Malta’s Town Board did last week what it refused to do last spring: endorse a plan by the Round Lake and Malta Ridge fire companies to build a new, central fire station and operate it jointly. With all the building going on in Malta’s downtown area, and more expected once the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant is fully up and running, it no longer makes sense, logistically or financially, to have two separate firehouses located at the extreme north and sound ends of town.
That’s what a fire protection study in 2009 concluded, and the fire companies, to their credit, accepted (without the rancor, jealousy and turf issues that often characterize the world of volunteer emergency services). They were prepared to purchase some town-owned land on Dunning Street and build a new firehouse there, but trouble arose in the form of opposition from some residents of the adjoining Luther Forest housing development, who expressed concern about traffic and noise and threatened to sue.
In a February editorial, we supported the plan and the site, arguing that a suburban firehouse wouldn’t generate much traffic or noise because there wouldn’t be that many calls. And, we said, the firehouse could be screened visually from the neighbors by a little landscaping. But when town officials, who had previously spoken in favor of a single firehouse, refused to endorse it and came up with a long list of preconditions, the fire companies abandoned the idea.
If things had ended there, it would have been a shame. Taxpayers would have had to pay more in the long run for two firehouses, while the town would have missed out on the chance for improved fire service.
Fortunately, the fire companies didn’t give up. They found a new site on Hemphill Place, which they have a tentative agreement to buy. It’s located in a commercial area near the center of downtown, about half a mile from the Dunning Street site — so close to the complaining neighbors yet so far.
The Town Board has now approved the fire companies’ plan to form a new, nonprofit corporation and build the new fire station there, and it could be open by 2014 if the state gives its approval, as expected. All’s well that ends well.