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Maple Drive had been waiting several years to be reconstructed. It's expected to be mostly finished by the end of the week.

Cheshire Road Projects Underway

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The reconstruction of Maple Drive is expected to be substantially complete by the end of the week. 
"It's scheduled to receive the topcoat of blacktop on Friday, weather permitting, and that will leave just the aprons and then it will be complete. It's looking great up there and it's coming along really well," Highway Superintendent Robert Navin told the Select Board  on Tuesday.
The road project's been a few years in the making after it was bumped from the repairs list back in 2018 because of a delay in recording it after the town voted to accept it. Maple has been considered one of highest in need of repair and had scored a 39 out of a grade of 100 in a road report commissioned in 2017.
The project had to go out to bid a second time after receiving no interest in an initial offering. The scope was increased and the town received five bids. The project ended up being completed for roughly $120,000.
Tuesday night's meeting marked the 10th time Cheshire's top lawmakers have met virtually since all municipal offices were ordered to close by Gov. Charlie Baker during the COVID-19 pandemic. What started as a stilted exercise now hums along seamlessly.
Along those lines, the Highway Department is operating at full speed and Navin gave an update on the projects underway, including Maple Drive. 
Navin has made no secret that the town's dirt roads are a top priority to him and his team. He recently lobbied successfully for the purchase of a new to Cheshire John Deere road grader. He took the job in 2019 with a plan in place for the dirt roads and has wasted no time in implementing it.
When asked by Chairman Robert Ciskowski how the $175,000 piece of equipment was working out, Navin was quick to reply.
"Beyond expectations. Everything does what it's supposed to do. We're finding more little things that it does. We're very happy with it," he said.
Navin cited other processes beyond grading that have helped his crew improve Cheshire's dirt roads.
"The grader was a huge part of the package ... but the whole procedure of doing the gravel roads is very noticeable. We are putting out a lot more material than we have in the past, raking them off, rolling them, and treating them with dust control ... the roads are coming out really good this year," he said. "I'm hearing it from other people, from residents, commenting on the difference in them. That's what I was looking for. 
"The town provided me with the tools to do it, my guys are following through with it and it's really showing in the end result."
Navin and the board have been looking into contracting out some seasonal mowing, namely the Cheshire School fields but other areas may be included. The idea is to free up a Highway Department employee to tackle larger tasks. Navin estimated he spends roughly 20 hours a week mowing the areas in question and feels that time would be better spent elsewhere.
Several quotes were received that ranged from about $500 to $900 per mow. Selectman Ronald DeAngelis likes the idea and wants the board to act soon.
"We've been talking about this since February, we're nearly going into June. There's a savings in this, that's my opinion. It's giving Bob the extra hours with his guys who are overqualified to be mowing a schoolyard," he said.
Selectwoman Michelle Francesconi wants to explore using an existing town employee, other than from the Highway Department, to do the work.
"I want to be able to balance out those numbers and see if we can make this work with existing, non-Highway Department staffing," she said.
The board decided to put the final decision on next week's agenda and to precede it with an executive session in case contract or union issues arise.
Selectman Jason Levesque raised the possibility of ATV/UTV (all-terrain or utility task vehicle) trails being a part of Cheshire's future. While there are myriad trails for snowmobiles (SledMass estimates more than 2,100 miles) the amount of trails suitable for off-highway vehicles is listed as well under 200 on Levesque hopes that will change.
The area under discussion is on West Mountain Road and includes about 850 acres of watershed area. The land cannot be developed and there is already OHV activity taking place, albeit illegally.
"There has been a bunch of unpermitted riding up there and you only have so many environmental police officers statewide and they can't enforce it. They don't have enough manpower. The state's take on this at this point is ‘We have to put a trail system in so we can control it'," Levesque informed the Board.  "It would be an attraction to get people to come into town that otherwise wouldn't."
Levesque said there may be grant money involved that would defray most of the town's start up and maintenance cost and also mentioned existing off-road clubs that would possibly maintain the trail independently.
"Potentially any of the expenses for expanding or maintaining trails ... you can get up to 80 percent reimbursement (from the state). It would also cover things like a parking lot in that we are expanding a trail system," he said. "There are a couple ATV clubs around and they do trail maintenance and it's all volunteer work so it would cost the town nothing in that regard."
The entire board agreed that it would be great for the town but will probably be a long road before shovels hit dirt. Levesque will continue to work on the project and received kudos from his colleagues.
Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV told the board he has been working closely with the town clerk to ensure a safe town election on Monday, June 1. The town has been encouraging absentee or early voting but will still have in-person voting at the Community Center on School Street.
The next meeting of the Cheshire Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, at 6:30 p.m. and will be virtual. See the town's website for details on how to join. 

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Father Tom Tent Site Becoming a Reality in Cheshire

By Jeff SnoonianiBerkshires Correspondent
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Father Tom Tent Site is inching closer to its "official" opening. 
Named after the former pastor of St. Mary's Church, the Rev. Thomas Begley, the site will serve through-hikers of the Appalachian Trail and give them a place to regroup for a night or two while charging electronics, replenishing their water supply, and getting rid of refuse
Highway Superintendent Robert Navin said he hopes to have the water line completed this week, which would leave just a few loose ends to tie up before making the official announcement. One very loose end is the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique safety concerns that constantly arise from the virus. 
"I've liked this idea a lot and I'm glad to see everything moving forward. With that being said I guess I just have reservations in the climate we find ourselves in making sure that everything is being cleaned as often as possible," said Town Administrator Edmund St. John IV. "I think we need adequate signage saying, to some extent, campers are using these facilities at their own risk. Whether or not it's a valid concern it's just a concern that I have." 
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