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Should Walpole police wear body cameras?

December 9, 2014

Recent protests nationwide over grand juries in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City that chose not to indict police officers involved in killings has sparked a national effort to equip police officers with body cameras.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to spend $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for local police departments across the country.

Many departments already have body cameras, or are quickly working to equip their officers with them, like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Body cameras are essentially cameras that an officer would wear while they are on duty to record their interactions with the public. The cameras are small enough that they can attach to a collar, a hat, or on the side of sunglasses.

The advantage to them, of course, is that they can serve as a definitive record of what happens during interactions between cops and the public. Many cities where officers wear body cameras, like Rialto, Calif., have found that the cameras protect the department when members of the public file complaints against officers for excessive force. Rialto officers also have digital audio recorders, and cameras on their tasers, which are automatically activated when the weapon is armed.

Some studies have found that police officers with cameras are less likely to use excessive force than officers who do not wear the cameras, and that complaints against officers go down dramatically. Other studies have had starkly different results, concluding that body cameras do not necessarily have an impact on reducing excessive force or police shootings, however cameras are rendered ineffective when officers turn the cameras off prior to a serious confrontation with a citizen.

Some police departments and privacy advocates have reservations about requiring body cameras for officers. One concern that has been cited by some officials, including Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, is that tipsters and informants may be unwilling to approach police officers with sensitive information, for fear of being recorded. Under state public records law, police departments in Massachusetts have wide discretion to prevent the release of documents or video footage that might hinder an investigation or hurt potential informants.

Some officials believe that the cameras do not actually solve underlying trust issues between police officers and the communities they serve, and are simply a band-aid approach to a larger problem.

Some privacy advocates have said that the body cameras can be used by the government to watch over them, so police departments should make sure to have specific policies for their use, including provisions for the length of time the videos will be archived. Other privacy advocates have noted that it is still illegal for anybody, including police officers, to record someone without their consent. But the Department of Justice has reported that confrontations between officers and the public can sometimes be defused if an officer announces that the interaction is being recorded.

The Mass. Chiefs of Police Association has said they support the use of body cameras, and the Mass. State Police is considering a pilot program for their use. Some departments in Mass. already use the cameras, but its use has generally been limited to only a few officers per department.

Boston Magazine reported earlier this year that some Mass. police departments are also interested in using Google Glass technology, wearable eyeglasses, to not only record interactions with the public but also provide other useful information with verbal command software to officers on the job.

Walpole police officers already have tasers, and the department has developed policies related to their use. All Walpole police cars have dashboard cameras as well. Walpole police cars are not equipped with dashboard cameras.

Depending on whether Congress acts on President Obama’s funding request, Walpole may soon be in a position to accept federal money for body cameras, which can cost up to $1,000 each (some cameras are significantly cheaper, in the range of $200-$500). Even if Walpole doesn’t get federal funding, should Walpole officers be outfitted with body cameras?

MBTA expansion plan raises concerns

December 5, 2014

State transportation officials insist that their proposal to institute full-time commuter rail service from Boston through Walpole, to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, is only intended to drive economic development in the area. They suggest it is pure coincidence that one particular billionaire stands to gain more than anyone else from the project, while taxpayers are left with a hefty bill.

Color me skeptical of their claim.

The state’s actions, which have been anything but transparent and open, and their ignorance in pushing the plan despite their own poor fiscal condition, certainly raise concerns.

Officials from the MBTA and Mass. Department of Transportation met with Walpole Selectmen for the first time this week in front of a standing room only crowd at Boyden School in South Walpole, regarding their proposal to implement full-time commuter rail service between South Station, in Boston, and Gillette.

Under the state’s plan, the MBTA would run trolley-like cars, about five times per day only on weekdays, between Boston and an existing station at Gillette Stadium. The Gillette station, currently used only during football games, is on the “Framingham Secondary” freight line currently owned by CSX.

The trains would run through, but would not stop at Walpole or anywhere else between Readville station and Gillette, essentially giving the stadium and surrounding properties, all owned by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Kraft Group, their own exclusive weekday train line in and out of the city.

MassDOT believes the new line would attract at least 600 “new” passengers, on top of about 300 “cannibalized” passengers switching from other area train and bus lines, in Walpole, Sharon, Attleboro, and Mansfield, to commute to and from work.

The proposal is essentially a somewhat modified regurgitation of two prior studies and proposals, one conducted by the MBTA in 2010, and one by the 495 Metrowest Partnership in 2011, that both never came to fruition in large part due to the cost of implementation. The new plan differs from those prior proposals because it calls for no train stops between Boston and Foxboro, trolley cars instead of regular trains, and fewer trains running each day at first.

David Mohler, representing MassDOT at this week’s meeting in Walpole, admitted that state officials had begun working on the plan long before Walpole and Foxboro Selectmen first learned of it in October.

In March, MassDOT signed a five-page letter of intent with the Kraft Group indicating interest in using the Gillette station for full-time use. Conversations between MassDOT and Kraft apparently began in January.

The MassDOT governing board voted unanimously in June to buy the entire “Framingham Secondary” track, which stretches from Framingham to Mansfield through Walpole, Foxborough, and other communities, from CSX for a total cost of about $23 million.

Mr. Mohler insisted on Tuesday that the track purchase itself was separate from any potential plans for full-time rail service to Gillette because the entire track has benefit for potentially connecting the Worcester and Providence rail lines during emergencies.

Although no money has yet exchanged hands, the deal has essentially been consummated, pending federal Surface Transportation Board approval. The state has signed a purchase and sale agreement with CSX.

Mr. Mohler indicated Tuesday that the MBTA would eventually need to spend about $35 million to upgrade the line if they plan to use it for commuter rail use. That means taxpayers will end up paying more than $50 million, including the purchase price, when all is said and done.

