Steve Dibble Answers Our Questions
Leggs Hill Bridge, Salem State Impact, Conservation Wetlands
Question 1 – The bridge to Leggs Hill Road from Loring Avenue is very old, and is too narrow to allow full access by our larger emergency equipment. The Lynch/Van Otterloo Y sits at the top of the hill and is located in Salem. Is it time for the City to work to update this crossing?
As the former Salem Conservation Administrator, I am very familiar with the Leggs Hill Road bridge. I agree it is unsightly and in need of repair. The bridge should be replaced with a wider bridge to allow for better vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian access. It is, however, important to note that the Salem Fire Dept, Salem Police and ambulances are able to use the bridge uninhibited in its current state.
For at least three decades the city has applied for replacement funding and has been denied. It’s obviously a bad design, and the right angle turn is dangerous for all. Furthermore, I’ve notified city engineers that the weight limit sign is still missing. City officials are reviewing a recent study of the bridge in preparation to apply for funding from the state’s small bridge replacement program, I am hopeful a replacement may soon be in development.
Traffic isn’t the only issue with the bridge. It spans over the tidal Forest River, but the culvert or drain piping below the bridge is too narrow. It restricts water flow during tidal changes and after storm events. Allowing additional salt water to come in at high tide would help the saltwater marsh ecosystem and significantly mitigate the invasive reed phragmites from continuing to spread, take over resource area borders, and choking out the good habitat vegetation. Out flowing rainwater should be allowed to flow out to the ocean more readily, rather than to pool and flood the area after a rain event which reduces the marsh’s salt content. When the bridge is replaced it should be done so at a higher elevation, in anticipation of future elevated tide and ocean levels due to climate change, and with a much wider and taller culvert below to increase water flow, extend the new bridge’s lifespan and keep the underside of the bridge decking from sitting in corrosive salt water at high tide.
Speaking of the Leggs Hill Road YMCA, everyone should take a look at this amazing facility and inquire about membership. There are extensive programs and opportunities for people of all ages.
Salem State University impacts Ward 7 in many ways. Traffic and parking may be at the top of the list. Do you feel that SSU does enough to mitigate the traffic and to ease the parking burden for the residents and if not, what more can be done?
Like many universities and colleges, SSU’s enrollment is down 2,000 students this year from a few years ago. Having fewer students is really noticeable in our neighborhood and has somewhat eased traffic and neighborhood parking problems.
For the past couple years SSU has staggered its dormitory move-in day, a plan I had worked with them on initially. It is now a very organized event spread over several days. This has been a major improvement over the single day event of years past, and I’ve noticed traffic improvements here as well. I have also participated in other SSU studies and I certainly feel they are far from perfect, but they put the work in to try to be a good neighbor. SSU tried to expand on Lafayette St by purchasing a house, and I lobbied SSU to return it to private ownership. They did so, and the house was sold. I also want the last house on Harrison Rd sold back to a family and will continue to work with SSU to protect our neighborhood.
Together, SSU and I, working as your Ward Councillor, have worked on a few dozen measures of varying size and scope which have had a positive impact on our neighborhood. One example is the Loring Ave bike path crossing design, which I worked on with some 45 neighbors over a three-month period as we drew up plans that would address all of the problems. We eliminated two crosswalks which were forcing drivers to stop several times in one block. The new plan funneled students, staff and faculty to one main crosswalk. SSU was very helpful in making several of my requested changes on their property such as installing their new parking lot fence and removing one of their walkways which extended in the wrong direction. Both changes help direct all pedestrians towards the bike path crosswalk. When we asked SSU to be part of the solution, they stepped up and did so. I believe this is the best type of relationship we can have with the school. In the end we saved the three parking spaces that were slated to be removed in front of the three Loring Ave homes, and made the pedestrian crossing situation safer for everyone.
Many of you have seen a plan I designed to increase the number of parking spaces in SSU parking lots to help remove the 160 dorm student cars that would park all week without moving in front of our homes in our neighborhood – mostly on Loring Ave but also on Jefferson, Preston, Harrison, and other side streets. I have been able to change the parking restrictions on several of these streets which has helped but we needed SSU to step up as well. SSU just announced that they will soon be constructing part of my parking lot design and I thanked Salem State for listening to us.
