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|Digs, dogs and drama: Wild weather ends a wild year|
|Tuesday, 30 December 2008 13:44|
The wild weather that buried Duxbury in a blanket in snow and ice seemed, in many ways, a fitting end to a calendar year that has been stormy at times. Town Manager Richard MacDonald delivered a bleak budget message at the end of the year, casting a dark cloud over Duxbury economic future at a time when many residents as well as the town itself are tightening the purse strings.
Conflict was often the word of the day, from union negotiations and infighting in the Department of Public Works, to a standoff between the Cemetery Commissioner and Public Safety Study Committee members over where to put a new police station. A program for high end learners at Alden Elementary School had some parents up in arms, and a decision to ban a dog walker from using town-owned land spawned a lively debate on the Clipper Web site.
But 2008 also had its headlines of hope. With a concerted effort by the Duxbury Rotary Club and resident Razia Jan, Duxbury residents helped build a school for girls in Afghanistan, bringing education and the promise of a better life to young women in one of the most war-torn parts of the world. History buffs around Duxbury banded together to unearth history at the Duxbury Rural and Historical Societyâ€™s second meetinghouse dig on Chestnut Street. After suffering what could have been a demoralizing defeat on Town Meeting floor, a group of dedicated volunteers spent countless hours restoring the former Tarkiln School. Throughout the year, the Clipperâ€™s pages were graced by countless stories of residents giving back despite the economic downturn.
So as the calendars turn to 2009, residents of Duxbury will look to the future. There are struggles ahead, to be sure, as the town makes cuts and wrestles with the omnipresent question of preservation versus development. But, as we remarked in a Nov. 12 editorial, weâ€™ve got it pretty good in Duxbury. This is a well-run town run by well-meaning people, and weâ€™re well-equipped for the challenges ahead.
Big dig unearths history
One of the historical highlights of the year was the archeological dig on Chestnut Street in October. Conducted under the auspices of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, the dig confirmed the location of Duxburyâ€™s second meetinghouse (the first was in what is now Standish Cemetery, and the current incarnation is the First Parish Church.)
The dig took place over two weeks from Oct. 6-18 and was led by Craig Chartier of the Plymouth Archeology Rediscovery Project, whose mild-mannered but knowledgeable approach to history earned him fans â€“â€“ and plenty of volunteers, as the dig site was always well-staffed
â€œWe deal with trash,â€ Chartier said at a pre-dig lecture.. â€œThings get broken, houses burn down. We take that trash and try to say something about the people that created it,â€
The type of archeology people see in movies like Indiana Jones isnâ€™t what really goes on he said â€“â€“ although he admitted Jonesâ€™s trademark fedora would be useful for protection against the sun.
â€œYou never see Indiana Jones screening stuff,â€ he said.
Ground penetrating radar at the site showed what Chartier hoped would be the foundation of the meetinghouse â€“â€“ and diggers found evidence to that effect almost as soon as shovels hit earth.
Volunteers helped carefully excavate test pits and trenches, and sifted through buckets and buckets of soil looking for artifacts, clues to the buildings construction and origin.
In addition to finding things like bits of glass, brick and plaster, pipes and other remnants of the Pilgrims, the dig found evidence that the building was constructed using an older method called â€œpost-in-hole construction.â€ This was the way buildings were built at Plimoth Plantation, and it was thought that the technique hadnâ€™t been used since.
Chartier said that Duxbury volunteers had worked on the only 18th century post-in-ground structure ever found in New England, and only one of a few in the country.
â€œEverything really came into focus,â€ he said. â€œWe couldnâ€™t have hoped for more.â€
â€œYou folks have been absolutely wonderful,â€ Duxbury Rural and Historical Society Director Patrick Browne said as the dig wrapped up. â€œEverybody took this seriously and worked hard. You didnâ€™t let anything slip through the sifter.â€
Search for a new station
The drive for new public safety facilities dominated headlines this year from January to December. In January, the Board of Selectmen voted to support a single warrant article for Town Meeting, asking for $1 million to design a new police station and a new fire station. Originally, an 18,775 square foot police station was set to be built near the intersection of Route 14 and Route 3, and a 20,383 square foot fire station would have been built behind the existing station on Tremont Street. The combined costs of the projects was estimated to be $16.5 million.
â€œWeâ€™ve been trying to keep up with improvements, but the station is a money pit,â€ Duxbury Police Chief Mark DeLuca told residents at a forum held in late January.
The existing police station, built in 1976, has a number of issues, from cramped quarters to hungry critters.
