To the Editor:
The $1,250,000 multi-use pathway project was misrepresented to the BOF and to the voting public. The town advisory question asked if we supported funding $250,000 (20%) for a sidewalk project on Sport Hill Road. Omitted from the provided information are numerous concerns that directly impact all of us.
- This grant requires a project sponsor who is responsible for fully funding (100%) the entire project. Upon completion, if it meets the grant requirements/stipulations and passes the project audit, the state will reimburse 80% of the $1,250,000.00 cost for the walkway. The project sponsor is also responsible for the design, construction, quality control and management of this project. The advisory question merely asked if we approved the 20% match ($250,000).
- The grant approval criteria requires the following:
- Create an all-inclusive budget. The budget presented was based on a conceptual framework, making it impossible to formulate an all-inclusive budget. Is the $1,250,000 proposed figure adequate, inadequate or excessive?
- Document that the 20% match is from readily available funds. Neither the Town nor the Board of Finance have formally approved any funding. Therefore, who provided authorization for the 20% match in the grant application?
- Does this project expand or connect directly to existing bicycle, pedestrian, or TRANSIT FACILITIES? Sport Hill Road currently has no bicycle, pedestrian or transit facilities. Therefore, we do not meet the “expand or connect” requirement.
- Does this project provide safety-related infrastructure? (e.g. lighting) During the Q&A, Justin Giorlando noted that there is no lighting included in this proposal.
- If we are the sponsor and responsible for the walkway construction, what is the Town’s liability?
- The Town was presented with no other options for a pathway between Helen Keller and the Village Store. Is there a more cost-effective alternative and why were other options not considered? The parameters of the Transportation Alternatives Step-Aside grant include “construction, planning and design of on-road and off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and other non-motorized forms of transportation.”
- This funding opportunity has broad parameters. “These set-aside funds encompass smaller-scale transportation improvement projects that may include bicycle and pedestrian facilities, recreational trails, safe routes to school, historic preservation/vegetation management, and environmental mitigation related to stormwater and habitat connectivity.” Why was P&Z the sole authority to prepare this grant application? Why wasn’t a committee established to consider best options for this grant proposal, besides a HKMS sidewalk to the Village Store?
These are questions that we expect our leaders to address, specifically our Board of Selectmen. Dr. Bindleglass admitted at the last Board of Finance meeting that he knew the sidewalk grant was a reimbursable project, yet he never shared that information with the Board of Finance or us. He authorized adding the advisory question to the special vote, and supported its approval despite this misinformation. Why did he do this, and what’s the true motivation behind this project?
Easton deserves better, particularly when contemplating an expensive project that has not been properly vetted. Regardless of whether you have a pro or con opinion on this project, you should be deeply troubled with this lack of transparency and misguided leadership. The sidewalk project has ignited a flame of controversy, including disparaging and inappropriate comments directed at some of our Board of Finance members, particularly Andy Kachele (the chair).
The three BOF “nay” votes resulted in exposing serious concerns with the sidewalk project. Their decision reflects the stewardship and due diligence that are required in performing fiduciary duties honorably. We trust our local leaders to be forthcoming and this matter has eroded that trust and divided our community. If it’s this today, what’s coming tomorrow?