By Tom Killin Dalglish
TIVERTON — Upset about the town’s decision not to plow their road this winter, a dozen or so residents of Cynthia Avenue went to Town Hall Monday night and took a street action of their own.
Two of them — Shane Gendreau and his wife Lisa — signed up to voice their objections during the “Open Public Forum” part of the agenda early in the meeting.
Mr. Gendreau said he and all the other residents of Cynthia Avenue (west of Crandall Road) had received a letter from Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Steven Berlucchi saying their road won’t be plowed this winter, and he read the letter to the councilors.
“I am writing to inform you,” Mr. Gendreau read, “that unless the residents of Cynthia Avenue fill and grade Cynthia Avenue to serviceable conditions before the winter snow, the Department of Public Works will suspend plow operations on Cynthia Avenue. The town’s truck cannot handle the stress the condition of the road puts on it when plowing.”
The road is in terrible condition, all agree. Last winter during the Nemo blizzard, one of the DPW snow plows snapped a drive shaft at the end of the road it and couldn’t be retrieved without risking damage to other trucks. Cynthia Road is a public way but it hasn’t been accepted by the town because it’s not up to standards. That leaves it unclear who has the obligation to maintain the road in drivable condition: the owner of the road, the people living alongside it, or the town that’s been plowing until now. The debate has been ongoing for years.
Mr. Gendreau and others from Cynthia Road were having none of the debate.
“You had all summer to tell us and you wait until a week before snow season to tell us,” Mr. Gendreau told the councilors.
We have telephone poles, have had trash pickup, and the town has maintained the road for 20 years, he said. “Now we get a letter a week before the snow season.”
“This has been prolonged and prolonged,” said Lisa Gendreau. “It’s discrimination as far as I’m concerned. We are at our wits’ end. We pay very high taxes. Now the road is pretty much undriveable … It’s disgraceful, disgusting. We deserve an answer. Something has to be done, and done now.”
The councilors listened but didn’t respond because the matter wasn’t on the agenda, a councilor said — to do so would violate the open meetings law, which requires that topics the council discusses be on the agenda, and notice be given. None had been, and so the councilors sat there, mute.
“We deserve an explanation,” said Ms. Gendreau. “Are we going to have a plow? We need an answer, not next week, but tonight.” They mentioned the snow predicted for this week.
Mr. Gendreau said, “there’s nothing in my deed that says I have to snowplow.” He said the road was a public right-of-way, not a private road.
“We don’t have the money to repair the road,” neighbor Nicole Robinson said. “That letter should never have been sent to us. It’s just not fair. It’s unacceptable.”
The one-sided dialogue continued, and that might have ended it, without council member input.
Instead, Councilor Brett Pelletier moved to add the matter to the night’s agenda, which it was, unanimously, and from there the debate took off.
The legal status of the road is unclear. According to DPW Director Stephen Berlucchi, there are about 500 roads in Tiverton. Almost a third of them (an estimated 160 roads) — Cynthia Avenue included — are private, or otherwise not public, or are not accepted by the town.
The town street committee, which has the responsibility of sorting through all 160 streets of undetermined status and make recommendations, has twice voted (March 13, 2012, May 10, 2012) that Cynthia Avenue is an unaccepted public street and that the town should discontinue all services (plowing, trash pick up, etc.) to or along it.
The residents say that because the town has for years provided services, plowing included, the town has de facto accepted the road. They have hired a lawyer to represent them.
“The town can’t legally fix a road that’s not accepted,” said Council President Edward Roderick, after the council voted to place the matter on its agenda.
“We can’t tell the DPW director what to do,” because he reports to the town qdministrator, said Councilor Pelletier.
Council member Jay Lambert said he lives on an unaccepted road that doesn’t get plowed.
Councilor James Arruda asked Mr. Gendreau if Cynthia Avenue was bad in the summer, and was told, “yes.”
“If you were going to send this letter out, you should have sent it out in August,” said Mr. Gendreau.
Audrey Gloddy lives at the Crandall Road end of Cynthia Road, and serves on the street committee. “If you’re going to do it to some of them, you need to do it to all of them,” she said, but it wasn’t clear whether she meant that all unaccepted roads should be denied services, or all should be provided services, or that those thus far given services should continue to be, and those denied should continue to be denied.
The council decided to consider the Cynthia Avenue matter at a special meeting in Town Hall on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m.