While Beverly has 5 train stops Salem has only 1. Salem State supports the construction of a new South Salem Commuter Rail stop that I feel is the biggest thing we can do to reduce traffic. For example, 5,400 people work at North Shore Medical Center and most drive to work. The proposed train stop would provide convenient access to the hospital, SSU once the mid section of the bike path is built behind Broadway, and to many residents of Ward 3, 5 and 7. SSU, Salem Hospital, and the City are in discussions to provide substantial seed monies from each to entice the state to move the train stop forward.
University will soon be selling off the entire SSU South Campus (upper and lower campus) including the Harrington Building, Bates Dorms, Alumni House, AB building, etc and we need a strong knowledgeable Councillor to help protect our neighborhood and to be able to work with the future developer to shape plans that work. On a smaller note, I have already raised the need to have SSU grant a portion of the property to the Salem Conservation Commission along the river and the trail head as the first 300’ or so of the path is owned by Salem State and soon a developer unless we act now. We need access to be protected and guaranteed when sold. For over 3 decades with hundreds of other volunteers, I have enjoyed working on trail maintenance and bridge repairs on the Forest River Conservation Area trails behind SSU South Campus and look forward to working with Salem State to be sure public access is allowed going forward from the end of Harrison Road and into the trail.
Salem State brings so much to our city in too many ways to count. Many reading this today, like me, graduated from this fine school. I pledge to continue to work with SSU officials, to ask the hard questions, and find solutions to keep our neighborhood strong as I have been doing for the past 3 ½ years as your Ward Councillor.
Ward 7 has a lot of conservation wetland that serve a critical environmental purpose for Salem and surrounding communities. Are we doing enough to maintain these spaces and to mitigate any potential issues associated with global warming?
No, we are not doing enough to protect these important resource areas. The CPA funds were designed in part to purchase lands for conservation but we have purchased none in Salem – and this needs to change so we can enhance and further protect the habitat in Salem from over development.
We must get the nearly 300 gas leaks under Salem’s streets fixed as experts feel this leaking gas problem all across America is the biggest issue causing climate change and hurting resource areas like the one here in Ward 7. For three years I have been attending gas leaks meetings in Salem, Arlington, Lowell, and other towns and it is time for us to act both at the state level and in Salem. If you smell gas call 911 immediately, and call again every time you smell it. The gas companies say it is safe but there is no such thing as a safe gas leak. The gas companies in Massachusetts are allowed to bill you the rate payers at a profit for the leaked gas. This is unacceptable! If the State stops allowing this, the gas company will immediately fix all the bigger leaks.
As mentioned in question 1, the Leggs Hill Rd bridge culvert needs to be made larger to allow more water to flow into the Forest River marsh to help with wildlife and allow the salt water to kill off invasive phragmite vegetation.
We all need to act. A decade ago, my wife Jean and I added 28 solar panels and mini split heat pumps, used to create electric heat and air conditioning, to our home and reduced our carbon footprint while nearly eliminating our electric bill. To help the environment, every home with a southerly facing roof not blocked by trees should do the same. I designed Salem’s first curbside recycling program thirty years ago, and in working with the Salem Recycling Committee promoted many environmentally beneficial programs for Salem residents. I have a strong history of helping our planet and our neighborhood.
For 33 years I have donated my time to protect and enhance Ward 7’s Forest River Conservation Area, a valuable natural habitat. Together as volunteers we have built 4 bridges, maintained the trails, blazed the main Yellow trail leading from SSU South Campus up to Eagle Hill (which was once a volcano) blazed a new Blue trail leading from the yellow trail over to Pickman Park Condos as requested by those residents. Residents of the Village of Vinnin Square have also requested to be connected to the trail system and we are now in the process of designing that 3rd trail. When completed you and your friends will be able to walk through the beautiful woods from Pickman Park Condos to Village at Vinnin Square and back to SSU South Campus without seeing a single street. I have given fun educational and conservation walking tours to thousands of Salem residents in this resource area. Please join me on our next fall foliage hike, 1½ hours in total, meet at SSU South Campus, far end of Harrison Road, at 10:00am on Saturday October 19.
I am as committed to defending and preserving that natural resources now as I have been since moving to Salem in 1980, and will continue to fight to protect our environment both as you Ward Councillor and as a Salem citizen.