McHugh puts the public in public works

Water and Sewer receiving their award from the MassDEP Photo by Amy McHugh

A group of residents gathered at the Eveleth School, also known as the current Abbot Public Library, to learn about the state of Marblehead’s Department of Public Works. Director Amy McHugh spoke for two hours about past, present, and future projects she and her team are presiding over to try to improve the town’s infrastructure.

McHugh oversees the Highway, Storm Water, Tree, and Fleet Mechanic Departments. She began with an overview of all four, detailing elements such as staffing, funding sources, and third-party company involvement. She emphasized the water quality in town and the process involved in making it one of the best-rated in the state.

“We do daily sampling, bacterial tests, and lead and copper testing once a year. We have the Cross-Connection Control Program to make sure that there is nothing that can get into our water system,” explained McHugh.

She then discussed the Sewer Department, saying it mirrors the Water Department in multiple ways. She placed importance on the daily tasks of the Sewer Department that involve checking on pumps and pipes to prevent sanitary sewer overflow, which can result from blockages or overcapacity of sewer water.

A calendar-year timeline was presented to show when the DPW is most active. July is the start of the fiscal year, November is winter preparation, and January is when the town sets the department’s budget for the upcoming year. 

“My phone never stops ringing,” McHugh said. “ I very rarely stop. I’m always in motion but it’s an exciting place to be.”

One question fielded from a resident garnered quite a bit of attention from the audience and McHugh. It was about the lifespan of water pipes once they are repaired.

“They’re saying the lifespan of plastic is better than the tull iron,” answered McHugh. “Back then they said the tull iron had a 50-year lifespan and lo and behold it lasted 50 years.”

The second half of the presentation was centered around the articles from this year’s Town Meeting warrant that pertain to the DPW or its sub-departments. Those include Article 15, Water Department Construction; Article 16, Sewer Department Construction; Article 13, Walls and Fences; Article 14, Storm Drainage Construction; Article 11, Capital Improvements for Public Buildings; Article 41, Adding the Tree Department to the Department of Public Works, and Article 42, Public Shade Trees Protection.

McHugh went into detail about why each article was put into effect, how they are being funded, and how the DPW is acting on them. Resident and attendee Ron Grenier lent his opinion on why it is important for Marbleheaders to understand the functions of town government.

“It’s important to know how these main departments work, these are primary services,” said Grenier. “More often than not we go to Town Meeting and we vote on the very things she is talking about. So the more you stay on top of what your local government is doing the more informed voter you’ll be.”

Grenier said he is looking forward to more meetings like McHugh’s in the future.