Jun 042014

The Board of Selectmen didn’t waste any time following up on its Monday evening meeting discussions about the proposed Kinder Morgan Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline that would traverse the northern section of Groton.

At the Monday BoS meeting. Vice Chair Josh Degen was unanimously elected this year’s Chair. Selectman Anna Eliot was elected Vice Chair.

Degen began laying out the town’s next steps to gather information and collect resident’s concerns about the pipeline plan on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A follow-up to last week’s initial “Information Session” is planned for Monday, June 16th, at 7 p.m. in the Groton-Dunstable Middle School Performing Arts Center. It was initially thought that Groton Electric Light Commissioner Kevin Lindemer, who works as a Managing Director for consulting firm IHS would be involved, but a company official advised him not to speak due to potential conflicts with the Massachusetts ethics law, he said. Other panelists and presenters for that meeting have not been announced.

The town has set up a special page on its website, at http://townofgroton.org/town/TennesseeGasPipeline.aspx to track the project and also created a special email address, pipeline@townofgroton.org, to which people can write with questions. Initial plans, announced at the May 29 Information Session and the Monday BoS meeting, were to compile the questions and ask Kinder Morgan company representatives to answer them.

Degen wrote in an email, “This is not the meeting with Kinder Morgan that will occur on June 23rd, although I am fairly sure that some of their personnel may attend clandestinely. We will have representatives there to help answer questions.”

“Then on June 23, at 7 p.m., Kinder Morgan will send their representatives to an open meeting hosted by Lawrence Academy. I don’t think you should expect much, but please attend and ask tough questions — don’t accept ‘No’ for an answer,” he wrote.

Degen said that the meeting on June 16 may also include a vote by the Board of Selectmen to set a Special Town Meeting date, asking residents to vote on a nonbinding resolution against the pipeline. The meeting could not occur before 45 days after the June 16 meeting, which would place it in late July or early August.

The June 16 meeting may also herald the start of one or two town-sponsored pipeline-related groups, At the Monday night BoS meeting, Selectman Jack Petropoulos advocated for a “Working Group” of selectmen, the town manager, a GELD representative, a Conservation Commission representative, a regional School Committee representative, and residents to gather and distribute facts on the proposed pipeline.

Since the BoS meeting, there have been informal discussions about setting up a “Task force to work with other towns that face this same issue. We are looking for volunteers to serve on this endeavor,” Degen said. He asked that people interested in working on the task force contact him at pipeline@townofgroton.org.

May 182014

This year’s election for Water Commissioner is not just about controlling invasive species in Baddacook Pond. The outcome of the Water Commission election will determine if the Water Commission will remain truly independent, as it was designed to be. As a member of the Groton Electric Light Board, I know from experience how important a truly independent elected board is for good stewardship of rate payer funds. Mr. Degan has been an exemplary Selectman representing us as tax payers. However, his candidacy for a concurrent seat on the Water Commission raises some important issues.

It is important to have some background to put this issue into context:

  • The Great Ponds Committee, which is opposed to the Water Commission’s decision to not allow the herbicide Sonar to be used near the Baddacook well, is a body that was appointed by the Board of Selectmen
  • As we know, the Water Commission is an independent elected body whose main charge is safe drinking water at the most affordable prices taking into consideration both short and very long term risk
  • The Great Ponds Committee have been very public with their disagreement of the Water Commission’s decision in public meetings and forums including those with the Board of Selectmen
  • Several members of the Board of Selectmen have also publicly expressed their disagreement with the Water Commission’s decision against the use of Sonar
  • A sitting Selectman, Josh Degan, has decided to run for a seat on the Water Commission against an incumbent who voted against the use of the herbicide Sonar
  • Mr. Degan has publicly stated his support for the use of Sonar to control invasive plants in Baddacook Pond
  • The manager of the Water Department reports directly to the Town Manager who also reports to the Board of Selectmen

Should a sitting Selectman be elected to the Water Commission?

