WHITMAN — Fire Chief Timothy Grenno and town IT Director Joshua MacNeil announced at the Tuesday, Oct. 23 Selectmen’s meeting that Whitman has received a $199,601 state Community Compact IT Grant.
The funds will enable the town to make improvements to radio communication infrastructure to improve coverage for police and fire operations.
Selectmen and Planning Board members also met jointly and voted to appoint Elaine Bergeron and Adam Somerville to the Planning Board to fill vacancies. Both terms expire May 18. The Planning Board will keep résumés of candidates Adele Carew and Jerry Blumenthal on file in case another vacancy crops up. All four were encouraged to run for office in the next Town Election.
Grenno and MacNeil, reporting on the communications grant, said Whitman was among 44 communities receiving the funds for Fiscal 2019 — and was awarded the most cash on the list.
“When it gets into public safety, the fire and police departments’ communication systems are pretty much their lifeline,” Grenno said. Last year he and Police Chief Scott Benton sat down with MacNeil and Town Administrator Frank Lynam to assess the communications infrastructure in town and submitted an article to the Finance Committee to replace the radio systems and network.
“Mine is 11 years old and [Benton’s] have been failing at alarming rates,” Grenno said. “There just wasn’t funding for it last year and we were looking for different options.”
The Community Compact IT Grant provides $2 million to eligible communities with a cap of $200,000 per project, according to MacNeil.
“We’re always looking for ways that we can do better and provide what we can for the community at little to no cost and this is a great example,” he said, noting that a small portion of the work would still need to be added later. But the main goal was to provide full coverage to Whitman Middle School and WHRHS.
“Those two buildings have some deficiencies that are problematic and, unfortunately, public safety — when they’re trying to communicate — receiving communications in those buildings is very difficult at times and has interrupted communications on different incidents,” MacNeil said.
Grenno also reported that concerns voiced on gas leaks reported at the intersection of routes 18 and 14.
“I’ll tell you that there was a Grade One leak at that intersection back in September,” Grenno said. “The gas company did respond, they deemed it a Grade One leak, they had crews there that evening and that Grade One leak was repaired in the overnight hours that night.”
He said there have been two or three Grade One leaks since the National Grid lockout started four months ago, but he has not seen any effect on response time to major problems despite the labor dispute.
“It’s a tough time right now, both Columbia Gas and National Grid have a moratorium against them,” he said. “It’s not pretty out there in the gas world, but as far as this town goes whatever Grade One leaks we have had have been handled in a timely fashion.”
The interviews with Planning Board candidates were among the first orders of business before Selectmen Tuesday. Somerville received seven votes, and on a second ballot between Bergeron and Blumenthal — Bergeron then garnered six votes. The new members were then sworn in by Town Clerk Dawn Varley, so they could attend the evening’s Planning Board meeting.
Somerville, has been a gas company sub for 25 years with experience in underground utilities including water and electric as well as gas. He also has construction experience and had owned his own residential building company for about eight years.
“As long as I know a couple of days ahead of time, I could be anywhere at any time,” he said of his availability for meetings.
Bergeron, who interviewed with both boards Sept. 24, has served on the Finance Committee in the 1970s and has been a member of the Whitman-Hanson Scholarship Foundation for almost 40 years as well as serving as an election worker. She is currently a senior vice president director of personal insurance, overseeing a staff of 60 both directly and indirectly, for a large insurance agency. Among her duties are figuring out what houses are worth and how they should be insured.
Blumenthal had to leave the Sept. 24 meeting early, due to a family emergency, and Somerville interviewed this week. He is also a former Finance Committee member. A civil engineer on municipal transportation projects as well as for state and private colleges and universities Blumenthal has been a resident engineer for the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and is retiring next week. He had also served on the School Building Committee that worked on WHRHS, but has limited experience in residential development.