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By Don Eriksson

Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — The year 2007 was a busy one from an infrastructure perspective and a year that provided glimpses of future government and spending changes. Those changes will doubtless be debated throughout 2008 as the town’s zealously guarded stockpile of money shrinks, while the need to spend it increases.

The Sewer Department completed all unfinished connections at the end of existing lines within the overlay district on Oak Hill, Groton and Tucker streets. The Highway Department paved and rebuilt several roads.

Principal municipal water wells at Bemis Road were rebuilt, bringing capacity to 100 percent while avoiding the need to build a third well site in the foreseeable future, even though one was given to the town in mid-year. Rates for water and sewer services will rise a combined 12 percent.

The search for a third water supply had started with a failed agreement with the town of Dunstable, then moved to exploration of East Streets and the banks of the Nashua River off Route 111. The town averted the need to pay $600,000 for a well site, inside an aborted subdivision bordering Hollis, N.H., when the land was sold and the new owner offered it for free to the town as Emerson Village is built.

The proposed village is an affordable housing development planned in cooperation with the town, known as a Local Initiative Project. It will add 14 affordable houses to the town’s inventory and offer reasonable market-priced homes to the general public.

Bayberry Estates opposed

Meanwhile, the vehemently opposed Bayberry Estates affordable housing proposal, between Bayberry Road and Ashley Street, stalled. A site application for a second, larger plan for 68 homes was sent to MassHousing, while the original 42-unit plan stagnated.

The opposition effort spawned creation of the Pepperell Natural Resources Association which, as the year closed, was key to the acquisition of 1,200 more names to the statewide Repeal 40B initiative.

After five years of struggle, residents of Suburban Village Mobile Home Park saw their homes connected to town sewer lines, fulfilling a Department of Environmental Protection order to fix their failing septic systems. Formed into a corporation of homeowners, residents are now in court fighting rent increases levied by the park owner.

After receiving $390,000 from town meeting, the Water Department has emptied out the former Belmont Springs property on Chestnut Street in order to move its headquarters from its inadequate and crumbling Canal Street location. Even with cost increases for asbestos removal and extra roofing, the $416,000 move is well under the original $500,000 estimate for the job.

Mold house burns down

The well-publicized “mold” house on Shawnee Road, whose serious toxic growth problem sickened and displaced the newly arrived Davis family two years ago, mysteriously burned after it was purchased from the mortgagor. A Pepperell man was later found guilty in Ayer court of causing the fire when he used a torch to cut out copper pipes.

A renovated and rebuilt Conway Chevrolet/Buick re-opened for business after a three-alarm fire in late 2006 shut it down.

The town’s $9.7 million share of a level-funded school budget jumped nearly $1 million, causing serious concern about 2008 finances. Pepperell paid its share with available resources, however Townsend and Ashby could do so only upon the second try at budget override voting.

As the year closed, fiscal planners were estimating a $1.8 million municipal deficit, against which the town had about $800,000 in free cash and $1.2 million in its stabilization fund.

Fix or replace the high school?

Meanwhile, the school district began the pursuit of grants to study at least repairing the high school’s decaying heating and air conditioning systems. Estimates of $13 million to $14 million for that project were said to be “woefully inadequate” by Superintendent Maureen Marshall. Talk of a new high school with a price tag up to $70 million began.

Town officials began discussing in earnest the need to renovate Town Hall and/or the municipal safety complex.

As the year closed, selectmen were presented a preliminary Town Hall conceptual plan that would make use of all three floors of the 1875-era building and bring all employees under one roof for a highly preliminary cost estimate of $2.6 million.

Phase one work done 20 years ago on the former Shattuck School safety complex that houses police, fire, and communications departments, has begun to deteriorate. Phase two work, estimated four years ago at $2.5 million and last year at $6.5 million, has never been done.

As the year closed, officials were struggling over whether to recommend lumping all renovations into one package to bring to town meeting, or concentrate on just Town Hall. Efforts to find suitable land to build a town/safety complex have thus far failed.

