Essex Town Administrator’s Report



Board of Selectmen’s Meeting of February 7, 2022

Report covers from January 22, 2022 to February 4, 2022

Old Fire Station Site Restoration Project Update

Chairman Pereen and the TA participated in a construction meeting with respect to the subject project on January 24, 2022, along with our Project Manager, and representatives of our contractor (Encore Contracting Services – ECS).  After the site work subcontractor for the project backfilled and rough-graded the site recently, activity at the site again ground to a halt.  At the meeting on January 24, ECS indicated that the next step would be to bring in the electrical subcontractor that would be:

a) digging the trench for the underground electrical conduit,

b) laying the conduit, and

c) making an electrical connection between the utility pole on Martin Street and the location of the future viewing shed / the feed to the municipal parking lot lights.  

However, at the meeting, ECS was not certain of the name of the electrical subcontractor or the schedule for commencement of work.  Later that same week, the Town was informed by ECS that the electrical subcontractor they had first lined up required a major increase in the price that had originally been quoted to ECS. Presumably, ECS did not have a sufficiently durable contract in place to hold the original pricing.  The project is also extremely behind schedule, even taking into consideration the additional time that the Town allowed for the unforeseen need to replace a storm drain line on the site.  As such, at the recommendation of our Project Manager, and with the concurrence of Chairman Pereen, Mr. Zubricki sent a letter to ECS and its bonding surety company indicating that the Town was considering declaring a Contractor Default and asked for a meeting to discuss the contractor’s performance.  No response from the contractor was available at the time of printing of this report.

Conomo Point Seawall Replacement Project Update

Selectman Phippen and the TA participated in a construction meeting for the subject project on February 2, 2022. Our contractor has now poured and stripped the forms from the first section of reinforced concrete wall and plans to pour the next section in the near future.  Going forward, our contractor will used revised techniques with respect to installing rebar in areas with protruding bedrock that have been worked out by our engineering consultant.  Unless other types of situations are encountered, there should be no need for additional change orders associated with bedrock topography.  Further, we discussed an event that occurred during the recent blizzard where a portion of the blankets keeping the curing concrete warm blew off for a period of time.  Our engineering consultant will ensure that proper testing and observation are done to verify that the event did not translate to any quality or longevity issues.  At the last meeting, the Board discussed a request by an abutter to substitute basswood trees for red cedar trees that will replace the basswood trees that had to be removed to construct the seawall.  The Board was not opposed to exploring this substitution, especially since the abutter is willing to pay any difference in price.  We have learned that our contractor may get some new nursery quotes on the entire planting package and it is possible that the basswood substitution will not cost more money.  We will have more information in the coming weeks.

Route 133 Essex River Bridge Replacement Project Update

The TA attended a construction meeting with respect to the subject project on February 1, 2022.  The project is moving along as expected and construction crews continue to work on the foundational elements of the temporary bypass bridge that is expected to be in use sometime during March.  Residents have approached the TA about whether any of those elements or even the entire bridge could be left in place after the existing bridge is fully replaced.  Mr. Zubricki did inquire about those questions and Mass DOT has indicated that, for a variety of reasons, including longevity, permitting, and non-ownership of the property in question would prevent anything short of full removal and site restoration.

Army Corps of Engineers Beneficial Sediment Reuse Study Update

As the board may recall, on a track parallel to the Town’s quest for Federal maintenance dredging of the Essex River (which has recently been fully funded at 100 percent Federal share), the Town has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to understand how sediment dredged from the channel might be beneficially reused within the Essex River system. The study is being conducted as part of the Corps’ Section 204 program.  The study is aligned well with the final report of the Massachusetts Coastal Erosion Commission (2015) that encouraged the beneficial re-use of dredged sediment within a given system (as opposed to disposing of sediment offshore or at a land disposal site).  Selectman Phippen and Mr. Zubricki met virtually with ACOE personnel on January 26, 2022 to get an update on the status of the Section 204 study, including an estimate of when a report might be issued.  Presently, we expect that the 204-study report will be issued in the late spring of 2022. The timing works well, since we don’t expect that traditional, maintenance dredging would commence until the winter of 2023/2024 (as opposed to the next possible winter cycle of 2022/2023).  It is possible that some of the recommendations in the 204 study might actually bring the project cost down below the cost of traditional, maintenance dredging, in which case, the 204 plan (which includes beneficial reuse) becomes the Corps’ new base plan and would be implemented at 100 percent Federal share.  Time will tell whether the cost and necessary non-traditional permitting or inability to secure property owner easements will hinder the viability of the 204 innovative work.