  • There is a risk the Water Commission loses its independence and becomes an extension of the Board of Selectmen with one of the three commissioners a member of the Board of Selectmen and the superintendent reporting to the Town Manager
  • There is a risk the safety of the public water supply becomes a political issue and not necessarily an issue of long-term risk avoidance
  • There is a risk that Water Commission will not always act with the interest of its current and future rate payers as its first priority

Mr. Degan has already offered to recuse himself from Water Commission votes that may conflict with his Board of Selectmen’s role. In effect, acknowledging the possibility of conflicts and, therefore, reducing the effectiveness of the Water Commission should he be elected.

This particular situation is legal, but that doesn’t mean it is in the interest of the water rate payers. Mr. Degan may be able to remain independent and keep the Water Commission independent. However, the loss of an independent Water Commission only increases risk for rate payers with little to no benefit.

Kevin Lindemer
227 Boston Road

Jun 072013
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series GELD PILOT and Permitting Process

GELD Commissioners talk with Selectmen Peter Cunningham (l) and Jack Petropoulos

Art Campbell
GELD Commissioners discuss permitting process postmortem with Selectmen Peter Cunningham (l) and Jack Petropoulos Wednesday evening.

Two days after an acrimonious Board of Selectmen’s meeting during which the Groton Electric Light Department commissioners got the attention of the BoS by cutting GELD’s annual PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) in half, the GELD commissioners, BoS Chairman Peter Cunningham, and Selectman Jack Petropoulos ate cookies together and talked about the two board’s differences.

At the end of an hour and a half of polite conversation, they agreed that GELD Manager Kevin Kelly and Town Manager Mark Haddad will conduct a “postmortem” examination on the utility’s long and troubled planning and permitting process for a new headquarters building.

The two-year long process cost $242,000, $151,000 more than the utility had anticipated. It also required multiple rounds of presentations and Q&A appearances before several of the town’s permitting bodies, including the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board. The final set of permits were issued in December 2012; groundbreaking may begin this August near the utility’s buildings on Station Avenue.

To recover some of the overage and as a gesture of protest and a call to action to improve the town’s development process, GELD commissioners voted to reduce the utility’s annual voluntary payment to the town from $30,000 to $15,000. When they delivered the news in a BoS meeting on Monday, June 3, selectmen were angered and members of both boards traded accusations of who was more at fault for the problems the utility had encountered.

At the GELD Commissioner’s regular meeting Wednesday evening, everyone agreed to disagree, at least until more information was available.

“We’ve agreed that we’re going to do the postmortem — to me, that’s one of the most important things we can do,” GELD Commissioner Kevin Lindemer said. “I think both the Board of Selectmen and the light committee can commit to: We’re going to embark on this as a kind of a process; we’re going to work toward closing the gap that we’ve identified between our two poles. We commit that we’re going to try very hard not to escalate this further.”

Cunnningham agreed, and said, “I think that’s important to do. We may well find that there are some elements of it (the permitting process) that you could view as satisfactory and others that come back to the process, or in the way the application was prepared, as flawed.”

Kelly estimated that he and Haddad could complete the postmortem in 100 days, but a firm deadline was not set. Kelly and Haddad are expected to gather and analyze applications for permits, talk to members of the several town boards who worked on GELD’s plans, gather committee meeting minutes, and eventually construct a timeline of events that track the permitting process.

Identifying problems with either the process or the applications for permits may be a second phase. If problems with the process are identified, figuring out solution may be a third phase, Kelly said.

The GELD commissioners were firm in their commitment not to change their reduced PILOT contribution at this time, despite Cunningham’s and Petropoulos’s efforts to move them in that direction.

Apart from the postmortem, two other potential ways to help the utility recover its high permitting costs were discussed:

  • One option is to consider ways the town may waive fees for the new building’s building and electric permits, which could cost around $32,000.
  • Selling a 15 acre tract of land GELD owns off Sandy Pond Road that abuts the Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary owned by Mass Audubon. The tract is rich in ledge and endangered Blandings turtles, and includes a notable a vernal pool. Cunningham thought the Conservation Commission may be interested in purchasing it at some point in the future.

Jun 052013
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series GELD PILOT and Permitting Process

GELD Commission Chair Kevin Lindemer tells the Board of Selectmen that GELD's PILOT will be half what they expected.

