Essex Board of Selectmen's Meeting of April 13th, 2020
Report covers from March 21, 2020 to April 10, 2020. Items requiring Board vote or discussion are noted with an asterisk. (*)
As noted above, items such as the oil/water separator ledge issue, the overall project completion date, and additional bedrock removal will eventually manifest in future change order. Other items that are now on the horizon include: miscellaneous window changes; concrete slab moisture mitigation measures; and other, miscellaneous items.
As the Board is aware, the Town had sent the DOT limited comments regarding the agency’s presentation of the 25% design stage project plans back in February. The DOT has responded to those comments, for the record, and is now working on setting up another utility coordination meeting (the third such meeting thus far) and a public hearing with respect to the 25% design plans. It is possible that one or both of these meetings will be offered remotely, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Mass DOT has approved the Town’s application for a permit to install pavement markings along Route 133 in downtown Essex, along with associated signage, prohibiting parking in certain areas that are unsafe. Our engineering consultant, TEC, is presently working on packaging specifications for project bidding purposes and we intend to put the project out to bid in late-spring or early summer. It is possible for the necessary work to be completed mostly at night.
Presently, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, DOT has suspended the ability to actually implement any roadwork permit. This development may affect our timeline for project bidding.
I filed the subject report with the State during the week of April 6, 2020, in my capacity as the Town’s Affirmative Marketing Construction Officer (AMCO).
The report details the use of women or minority-owned businesses on State funded construction projects. We have no such utilization over the past quarter.
(1) Monthly Pothole Log
I received the pothole log for the month of March from the DPW during the week of March 30, 2020. No potholes were reported during March.
All winter, the DPW and the Police Department have been monitoring Town buildings on weekends to ensure that heat was operative, in order to avoid pipe freeze-ups and water damage. No freeze-ups occurred. The inspection forms that have been kept were provided to me recently and I forwarded copies to our insurer for credit against our insurance premiums as part of the MIIA Rewards Program.
I completed the subject checklists for the quarter ending March 31, 2020 for the Town Hall and the Senior Center. These checklists are intended to identify any building safety issues early, to avoid potential injuries and claims. This quarter, I noted that the Town Meeting will consider replacing all flooring in the Senior Center, since many tiles have become dislodged and represent a tripping hazard.
Also, I have noted that we are still working to deal with a small roof leak in Town Hall, with assistance from the original roofing contractor.
(1) State Elevator Inspections
As the Board may recall, the annual State inspection and testing of the Senior Center elevator had resulted in a temporary certificate being issued, since hornets had damaged an electrically-operated louver vent system. The vent system was repaired and the re-inspection had been set up for the first week in April.
However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the State has postponed that re-inspection indefinitely. The Town Hall elevator is usually inspected and tested each May. However, it is likely that this date will also slip.
Our marine contractor has placed the Conomo Point Park ramp, float, and water access stairs back on the site, as is customary around this time of year. The Conomo Point Park is not presently open to the public, as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and the Harbormaster will ensure that access is blocked until further notice.
At a special, joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Health on April 8, 2020, Conomo Point was closed to non-residents (with some limited exceptions) and seasonal residents were prohibited from re-occupancy, both until at least May 4, 2020. The actual joint, unanimous votes of the two boards are shown below:
MOVED: that, effective immediately, and until May 4, 2020, or such other date the Governor’s state-wide State of Emergency is extended to, the following emergency order shall be in effect for the entirety of Conomo Point, beginning at the junction of Conomo Point Road and Harlow Street:
MOVED: that the Board vote to allow seasonal water to be turned on April 15, 2020 and that we further order that no person shall return to, enter into or occupy any premises within the area known as Conomo Point where occupancy of such premises is limited to seasonal use only by deed restriction or lease until May 4, 2020, or such other date the Governor’s state-wide State of Emergency is extended to, that we adopt the findings set forth in the document prepared by town counsel and that we authorize the chairs to sign on our behalf. Notwithstanding this vote, contractors working pursuant to open building or on-site wastewater disposal system permits may continue and complete the work provided that the minimum number of workers are present and social distancing requirements are met.
(1) School Budget Collaboration Virtual Meeting (*)
The School Budget Collaboration Group convened a virtual meeting on March 25, 2020. Selectman Phippen and I both participated. Both the Town of Essex and the Town of Manchester have postponed annual town meetings (Essex until June 15 and Manchester until a date in May). Both towns have completed budget preparations for fiscal year 2021, as has the School District. The recent virtual meeting featured a discussion relative to the three entities’ ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis and how local revenue projections may force the towns to be austere in the final quarter of fiscal year 2020 and going into fiscal year 2021.
Perhaps the District will also find a way to cut back on spending and/or share retained earnings back to the towns. Coordination amongst the three entities is excellent and all have pledged to assist each other, to the extent feasible.
As noted above, the COVID-19 crisis is likely to result in reduced municipal revenue, bringing fiscal year 2020 short of estimated goals and starting off fiscal year 2021 at a marked disadvantage. Section 52 of Chapter 41 of the General Laws states, in part: “The auditor or officer having similar duties in cities, and the selectmen in towns, shall approve the payment of all bills or pay rolls of all departments before they are paid by the treasurer, and may disallow and refuse to approve for payment, in whole or in part, any claim as fraudulent, unlawful or excessive…”.