Even though the purchase was approved during an open public meeting of the MassDOT board and the meeting minutes have been on the MBTA website, Mr. Mohler took personal responsibility for not informing the towns along the track of the transaction and, more importantly, of the MBTA’s ongoing discussions with Kraft. But he said the MassDOT board’s standard policy doesn’t require public input in those decisions.

He also admitted that there was no particular reason why the track acquisition could not have been delayed for more study, or until a new governor took office, as there was no competition from other bidders for the track.

The fact that MBTA officials didn’t ask for public input suggests that they knew there would be opposition or at least skepticism. That’s not fair, and it’s not honest.

It strains credulity that the MBTA would spend $23 million, with $35 million potentially planned on top of that, on a track that would just be used for rare emergencies. If using it for emergencies was really their intention, it is egregious because that should not be a priority for tax dollars. If using it for emergencies really was not the MBTA’s primary intention, they are not being honest with the people.

For the MBTA, already the most indebted public transportation agency in the nation, to quietly pursue a very expensive plan, without even gauging how the communities along the tracks felt about it, is itself outrageous.

The MBTA is currently saddled with an overall debt of about $5 billion – a figure that increases to $8 billion with interest payments included. That’s an obligation that all state taxpayers will be paying off one way or the other at some point. The MBTA should be thinking of ways to reduce that debt, not to increase it.

The MBTA Advisory Board recommended in their FY 2015 Operating Budget Oversight Report, in April 2014, that the MBTA should focus on using its precious funds to restore service that has been eliminated, like weekend commuter rail service in Needham and at stations along the Old Colony Lines, before expanding service to more communities.

Putting aside the fact that there is and will be intense local opposition along that entire freight line from residents unhappy with the idea of commuter trains rumbling by their homes several times a day, the track purchase itself, and the Gillette rail expansion overall, simply makes no fiscal sense for an agency that doesn’t even have the funding to manage the train lines and services it already owns.

Mr. Mohler said Tuesday that the new line is expected to break even in terms of expenses. But state bureaucrats have a historically bad track record of anticipating the full extent of costs and revenue for transportation projects. When the MBTA spent more than half a billion dollars to complete the Greenbush commuter rail line in 2007, the cost was much higher than original estimates, and ridership numbers ended up being far lower than had been predicted. In fact, many of the passengers on the line had simply switched from other existing MBTA services “with no new benefit to the MBTA’s strained finances or to the environment,” according to a 2010 Boston Globe article. A 2011 CommonWealth Magazine article reported that the Greenbush line was expected to have up to 3,230 commuters during the morning peak time, but actual ridership ended up being only about 1,900 riders during that time of day. The most recent MBTA ridership statistics, from this year, indicate that Greenbush sees fewer than 2,800 riders traveling inbound each day. It’s unclear how many of those are on inbound trains during morning peak times.

Extrapolating this differential, between projections and actualities, to the proposed ridership of the Gillette Stadium line, where taxpayers will be on the hook for so much in initial capital costs, is cause for concern. Mr. Mohler admitted that commuter rail lines generally are money-losers, even while he maintained that the Gillette line would be self-sufficient.

Meanwhile, as CommonWealth and other media outlets reported last year, commuter rail lines across the state are facing declining ridership for reasons that include higher fares, higher parking fees, increased telecommuting, and a population migration of working professionals relocating from the suburbs into the cities. The MBTA would be better suited shoring up its services within the city, rather than further extending outward into the suburbs which is significantly more expensive.

Ultimately, the significant initial and ongoing investment by state taxpayers to finance the new service to Foxboro will benefit primarily just the Kraft Group and the properties they own surrounding the stadium. MassDOT officials have stated that the Kraft Group would pocket a portion of parking revenue, for lot maintenance. However, most of these commuters would otherwise simply park at the Sharon, Walpole, Attleboro, or Mansfield MBTA stations which are going to be maintained with tax dollars anyway. That means the MBTA is losing even more parking revenue, because they will be handing a portion of it over to a private party.

Mr. Mohler told Foxboro Selectmen last month that “the origin of the idea [for a train line] is housing and economic development, more specifically at Patriot Place,” but professed to know no specifics about what the Kraft Group might have in mind. The MBTA’s 2010 feasibility study for the Gillette line alluded to potential housing with up to 1,000 units across the street from the stadium. But implementing an expensive rail service just so that affordable housing can be built is a poor use of public resources, without a clear demonstrated need.

Either way, the economic development that the MBTA believes will come about because of the new trains will be located exclusively on land currently owned by the Kraft Group on both sides of Route 1. The station’s location is simply too far away from any other economic centers in Walpole or Foxboro to be meaningful financially for anyone other than the Kraft Group. And this vague reference to economic development by the MBTA is not necessarily encouraging, considering that the Kraft Group’s conception of economic development in the past has included such damaging things as a proposed casino, which was soundly halted by public opposition in 2012.

Mr. Kraft is also involved with the committee seeking to bring the Olympic games to the Boston area in 2024, and has publicly indicated interest in the past in bringing a Super Bowl to Gillette in the future. The taxpayer-subsidized train line could conceivably enable him to bring any of those events to Gillette, all for monetary gain.

Nobody from the Kraft Group was present at Tuesday’s meeting in Walpole, though Selectmen suggested that they were aware of it and could have attended. Representatives from the Kraft Group were present, but never spoke, at the MBTA’s meeting with Foxboro Selectmen last month.

Selectmen and residents pointed out Tuesday that the MBTA could consider more cost effective alternatives to outright commuter rail expansion, such as extending bus service to Gillette and areas along Route 1. Mr. Mohler did not directly explain why this option was not considered. And if there are parking shortages at other area commuter rail stations that warrant a need for a Foxboro station, perhaps it is time for MBTA officials to consider building parking garages or more efficient use of lots in partnership with local business owners.