Art Campbell
GELD Commission Chair Kevin Lindemer tells the Board of Selectmen that GELD’s PILOT will be half what they expected.

Sparks flew at Monday evening’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting when the Commissioners of the Groton Electric Light Department told the Board of Selectmen that GELD was reducing its annual payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) to the town from $30,000 to $15,000. As a town department and municipal utility, GELD does not pay property taxes to the town — instead, it makes a voluntary annual contribution, which this year it chopped in half.

The unanimous decision by the GELD commissioners came in the wake of round after round of appearances in front of town permitting bodies, especially the Conservation Commission and Planning Board, as it sought approval to build new offices and garages on its current lot on Station Avenue, parts of which are defined as wetlands and buffer areas. The new construction was approved months ago, but only after what the GELD commission calls “unconscionable fees” associated with repeated changes and redrawn plans.

GELD began the permitting process in 2010 and received final approval from the last board, the Planning Board, at the very end of 2012. In the early stages of its building proposal, GELD estimated that its permitting fees and the associated plans and legal expenses would be $92,473. At the end of the process, GELD spent that and an additional $151,571, which adds up to $244,044, according to a spreadsheet GELD sent the BoS. GELD manager Kevin Kelly pointed out that instead of going through the town’s permitting process, GELD could have totally bypassed local regulations by getting approval from the state Department of Public Utilities, because the state regulations trump local.

Commission Chairman Kevin Lindemer made the announcement and explained GELD’s reasons, and that angered most of the selectmen. They responded with accusations that GELD had expected special treatment, that the utility had been unprepared for the rigorous permitting examinations, and that the town’s boards and commissions had been bound to enforce the letter of the town’s bylaws.

Chairman Peter Cunningham and Vice Chair Josh Degen both thought GELD’s payment reduction was punitive. Selectwoman Anna Eliot characterized Lindemer’s complaints as “whining,” and pointed out that no one had forced GELD to build where it is constructing its new building. Both Degen and Eliot told the GELD Commissioners to “suck it up” and go on with business. Degen asked the town accountant, Patricia DuFresne, to find the dollar value of the in-kind services the town provides GELD, warning Lindemer that the town could begin charging for what have always been free services.

What we’re doing is that we’d like somebody to fix the accountability and responsibility.

“If you interpret our pointing out that what we went through is unacceptable, as whining, I’m really sorry that that is the only way that you can interpret that. Because I’m not going to back off of it. This is simply dollars and cents and pointing out inefficiencies. If you want to defend a process that is inefficient, hinders development, and causes costs to go up unnecessarily, fine,” Lindemer told the board.

“You keep using the word ‘punish,'” Lindemer said. “What we’re doing is that we’d like somebody to fix the accountability and responsibility.”

The selectmen and Town Manager Mark Haddad were also upset that GELD made the move just weeks before the new fiscal year begins. While the $15,000 cut doesn’t make a huge impact in a $30M+ annual budget, the cut in revenue does have to be made up somewhere.

Coming in the wake of a $100,000 GELD grant to the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District, Lindemer was quick to point out that the utility commissioners were making a point — that the town’s permitting process is broken.

GELD Commissioner Rodney R. Hersh agreed, pointing out that the GELD cut wouldn’t cripple the town. “It was 30 thousand, five of which went to police dispatch and another 25 went to general government. We cut it to five for police dispatch and ten for general government. Now any big organization ought to be able to find one percent waste somewhere and cut it. It’s trivial. Five percent even.”

The new GELD office and garage

The new GELD office and garage

Both Hersh and Lindemer were irked that none of the town boards or commissions would consider granting GELD an exemption from a strict interpretation of the permitting rules, particularly in the wetlands bylaw.

“My understanding is that in the wetlands bylaw, there is language that permits exceptions, for various applications and mitigating circumstances. And those were totally ignored in our case,” Hersh said.

Both commissioners also pointed out that none of the permitting problems would have happened if GELD had built on its existing building’s foot print. But instead, GELD shifted its buildings to the rear of its lot to create more space in the Station Avenue district. The shift in location triggered the extensive reviews.

