Regional health agent Glen Ayers retiring

  • The site of the old paper mill, after demolition this fall. Recorder file photo/DIANE BRONCACCIO

  • Regional health agent Glen Ayers Recorder photo/DIANE BRONCACCIO—

Recorder Staff
Thursday, March 01, 2018

“This job isn’t for everybody,” said Glen Ayers, regional health agent who is retiring after 11 years of examining septic systems, wells, commercial food kitchens, bake sales and buildings under all kinds of conditions for eight county towns.

He will step down at the end of June.

“I’ll be 60 years old in October,” said Ayers, who works for Buckland, Charlemont, Gill, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe and Rowe. “I want to retire while I’m relatively young. I have a lot of interest in the outdoors. I want to be able to do things while I can.”

Before coming to work at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments in January 2007, Ayers was a registered sanitarian who served on the Leverett Board of Health in 1995 and was a health agent in Wendell and in New Salem in 2000.

Ayers is also a certified soil evaluator, Title 5 septic systems inspector, public water supply operator, wastewater treatment plant operator and a ServSafe-certified food protection manager.

On a superficial level, a health agent’s job is like that of a garbage collector: You don’t really notice what’s getting done until the job is not done right.

For Ayers, being health agent for eight small hilltowns means running off to meetings two to three nights per week, performing food inspections at seasonal pancake houses, festival bake sales and commercial restaurants on busy weekends.

“You want to be there when the (food) operation is under some stress,” Ayers said. “That’s when you want to make sure there is food safety. They should be able to maintain safe and sanitary conditions under the busiest conditions.”

Ayers also deals with abandoned properties, lead paint inspections, wells, septic systems and hoarders whose “stuff” can constitute a public safety hazard or neighborhood eyesore.

“When I got here there were no systems in place,” he said of the records for the towns he served. “There wasn’t a list of restaurants. There weren’t the basics. I really started from scratch. I can’t do this job without having a system. I need a way of keeping track of everything.”

Perhaps the most visible accomplishment has been securing the demolition of the old Ramage Paper mill wooden building in Monroe, which was in danger of collapsing into the Deerfield River two years ago.

“The Monroe mill had been on the Brownsfield list for 10 or 12 years,” said Ayers, referring to Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ regional toxic waste brownfields program for competitive grant awards. The obstacle, he said, was that Monroe town officials couldn’t reach the property owner and couldn’t get legal access into the building to inspect and condemn it. “I took it into the housing court and tried to get an administrative search warrant,” said Ayers. “They said: ‘No. You have to show there’s a big problem.’ We couldn’t go inside, because it would be trespassing.”

“I went back (to Housing Court) and asked for a permit to do a hazardous materials assessment and a demolition estimate. We had one-day access, and I went in on behalf of the (Monroe) Board of Health. We got Tighe and Bond (engineering),” Ayers said. “They did a comprehensive assessment of the asbestos, PCPs and other hazardous materials, with estimates of the demolition. That was the log-jam,” he said.

As a result of the assessment, the town secured $520,000 in state grants and the right to take the building down. The state is to construct a small park overlooking the river, where the sagging building once was, on the river bank.

Less obvious to the public is Ayers’ online permitting system, which is similar to the way building permits are organized at the Franklin Regional Council of Governments.

“Traditionally, boards of health spend 90 percent of their time doing septic systems and wells. From my perspective, it’s also been an issue that’s been poorly maintained,” Ayers said. When he started his job, some files had been misfiled or lost. He said some were borrowed from town halls and not returned. Or some health board member may have kept the records at home, so they were lost to the town when he or she died.

Ayers said he’s also established a uniform fee schedule, septic regulations and private well regulations among seven of the eight towns. He also wants the towns he serves to develop a list of the abandoned or severely distressed properties in each town.

Ayers has been very active with the Western Massachusetts Hoarding Task Force, which includes service providers, clinicians, health agents and emergency responders, he said. “We’re in the process of signing up a ‘Buried in Treasures’ work group,” which Ayers said will be trained to help hoarding sufferers, raise awareness of hoarding and train Board of Health members on how to deal with that situation.

“I honestly, really love this job,” Ayers said. “To a certain extent, it’s really hard to leave. Because I occasionally do good things. In most cases,” he added, “It’s just doing something that eventually had to be done anyway. They just couldn’t get started.”