So, exactly who benefits from this plan, other than the Kraft Group? Taxpayers lose, because they will be paying more for a bankrupt transportation system. Foxborough and Walpole residents certainly don’t win, because they have other perfectly acceptable commuter rail options available to them at the Walpole, Sharon, and Mansfield commuter rail stations. There has been no crying demand for the rail line expansion. The only one who walks away from the entire deal as a winner is Mr. Kraft and his company.

If officials had been open and honest from the beginning, it might have reassured residents that the proposal was being properly vetted and its intention was purely for the best interest of the area. But local officials weren’t even given the courtesy of a phone call when MassDOT’s decision to purchase the CSX line first came down. That sure does sound rather bizarre, given how simple it is to make a phone call (or send an email). What’s really going on here? Why the secrecy surrounding a very significant decision with major implications for both area residents and taxpayers as a whole?

Comings and goings in big appointments

December 1, 2014

Update 12/2/13: David Sullivan is NOT moving to Maine, that was incorrect information from a Sewer & Water Commission meeting. Apologies for the error.

Former Walpole Selectman David Sullivan is moving to Maine, and he is leaving behind two key spots on major town committees.

Mr. Sullivan was an elected Town Meeting Rep. from Precinct 3, an elected Sewer and Water Commissioner, and an appointed member of Capital Budget Committee, Conservation Commission, Council on Aging, Ponds Committee, and Veterans Committee.

Under the Town Charter, his seat on Sewer and Water Commission had to be filled by a joint vote of Selectmen and his four Commission colleagues. Selectmen advertised the opening for only a few days, on the town website, and only one person applied, Bill Abbott.

Mr. Abbott, a member of Capital Budget Committee and RTM from Precinct 6, served on the Sewer and Water Commission from 1982 to 1991, and again from 1993 to 2004, according to the town website.

As the only applicant for the vacancy, he was formally appointed to fill the seat at a joint meeting of the Selectmen and Sewer and Water Commission last Monday.

He will still have to go through a special election for the seat in the June 2015 election, to fill the remaining two years of the term. Commissioners Pat Fasanello and Ken Fettig are also up for re-election in 2015.

Meanwhile, Moderator Jon Rockwood appointed Precinct 7 RTM Al Tedesco to fill the opening left by Mr. Sullivan on Capital Budget Committee. Mr. Tedesco, a RTM since 2013, is very intelligent and is not afraid to oppose unnecessary capital budget expenses. The capital budget is ripe for major reform.

Another vacancy on the Capital Budget Committee, left by Robert Connolly who is leaving town, was filled by former Selectman Eric Kraus.

Moderator Rockwood has a history of putting former Selectmen like Mr. Kraus on the committees that he appoints. In the past few years, he has appointed former Selectman Joe Denneen to the Finance Committee, former Selectmen William Ryan and Al DeNapoli to the Personnel Board, and Mr. Sullivan to the Capital Budget Committee.

Mr. Sullivan’s seats on the other committees that are appointed by Selectmen have not yet been filled. His RTM seat will be filled at a caucus of the other Precinct 3 RTMs at the May Town Meeting, and then will be filled in a special election next June.

In other appointment news, Moderator Rockwood appointed Precinct 3 RTM Ann Ragosta in October to replace Donna DiCenso, who relocated to another town. Moderator Rockwood also appointed Precinct 2 RTM Ann Walsh to fill the vacancy left by Sheila Ahmed, who resigned.

In other news related to the 2015 town election, candidates are already lining up to run for some town-wide offices. At this point, no candidates have formally announced, and plans could change. It would be irresponsible for 180 to publicly speculate on candidates for particular offices. Nomination papers will be available February 1.

Expect to see some candidates emerge from Town Meeting to run for various town-wide boards.

Who do you think should run?

Former mill site enters next chapter in storied history

November 26, 2014

The ongoing demolition of the abandoned buildings on the South Street Superfund site effectively marks the end to a long and storied chapter in local history that brought both good and bad to the town of Walpole over two centuries.

The west side of the street, which has been fenced off and abandoned for more than 20 years, has essentially been stigmatized as a toxic waste dump for the generation growing up in Walpole today. But while its long history has indeed included an association with toxic substances, the site was a major part of Walpole’s industrial history during its heyday.

Walpole town officials hope to redevelop both the east and west sides in the coming years for municipal use.

The site was used continuously by various industries and enterprises from the 1700s to around 1986.

There are few specific details of operations at the site during the 1700s, however there is some evidence of various mills and a forge being located there, all powered by the Neponset River that traverses the site.

Around 1811, John Blackburn started the Blackburn Privilege east of the site, where the Town Forest is today. Soon after, in 1812, the Union Privilege began operating on the west side. These were two of the 10 privileges established along the Neponset River in the 1800s.

The term “privilege” refers to a grant by the government allowing commercial use of the river for water supply and power.

Blackburn and his son, George, used their privilege to power the manufacture of both machinery and cotton yarn. Their facility eventually burned down, sometime in the late 1830s or early 1840s, and both father and son apparently moved on to other pursuits.

In 1846, Blackburn’s other son, John, teamed up with Ollis Clap and replaced the burned building with a new factory to manufacture stoves, machinery, and iron castings. This operation apparently ceased around 1854.

Meanwhile, in 1813, the Union Privilege, on the west side of the site, was taken over by Oliver Clap & Co, operated by Oliver and Warren Clap, Daniel Ellis, Daniel Payson, and Edward G. Cundal. This company eventually turned into the Union Manufacturing Company, dealing with cotton and wool textiles.