“We were trying to help the town with some of its goals by moving up the street, and no good deed goes unpunished,” Hersh said.

Cunningham said after the meeting that the GELD PILOT cut wasn’t totally unexpected. “We knew that they were upset about it. They were doing a PILOT at $50,000 at one point and they reduced that to thirty. So I think we knew they were upset about it, about the whole issue of the permitting and what they went through with Conservation (Commission). (According to Lindemer and Kelly, GELD has never given $50,000. Kelly said $50,000 was a suggestion from Haddad to GELD, but the utility’s regular PILOT payment has been $30,000. — Ed.)

“I would repeat what I said in the meeting: Any entity coming in with a major project should come in with an appropriate application with an appropriate development team to advance that project. They did not do that, and many of the problems they’re complaining about, I think, were self-inflicted. If they’d done it right the first time, they wouldn’t have incurred so many expenses.”

If they’d done it right the first time, they wouldn’t have incurred so many expenses.

“But fundamentally, there is the local wetlands protection bylaw that we have adopted, that was approved at a town meeting by voters. Voters knew what they approved when they voted for that. They wanted further restrictions on development close to wetlands, additional protections for endangered species, so on and so forth. That whole conversation took place in 2001 when the bylaw was adopted, so it was certainly well known what the intention of that bylaw was.”

“They’re (GELD Commissioners) pretty much saying, in my view, that town meeting were a bunch of knuckleheads, basically, and they (GELD) should not have to be impacted by those decisions and the actions of the board in enforcing the bylaw,” Cunningham said.

Lindemer allowed that not all of the permitting process was onerous.

“We had about $151,000 that we thought was excessive in the permitting process. And then in the process, the design changes and everything we went through added another… probably $250,000. And some of those changes were perfectly reasonable. Like, working with the Design Review Committee, we worked with them and they were saying, ‘We’d like to have this type of granite and this type of brick and stuff like that,’ and we were all going, ‘Oh yeah, that’s OK, that’s cool,’ to make it look nice and make it part of the community.”

Lindemer pointed out that the amount of GELD’s PILOT contribution is an annual decision, and the commission had not made a long-term decision to fix its contribution at $15,000.

Oct 182012

One of Groton’s best food secrets, a gourmet buffet of heirloom apples, is hiding in plain sight on route 119 south of the town center. Drive down the driveway of the “Oreo Cow” farm with the big gray barn with the simple roadside “Apples” sign… to a long table packed with yellow, orange, red, and (really) blue apples you probably haven’t ever heard the names of or tasted, but need to.

Chris and Kevin Lindemer are the orchardists, carrying on a tradition of farming on the Whitney Farmstead that stretches back to the early days of Groton. They’ve owned the farm since the mid 1990s.

“My wife and I always wanted to do something like this,” Kevin said, “Even before we moved here. We wanted to do something different from the big commercial orchards, something that was unique and we could differentiate. And also was kind of in character with the property because this is so old.”

The Lindemers are the 13th owners of the Whitney Farmstead, one of Groton’s oldest farms. The house on their property dates back to about 1680-1690. Chris wrote ten years ago that: “Deacon Joshua Whitney was one of the pioneer settlers of Groton. He was born in Watertown on July 15, 1635. In addition to being the deacon, he held other important positions in Groton. He was chosen to be a selectman three times. He died on August 17, 1719 and was buried in the old Groton cemetery.”

In a kind of full-circle surprise, Kevin said, “We found out a couple years after we moved here that I’m a descendant of this guy’s brother,” Kevin said. “But I’m from Minnesota!”

The Lïndemers have about 50 apple trees in production. With only a couple of exceptions, all are heirloom varieties, some tracing their roots back to the 1600s and 1700s, and from Europe, Canada, and the early English colonies.

“The Cox’s Orange Pippens are wonderful,” Kevin said. “They’re a very spicy apple from the UK and not many people know of them here. I know that when we put it out here, we had people, ex-pats from the UK, coming in saying that “We’ve heard that you have these apples.”

The apples are colored a true orange; they look like tiny pumpkins lined up on the apple table by mistake.

