When Public Safety Is-NOT!

Few people, I imagine, can be particularly aware of the literal “machinations” occurring here in Norwich, at Fire House Lane these past weeks, as excavators have taken hold of the property being renovated for the town’s policemen. It is not, of course, a property prominently in the public eye, tucked away as it is behind the Firehouse, protected from view from Main Street. Other than a few Main Street residents backed up to the site, or some unfortunates on Carpenter Street, we living in Senior Housing off of Hazen are directly behind the Fire Station, and are both the most affected–and your reporters of note.

First item: we are now the subjects most particularly of noises slated to make even the strongest senior coil into snail-like shells of horror. But we have not politicked in resistance. We have been entirely supportive of the Police Department’s need for new quarters, even as we have waited uneasily to discover what that might mean for us.

Thus we have been acutely aware of each step of the process as it unfolds. There are machines running rampant . . . well, but they are purposeful. Huffing and puffing, and–much of the time–outright grinding and roaring upon the land. Frankly, I am being too cute in describing the noise disturbance. The sounds of these earth-moving machines are outright dismaying. Often multiple machines are running simultaneously–moving earth and accelerating power to their gears, again and again over an 8-hr stretch, and day after day in the first 4 weeks’ operation. Unnerving doesn’t begin to capture the ill ease that overcomes those of us who live on the very edge of the excavators world now. The fact is, the reverberations run through the earth–like water ripples across a lake, the project manager assured me–when steam shovels let bang their shovels upon the ground.

The machines come in various sizes. The one I call The Gawper–for the range of its reach–is just called an Excavator–but sometimes a Track Hoe. There is also a smaller Compact Excavator–good for moving about in “gated backyards” the descriptions say; and Skid-Steer Loaders that raise loads high above their operators’ heads into monstrously large trucks; and Wheel Loaders designed to be “highly maneuverable.” All of these were present at the police station site these past weeks–and in fact, people with whom I have talked at the far eastern end of Carpenter Street have volunteered they also have been feeling their houses periodically shuddering. Myself, I have had to remove artwork from my walls, as they rapped in wicked, repeating rhythms impossible to endure over the long sustained periods the machines were in use. I mean like, all day. Without surcease.

You remember the sound of a dentist’s drill whirling in your mouth, how you hear it from the inside of your ears? Well, this was like that, only a more deep-throated pitch–and worse yet–as if there were several drills in your mouth all at once. There was one period where a bass note on my piano began vibrating loud enough to be audible as a single note.

Several months ago, I had attempted to testify at a Selectboard meeting regarding the anticipated effect the construction period would have on Seniors’ lives. Actually, I fumbled this opportunity. I stood before the town governors holding the microphone , suddenly realizing that we could claim no rights. The only thing I could say was that we were alarmed at the prospect–particularly of the noise and dirt flying through the air–to which we would be subjected when summer months would require windows be open for cooling.

But I knew this was an idiotic thing to say. Noise and dirt go hand-in-hand with construction. There was nothing we or they could do, other than suck it up and look forward to the lovely building (and happy policemen) that would eventually unfold.

So I bowed before the Selectboard and said, quite lamely–“I guess the most we can expect is to have a liaison person identified to whom we might address any issues that arise.”

I myself was quite fortunate in finding a cottage on the Maine coast to which I could retreat. For one week. But the reality, of course, is that I would require three months’ retreat in order to be safe. Safe–as in, be resident in a peaceful and isolated environment such as Senior Housing in Norwich has always been.

Most especially, the complete annihilation of a little copse of trees lying between us and the little access road leading to Hazen Street was targeted for removal.

When I returned from Maine, the old police building had been razed; large earth- moving equipment had not only been installed on the Public Safety lot, but the old tarmac of that parking lot was already removed–and the daily noise allotment was, frankly, terrifically loud.

It was not long before I discovered my most accessible means of maintaining my own health, and particularly sanity, was my camera. I could document the process, day by day. I could obtain pictures of the transformations, occurring right before our eyes–yes, day after seemingly everlasting day. I could begin to own what had been a mean, feisty gnat-of-an-occurrence, buzzing in my ear. The foremost impact was not  any detriment to our own property, as that was secure; but the extreme transformation of our visual field was monstrously affected.

Now I might note: not only was that copse to disappear, but the means of its removal seemed more than a little violent. It unsettles the aging to be made so aware of limits, of extermination . . . if you know what I mean.

The last evening before these remnants of the hedge–that had been providing a protective screen between the police station and Senior Housing–disappeared, I happened to sit on my doorstep to rest, and these little visitors came by and perched, directly opposite me. I was astonished that they tolerated my presence; I scrambled as quietly as I could to retrieve the camera. These birds waited! They assessed what risk I might present, but did not flee. I raised the camera to my eye. “I know,” I softly wailed. “I know. I cannot tell you why.”

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