According to Willard DeLue’s “Story of Walpole,” published in 1925, their factory was “four and a half stories high and 60 X [by] 40 feet, being surmounted by a bell tower.”

Between about 1850 and 1872, Manning, Glover, & Company, owned by Charles Manning, Henry R. Glover, and Jerome B. Cram, used the site to manufacture curled hair mattresses and cotton batting and wicking. It is believed that this company occupied most of both the east and west sides of the site.

After 1872, Manning left the company, and it became Cram and Glover. The factory employed about 24 workers in 1875, according to DeLue.

The factory continued operation until 1881 when a fire destroyed most of the buildings, according to DeLue. After this time, the main operation at the site was the Union Carpet Lining Company. This business ceased in 1891 upon the death of its owner, Stephen Pember.

Industrial processes conducted at the site by this time involved some hazardous substances like chromium, arsenic, and mercury.

Between 1891 and 1900, there are no records indicating specifically what occurred at the site.

Around 1900, the Massachusetts Chemical Company, based in South Boston, bought the land on both sides of the street. Shortly after the acquisition, they apparently constructed some buildings, including what is now the abandoned factory located on the west side of the street. Mass. Chemical was in the business of manufacturing rubber heels and soles for shoes.

Mass Chemical sold the rubber to Foster Rubber Company of Boston, under the brand names “Catspaw,” “Foster,” and “Orthopedic.” Mass. Chemical held many patents for various rubber goods. Their products included the Walpole Rubber Heel for horses and Walpole Hot Water Bottles.

The Walpole Shoe Supply Company was organized in 1908 as an offshoot of Mass. Chemical to manufacture shoe supplies for the rubber.

In 1909, Mass. Chemical opened a factory in Granby, Quebec, Canada “to meet the large trade in Canada and avoid the duty on the goods manufactured at Walpole,” according to a company historical document. The Granby factory was called the Walpole Rubber Company, Ltd.

In 1910, the different parts of the company were brought under one name, the Walpole Rubber Company, with factories in Walpole and Granby, and sales offices in Boston and Montreal. It maintained offices all over the world, including in New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels. Around 1910, it boasted of having total capital of $3 million (almost $80 million today), half of which was in the form of common stock. They claimed to own about 50 acres of land on South Street, with two dams that produced power from the Neponset River and mill ponds.

In 1911, an ad published in various publications including the Providence Evening News boasted that the Walpole Rubber Company was at the time “the largest maker of friction and rubber tapes in the world” with more than 10,000 pounds produced every day.

multibestos

A 1916 drawing of the thriving Standard Woven Fabric Company, later Multibestos, on South Street, which employed up to 300 workers at its height. The left side of the photo is the east side. (Image taken from the May 1916 edition of “The Motor Truck” magazine.)

The company’s historical documentation suggests that the buildings at the site in Walpole were state-of-the-art for the time period. Their largest building had automatic sprinklers, a separate brick walled staircase, and elevator wells.

In 1912, the company changed its name to the Walpole Tire and Rubber Company.

Unfortunately, the company went into receivership in 1913. One record indicates that this might have been a result of the failure of the Atlantic National Bank in Providence. The company maintained profitability but eventually was forced to sell off its assets.

One of the company’s dams sits abandoned today near the South Street site, in the town forest behind the High School. The same dam site had been used previously by Blackburn, and had been rebuilt by Mass. Chemical for hydroelectric power.

In 1915, the buildings on both sides of the street were taken over by the Standard Woven Fabric Company, a manufacturer of asbestos and brake linings. The company moved its existing factory from Framingham to the bigger facility in Walpole.

An article in the May 1916 edition of The Motor Truck magazine described the company’s new plant in Walpole as having “175,000 square feet of floor space … and 75 acres of land available for future expansion.”

“The aggregate value of the plant and real estate was put at well over $500,000,” according to the article. That is equal to more than $10 million in today’s dollars.

The company changed its name to Multibestos in 1920.

The company was a leading manufacturer of asbestos brake linings, gaskets, and asbestos-woven products, and secured a number of patents. During its height, in the 1920s, it employed as many as 300 people, according to DeLue. The company had offices and salesmen all over the country.

The boom times did come at a cost, though.

Multibestos, along with most other companies in its industry, did not take precautions to protect its workers from the effects of carcinogenic asbestos dust. Workers had direct contact with asbestos, without any ventilation or protective masks. Early on, this disregard for workers’ health may have been because the extent of potential health effects from asbestos was not fully understood by factory owners, workers, and health professionals. However, even as many of their workers were getting sick in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Multibestos still did little to protect their workers.

Up until its harmful effects were fully recognized, asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral that comes from mines, was a hot commodity in many different products, particularly automobile brakes.

multibestos_1

Caption from September 25, 1917 edition of The Automobile Journal: Group of Standard Woven Fabric Co. Sales and Branch Managers at the Convention Recently Held at Company’s Plant, Walpole, Mass. Those in the picture: Bottom Row, Left to Right, H.F. Marquardt, C.K. Everett, T.J. Daley, F.W. Dilger, C.O. Anthony, R.D. Northup, D. Hollingsworth, H. Tipper. Middle Row, Left to Right, E.O. Christiansen, M.D. Davies, T. Howard, J.C. Donnelly, H.E. Fannon, R. Everett, S. Bell, M. Voorhees, D.E. Bailey, F.J. Gleason, M.J. Cornelius, T. Lamb, W.H. Williams, C.W. Blackman. Top Row, Left to Right, P. Gardiner, F.V. McGraw, W.J. Mahoney.