As such, with sufficient advanced warning, the Selectmen are authorized to inform any and all departments, boards, commissions, and the like that certain categories of spending will be frozen and that any requests for payment in those categories will be denied. This authority may assist with slowing the pace of spending toward the end of fiscal year 2020 and, for fiscal year 2021, this authority can be cited in the Annual Town Meeting motion with respect to the approval of the operating budget.
I. Meetings Attended
(1) Signature of Election Warrant for Annual Town Election (*)
The Board signed the Annual Town Meeting warrant at the last meeting and, due to the COVID-19 crisis, set the date of that meeting to June 15, 2020. That warrant did not include the Annual Town Election as usual (the Board usually signs a combined warrant). The Massachusetts Legislature passed legislation allowing communities to move annual town election dates just prior to the convening of the last Board meeting and I have now prepared a separate warrant for the Annual Town Election (moving from May 11, 2020 to June 22, 2020).
Given the likely scarcity of usual election attendants to supervise the election and to count ballots (due the COVD-19 crisis), the Town Clerk has recommended limiting the election hours to noon to 6 p.m.
The Board approved the Annual Town Meeting Warrant for June 15, 2020 at the last meeting. As such, I have developed an initial set of draft motions for the Board’s preliminary review and discussion.
(1) Quarterly Review of Executive Session Minutes
Once each quarter, the Chairman reviews the collection of executive session minutes that have not yet been released for public disclosure. Chairman Pereen has conducted this review for the quarter ending March 31, 2020 and has not identified any new minutes that are suitable for release.
(1) Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) Culvert Grant Deadline Extension
The Board has already authorized the Town’s application for a second round of grant funding with respect to the replacement of the culvert passing beneath Apple Street on the Southern Avenue end. This portion of Apple Street is known to flood during severe tidal surges, after Route 133 at the Essex causeway has already been inundated. While the project involves replacing the culvert to improve the ecological value of the stream crossing, the State has agreed that increasing the roadbed elevation along this stretch of road at the same time will serve the Town well with respect to its coastal resilience planning strategy.
Given the current crisis involving COVID-19, DER has extended the grant application deadline until May 11, 2020. Our engineering consultant, TEC, has been working steadily on the application with its sub-consultants and I have been collaborating on reviewing the draft. We fully expect to have a high-quality grant application submitted by the new deadline. If funded, this second year of work will take the project all the way through final permitting. Once we complete the permitting phase, we will seek other grant funding to design a roadbed elevation increase at a second dip in Apple Street in that general area. Once that second area has been designed and permitted, we will seek construction funding for the entire problem area.
The continuing COVID-19 crisis certainly imposes a massive impact on business continuity and development, both locally and globally. Nonetheless, our planning consultants at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) have continued to take the input collected from Essex residents, businesses, and other stakeholders from late-2019 and earlier this year to compile an initial draft of the Essex Economic Development Plan (EDP). The Plan leads with a section that recommends steps for near-term recovery and then goes into a variety of other sections with some detailed and well-thought future recommendations. Presently, the draft document is out for review with the Essex Merchants’ Group and the Essex Division of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.
Personnel from Boston University submitted the subject monthly report during the week of March 30, 2020. The project is modeling sediment transport along Crane Beach and throughout Essex Bay. Our hope is to have a much better understanding of how we may be able to alter damaging tidal currents and surges in the future, possibly using beach nourishment out at the spit. Given that the University labs are presently closed in association with the COVID-19 crisis, we have asked for an extension of the project, through the end of 2020. We will eventually have a great synthesis of information that the Town will be able to use in its further coastal resilience planning.
As the Board is aware, we recently altered the scope of services with GZA Geoenvironmental in order to prepare well for our second attempt at a seawall replacement construction grant. I have learned from the State that the recent scope of work write-up that we provided them is sufficient for this quarter’s quarterly report. As such, no additional reporting is necessary until next quarter. We will soon learn when the State plans to release the Request for Responses (RFR) for the next round of construction funding.
I have been working with the Town Planner to complete and file the subject report. Given the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we were able to secure an exemption to having to file this report, in favor of just filing a final report (since the project is now complete). The Town Planner will work on the final report during April.
(1) Review and Update Concerning Management of COVID-19 Pandemic (*)
The Town government has taken a variety of steps to remain effective during the COVID-19 crisis. The Police Department has gone to twelve-hour shifts, with the same pair of officers working together (a positive test for one officer would only primarily affect one other officer). The Department of Public Works has gone to split work shifts, so that the entire DPW workforce is not exposed to a positive worker all at once. The Board of Health Administrator is working with the DPW Clerk to get set up on FEMA’s disaster funding reimbursement system.
Eventually, once the Town has a better idea of total COVID-related costs (being tracked presently), the Town will be eligible for a Federal reimbursement (likely 75%). Further, on April 8, 2020, the Board of Health and the Selectmen jointly voted to close Conomo Point to non-residents and to delay re-occupancy of seasonal residences until at least May 4, 2020. See item F3, above, for more details concerning Conomo Point.
N. Other Items