The contents of the table change week to week, as different varieties ripen and fade out. Northern Spy, Roxbury Russet, Liberty, and half a dozen other flavors were on the table last week. (The Liberty isn’t an heirloom, Kevin pointed out. “It’s just a pretty apple. You have to catch it at just the right point in the fall for it to have good flavor and I think we got it right this year.”)

Happily, everything is in season for pies, Chris said.

“For a pie, we like to mix two or three varieties together and you want the dessert apples: Cox’s, Tonkins, and Northern Spy. And if you like kind of a tart apple, I would put some of the Roxbury Russets in there. A lot of people around here know the Northern Spy as a great dessert apple. Then in a couple weeks, when our Caville Blancs are ready, those will be the ones that people should try,” Kevin said, because the pie mixture changes as the apples ripen and fade.

“We have a really big French desesrt apple called Caville Blanc d”Hiver which won’t be ripe for another two weeks (end of October, early November). Sprigs, down in Acton, uses our apples. The chef there, Gregory Ludlum, he likes those, and the Cox’s Orange Pippens, and he likes the Roxbury Russets. He takes the biggest ones and he cores them and he makes a dessert baked apple.”

Here are the Lindemer’s apple-tasting notes for the heirlooms that were on their apple table last week:

  • Northern Spy
    The consummate pie apple and excellent for eating out of hand. Flesh is yellowish white and sweetly tart. High in vitamin C. Will keep until spring.
    Origin: New York 1800
  • Ashmead”s Kernel
    Crisp yellow flesh is tart off-the-tree and mellows to sweet, aromatic and juicy in the weeks after harvest. A connoisseur’s apple. Good for storing for winter eating.
    Origin: 1700s England
  • Roxbury Russet
    Crisp and tart. Flavor has a lot of ‘personality”. Flesh is yellow-green, firm and coarse-textured. Well suited for eating fresh or cooking and keeps for months. May be the first apple developed in the Americas.
    Origin: Roxbury, MA early 1600s.
  • Liberty
    Light yellow flesh that’s crisp and juicy with sprightly flavor. Good for fresh eating as well as cooking. The flavor is subacid and good. Keeps into February, the flavor intensifying in storage.
    Origin: ‘Liberty’ resulted from a cross, ‘Macoun’ and Purdue – Not an heirloom variety
  • Tompkins King
    The yellow flesh of this desert apple is rather coarse, but crisp and tender, with a subacid, sweet and aromatic flavor and is an excellent cooking apple. The skin has a greasy finish, especially after storage. Tompkins King stores well.
    Origin: Washington, Warren County, New Jersey late 18th century.
  • Cox”s Orange Pippin
    This is a wonderfully well-balanced apple with a complex bouquet of tastes: cider, a hint of cinnamon and hazelnut, and strong orange and mango notes. The best-known dessert apple in the British Isles.
    Origin: 1830 England.
  • Fameuse
    Also known as the ‘snow apple”. Flesh is snow white and tender with a cidery, spicy flavor. It is the chose cider ingredient at Chittenden”s Cider Mill in Burlington, VT. Do not keep well.
    Origin: 1600s Canada
  • Summer Rambo
    This apple is of French origin and once quite popular in Maryland and Virginia. The fruit can be picked while still green for frying, pies, and applesauce. The fruit can be large and is often ribbed with unequal sides. Skin is greenish yellow washed with pink and carmine on the sun exposed side. The greenish yellow flesh is coarse, tender and very juicy. Ripe August-September.

Apr 042012
Selectman Fran Dillon's Retirement Opens A Three-Way Contest To Succeed HimArt Campbell | The Groton Line

Selectman Fran Dillon's Retirement Opens A Three-Way Contest To Succeed Him

Two political newcomers and one of Groton’s political old hands are running a three-way race for the Selectman’s seat left open by Fran Dillon’s retirement. Erich Garger of Redskin Trail and Jack Petropoulos of Kemp Street are taking on Bob Hargraves, a former selectman and former state representative who now serves on the town Financial Committee. Hargraves ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 Selectman’s race, finishing behind incumbents Josh Degen and Stuart Schulman.

