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Chelsea, Clinton Still Waiting for Stimulus Money06:05
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Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash looks over the cramped fire station he would like to rebuild. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash looks over the cramped fire station he would like to rebuild. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Massachusetts has awarded construction money to resurface highways first because those projects can get under way the fastest. Other projects are taking longer to get going. Chelsea's city manager, Jay Ash, has submitted six proposals for federal stimulus money and he is still waiting to hear whether any of them will be funded.

Ash is standing in front of one of the city's firehouses, waiting to get buzzed in. The city has set aside enough money in recent years that it doesn't have to lay off any of its 91 firefighters. But this old firehouse does need about a million dollars' worth of improvements.

"For a city like Chelsea, with a modest budget, committing a million dollars to a firehouse really strains our ability to do other capital improvements," Ash says.

Stimulus money has just been made available for firehouses. Cities and towns have until July 10 to apply directly to the federal government for the funding.

The Chelsea firefighters are excited about the prospect of fixing up their cozy fire station.

"It would cool the building off. You can feel that we have no air conditioner," says one. "The firehouse was built in 1887."

"This station was built for horses, so the trucks have trouble fitting in here. The trucks are getting bigger and bigger," another says. "They have about an inch of leeway on either side, so they have to move out slowly."

Ash asks the firefighters how busy they are. "Eddie, what did you do? About 6,000 runs last year?"

"Yeah," Eddie says. "About 6,300, 64,00 runs." So these guys are in and out of the station constantly.

The Chelsea Ducks take batting practice at Fuller Field, which residents claim is the world's oldest baseball diamond. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
The Chelsea Ducks take batting practice at Fuller Field, which residents claim is the world's oldest baseball diamond. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

Once the trucks squeak out through their narrow doors, they often have to negotiate Washington Ave. It's another of the projects for which Chelsea is expecting stimulus money. It will cost $7 million to rebuild the street: give it a new surface, new sidewalks and new water and sewage lines — some of those pipes so old that they are made of wood.

Chelsea needs $50 million to repave its worst streets, and $100 million in order to maintain each street every 20 years. Currently, the city only spends $5 million a year on all its infrastructure. In Ash's car, out by the wholesale food market on the border with Everett, you can see-- and feel-- how all that neglect of its streets has taken a toll.

"You see in front of us that there are four potholes that have to be at least six, seven, eight inches deep, or deeper, and you see traffic on the other side also trying to get around those," Ash says. "We need to fix this, but we just don't have the millions of dollars. We're going to go very slow here because the bumps are very big."

Four months after the stimulus law went into effect, Chelsea still has no stimulus projects, no new jobs.

The city is among the communities across the state that submitted 4,300 projects for stimulus money. Municipal leaders were frustrated that the state wasn't telling them which ones might get funded, so Lieutenant Gov. Tim Murray was assigned to tell them how their projects stack up.

Mark Draisen, the executive director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, says many communities are still waiting for word from the state about whether or not their projects are going to be approved.

"That's especially true in the transportation arena," Draisen says. "The state has a lot of projects that it wants to do and the municipalities have a long list of projects that they're interested in. So long, in fact, that it's taken the state a while to get through the list, and provide feedback to the cities and towns. They haven't provided that feedback yet, in most cases, although they've been really good about meeting with individual communities that ask for meetings."

In central Massachusetts, Clinton, too, is still waiting for the stimulus. Two months ago, we reported that the town was expecting to get money to rebuild the Water Street bridge over the Nashua River. At the time, Fuller Field, which the town claims is world's oldest baseball diamond, was still padlocked. As April showers have yielded to May, then June, showers, the Clinton Legion Ducks have taken to the field.

They were taking batting practice this week when the talk turned to the rickety bridge. Or, "the one that's about to fall in the water," as one man put it.

Jeff Notaro is the team's assistant coach. He's also one of four police dispatchers, two of whom could lose their jobs if next Monday's town meeting approves a budget that includes more than $3 million in cuts.

"They're hoping to get a stimulus grant, some sort of grant to keep us on," Notaro laughs. "So hopefully we get some of that money. We'll see what happens."

At the bridge, two months after we visited for our first story, town manager Mike Ward says it looks like the money is about to come in. "Our hope is this project will be out to bid this weekend, using stimulus funding," he says.

It took so long because the town has learned that even when you think your project is shovel-ready, there are still some holdups. In Clinton's case, the state had to make some design changes to the bridge, and the town had to get the easements it needed on neighbors' land so it could work on the bridge. All the neighbors are on board now. All that's missing now is for the state to advertise for bids.


This program aired on June 25, 2009.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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