â€œThree days ago, termites ate a box that had evidence in it,â€ DeLuca said at the forum. The evidence was undamaged, but the anecdote certainly painted a picture of a department in drastic need of a new station.
Across town, Fire Chief Kevin Nord was making his pitch for a new facility as well.
Nord told a separate forum crowd that the neat exterior of the current fire station on Tremont Street belied a number of faults.
â€œItâ€™s a nice looking facility because our guys take a lot of pride in it,â€ he said.
Nord told residents the building wasnâ€™t handicapped accessible, had leaky pipes, and inadequate storage space for the departmentâ€™s equipment.
The article for the two projects passed at Town Meeting in March, but the process was far from smooth. A motion to split the projects into two articles failed, as well as a motion to reduce the funding amount to $750,000. An amendment was added to the article on the meeting floor, however, asking that alternative site and the final design be considered before the project was approved.
Things never got that far, however, as voters at the annual town election defeated the measure at the ballot box, sending the Public Safety Study Committee members back to the drawing board.
The committee started to look into the possibility, often raised on Town Meeting floor, of a combination police and fire station, which would cut down on design and construction costs.
â€œIn the reality of things, we have a choice: building a combined facility or building a police station only,â€ said Selectman Andre Martecchini. â€œWe wonâ€™t have two separate buildings because I donâ€™t see it happening politically.â€
The idea of a combination hit a snag, however, when the only land area in town large enough to accommodate such a project was ruled off limits by the board that governs it. The study committee hoped to locate the combination station on surplus cemetery land off Mayflower Street, however the Board of Cemetery Trustees said they believed this was against the intention of the former residents who gave the land to the cemetery and would not support the project. That issues has still not been resolved.
The study committee voted in December to present two articles to Town Meeting, one for a combination station and one for a new police station and a renovation project for the current fire station.
Managers union issues surface
The biggest story no one at town hall was talking about in 2008 â€“â€“ at least on the record â€“â€“ was the professional
In May, residents learned that several department heads and mid-level managers, led by Duxbury Police Chief Mark DeLuca and Library Director Elaine Winquist, were attempting to form a union.
The issue, according to union leaders, was not money or advancement but job security. The union was called the Duxbury Professional Employees Association, or DPEA.
Town employees not part of any collective bargaining unit are covered by a personnel by-law, a document that officials on both sides of this story agreed was in need of updating. Winqust called it a â€œdog of a plan.â€
â€œWhy should people who work for us be offered certain protections and benefits that we donâ€™t get? The idea of a union is to ensure equity and fair treatment across the board,â€ said DeLuca.
Pro-union forces pointed to other towns where department head bargaining agreements were in place, such as Stoughton.
Under the current bylaw, employees covered can be terminated by the town manager, and DPEA members were looking to have a process where employees could appeal to a third party arbitrator.
â€œIf you can be fair and non-biased, why would you fear a third party?â€ asked DPEA member Paul Anderson, the townâ€™s water and sewer superintendent.
After the initial story of the effort to form a union surfaced, the story became more about the lack of news. Negotiations bogged down, reportedly over which employees would be able to join such a union.Â Town officials were reluctant to comment on an ongoing labor issue.
â€œI wish I could comment,â€ Selectman Andre Martecchini said when the story first broke in a special report in the Clipper.
Although union members stressed that the push for collective bargaining was not the actions of a few disgruntled employees, all managers were not happy with the move.
â€œWe have a long history of working together. I see this as pulling us all apart,â€ said a Town Hall employee, speaking on condition of anonymity. â€œWe are in a position now where we canâ€™t even talk without getting in hot water. Itâ€™s a terrible situation.â€
Initially, the DPEA members had appealed to the state labor board in an attempt to have their organization recognized, but the application was later withdrawn.
The group went back before the labor board, but as a part of the larger Service Employees International Union, or SEIU. In a paid advertisement in the Clipper, the members of the DPEA decried the townâ€™s â€œstalling, controlling practices and legal maneuvering.â€
Town officials denied this.
â€œWeâ€™ve been desperately trying to get them to come to the table,â€ said Martecchini.
As 2008 ended, the issue was still unresolved.
Zabuli School opens in Kabul
The first day of school is often an exciting day for Duxburyâ€™s school children, but theyâ€™ve never had to enter the classroom under the watchful eye of armed guards holding AK-47 rifles.