The election will be held on May 22. Except for one one-year Water Commission seat to fill the remainder of an unexpired term, all offices are for three-year terms.

In contrast to the contested field for Selectman, a seat on the Park Commission is open and without candidates. David Howes is leaving the Park Commission when his term expires after the election this spring. In 2011, four candidates ran for two seats on the Park Commission. According to Town Clerk Michael Bouchard, an office without a candidate on the ballot would be filled by the write-in candidate who receives the most votes. If there are no write-ins, the seat would be filled by a joint appointment by the Park Commission and the Board of Selectmen.

Other boards and commissions have a match between openings and candidates seeking those openings. Three Planning Board seats are open. Two are likely to be filled by incumbents Russell Burke of Old Ayer Road and Carolyn Perkins of Reedy Meadow. Tim Svarczkopf, of Champney Street, is the third official candidate. Incumbent Ray Capes is leaving the board.

The Water Commission two openings. Incumbent Gary Hoglund of Duck Pond Road is seeking re-election. A one year opening created by the resignation of Alvin Collins on December 12, 2011. Jessica Cajigas of Orr Road was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to fill Collins’ vacant seat on February 6 and is running for the reminder of his term in this election.

The list of incumbents seeking reelection to their positions and who are running unopposed includes:

  • Town Clerk Michael Bouchard
  • Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee members Berta Erickson of Boston Road and Alison Manugian of Shepley Street
  • Groton Library Trustees Kristen Von Camp of Lowell Road and Jane Allen of Shattuck Street.
  • Board of Assessors member Jenifer Evans of Smith Street
  • Board of Health Commissioner Susan Horowitz of Lowell Road
  • Commissioner of Trust Funds Joseph Twomey of Martins Pond Road
  • Groton Electric Light Commissioner Kevin Lindemer of Boston Road
  • Sewer Commissioner Tom Hartnett of Martins Pond Road
  • Housing Authority member Alicia Hersey of Old Ayer Road

The retirement of long-time Town Moderator Robert Gosselin opens that office to an unopposed run by Jason Kauppi of Townsend Road.

Sep 202011

Three "First Tier" Central Fire Station Sites

Three "First Tier" Central Fire Station Sites

The proposal to use the Sacred Heart Church lot at 279 Main Street for a new central fire station resurfaced at Monday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. Town Manager Mark Haddad told the board that the effort to fit both a fire station and a garage and office building for the Groton Electric Light Department on GELD property at the end of Station Avenue was having problems and that the Station Avenue site may not be suitable for both projects.

The Maguire Group engineering team, retained by GELD to design its office and garage complex, has a track record as fire station design specialists. Under contract to GELD, the firm first designed the GELD facility. Then it tried to add a four-bay fire station to its GELD plans to save the town significant design and construction monies.

Maguire’s initial attempts to place both buildings would require extensive — and expensive — fill to stabilize the site and to solve drainage problems, according to Haddad and GELD Commissioner Kevin Lindemer. Lindemer stressed that Maguire is still working on possible solutions, but it looked, Haddad said, to be simply a case of “too much building on not enough lot.” Maguire’s problems seem to validate consulting engineer Val Prest’s assessment of the site, prepared when he was a member of the Central Fire Station Site Selection Committee early this year.

While Maguire continues to look for a solution, the board voted to put a backup strategy in place. Haddad is to re-open purchase negotiations with the Boston Archdiocese of the Catholic Church and with Father Paul Ring, pastor of the local parish that owns Sacred Heart. The board also put “place-holder” articles on the warrant for the October 17 Fall Town Meeting, in case the board decides to go forward with a purchase offer.

The debate on the best location for a replacement central fire station has continued through most of this year. The Sacred Heart building was listed “For Sale” almost three years ago. Haddad and the Board of Selectmen negotiated a Purchase and Sale agreement on the property in executive sessions last fall and winter, then sought citizen approval to buy the lot for $450,000 on February 28th at a Special Town Meeting. Faced with criticism that the purchase plan had not been openly planned or presented, the Board of Selectmen appointed town employees and residents to an ad hoc Site Selection Committee which investigated potential sites for several months. A second vote attempt at Spring Town Meeting on April 25th was postponed because the Site Selection Committee had not arrived at a conclusion. The Site Selection Committee ranked the Sacred Heart location as its first choice just before the proposal finally came to a vote at a continued Special Town Meeting on June 13. Voters rejected the purchase by a wide margin, 103 to 183.

