Aldermen squash parkway resolution

NASHUA – By voting not to have a second referendum on the Broad Street Parkway, aldermen on Tuesday either denied residents their voice or refused to abdicate their responsibility as elected officials, depending on one’s perspective.

Both points were made leading up to the board’s 9-6 vote not to call a Sept. 9 non-binding referendum that would have gauged residents’ feelings on whether to proceed with the controversial cross-city roadway.

In arguing against the referendum, Alderman-at-Large Brian McCarthy cited Edmund Burke, an 18th-century British statesman who defended the principle of representative democracy.

McCarthy said he was elected to explore complex issues with an open mind and then to vote according to his judgment and not in accordance with an opinion poll.

“If I wanted to take polls, I would have applied to the Harris organization instead,” McCarthy said.

The referendum was an issue that spilt the often-divided board in unusual ways, creating alliances among aldermen who typically are political foes.

“First of all, I find myself in some interesting company,” Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom said.

In opposing the referendum, he joined Aldermen-at-Large McCarthy, Lori Wilshire and Steven Bolton and ward Aldermen Richard LaRose, Michael Tamposi Jr., Michael Tabacsko, Marc Plamondon and Jeffrey Cox.

The failed resolution’s chief architect, Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons, noted that in 1997 the city held a referendum on whether to proceed with the parkway.

At the time, the project was a four-lane road slated to be built entirely with federal money. The question passed with about 56 percent of the vote.

Now, the city would have to borrow an estimated $37.6 million to build a scaled-down, two-lane road that follows roughly the same path, crossing the Nashua River near the Millyard technology area.

“The fact of the matter is that the project has changed dramatically,” Clemons said.

He said he is a proponent of voting and giving residents a voice.

Clemon’s resolution for the referendum was backed by Alderman-at-Large David Deane and ward Aldermen Mark Cookson, Paul Chasse Jr., Richard Flynn and Dave MacLaughlin.

“I don’t see any concrete evidence of the roadway stimulating the downtown, no matter how far into the future you look,” Deane said.

Chasse said that while he supported giving residents a voice, he doubted the outcome of a citywide vote would sway aldermen, whose positions seem to be entrenched on whether to build the roadway.

“I would argue that 30 years of discussion is enough, and we should make a decision one way or another,” Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said.

Wilshire said the city should have built the parkway long ago.

“We should be sitting here tonight talking about the reconstruction of the Broad Street Parkway, not the initial build,” she said.

Other aldermen agreed that it’s time to make a decision, and the board may soon find itself doing just that.

Also on Tuesday, a resolution cosponsored by Teeboom and Plamondon to borrow up to $36.7 million to build the parkway had its first hearing.

The resolution was referred to the board’s budget review committee for discussion, and a public hearing must be held on the bond proposal before it comes back to the full board for a vote.

Because it involves a bond issue, the resolution will need 10 votes to pass.

That would mean holding the nine aldermen who opposed the referendum and winning over one of the six who supported it.

Before the board’s meeting, 12 of the 15 aldermen attended a workshop on parkway financing.

Called by Lozeau, the workshop also was attended by Don Zizzi, acting economic development director, Steve Williams, executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission, and City Engineer Steve Dookran.

The workshop was an informal discussion that touched on such issues as how to weigh the parkway’s potential benefits and how a city could go about building wealth.

Zizzi outlined possible benefits of the parkway aldermen should examine when they decide whether to pursue the construction.

In response to a question from Deane, Zizzi said in his opinion the aldermen shouldn’t bother contracting for a detailed benefit analysis that could cost as much as $100,000.