The Park Street fire station is also going to need work soon. However, long-sought fire access to the rear of Railroad Square buildings was gained when town meeting approved the taking by eminent domain of a sewer easement through apartment-owner Ivan Hoyt’s Groton Street property.

Paper mill plans


Long-awaited sale of the former Pepperell paper mill collapsed in late fall after developer David Veo of Freedom Development had presented at least two conceptual plans. The first had been for 281 residential units and two commercial buildings with 9.8 acres of open space.

It had been Veo’s offer to purchase that generated passage of a mixed-use bylaw that would allow clustered housing mixed with commercial space on lots of at least 5 acres in size.

In late November, selectmen were discussing development of town plans for the site. The owner, Perry Videx LLC, of New Jersey, was accepting all purchase offers, including Freedom Development, as the year ended.

Lucy Keyes died in late spring at age 93. Her sons negotiated a purchase price of $499,000 with the Trust for Public Land for the family’s 145 acres that was offered to the town. Town meeting granted the expenditure, which permanently placed the land under conservation restriction. Later, Pepperell received the maximum $320,000 in a state “Self Help” grant to help defray the cost.

Chief Bozicas retires, again

After coming out of retirement in 2003, fire Chief Costa Bozicas permanently retired in 2007. Peter Shattuck Sr. and James Straitiff were elected to the Board of Fire Engineers, then chose Toby Tyler as the new chief.

Tyler forwarded two initiatives — switching to a strong chief organization and pursuit of a $103,500 grant to hire two full-time firefighters. Town meeting voted down the strong chief initiative. The grant has yet to be received. Town meeting did okay spending $385,000 for a new tanker truck, whose delivery is expected in February or March.

Lynch replaced

by Sergi

Long-time selectman John Lynch was defeated by Joseph Sergi in the April election. Sergi has proposed a number of initiatives — among them a master plan for town infrastructure and a town charter that would change the form of government.

A town charter would potentially bring a shift from a government “by amateurs by design,” as assessor Susan Smith described it, to a defined central government that better coordinates the various committees.

The suggestion was prompted by the impending retirement of up to 20 employees — including Smith, town administrator Robert Hanson, accountant Theresa Walsh, clerk Lois Libby and assistant clerk Barbara Smith — and by a desire to take advantage of their knowledge of the town before they depart.

Health agent Edward Wirtanen’s mid-year retirement thrust the Board of Health into a scramble to fill his position, which has resulted in the hiring of two contractors and a part-time secretary.

Sister Roberta departs

Well-liked pastoral assistant Sister Roberta resigned her position at St. Joseph’s Church. Pepperell Aid from Church to Home (P.A.C.H.) has continued, although a consortium of volunteers is attempting to create a new group — Pepperell Aid from Community to Home — which would be a larger outreach permanently housed in a not-yet-acquired building.

D.A.R.E. police officer Nick Parker was voted by schoolchildren as the grand marshal of the July 4 parade. Well-known former planner and Affordable Housing Committee member Thomas Hamilton died in mid-summer.

A granite bench was placed at the Community Church, dedicated in his memory. The Annual Town Report was dedicated to both Hamilton and the late Ernest Morton.

Skatepark finally opens

After more than three years of effort, the Pepperell Skatepark Committee dedicated a completed skateboard park on town field built with the help and donations by numerous residents. In October, a community beautification project completed landscaping the facility in just two days.

The Fire Department dedicated its Firefighter Memorial and Smokey the Bear fire danger sign at the Jersey Street station in November.

As the year ended, word came that MassHighway had released the contract to rebuild Groton Street’s Chester A. Waterous covered bridge and that pre-construction conferences would begin in January. Demolition is expected in 2008 and the reconstruction in 2009.

Spring floods, autumn snow

April rains put the Nashua River at 4 feet above flood stage and 21 inches of pre-winter snow buried the landscape two weeks before Christmas. Just one inch of snow had fallen by this time last year.

Despite outside conditions, the innumerable private fund-raisers for those in need, and the plethora of unheralded volunteerism by scores of Pepperell residents, kept alive an inner spirit that, no matter what else may change, will doubtless remain at the heart of the town.