Since then, GELD, owners of the second-ranked site, have been working to answer a number of technical and financial questions raised in the town meetings about whether its site is viable as a co-location for both its own building and the fire station. The third ranked site, the Prescott School building and lot, has not been mentioned again.

Selectmen said in their meeting on Monday that they hoped GELD and Maguire’s work this summer had answered those questions.

The Sacred Heart church site has not been publicly listed on the market since the town’s purchase and sale agreement fell through this spring. It was originally listed at $600,000 dollars, then $499,000 when the town made its offer of $450,000. An appraisal by the town pegged the value at $480,000 this spring.

Negotiations between the parish and the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts have been on-going, with the college seeking to purchase just the church building for use as a chapel on its new Old Ayer Road campus.

College spokesman Charlie McKinney said in an interview that the college was preparing a plan to move the church building and another plan to raise funds to cover the cost of moving and rehabilitating the chapel. He said that the move and repairs could cost between $250,000 and $500,000. The college is working on a plan to solicit some of those funds from the Groton community to help preserve the local landmark, which started out as a chapel on the campus of Groton School in the 19th century.

Aug 162011

Look for a (small) reduction in your August bill from Groton Electric Light Department.

Kevin Kelly writes in a press release: “As a result of sound financial decisions being made over the past twelve months, the customer charge for residential rate classes is being reduced by $1.00
effective with the August 31, 2011 bill. Chairman of the Light Board, Kevin Lindemer stated ‘since it appears we have an unexpected slight increase in our
net income for the year, we believe it makes sense to give as much as we can back to the ratepayers.’

“GELD feels it is important to be conscious of the needs of its customers. The reduction in the customer charge benefits all customers but will impact those
with smaller electric bills – typically lower-income and elderly households – the most.

“GELD currently has the sixth lowest rate out of 48 electric utilities in the state of
Massachusetts for a 750 kWh bill. Here is a link to our rate comparison (from our website) … http://grotonelectric.org/pdf/750%20kWh.pdf

GELD’s most recent rate changes/increases were:

  • 2010 – January – GELD made some minor changes in the way costs were allocated on bills so that each bill component more accurately matched the corresponding expenses. These changes did not affect the customer”s total bill amount. Specifically, we raised the transmission and distribution portions of the bill to reflect rising costs to Groton Electric. At the same time, we lowered the generation portion of the bill due to lower natural gas prices. The changes did not affect the bill”s bottom line.
  • 2009 – effective on the January 31, 2009 bill – a 3% increase due to the increase in transmission costs to Groton Electric.
  • 2006 – effective January 1, 2006 – a letter from the manager, Doris Chojnowski, was inserted with the November 20, 2005 bill to every customer of the Light Department explaining that a rate study indicated the need for a 26% increase in rates; however, the Board voted to increase rates by 22% effective January 1, 2006. Groton Electric had experienced a shortfall of $835,000 for 2005 and the power markets were extremely volatile. The significant deficit was a result of the sharp rise in wholesale power costs, which were more than double what was projected the previous June.

Jun 102011

Dear Editor:

The Groton Electric Light Department is in the process of building a new building for its offices and equipment on Station Avenue. After the new facility is complete, GELD expects that a large parcel of land adjacent to the rail trail will be surplus. GELD”s intent was to sell the land to a commercial developer once our new facilities were finished. However, the possibility of a fire station being located on that parcel creates a unique opportunity for both rate payers and tax payers. The cost of the land to GELD is about $340k. If the fire station locates on the property, GELD expects to realize at least $140k in project savings that would not be realized with a commercial development. GELD has offered this parcel to the town for $199K for the express purpose of a new fire station which is the cost of the property less the anticipated project savings to GELD. In addition to the direct project savings for the GELD project, we believe there are additional cost savings for both projects if we work together that would not be realized if we work separately. However, additional due diligence is needed to determine the attractiveness of the potential savings.