That was the scenario for the first class at the Zabuli School in Deh Subz, Afghanistan. The school, located just outside the capital of Kabul, was built with funds raised by the Duxbury Rotary Club and was a labor of love for one local resident, Razia Jan. Jan, an Afghan native, had maintained contacts with her homeland and wanted to give back. Through her connections with the Afghan government, including the wife of the president and the female president of a Kabul construction company. The school efforts started in 2005 and culminated in the grand opening this March.
Bruce Barrett, the Clipperâ€™s â€œWhatâ€™s going on here?â€ columnist, traveled to Afghanistan to write about the schoolâ€™s opening. He blogged throughout his trip, keeping readers updated on the schoolâ€™s progress and his own struggles with culture clash.
â€œLearning about Afghanistan is like studying a Gordian knot, learning to tie the thing without ever seeing its creation, baffled when trying to take it apart just to see how itâ€™s made,â€ he blogged while studying for his journey.
Barrett even shared his struggles with the language.
â€œI can do it if I hold my head just right, and keep my tongue rolling once I start it,â€ he wrote. â€œTashakor (thank you) is tricky, but rrrrr-Rahim (an uncle we visited) gives me a chance to set it all in motion.Â My best work: Tashakorrrrrrr-Rahim!Â I stretch the middle like a roaring propeller.Â And my Afghan family laughs out loud.â€
Upon arrival, he found a town buzzing with excitement, and one very frustrated Jan, trying to keep the many juggling balls in the air.
â€œUntil we completed our approvals,â€ Razia explained, â€œthese girls couldnâ€™t transfer. They needed permission from their other schools, and that couldnâ€™t happen until this one is official.Â Oh, my mind is spinning!Â So many details!â€
On opening day, real world last minute details mingled with hope.
â€œThe electricity is off but sunlight floods from the windows and makes every room bright,â€ wrote Barrett. â€œNo one expected electricity today.â€
For the girls and teachers of the school, just being there is a victory. Half of the nationâ€™s school-aged children are out of school, with significant gender and provincial disparities.Â Today there are nearly six million children in school, and 35 percent are girls.Â Five years ago, there were one million in school, and almost no girls.â€
Opening day comes, and the children of the school sing the Afghan national anthem.
â€œTheir singing is sweet as candied almonds,â€ Barrett wrote. â€œEven a beginning student of Dari can hear a power in the song, and its listing of group after group from Afghanistanâ€™s multi-layered life.Â The prayers, official speeches, and cutting of the elusive ribbon are finished.â€
High-end learner program debated
One of the top headlines in the school department started over a small pilot program at the Alden School, designed to identify â€œhigh-end learnersâ€ at the elementary school.
Asst. Superintendent Edwin Walsh told the School committee in August that a group of Alden teachers was trained in the program over the summer, and that Duxbury was partnering with another community with an established high-end learner curriculum. The program involves one class per grade, and students will work in groups of eight. Walsh also said the students will not be pulled out of the classroom. The pilot was funded by the Duxbury Education Foundation.
â€œWe need to give resources to these teachers ... the tools to be able to be identify these kids and do right by them,â€ said Walsh.
However, the program drew ire from parents who felt they were kept in the dark about the program.
â€œThe obligation of the school to provide parents information is not negotiable,â€ said parent Michael McLaughlin. â€œThe majority of Alden parents were excluded from any such discussion ... It has turned a process that should have been open and fair into something shrouded in mystery and confusion.â€
Parents also expressed concern about labeling students not selected for the program, and how the high-end learners were chosen.
â€œI agree we need to be careful about labeling,â€ added Committee Vice Chairman John Heinstadt. â€œAlthough we donâ€™t do it intentionally, labels exist.â€
To help answer parent concerns and combat misconceptions about the program, Superintendent Susan Skeiber hosted a question and answer session at the Performing Arts Center on Sept. 8.
Skeiber was frank about the districtâ€™s mistake in not informing parents, but defended the program as a valuable tool in providing challenges to the top three-five percent of students.
In addition to the detractors, some parents defended the district.
â€œI canâ€™t imagine someone coming to a special needs meeting and saying donâ€™t spend the money on these kids,â€ said one parent. â€œThis is the same thing, itâ€™s just the other end of the spectrum.â€
Board leashes Bay Farm walker
Sometimes, a story takes on a life of its own, and what might have been a minor story grips the attention of the community and spawns vigorous debate. That certainly is what happened when the Board of Selectmen voted to restrict a private dog walking service from using town-owned land.
At their meeting on Nov. 10, the board told Laurie Wagner of Professional Pet Services that she could no longer walk her dogs on public land at Bay Farm.
