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Row over insurance ends in resignation in Dracut

DRACUT – When the New England weather cooperates, Dracut residents can get out their skates and sleds and head to Beaver Brook Farm for a few hours of winter fun.

But the brouhaha that may have blocked these proposed activities led to the resignation of Josh Taylor from the Beaver Brook Farm Ad Hoc Committee, the Conservation Commission and the Community Conservation Commission. Taylor ran for a seat on the Board of Selectmen earlier this year, but lost.

The Beaver Brook Farm Ad Hoc Committee is not the only committee in the town’s spotlight. The Zoning Bylaw Review Committee drew some controversy during last week’s Board of Selectmen. The issue there is the addition of two alternative committee members to solve the problem of absence on the board.

In an audio tape obtained by The Sun of the most recent Beaver Brook committee meeting, Taylor sparred with City Manager Ann Vandal over the issue of insurance. He ended the argument by resigning.

Voices on the tape were muffled at times, but both Vandal and Taylor agree that he resigned in the middle of the discussion and walked out the door. Someone in the room laughed when Taylor said he resigned. “I didn’t see that coming,” said the voice.

Vandal maintained that the town was not insured for activities such as skating and sledding, and Taylor insisted that it was.

Vandal said in a statement to The Sun on Monday that her office “supports the ice rink and sledging. At the insurance company’s insistence and to reduce the Town’s liability for such events, we have always required outside associations not affiliated with the Town of Dracut to provide an insurance bond for events held on Town Property.

“As an example, when private parties are held at Harmony Hall, the hosts are required to provide an insurance binder and when the Boy Scouts or a similar group holds events at Beaver Brook Farm, they are also required to provide an insurance bond.” continued her statement.

“The Friends of the Beaver Brook Farm are planning a skating rink and sledding area, they are also expected to provide a binder, which they have agreed to. The town should not bear the cost of any injuries sustained at any activities held by the Friends of the Beaver Brook Farm or any other events held by a private entity on town property,” Vandal wrote.

According to Taylor, Vandal copied him on an email exchange with the insurance company the morning after the ad hoc committee meeting, and the company said the town had insurance for such activities. Taylor said skating and sledding have been under discussion for more than a year.

The distinction between Vandal’s argument and Taylor’s appears to be an “affiliation” with the town. The Friends of Beaver Brook Farm is not affiliated with the town. The idea for sledding and skating originated with the Friends last year.

Vandal said the town is “actively accepting applications from interested parties for the Conservation Commission. The Conservation Commission will have to appoint a representative on the Community Conservation Committee.”

Taylor’s replacement on the ad hoc committee will be Alison Genest, chairman of the selectors.

The Zoning Bylaw Review Committee had an attendance problem. One of the reasons is that no representative of the three-member Board of Health can attend.

The committee consists of two representatives from the Planning Board and two from the Zoning Board of Appeals. It also consists of one representative each from the Board of Selectmen, Conservation Commission and the Board of Health.

Selectman Heather Santiago-Hutchings presented a proposal to fellow board members to replace the health board representative with someone who served on the now-disbanded Master Plan Committee. Selectmen agreed to consider adding two alternate members to replace the health board member. Two substitute members would mean an additional stand-in if another member could not attend a meeting.

Interviews for the two jobs were set up and then abruptly canceled, or so it seems to Santiago-Hutchings. She was not notified, even though she is the selectors’ representative on the review committee.

The decision to cancel was made at a meeting attended by Vandal, Genest and director of community development Alison Manugian.

Santiago-Hutchings made her feelings known at the last selectmen’s meeting, and Vandal responded that she wasn’t “trying to hide anything.”

The interviews are being rescheduled, Vandal said.

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