The experiences of John Lightbody, of Walpole, chronicled in Walpole Times articles in 1987 and 2004, show just how fatal the conditions at the factory turned out to be for the workers there. Lightbody was one of a number of workers during the 1930s who received compensation from Multibestos as a result of health effects of working in close contact with asbestos dust. The working conditions ended up costing him his life.

According to the Times accounts of his experience, Lightbody began working at the Multibestos factory in 1918. After about a month, he was assigned to the “small weave room” where 16 looms were used to weave asbestos. He worked for about eight years in that room, feeding asbestos “yarn” into the looms and repairing the machines.

Bags of raw asbestos were delivered to the Multibestos factory by train. The tracks ran under Common Street and along the Town Forest. The abandoned railroad easement is still located behind the east side of the site.

“A naturally fibrous mineral, asbestos came to the Multibestos factory in a form resembling yarn. This yarn was tightly wound onto big iron spools called beams. During the production process, the beams of asbestos would be unraveled and pulled onto the looms,” wrote the Times.

During the production process, friction created asbestos dust that covered everything in the room on a daily basis. Lightbody routinely came home with white dust all over his clothes.

The factory had no air circulation systems. Sometimes, employees could use ventilators but “they were so hard to breathe through that it was practically impossible to complete any physical labor while wearing one,” according to the Times.

At one time, a water system was installed in the factory to spray the dust down, but this practice was ended after only a few months. Workers attempted to wet down the asbestos yarn to control the dust, but this was ineffective because it rotted the yarn.

Within only five years of employment at Multibestos, Lightbody developed a cough that worsened as he got older. After the first year of his cough, he consulted medical professionals and was advised to stop working in close proximity to asbestos dust. The company allowed him to work a lower-paid job as a truck driver.

But in this new job, he still had contact with asbestos dust. One of his jobs was to take the dust that had been swept off the factory floors and truck them to a dump on another part of the property. He would sweep the dust out of the back of his truck.

Multibestos truck drivers like Lightbody earned between $20 and $30 per week. During the 1920s, this was a decent salary – equating to about $200 per week in today’s dollars. Workers in the weave room usually earned more money.

In 1933, Lightbody’s health began to worsen, including dramatic weight loss, constant coughing, and generally poor eating and sleeping. He quit his job that year.

The next year, he and the company both appeared in a hearing in front of the state’s Industrial Accident Board (IAB) so that he could argue for disability pay. Doctors testifying on behalf of Lightbody said that “he suffered from a mild case of tuberculosis which had been aggravated to a disabling condition as a result of his exposure to asbestos,” according to the Times.

Doctors testifying on behalf of Multibestos argued that Lightbody’s symptoms were solely because of tuberculosis.

The IAB eventually ruled in Lightbody’s favor, but his compensation was less than he would have received if he still worked at the factory. He received $680.24 in retroactive pay, and $15.46 per week afterward. He also was unable to ever work again.

Lightbody passed away at age 49 in 1938, leaving young children behind. His wife, Clara, had passed away in 1934, and his family speculates that her cause of death, cancer, came about from contact with asbestos dust while cleaning her husband’s clothes.

Around the same time Lightbody and other workers were seeking compensation from Multibestos for their ailments, in the depths of the Great Depression, the company was also running into financial difficulty. The company, owned by Dewey and Almy Chemical Company, sought four different tax abatements from the town starting with its 1932 taxes, and continuing to 1935. The company claimed it was unprofitable and that the tax burden was “excessive,” according to news accounts from the time. The company was prepared to leave Walpole if they didn’t get the abatements.

The abatements were controversial in town at the time, with some arguing that it set a precedent for other companies to claim similar abatements. The factory’s significant impact on the local economy, however, apparently convinced Town Meeting to approve the abatements to preserve the local jobs.

Instead of paying an annual tax of about $15,000 in each of those years, the company paid about $7,000 in each year. This is about $121,000 in today’s dollars, compared to $260,000 that the town would have gotten without the abatement. This is an illustration of just how much Multibestos contributed to the tax base, at a time when industry was a fundamental part of the town’s economy.

In the end, the company shut down anyway, in 1935. The assets and company name were sold to the Raybestos Co. of Connecticut, which still exists today.

About 90 workers filed disability claims against the Multibestos company when they left Walpole in 1935, and they were given large lump sum payments of between $1,000 and $2,000.

According to 1987 testimony to Walpole Selectmen by asbestos author and expert Paul Brodeur, at least 1,000 workers from Multibestos in Walpole died from asbestos-related diseases, and as many as 3,000 workers may have been exposed to asbestos dust during the factory’s 20 year run in Walpole. However, many asbestos-related diseases were misdiagnosed, and some diseases take up to 40 years to materialize from asbestos, meaning that the exact death toll may be hard to determine.

In his 2005 book “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects,” author Barry Castleman suggested that Multibestos’ parent company knew the risks of the working conditions. Castleman wrote that Bradley Dewey, the president of Dewey and Almy, “was interested in the subject of asbestosis and corresponded with a state official and others about it.”

According to Castleman, “Dewey was … convinced that asbestosis was ‘a very serious and sometimes fatal disease.'”

An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune from 2003 indicates that Liberty Mutual, which insured Multibestos between 1916 and 1931, at one time suspected a possible link between asbestos and poor workers’ health.

In the article, headlined “Health studies drew little action,” journalist Greg Gordon wrote that Liberty Mutual conducted a study in 1929 at the Multibestos plant and “reported one employee dead, apparently of an asbestos disease, a number of others so sick they were unable to perform ‘even slight exertion’ and three with ‘hemorrhages from the lungs.'”

Gordon writes that there is “no record of the study being published.”

Correspondence in files from the Mass. Executive Office of Environmental Affairs suggests that, starting around 1929, the Multibestos factory was the “subject of special attention by the Department of Labor and Industries Division of Occupation Hygiene due to a high incidence of asbestosis complaints resulting in both workman’s compensation claims and related legal actions.” The company also owned a plant in Cambridge, which was the subject of similar concerns.

