 p.m. in the Wareham High School auditorium.
Road Commissioner Chair Bill Heaney said the switch came about following a policy change Selectmen approved just last week.
“When you see the new article, lay it side by side with the existing bylaw, everything is the same except for three issues,” said Heaney.
In it’s original draft, the Unaccepted Way Bylaw was the subject of a packed public forum where many were in opposition. Selectmen, speaking about the bylaw last month, questioned the commissioners about several aspects.
Under the bylaw, residents of “unaccepted roads” would have needed to pay for town labor and materials to bring those streets up to certain standards designed to ensure town plows wouldn’t be damaged while working.
Unaccepted roads refers to streets that haven’t been approved as rights of ways by the town. Those roads are open to the public and often are undistinguishable from accepted roads.
The bylaw would not have affected private roads, which are not eligible for town maintenance and are closed to the public.
The costs would have been split evenly between all dwellings on the road, with a maximum cost of $400 per dwelling, per project. Projects exceeding that cost limit would place the road on the town’s "do not plow" list until the project is fixed by the town or the abutters.
The bylaw would have required 5 percent of road abutters to request opting into the maintenance program; however, 51 percent of abutters would have needed to sign a petition in order to opt back out.
On Tuesday, Heaney presented Selectmen with a copy of the altered bylaw. Changes include language that says the town’s municipal maintenance director will determine when routine repairs must be made to unaccepted roads and that the labor and equipment to do so will be provided by the town.
Heaney noted that the commissioners approved the changes at their meeting held two hours before the Selectmen’s meeting.
Because the changes were received late, Selectmen declined to vote on a recommendation until they had time to review it. Board members are expected to provide a recommendation on Monday.