Bay Farm field is jointly owned by Duxbury and Kingston and the state Department of Environmental Management.
Selectmen said they were concerned about legal liability from the dogs, and the idea of setting a precedent for the use of town land for for-profit businesses.
Selectman Andre Martecchini pointed to a case where a tennis pro was giving lessons using town courts, and was told to stop running a business on town land.
Wagner told the board her 12 employees took groups of four to five dogs off leash on walks in open space in Duxbury and surrounding towns. Wagner said between 20-30 dogs were walked daily at Bay Farm in four different groups, at different times of day. She claimed her dogs were well behaved.
â€œWe take dogs out and socialize them together,â€ said Wagner. â€œWe have never had any dog bites or attacks.â€
Reaction from other dog owners at Bay Farm was mixed.
â€œI feel sorry for the woman,â€ said Sheila Lynch. â€œIâ€™ve never run into a problem with the pet walkers ... Iâ€™ve found them very responsible.â€
Carole Bolsey of Kingston, however, said she has had a run-in with Professional Pet Services. She said her dog, Bear, does not get along well with other dogs, and was pinned to the ground by one of Wagnerâ€™s dogs.
â€œI just tried to walk her away but the other dog wouldnâ€™t let me,â€ she said.â€
Bolsey said she did not make a complaint against Wagner to Duxbury officials but agreed with the Board of Selectmenâ€™s decision.
â€œThis is a public park, it is not a place of business,â€ she said. â€œThis is the one place around here where you can have your dog off a leash, but 15 dogs is a pack.â€
Lyme disease a hidden hot spot
Resident Sue Coombs didnâ€™t know what was wrong when she woke up to a pain in her knee so great she couldnâ€™t put any weight on it. That pain led to a long, frustrating ordeal and an eventual diagnosis of Lyme Disease. And, it turns out, Coombs wasnâ€™t the only one.
Numbers analyzed by the Clipper this summer point to Duxbury, especially the Standish Shore area, as a â€œhot spotâ€ for Lyme Disease, a tick-bourne illness that can be extremely difficult to diagnose due to the many ways it can manifest itself in a personâ€™s body.
The disease can also fail to show up in blood tests, leading many Lyme patients, including Coombs, to not know whatâ€™s wrong. In some cases, it can even lead to scorn from medical professionals.
â€œThey said it was in my head, youâ€™ll be fine, just rest,â€ she said. Even her own brother, a doctor himself, didnâ€™t believe she had Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease presents itself as a bulls-eye shaped rash, but many doctors erroneously believe if thereâ€™s no rash, thereâ€™s no Lyme.
â€œThe test doesnâ€™t tell you if you still have it, just that youâ€™ve been exposed,â€ said Dr. Sam Donta, Coombâ€™s doctor and a Lyme expert. â€œIf itâ€™s negativeÂ it doesnâ€™t prove you donâ€™t have Lyme â€“â€“ itâ€™s circular reasoning.â€
â€œDefinitely, the issue was the diagnosis of it,â€ said Marie Gill, who along with her four children contracted the disease. â€œItâ€™s difficult getting a diagnosis for kids, and doctors are not aware that they might not test positive. Youâ€™ll test positive six month later, but in the meantime youâ€™re sick.â€
Often called â€œthe great imitator,â€ symptoms from the disease can be extremely varied, said Will Lapsley, a public health intern who worked with the Duxbury Board of Health on Lyme Disease. There can be neurological symptoms like memory loss, mimicking Alzheimerâ€™s. There can be joint pain like arthritis, facial spasms like Bellâ€™s Palsy and severe fatigue as in chronic fatigue.
In 2001, there was only one reported case of Lyme disease in Duxbury, according to statistics kept by the DuxburyÂ Board of Health. The numbers grew at an alarming rate from there: eight cases in 2003, 16 in 2004, and 33 in 2005. In 2008, there were 23 reported cases by July.
In 2006, there were 331 cases of Lyme reported in Plymouth County, according to statistics from the Mass. Department of Health. The county-wide average incidence rate per 100,000 people is 70. Duxburyâ€™s incidence rate is 228.
Lapsley held several forums to raise awareness of the disease, and the town is working on educating residents about Lyme. Donta says the disease is still misunderstood.
â€œThere is no leadership,â€ he said. â€œThere is a bill before Congress and itâ€™s been there for years. Lyme doesnâ€™t command attention as much as AIDS, war, heart disease, cancer. Everything else gets a higher priority because Lyme is not killing anyone, but people are still suffering.â€