Monthly Pothole Log

The TA obtained the pothole log for the month of January from the Department of Public Works during the week of January 31, 2022.  The log is intended to document and rapidly repair any potholes that have been reported.  No potholes were reported during the month of January.

Replacement of Compressor in Town Hall HVAC Condenser

As the Board may recall, the Town Hall split-mechanism heating and cooling system utilizes three large condenser units to support air exchangers in each of the various offices and rooms in the building.  The compressor in one of the condensers failed this past summer and the system was running on just two of the units (since a replacement compressor was not available due to supply chain issues).  The system continued to run in air-conditioning mode into the fall and also did provide heat for a short period after we switched over from air conditioning. However, the system malfunctioned again in its two-unit configuration and has been out of service for months (we have been heating the building exclusively with our ultra-efficient gas furnace).  Now that the replacement compressor has finally arrived, our HVAC contractor will visit Town Hall on February 7, 2022 to size up the logistics of actually getting the old compressor out and the new compressor installed.  When the system was initially installed, a crane was used to lift the various components in place.  Also, a stockade fence runs around the units, making it difficult to access.  Even so, our contractor was fairly confident at the time of printing of this report that he will not need a crane or to take down the fence.  Further, our contractor will take a look at why the system was now not capable of running on even just the two condenser units.  While all of the parts involved in this repair are provided at no charge due to the system’s warranty, labor is not included in the warranty.  Mr. Zubricki will have more information by meeting time.

School Budget Collaboration Group Meeting Summary

Selectman Bradford, Finance Committee Chairman Buttrick, and the TA participated in the subject meeting on January 28, 2022.  The meeting featured a discussion regarding whether the district is able to reduce the overall fiscal year 2023 school district operating budget further than what has been discussed to date.  On January 25, 2022, the School Committee supported budget revisions that would bring the overall increase in the apportioned part of the budget down to about 2.78 percent, which would bring Essex’s specific apportionment increase down from 4.97 percent to about 4.22 percent.  The group’s discussion on January 28 was centered around bringing the Town’s increase down closer to 3.5 percent.  Subsequently, at the School Committee meeting of February 1, 2022, the Committee decided to consider possible ways to make additional cuts to the fiscal year 2023 operating budget proposal and took no vote on the budget at that time.  A vote on the final budget proposal is expected at the Committee’s meeting of February 15, 2022.

Addison Gilbert Community Health Needs Assessment Listening Session

Every three years, the Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester conducts its Community Health Needs Assessment to get a good sense of how health priorities in the surrounding communities may have changed.  The TA participated in a virtual listening session that the hospital coordinated on January 25, 2022.  The program included an overview of the process and participants were then divided into break out groups to discuss issues in more depth.  The TA highlighted how transportation is a key element in community health, especially for senior citizens.  Discussion was also held concerning the importance of good mental health resources. The hospital will take all of the input provided at the listening session and from an online community survey to eventually develop a report with action steps.

Draft Affordable Housing Trust Bylaw from Essex Housing Coalition

At the last meeting, the Board began to review recommendations from the Essex Housing Coalition with respect to the development of an Affordable Housing Trust Bylaw.  The Board indicated that additional discussion would be held at the present meeting, in order to give the Coalition feedback in advance of its February 9, 2022 meeting.