Over the years GELD has always operated to obtain the best value for its customers both in terms of cost and service. The cost of electricity in Groton remains in the bottom 10 of communities in this state, our rates are lower than 97.4% of the other households in MA. In offering surplus land to the town for a new fire station, GELD is working in the spirit of trying to reduce all costs in Groton. The need for cost control is obvious when one considers that over the past 20 years, the cost of electricity has increased approximately 20% in Groton while property taxes have more than doubled. The GELD commissioners believe that the use of its future surplus land represents a rare opportunity for the taxpayers of Groton to obtain land for their new fire station at less than half the cost of the alternative, the Sacred Heart church.
We recognize that financial cost is only part of the consideration for a new central fire station site. We also believe much more work needs to be done to be sure the Town is getting the best value in a location for the new fire station.

Kevin Lindemer
Rodney Hersh
Chris Christie
Groton Electric Light Board

Apr 212011

Special Town Meeting – Fire Station Presentation from Groton Channel on Vimeo.

There was too much to do and not enough time to do it all. So the Central Fire Station Location Study Committee voted unanimously this afternoon to request that the Board of Selectmen indefinitely postpone Article 6 on the Monday (April 25) Special Town Meeting warrant. If the Board of Selectmen agree, there would be no action taken by the Town Meeting on the article to purchase Sacred Heart Church, at Main and West Streets, for $475,000 to be the site of a new fire station.

The committee passed a second motion asking for up to $2000 for a professional appraisal of the vacant church property so they could more accurately compare it against two other “Tier One” sites, the Prescott School building on Main Street and land on Station Avenue that would be made available by the Groton Electric Light Department (GELD) after it constructs a new garage and office complex. Each of the three sites has both positive and negative points, and none has been ruled out.

Town Manager Mark Haddad, a non-voting member of the committee, said that he hoped an appraisal could be conducted over the next week or two. With a realistic valuation of the Catholic church property in hand, the committee hoped to go into the final phases of its charter and rank and recommend one or more sites that have the best potential for the town’s flagship fire station.

At a meeting on March 14, Selectmen charged the committee with:

  • Evaluating the need for a new central fire station
  • Locating potentially suitable sites in Groton center
  • Conducting a public hearing on potential sites, and
  • Ranking them in order of desirability

The committee was formed, in part, in reaction to criticism of the original proposal to purchase Sacred Heart Church. Because negotiations with the Boston Archdiocese had been discussed by Selectmen and Haddad in executive session, many residents were taken by surprise when the proposal appeared on a February Special Town Meeting warrant without extensive discussion. Neighbors of the church were particularly angry because the town had not briefed them on the potential change to their neighborhood — losing a church and gaining a fire station. After it became clear that the purchase article would not pass at the February 28 Special Town Meeting, it was indefinitely postponed. Two weeks later the site selection committee was formed.

Before any motions were discussed at tonight’s meeting, the site selection committee listened to Kevin Kelly and Kevin Lindemer present more information on Groton Electric Light Department’s plan to site its new facility in a way that can help create enough space for the new fire station. Kelly is GELD manager; Lindemer is a GELD commissioner.

Some land wheeling and dealing would be required to accommodate both facilities. “The property wouldn’t be free; there would be a cost to the property. GELD purchased a piece of property adjacent to where we are now and some would eventually be declared surplus and sold. Before the fire station came up, we were all thinking ‘developer,’ but if the fire station would be placed there, it could be a sale to the town,” Lindemer said.

Earlier media reports had put the cost of the GELD land at $134,000, but the actual cost was $340,000, and that is the amount GELD wants to recoup, Lindemer said.

Lindemer stressed that GELD and the fire department, as potential neighbors and cooperating departments should be able to work together to discover construction and operating synergies. “We’re all on the same team here. Our number one goal is that people have affordable electricity prices, that we keep them down and affordable. We have some of the lowest electric prices in the state. And we think that through working with the town and the fire department, we can continue to save money, both for the town and for ratepayers on these projects.”