The Housing Authority and selectmen want no repeat of last year’s scenario, when senior citizens and handicapped residents living in the town’s Woodland Meadows complex went without power for days after Hurricane Irene hit.
Housing Director Andrea Downey told selectmen Wednesday the board is seeking a generator large enough to provide heat to the Woodland Meadows common room and power to the septic system lift station.
“During storms everyone gets a little panicked,” said Downey, adding if the common room was powered, it would provide a warm and lighted area during storms that appear to be getting more severe in recent years.
The complex provides 144 units of housing, mostly for elderly residents, but also for handicapped younger people. She said 25 residents use oxygen.
During Irene, 14 senior citizens in town had to be moved to a shelter in Attleboro because they were on oxygen.
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Downey said the high school is willing to donate its generator to the Housing Authority, but that equipment is 40 years old, outdated and very noisy.
“We would like to build funds to buy a new one,” she said. She estimates the Authority would have to accumulate about $80,000 before they could expect the state Department of Housing and Community Development to agree to pay the cost of engineering to determine what kind of equipment the complex would need.
The engineering would cost between $10,000 and $20,000, and would be paid for by the state. The rest, Downey said, would have to be paid by the Authority itself. Right now, the group has about $35,000 to dedicate to the generator project.
She asked the board if they could look into any available funds or grants that might prove to have money.
“There are 240 housing authorities in the state,” she said. “The DHCD can’t hand out generators. They will only help with the engineering work.”
Selectman Bob Kimball said trying to get donations to support the purchase is a sticky issue, because Woodland Meadows, while populated mostly by Norton residents, is owned and operated by the state. “We have to be careful how we approach this,” he said.
But he advised Downey and the Authority to reach out to the town’s power provider, National Grid, and find out if they can provide some help. Selectmen also will invite the town’s state legislators to a meeting at Woodland Meadows, preferably very soon.
“We need to keep this going,” said Kimball. “If we need to beg for money at the next Town Meeting, we need do it.” He suggested the board lead the visiting legislators for a walk through the building.
Authority member Ralph Stefanelli noted the group has taken a proactive stance by taking down trees around the complex that might topple over and take down the wiring. He added after last year’s disaster, with power out for a week, the Authority wanted generator power for the whole complex. In light of lean times, however, they have agreed to ask for much less. “We scaled it way back,” he said.
Downey said some of the residents could not even come downstairs with the power out. “They were just trapped,” she said.
Selectman Robert Salvo warned the group that generators with an output of lower voltage than is required for the septic system pumps could actually burn them out. “You need more than you need,” he said.
Chairman Tim Giblin promised the board will end out an immediate invitation to any legislators involved with the town, and ask them to meet with selectmen and the Housing Authority at their earliest convenience.
“We need to get it done this month,” said Kimball.