Municipal Spotlight DiMartino Retires after 29 Years as DPW Director
Don DiMartino became Bellingham’s first DPW director in 1994.
By KEN HAMWEY,
Bulletin Staff Writer
Don DiMartino’s retirement last month as Director of the Department of Public Works provides some historical significance for Bellingham and for that agency.
When the Franklin native was hired as the town’s water and sewer superintendent in 1991, there was no DPW. DiMartino worked with Gerry Daigle Sr., who was the town’s highway superintendent. Three years later, in 1994, the DPW was formed and DiMartino became its first director.
His retirement on February 24th not only signaled the end of a 29-year run as the department’s director, but it also highlights almost three decades in a demanding role that spans a variety of wide-ranging infrastructure issues. Areas that fall under the DPW’s responsibilities are roads, water, sewerage, drainage, snow plowing, park and recreation fields and cemetery maintenance.
The DPW has grown from a handful of employees in its early days to a staff of 28 currently.
“It’s been a pleasure to serve the residents of Bellingham,’’ DiMartino said. “It’s been challenging but residents have shown lots of patience and understanding. When questions arose, we gave our best and most up-to-date explanations. And, for the most part, people understood our positions.’’
Roads repairs, water bans, and the quality of drinking water were often the primary issues DiMartino and his department faced.
“Road management consumes a big part of the director’s time,’’ he said. “Residents showed patience on repairs, safety, and traffic. “They were aware that all the roads in town can’t be fixed immediately. On water quality, we take samples constantly and follow strict federal and state regulations. If the results are above their regulations, then we mail out notices. We’ve got our raw water supply and no other sources to which we can turn. We treat it the best we can to get it to people’s faucets. I’m pleased we’ve never had to issue a boil-water order.’’
Water bans, especially those that are issued early in the spring, appear to be the new normal, according to DiMartino.
“Bans and use restrictions are driven by the state,’’ he said. “That’s who dictates outdoor water use. Unfortunately, bans will be with us more frequently now, and that looks like the standard, not the exception.’’
The 66-year-old DiMartino had some enjoyable times in his role but they were offset by some moments that he called “nerve-wracking.’’
“Seeing a major construction project become a reality pleased me greatly,’’ he said. “People probably don’t realize how long it takes to go from a concept to completion. And, being a math and engineering person, I always felt comfortable dealing with budgets and cost estimates for projects.’’
Bellingham’s snow-removal ability and its approach to keeping roads safe to travel during storms is probably the area where DiMartino and the DPW got the most praise. Nevertheless, he admitted it rates high on his list of most-challenging issues.
“Snow removal has always been a major concern,’’ he emphasized. “Ice and snow create a cause for worrying. Nor’easters are always challenging and as the DPW’s director you know that extreme winter weather conditions are a life-and-death motorist safety concern.’’
The downtown road-widening project at Routes 126 and 140, which has yet to be completed after 1½ years, is an example of the type of frustration a DPW chief can encounter. “It’s scheduled to be finished by June 30th of this year,’’ DiMartino said. “Pole removal and relocation by the utility company took lots of time. And, their schedule forced delays. That intersection is very complex with wires going in all directions.’’
Jesse Riedle, who had been serving as the DPW’s assistant director, is now the director after a vote by the Select Board. “I have faith and confidence that Jesse will do a good job,’’ DiMartino noted. “He’s a fast-learner and he pays attention to detail.’’
Like DiMartino did, Riedle will be directing a DPW that has an assistant director who will supervise a project manager, a geographic information systems (GIS) manager, a general foreman and a facilities foreman.
Because there are so many areas that fall under the DPW’s jurisdiction, DiMartino has pledged to help with the transition. “I’ll offer whatever assistance I can,’’ he said. “I’ve been asked to be a consultant with a limited stipend.’’
DiMartino’s future isn’t set in stone, but, for now, he plans to check some boxes and see what develops along the way. “I had a hip replacement, so now I’d like to play more golf,’’ he said. “If I get bored during the summer, a future full-time job isn’t out of the question.’’
DiMartino, who graduated from Franklin High School, attended Merrimack College where he majored in civil engineering. After graduating No. 1 in his class, he worked for his father’s company (D. DiMartino Construction Co.). “We basically installed pipes for many of the towns in the area,’’ he said.
It’s often been said that a community can only be viewed as favorable if it’s strong and dependable in terms of public safety (police and fire) and its DPW. DiMartino agrees.
“The police and fire departments are the crisis response teams, and the DPW’s function is to maintain a town’s infrastructure,’’ he offered.
That infrastructure covers lots of territory — like roads, pipes, water pumping stations, parks and cemeteries.
Don DiMartino was Bellingham’s first DPW director, and he gave it his best shot to maintain high standards for that department.