Several decades after Multibestos’ closure, in 1988, the Mass. Department of Public Health, in collaboration with the Walpole Board of Health, conducted a survey intended to determine the extent of the health effects. The study showed that “exposure to site-related asbestos was limited to a small percentage of those individuals either living in the same residence as those occupationally exposed to asbestos or those living within a half-mile radius of the site.”

Some Multibestos workers, and their family members, did not seem to be affected by the factory conditions and lived long lives. One former Multibestos worker, Peter Turco, later became a member of the Walpole Board of Assessors and passed away in 1989 at age 78.

Frank Erker, who is believed to have been the last remaining former Multibestos worker living in Walpole, died at age 99 in 2014. Erker worked for three years at a warehouse on the site, starting at age 18, in 1932. He told The Walpole Times in 1987 that he did not have much direct contact with asbestos dust.

Lightbody’s son, Steele Lightbody, still lives on Washington St. in Walpole and appears to be in good health at 90 years old despite being in contact with some of the dust his father brought home early in his life. He lost his mother at age 10, and his father at 14.

Countless other children and grandchildren of former Multibestos workers are still alive and are living around the country, their precise health conditions unknown.

After Multibestos’ relocation to Connecticut, the South Street site was taken over by Industrial Properties, Inc. IPI sold different parcels of the site to several different parties, including the Kendall Company, and companies owned by members of the Shaffer family like the BIM Investment Corporation.

Kendall used the old factory on the west side primarily for storage until they began using it for a cotton mercerizing operation in 1947.

As part of Kendall’s operation, fibers were washed and bleached prior to fabric production, and waste was discharged into two lagoons on the property.

Their operation on the west side lasted until the mid-1980s. Kendall stopped using the first lagoon as a disposal area in 1982, while use of the second lagoon stopped in 1985.

Kendall sold their land to investment companies owned by members of the Shaffer family, shortly after ending operation. The factory has been abandoned ever since, standing as a symbol of the demise of Walpole’s industrial strength – which came at the expense of many workers and their families.

The east side of the site was used starting in 1935 by various other smaller businesses. These included the Holiday Coffee Company, and a wastepaper recycling plant, known as P. Shaffer and Company, that took over one of Multibestos’ former buildings.

The Shaffer Company’s building burned down in a significant blaze in 1957 that required about 150 firefighters, including from surrounding towns. High school football players had to leave the practice field nearby to assist. The fire was so devastating that nearby homes on Gleason Court were also destroyed.

A front page Walpole Times article shortly after the fire reported that “workers were pulled to safety only minutes before every window in the building belched forth giant, licking tongues of fire.”

The Times account says that the building contained “waste paper and rags, bailed tightly and stocked closely.” These exploded soon after the fire started.

About 60 workers were employed at the plant at that time, according to the Times.

A view of South Street factories, sometime between 1937 and 1957.

A view of South Street factories, the date is unclear but is believed to be sometime between 1935 and 1957. (Source: Walpole Historical Society, reprinted with permission.)

After the fire, the buildings on the east side remained vacant until they were demolished and buried on site around 1972. Since that time, the site has been occupied by smaller buildings primarily used as warehouse space for companies like Stop & Shop and Jacobsen Brothers Movers. The only business still in operation at the site is Cosmec, which operates a small machine shop with a few employees.

Multibestos’ massive dump on the west side, along the Neponset River, remained uncovered for decades, and many residents of town recalled playing there as children. The dump, which included piles of old brake linings and stringy fibers, was not reported to the EPA until 1986 by a Board of Health member.

Soon after the dump was discovered, the EPA and the DEP both ordered cleanup funded by the “responsible parties” to the contamination, which was initially made up of three parties – Shaffer Realty Trust, and BIM Investment Trust, both of which owned and still own the property; and W.R. Grace, Inc., which had acquired Dewey and Almy in the 1950s.

Kendall, which later became part of Tyco Healthcare and then Covidien, also agreed to be designated a “responsible party” during the late 1990s.

The site was added to the EPA’s Superfund National Priorities List in 1994.

As part of the cleanup, in 1992, a 400-foot aluminum culvert was installed to cover the Neponset River that runs through the site. Soils at the site that contained more than 1 percent of asbestos were excavated and consolidated into a smaller area, parallel to the river and culvert, and sealed with a 30-inch soil cap. The soil cap was covered by vegetation to prevent erosion. A fence was installed to protect the site, and the mound itself, from disturbance.

This culvert and pile of soil remains at the site today, and will stay in place after the town takes over the property. The town plans to build a parking lot next to it, and will be responsible for maintaining the grass on top of the cap and culvert. The EPA and the Board of Health both say that the site poses no health risk to the community. The mound legally can not be disturbed due to a deed restriction.

The EPA determined during the early 1990s that on-site soils, sediments, and groundwater were “contaminated with inorganic chemicals, including asbestos, lead, arsenic, and nickel, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and non-volatile organic compounds.” For the last 20 years, the site has been gradually cleaned up, with significant progress made within the past year.

The “responsible parties” will fund the demolition of the abandoned factory building on the west side. The buildings on the east side will be demolished soon as well, funded by both the town and the “responsible parties.” Health Director Robin Chapell told Town Meeting in October that the “responsible parties” are now tied to specific benchmarks to ensure the cleanup process continues as scheduled.

A tribute to Tom Driscoll

November 22, 2014

Tom Driscoll, RTM from Precinct 4, and longtime town appointed and elected official, passed away unexpectedly last Friday at age 69. He had served the town in a number of capacities, including Finance Committee member, Planning Board member, and Insurance Advisory Committee member.

