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Could RMV move to Foster St.?

Clark doubtful of change

July 28, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Despite nearly 6,600 signatures opposing the plan, it looks like the Registry is still moving.

But where is up in the air, possibly depending on the outcome of a Monday meeting in Worcester between Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, Town Manager Chris Clark, Councilor Laurent McDonald and four state legislators.

"It went good; they heard what we had to say," McDonald said. "The whole thing is, like everywhere else now, is money."

During the meeting, McDonald proposed what he thinks could work as a solution, but declined to be specific because it would require Town Council approval. When asked, however, he said it would involve using vacant town property, noting, "We wouldn't have any control over private space."

Clark, however, was more direct. Tuesday morning, he said, he met with a site search person from the Registry and took him on a tour.

"I did show him the water department building as an alternate to the site here in Southbridge," he said, noting the town could offer "a discounted rent or maybe no rent."

The water department vacated its building on Foster Street a few months ago, when all of the public works operations came together in the new Guelphwood Road facility. Since then, it's been mostly vacant, although part of the basement is leased to one of the businesses run by Center of Hope.

"I think he was pleased that the site made a lot of sense, but was non-committal," Clark said. Later, however, he added, "We gave them a viable alternative, but I was basically told in a nice way that it's still going [to Charlton]."

To McDonald, almost anywhere would be better than the site the Registry has been considering — the empty visitor center at the eastbound Mass Pike rest area in Charlton. He said the state would have to "spend about $1 million on the outside of that building" to make it usable, including extending a walkway and making it handicapped-accessible, adding signs because it crosses a truck lane, rerouting a McDonald's drive-through lane, road painting, signs in the lot itself and on Route 20 and other changes.

"It's a totally asinine proposal [to move there], but you can't get it through her head," McDonald said, referring to state Registrar Rachel Kaprielian. "She thinks it's the best thing since popcorn."

Kaprielian has argued the move is necessary to save money, is safe, and has been "signed off on" by Mass Highway, the Turnpike Authority and the state police. Last week, she said going to the Pike site wouldn't cost the Registry anything because it's already owned by a sister agency and the various necessary work could be done by other state agencies within the Executive Office of Transportation.

State Sen. Steven Brewer, D-Barre, was one of the Worcester participants, as were Sen. Richard Moore, and Reps. Geraldo Alicea and Anne Gobi. Brewer said he didn't "think the Pike was a reasonable solution," and, even though he represents the town, believes going there "is not any net benefit for the people of Charlton."

"If there's a viable location in Southbridge — and I stress viable: access, parking and safe — let's look at it," he said.

Describing the existence of a Registry branch in Southbridge as "particularly critical," Brewer said he even uses it, despite living nearly an hour away. "It's less insane than Worcester, and less insane than Springfield," he added.

At this point, he noted, the process is essentially in the state administration's hands, since the Registry is an executive department outside legislative control. But "we'll continue to make noise," he promised; similar noise prompted the Registry to change its mind on closing a branch in New Bedford recently.

Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at gsteeves@stonebridgepress.com.

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