Canton needs a ‘smarter, visionary’ choice on town garage issue

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Collinsville Mill Pond, site of proposed reconstructed Canton DPW Garage

The focus this year has been on the national political races with all their ugliness, hyperbole, and vehemence.  It is interesting to observe the same phenomenon playing out in Canton, which is voting on a referendum about whether to reconstruct the town DPW garage in its current location on the Farmington River.

It’s a classic small town issue that is a microcosm of the national frustration and exhaustion.  And, like so many national debates, the real issue is often lost amidst passionate accusations and mind-numbing details.

In Canton, the core issues are ones of principle: How much does the town value its natural resources, and how does it weigh immediate action against long-term vision, public safety, and growth?  Unfortunately in Canton, as happens so often on the national front, the long-term issues are unaddressed by the politicians.

Canton’s Board of Selectmen chose to seek a short-term solution to the town’s garage problem.  In August, with new and unvetted preliminary plans in hand, they voted to advance the project to a town vote despite widespread and vocal opposition.   The resulting firestorm has pitted neighbors against each other and brought out some poor behaviors in otherwise civilized people.

What everyone agrees upon is that Canton needs a new garage, and soon.  The existing decrepit garage is too small, dangerous for our employees, expensive to maintain, and does not provide sufficient storage for our vehicles.  Canton needs to build a new garage. Tthe question is where.  Three previous referendums have failed and so the selectmen, in their frustration, are willing to settle for reconstructing on the river just to end the discussions.

But reconstructing on the river is a terrible idea.

Canton residents love our river — it founded the town, brings beauty and economic vitality to us every day, and is even part of the town seal.  Constructing a large industrial building on the last remaining open piece of riverfront is a travesty.

The plans have been opposed by the town’s Building Committee, the Conservation Commission, and the Collinsville Historic District Commission. The Town Plan of Conservation and Development specifically seeks to move the garage off the river and reclaim the space for recreation, as have the two previous plans.

The Upper Mill Pond Study report (2011) prioritized moving the garage.  A town survey last spring showed a majority of residents preferred moving the garage, and public meetings have shown vast opposition to reconstruction.  Issues include the dangers of building a new public safety facility in a flood zone; the high expense of mitigation and site work; the loss of recreational use of this land; and the inability of the small site to provide the size and kind of facility the town needs now and in the future.

It may be a quick fix, but it is a bad long-term solution.

Sometimes politicians, despite good intentions, make bad decisions for our communities.  Then it is up to the voters to correct their mistakes.  On this coming election day, Canton voters will need to choose between a short-term “let’s be done with it” fix, or a thoughtful, long-term solution to the town’s needs.

I hope that Canton will make the smarter, visionary choice and vote no on this referendum.  Let’s direct our selectmen to redirect this energy into another, better site. There are alternatives, this will not slow down the construction schedule, and we’ll have a better, safer, lasting facility for the town.

Sarah Faulkner lives in the Collinsville section of Canton.

What do you think?

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