If you know anything about politics, especially in Walpole, you probably know that there can be a lot of reason for cynicism. You never really know who to trust. You sometimes don’t really know where some of our elected officials stand. You wonder if our representatives and elected officials are really fighting for the best interest of the people, or if they are fighting for themselves.

Tom Driscoll epitomized the best side of politics. Walpole lost a great public servant when he passed away last week. On a more personal basis, I also lost a very good friend. I feel very humbled and privileged to have had a chance to know him.

I was somewhat shortchanged in that I knew Tom for a shorter time than many of his other friends did. I only knew him for one and a half years, but looking back it seemed like much longer. However, during the course of our friendship, I got to know him both as a man and as a politician. Loyalty – to his family, his friends, and his community – is really his most significant character trait. Loyalty is really an underrated virtue in our society, especially these days, but Tom understood its value.

My first interactions with Tom were some time in late 2012, when somehow he stumbled on to my blog and posted a comment on an article about Walpole prison mitigation money.

“Thanks. Very interesting and facts we wouldn’t learn from elected or appointed officials,” Tom wrote, before breaking into one of his trademark short essays about over-taxation from the state and the lack of local aid coming back to cities and towns.

Let me be clear about this: prior to this comment on my blog, Tom was something of a legend in my mind. When I first got involved in local politics, shortly before the power plant controversy of 2007 and 2008, Tom’s vigorous speeches at the microphone at various Town Meetings stuck in my mind even all these years later. I had admired him from a distance for some time, but never got the opportunity to speak to him. And then all of a sudden, here was the great “Tom Driscoll” commenting on my blog. Wow!

A couple months later, Tom and I met for the first time, through mutual connections, when the two of us volunteered to join up and collect signatures for a U.S. Senate candidate outside the Walpole Stop & Shop. While standing out in the cold, just the two of us, he regaled me with stories about his time in town politics, while I peppered him with questions. At that time, Tom also had a lot of questions for me – one of the traits I always liked about Tom is that it was never all about him. He always wanted to know how others were doing, and what they were up to. And he would remember everything you told him, and would follow up with you later on.

A relationship that began outside the Walpole Stop & Shop quickly turned into a much stronger friendship. Since that day, the two of us have collected many hundreds more signatures outside grocery stores, stood out in all types of weather holding signs for political candidates, and had many hours of conversations over the phone and in his living room. The topics of our conversations ranged; we covered everything from Conservation Commission issues to his time as a Vietnam veteran. But politics, of course, was usually the main discussion and we never ran out of things to talk about. In most cases, I would just sit back and listen because he had so much knowledge and wisdom to share.

I got to know his wife, Debbie, too, through many of those conversations in his living room. She was just as kind as he was, and it was obvious that the two of them were very close. This, again, was a function of Tom’s undivided loyalty to his family. He spoke often of his wife, and his two grown children and grandchildren.

His loyalty to his friends and his community was evident in much of his political activism. One thing that stands in my mind is that Tom stood out every Saturday starting this past August, until Election Day in November, on either the Walpole or Norwood town common, holding signs for his dentist and longtime friend Tim Hempton who was running for state rep. He even did this in a drenching rain storm, and under very hot sun. He also took an entire day off from work (he still ran his own business and worked full-time, even at age 69) on Election Day to hold signs at Old Post Road School. How many people would be so loyal to a friend that they would take an entire day off from work to hold a political sign for them?

I would reiterate what former Selectwoman Joanne Muti wrote recently, which is much better than I could have written myself: “What was remarkable to me is that Tom would stand at the polls all day long and never ask for anything in return other than good government.”

Tom also had a reputation for being a steadfast conservative, which he wouldn’t deny, but I also got to know him well enough to say with certainty that political ideology was not the overriding cause that drove him and his efforts. Above all else, he was very loyal to his town, and he wanted what was best for Walpole.

This intense loyalty to his community manifested itself in his long-running devotion to fighting bad developers and contamination of the aquifer, starting in the 1980s with his fight against Walpole Park South. Through just about every major battle against bad development for the past two decades, Tom was always among those leading the charge. You can say what you want about Tom’s political views, but everyone in town has to agree that Tom was a big advocate for protecting our drinking water, and for preventing toxic businesses. We are all unquestionably better off today as a town because of his relentless vigilance.

This desire to only seek what was in the best interest of the community transcended political ideologies. When he passed away, he was still in the process of waging a battle in the state legislature for the passage of House Bill 732, which would strengthen oversight of licensed site professionals. Tom felt very strongly that the bill would protect residents of the community, and he solicited the support of Democratic Rep. Lou Kafka, and other Democratic legislators. He routinely expressed his disgust with the fact that some Republicans in the state legislature were unwilling to support the legislation for fear of being seen as too environmentalist. He pressured many town officials to send letters of support for the bill, and was furious when certain officials were reluctant to do so. Unfortunately, he will never get to see the passage of the bill, but it surely would not be where it is today in the legislative process without his efforts.

Tom did get into a lot of trouble, too. Indeed, he made plenty of enemies. But in order to upset the Establishment and the status quo at Walpole Town Hall, you often have to ruffle some feathers. Everything that he ever did in politics was driven by what he believed was best for the town, and he put his heart and passion into what he did.

Even up to the day he passed away, Tom was still participating in town politics, looking out for the best interest of the entire community. Just 48 hours before his departure, last Wednesday, he attended a Selectmen meeting, with town health insurance as the main agenda item. As an insurance professional, and a longtime member of the Insurance Advisory Committee, Tom has always been very passionate about insurance issues. I did not attend the meeting, but those who were there said Tom got very hot under the collar (very characteristic of him), and vociferously advocated for a change in health insurance that would benefit not only taxpayers, but also union members whose health insurance dollars he felt were not being spent efficiently under the existing structure. He genuinely felt that union members would benefit from the change, just as much as taxpayers. The next day, just hours before his death, he was sending out emails to various friends in town government emphasizing his concerns and expressing disappointment that Selectmen had voted to delay a vote on the issue for 30 days.