Preliminary Draft of Annual Town Meeting Warrant

At the last meeting, after the Board reviewed the draft Annual Town Meeting article topics list, Mr. Zubricki indicated that he would put together a preliminary draft of the actual warrant for review at the present meeting, which he has done.

Town Hall Energy Efficiency Grant Scoping Study

As was mentioned previously, the Town Planner and Mr. Zubricki are working with National Grid to better understand whether the Town could retire old equipment (such as water and sewer pumps) to generate enough savings to be competitive for new energy grants.  We are also working together to understand whether additional efficiencies might be realized at Town Hall, even though it was completely renovated in 2017.  The Green Communities Grant Program and the Massachusetts Gap Energy Grant Program both pay 100 percent of the cost for upgrading to more energy-efficient equipment if the projected savings is appreciable enough. The Town Planner, National Grid, National Grid’s energy efficiency consultant, and the TA toured Town Hall on January 27, 2022 in order better understand the building’s systems.  The consultant will now work up some estimates on energy savings for various upgrades and scenarios and we will learn within a few weeks if any particular upgrades will be competitive.

Regional Evaluation to Improve Water Supply Resiliency Grant

The Town of Hamilton has received a Water Management Act (WMA) Grant Program grant for just over $107,000 (total project cost over $155,000 including local match) to evaluate how area communities could work together to improve water supply resiliency in the future.  The grant is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), with Hamilton as the lead community and with support from the Ipswich River Watershed Association (IRWA) and consulting engineers at Dewberry. The project’s kickoff meeting was held on February 1, 2022 and Selectman Phippen was in attendance for Essex. The scope of the project builds on the findings of the 2018 WMA report with the primary goal of exploring the feasibility of various alternatives specific to Hamilton and its immediately surrounding communities to increase water supply resiliency and to reduce their dependency on the Ipswich River, particularly in the summer. Major tasks include:

1) Exploring the feasibility of obtaining alternative water supplies from the Salem‐Beverly Water Supply Board to supplement the water needs of Hamilton and the participating communities on a regional/seasonal basis.

2) Examining the required infrastructure, interconnections, system hydraulics and water quality/blending issues from augmenting Hamilton and the participating communities with supply from the Salem‐Beverly Water Supply Board including possible regionalization of the community water systems.

3) Examining the feasibility of obtaining alternative water supplies for Hamilton and other interested communities to meet 100‐percent of their water supply needs, thereby eliminating the need to utilize their wells and treatment facilities at all.

4) Exploring partial regionalization between the Towns of Manchester and Hamilton, and the other interested communities.

5) Exploring the feasibility of and issues associated with sharing and wheeling current and future sources of water to/through Hamilton and its immediately surrounding communities on a Mutual Aid and potentially routine basis.

6) Identifying regulatory and cost considerations for the water supply alternatives evaluated.  Grant personnel will interview Superintendent of Public Works Michael Galli in the near future to discuss the details of possible future interconnections and water compatibility and the Town will provide eight hours of in-kind service as a match to the grant.

Expression of Interest, Community One Stop for Growth Program

Personnel from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) developed a draft of an Expression of Interest (EOI) document for the Town to be able to begin the process of consideration for a second zoning bylaw grant, via the Community One Stop for Growth (OSG) portal.  As the Grant Administrator for Essex on the OSG portal, Mr. Zubricki officially submitted the EOI on February 4, 2022, after Chairman Pereen and Planning Board Chairman Drake also both reviewed the draft document.  The Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED) uses the OSG portal to understand the needs of Massachusetts communities and to best match those needs up with appropriate grant programs. In our case, the Community Planning Grant seems to be the best match and MAPC personnel will assist us with a full grant application for that grant after EOHED provides feedback to the Town with respect to the EOI that has been submitted.


Town Administrator Leave

Mr. Zubricki was out of the office, on leave, for a portion of the afternoon on January 25, 2022.

This report is available at on the morning after any regularly scheduled Essex Board of Selectmen’s Meeting.