Time to ask all the questions
Editor of the Reformer:
It is with great anticipation that I await the community forum to discuss the proposed Liberty Mill Justice Center in Bellows Falls. This meeting will be held on Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the lower theater in town hall. Both Sheriff Keith Clark and Senator Jeanette White, who is working for the sheriff's department as a consultant to this project, have told me that this will be a meeting for the public to ask questions and have an open dialogue about the proposed project. Residents of Bellows Falls, Westminster, Rockingham, Saxtons River, Walpole, N.H., and surrounding areas are encouraged to come out and ask questions about the potential impacts this justice center will have on our lives, our property values, and our quality of life.
Some have said they believe this is a done deal and we the people have no say in it because it is a private business transaction. Don't just roll over. If we all let our voices be heard, we can influence the stakeholders in this project. Sheriff Clark was quoted in one of the papers as saying "he had other location options if the Bellows Falls site did not work out."
The public has voted in our town government officials, who in turn have hired our development director. They represent us and should be advising the development director to make decisions that are in the best interest of our community. One would hope that if a private company were coming to town with a business that had such a significant impact on our community as the Justice Center does, our town fathers would certainly be seeking public input. Would they, for example, allow a company to come in that was planning on dumping sludge into our river, a casino operator, or a topless dance club to just sign the deal and set up shop? Is this really the best our development director could do with our pristine river front property? With only 3,000 residents in the village, we will undoubtedly see a change when the families of people who are transitioning out of the criminal justice system or whose family members of pre-trial detainees move to town.
The justice center proposal is anticipating these families as they are already planning on buying several multi-family housing units to accommodate family members during this time of transition. Bellows Falls is already struggling with its tax base as less than half of our residences are single family homes. This has strained our school budgets and our municipal budgets. Social service agencies in our community have a huge case load now, imagine what it will be like when we have up to 55 transitional people moving in and out of the justice center every few months.
If you don't know what to ask, here are a few questions: How will the project effect our water and sewer department? How will it effect our health care services in town, we do not have a hospital here? What about fire and police? The proposal is to have the property on the tax roll for the first seven years, then what? A nonprofit takes over and no property taxes paid to the town? What do they mean when they say they will house a regional dispatch center? Does this mean the existing dispatch centers will go away? What are the traffic implications? How many U.S. Marshals, Vermont State Police, paddy wagons and federal government vehicles will we see up and down Route 5? What about the Bellows Falls Historical Society, which received a brownfields clean up grant to create the historic river front park and trail system? Is the land at the site still contaminated? What about families who have been swimming and fishing in the area for centuries? What about the portion of the property that is a right of way that is actually in the town of Westminster? Will they be able to get delivery trucks and emergency vehicles under that narrow, low clearance railroad bridge?
Please people, come out to this meeting and ask questions.