In retrospect, attending that meeting, and standing out holding sign for hours on Election Day, was probably not good for his health. But if those activities during the last month of his life contributed in any way to Tom’s passing, I think that he might have liked that politics and health insurance, two of his biggest passions, were among the last issues he got to talk about in his life. It was an appropriate capstone to his political career and to his life as a whole.

The number of people who came out to attend Tom’s wake on Monday was a tribute to how many friends he had made. I don’t think he really even knew just how well-liked he was. He was always so humble about his relationships and connections with other people.

I feel very grateful to have known Tom, and to have had a chance to be in his inner circle of “friends.” In the blood sport that is Walpole politics, I can say with all honesty that Tom was one of the few that I trusted, and the only one I knew who had all the answers I needed. I know that he is looking down on us today, keeping an eye on the town’s water supply and tax dollars for the benefit of all of us.

Why the override lost

November 5, 2014

Most citizens don’t mind paying taxes, or even paying more in taxes, if they believe their money will be put to good use. Our government requires taxes to run its day-to-day operations, to deliver services, and to invest in infrastructure and public buildings.

The facilities override on the Nov. 4 ballot was defeated by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin, more than 1,000 votes, because it did not elicit confidence in taxpayers that their dollars would be well spent.

More importantly, the override failed, by a wider-than-expected margin, because Town Hall is out of touch with the economic realities of the community. It lost in every precinct except Precinct 4, home of the Superfund site where a police station and senior center would be built.

This override was really a referendum on the misguided leadership of Town Hall.

In the end, our town departments, and our taxpayers, deserved much better than the $30 million facilities plan proposed by Selectmen. The results should be disappointing not only for Selectmen, a few of whom staked their own legacies on it, but also for the rest of us who can now see that we are served by a Board of Selectmen that just does not represent us. Our own Selectmen have failed us and reduced our confidence in their leadership.

Our town committees and staff have the combined brainpower, from all different parts of the political spectrum, to develop a plan for new buildings that does not involve the same tired tactic of raising taxes. It is not easy, nor is it necessarily politically convenient to think strategically about funding alternatives. But this method of investing in infrastructure without higher taxes has paid off in other towns, like Bellingham and Carver.

Instead of thinking outside the box, Selectmen took the easy way out – devoting their efforts to selling a tax increase they argued was a panacea to the town’s building problems, with a hodgepodge of buildings jammed into a $30 million blank check based on vague and subjective cost controls. They became so focused on the sales pitch that they forgot the people they were elected to serve – people with modest means who are now limping out of the worst economic recession in decades.

Town Hall is stacked against the little people. The plan rejected by a majority of voters on Tuesday had received resounding support from all sectors of town government. The Board of Selectmen approved the plan unanimously, all but one member of the Finance Committee approved it, the Capital Budget Committee and Sewer and Water Commission supported it, and Town Meeting Representatives favored it by more than a 2/3 margin. Town officials poured a lot of their own money into a political action committee (PAC) to sell it to the voters. Override opponents ran a grassroots operation on a shoestring budget, and were outspent and outworked tremendously. Yet after all that, voters still rejected it decisively, showing just how tone-deaf all of those officials really are.

How is it that so many town boards and committees, with the exception of one Finance Committee member, failed to recognize that the plan was too big, too wayward, too overwhelming, too vague, too expensive, and too much for the town’s taxpayers to bear? How is it that none of these officials thought that maybe a better approach is to live within the town’s means, come up with alternatives, and build what we can afford in a measured approach? How were all these town officials so out of touch with the people they represent?

Going forward, Selectmen need to explore a more reasonable approach to facilities that does not amount to a utopian vision of grandeur more fit for a town like Wellesley than Walpole. We can afford new buildings within our operating budget by being smart and creative about our spending, and being inclusive in our decision-making.

For starters, Walpole Selectmen should ask Town Meeting Representatives in the spring to appropriate $9 million, already available, to a new police station on the former South Street Superfund site. Selectmen should follow that with a structured plan to use new growth in taxation and more frugal spending to bond other building projects over the next 20 years without a tax hike.

FACILITIES OVERRIDE FAILS

November 4, 2014

Walpole voters today rejected a $21 million Proposition 2.5 tax override by a decisive margin, delivering a big blow to a Town Hall that had overwhelmingly supported the plan and put the full brunt of their political will behind attempting to sell the plan to voters.

The override lost by a 55 to 45 percent margin, 1043 votes, town-wide.

It lost in all precincts except Precinct 4, home to the South Street Superfund site where the police station and senior center were proposed.

Turnout town-wide was 64 percent.

Selectmen chairman Mark Gallivan told The Walpole Times this evening that Selectmen would re-assess the building situation and would likely put another plan forward before voters in the town election in June.

Incumbent Rep. John Rogers beat challenger Tim Hempton in Walpole by 66 votes. Rep. Rogers also won Norwood. The Walpole Times has coverage of the State Rep. race here.

FULL RESULTS HERE.

Override Results:

Precinct 1…
Yes: 514
No: 657

Precinct 2…
Yes: 636
No: 783

Precinct 3…
Yes: 615
No: 709

Precinct 4…
Yes: 683
No: 570

Precinct 5…
Yes: 522
No: 629

Precinct 6…
Yes: 553
No: 870

Precinct 7…
Yes: 590
No: 742

Precinct 8…
Yes: 594
No: 790

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