If Amesbury, Mass., didn't 't have its river walk project designed and out to bid by Sept. 30, it would lose the $1.9 million awarded for the project -- so with some coordination, its mayor redefined the project, freeing up $1.2 million that went to nearby Lawrence for an urgent project.
“It was the most civilized scrum for resources that I have ever seen in my life,” said Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera. “It really is the way government should be working with an adult conversation as to what is possible and what are the risks of what is on the table? And nobody gets to jump the line.”
Rivera met with Amesbury Mayor Ken Gray at a meeting of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Merrimack Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization (MVMPO), a group of roughly 20 mayors, town managers, MassDOT and Merrimack Valley Planning Commission representatives in January.
Each year MassDOT funnels money to the state’s various metropolitan planning organizations to distribute to local communities for transportation projects. Amesbury was awarded $1.9 million by the MVMPO for its Amesbury River Walk project in 2009. But Amesbury had learned of high levels of contaminants in the area of the river banks of the Powow and Back rivers in October 2013 that lay directly in the path of the river walk project. The Environmental Protection Agency has been removing the contaminants since September, pushing the river walk’s completion date back.
“The way this whole appropriation works, if you don’t have the project designed and out to bid by the end of the federal fiscal year, which is Sept. 30, you lose the money,” Gray said.
“We acted over the last few months to try to redefine what it was that we would need to bring the scope down. It went through a whole bunch of iterations and finally, we went to the MVMPO and talked to them about our dilemma.
“We verbally proposed a plan, which was to cut the scope of our project back to do what we needed, which was to supplement what the EPA was doing, and what that would do is free up $1.2 million.”
Under Gray’s proposal, the $1.2 million will now go to Lawrence for an urgent need Rivera had identified in his city at the intersection of Lawrence and Park streets. Located on the border of North Lawrence’s Arlington neighborhood, the intersection is close to a school with 200-plus students and faculty as well as a community center that sees 80,000 people a year and sees traffic congestion that is 2.5 times the state average accident rate, according to Rivera.
“There are 14 small businesses on the intersection and there about 18 that abut it that will also be positively impacted by this,” Rivera said.
“Basically, it is the crossroads of our community and everyone uses it. So much asphalt has been put on the ground that there isn’t anymore curbing. It is really on an almost 45-degree angle, so if you are a person in a wheelchair, you are actually riding sideways on the street. So, this is really going to impact our community in a major way.”
The Merrimack Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization approved the proposal last week.
“This was a $1.9 million pot of money that we were going to lose and we turned it into $700,000 in conjunction with the money that we are getting from the EPA, so we are really not giving anything up,” Gray said.
“And we freed up enough money to do a whole other project in Lawrence that wasn’t going to get funded for another four or five years. In light of the $700 million state budget deficit, this shows that by working cooperatively, we can actually find ways to stretch some money that we already have.”
Rivera was elected Lawrence mayor in 2013 by only by 83 votes, while Gray won his seat by only three at the same time, which, according to Rivera, has created an almost instant kinship.
“His number was a closer number than mine,” Rivera said. “And that made me feel a lot better. So it is always nice to see him when we are together because we had such a similar experience. Mayor Gray showed some serious leadership. He saw an opportunity that went against the cause of the Amesbury project and frankly, if not for his leadership, I don’t think it would have gotten done.”
Rivera also believes that he and Gray have a similar approach to their mayoral duties, injecting private sector business sense into the municipal world.
“He and I sort of hit it off right off the bat, talking about issues,” Gray said. “The valley has some very similar issues; and even though Lawrence is a little bit bigger than us, we face the same day-to-day stuff, whether it is financing schools, financing the roads, picking up trash, we face the same things.”
©2015 The Daily News of Newburyport (Newburyport, Mass.)