Updated: Road project committee petition rouses debate at Mattapoisett Town Meeting

May 14, 2024

This story has been updated with further information from Mattapoisett Town Meeting

MATTAPOISETT — Several months of frustrations regarding a project to address roadways in the Mattapoisett Village culminated at Mattapoisett’s Town Meeting on Monday, May 17 with tense discussion between residents and town officials concerning a citizen’s petition to form a committee for the project. 

The item proposed the creation of a seven-person committee to “review, comment upon, and make recommendations for design and construction” of a project to improve Main, Water and Beacon streets as well as Marion Road with Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant sidewalks, stormwater filtration systems and to allow for the replacement of an aging gas line.

The project has generated controversy in the town because it would require the removal of 28 trees that line the streets of Mattapoisett Village. 

The question to establish the committee passed 107-81 after discussion that lasted over an hour.

The approximately $16 million project would receive state and federal funding, according to town officials.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation will hold an information session regarding the project June 18, which isn’t typical of projects receiving Transportation Improvement Program funds, according to Mattapoisett Town Administrator Mike Lorenco.

Several residents spoke in favor of the article, while a few dissented. Mattapoisett Select Board members and Lorenco responded to Town Meeting member comments, interactions that at times required Town Moderator intervention.

“Is it the intention of the [Town Administrator] and the board of selectmen to use the June 18th meeting as a reason to not move forward with potentially having a citizen’s committee?” Mattapoisett resident John Theriault said. “It’s been very clear where the selectmen stand on this and where the town manager stands on this, so there is a level of distrust here.”

Select Board member Jordan Collyer said he took “extreme exception” to Theriault’s comment.

“If the will of Town Meeting is voted as such that they wish the Select Board to vote to appoint a committee, I would follow suit in what Town Meeting votes,” Collyer said.

Co-petitioner and Mattapoisett Tree Committee Chair Sandra Hering said it was the time to “take a slight pause” with the project.

“We want to know what this will look like when it’s done,” she said. “This is a common theme.”

Mattapoisett resident Deborah Abelha said that while Select Board members are elected officials, the proposed advisory board in contrast would be “giving the power to seven people.”

“If this committee protests too much, the state and federal government will pull the funds,” Abelha said. “They’ve done it before to other towns. They will go to towns that welcome $20 million. Why would they come to a town with a small group that is going to make their life miserable?”

More trees would be planted than cut down with the project, which was first presented in 2014 at a cost of $4 million, according to Select Board member Tyler Macallister.

That cost is now $16.2 million and “rising every day,” he said.

Macallister said the town had “done our homework” regarding exploring the potential costs of putting utilities on the affected streets underground.

That would cost nearly as much as the road improvement project itself, an amount neither energy provider Eversource nor the Department of Transportation would pay for, according to Macallister.

“I don’t necessarily want to do this, but I think I feel the need to do this,” Macallister said prior to presenting those details of the project to Town Meeting members.

Mattapoisett resident Robbin Peach said she was “perplexed” at a perceived resistance from the Select Board “to have some help,” given the proposed committee would be advisory.

“I have never gone through a process where community input didn’t make the end product better,” she said.

The article passed with 107 voters in favor and 81 opposed. The petition’s passing does not require the town of Mattapoisett to establish the committee, according to town counsel Brian Maser.

In other business, Mattapoisett Town Meeting members passed an approximately $33 million operating budget. Voters also approved appropriating $1.2 million for capital plan purchases, including a replacement ambulance, a Ford 250 pickup truck for the highway department and a utility terrain vehicle with stretcher to be used by both the police and harbormaster departments. 

Town Meeting members additionally approved $4.7 million for a new water and sewer department building.