Alison Genest: Strengthen planning and oversight
(Part 5 of a 7-part series)
I’ve always paid attention and voted in Dracut. But it was the town’s Beaver Brook Trail Project, especially the violations of the Wetlands Protection Act, that opened my eyes about ways we can do better when it comes to strengthening planning and oversight.
Laws need to be followed, projects need to done correctly and they need to be corrected when things aren’t done right in the first place. Considering projects by home and business owners are held to that standard, town projects should be, too.
As a private citizen who expressed concerns about the impact on the wetlands, woodlands and wildlife before the project was approved, I was horrified to see how it was executed. For a path that was supposed to be 12-feet wide, more than 40 feet was cleared in some areas. The town’s plan, which taxpayers paid for a wetlands biologist to prepare, “missed” a protected vernal pool and stream crossing.
When I saw the devastation, I led the charge to make things right, getting the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to issue an enforcement order and have the town fix the over clearing and related work in the protected wetland area along Beaver Brook, which was outside the scope of the approved plan.
The DEP’s enforcement order mandated a number of important requirements, including the replanting of trees, shrubs and seed mixes for stabilization of the impacted wetlands and wildlife habitat.
Coming from a farming family, I take our stewardship of the land very seriously. I care about conservation, preservation and making sure things are done the right way. I fought to protect precious natural resources in town and got results, ensuring our environmental laws were followed and the adverse impact on the protected wetlands was corrected.
Clearly, planning and oversight, including coordination and communication, could have and should have been stronger. The way the work was executed and the lack of oversight while it was being performed ended up costing taxpayers a bundle of money – and it never should have happened. As a result of the violations, the town had to pay a second environmental firm to develop a full restoration plan, pay to buy the trees, shrubs and bushes that needed to be replanted and pay DPW workers to plant them. Now, the town is going to have to pay for a footbridge to repair the break in the trail in the area of the impacted stream crossing.
The Beaver Brook Trail Project highlighted another area in need of additional oversight: the town’s procurement process.
The Attorney General found that 17 procurements were completed illegally in Dracut between 2017 and 2019. In these cases, Dracut failed to solicit multiple quotes for projects, properly advertise contracting opportunities, award contracts to the lowest eligible bidder and require that contractors be state-certified for certain projects.
The good news is that the procurement issue was exposed and is in the process of being fixed. There’s now a procurement manual for guidance, department heads have had training and the town has hired a procurement officer to ensure things are done with the proper oversight going forward.
The recent town manager’s search is one final example where hands-on oversight could have saved taxpayers money. The town used an outside firm for the search for a cost of more than $13,000. This money could have been spent more wisely elsewhere.
Hiring a town manager is one of the primary responsibilities of the Board of Selectmen. Going forward, I think we should roll up our sleeves and conduct the search in-house ourselves. Let’s sift through the resumes, interview the top candidates and hire the person we think is the best fit for Dracut. That’s exactly what I’ve done throughout my career in the financial services industry as a leadership and organizational development expert: help leadership teams ensure continuity by putting the right people in the right roles at the right time, to meet critical talent, operational and organizational needs.
As a Selectman, I’ll work to strengthen planning and oversight, to ensure we follow the law, improve things when we can and try to help save money for taxpayers.
If you have questions or would like to talk about any town-related issue, please call me at 978-957-8585.
I respectfully ask for your vote for Selectman on June 29. Thank you!
*** News Coverage ***
Lowell Sun: Conservation Commission eyes trail
Lowell Sun: Commission says restoration must be done by Oct. 15
Lowell Sun: AG’s filing details Dracut procurement violations
Next: [Part 6] Alison Genest: Support public safety
7 things to know about Alison Genest
[Part 1] Alison Genest: A Dracut native with deep roots in town