AUGUST 10th, 2020
Mayor Donna D. Holaday
Safe Routes to School Update:
The state contractor has almost completed the drainage upgrades along the Safe Routes to Schools project on High Street, and has been waiting for National Grid to physically hold a couple of utility poles that are in close proximity to the trenching required for installing the final pipe and structures. The utility is scheduled to participate later this month in this aspect of the project. In the meantime, the contractor has been working on excavating the old sidewalk near the High School, realigning and re-installing the granite curbing, and pouring new concrete sidewalks. Much of that work in the vicinity of the High School side is done, although there are still a few stretches that remain to be finished, and the contractor has shifted work over to the other side of the street to prepare for the new sidewalks.
In addition, the City and MassDOT are making an adjustment to the two traffic islands that will be installed near Toppans Lane and Carter Street, revising them from raised islands to flush granite curb and cobblestone islands. We have observed a number of buses and trucks driving completely over the excavated island areas, and traffic cones at the edge of the islands were consistently knocked down the street. The engineer noted that their design was supposed to accommodate single-unit delivery vehicles and an occasional fire trucks but not really larger vehicles like tractor trailers. Once the contractor excavated the island areas and re-aligned the curbing on either side of the street, it became clear that the area would probably be too tight to incorporate raised islands without negative impacts on vehicles and traffic. Larger vehicles would likely have hit the islands’ curbing and associated signs, one of the abutters was also very concerned about clearing the island from his driveway, and there would have been a risk that the City would have to subsequently invest resources in removing the islands. The potential traffic calming and pedestrian refuge benefits of the originally proposed raised islands do not appear to outweigh the anticipated headaches, risks and costs at these site-specific locations. The flush granite curb and granite cobbles will be aesthetically pleasing, and will look somewhat similar to the flush cobbles that have existed for decades in the roadway at the entrance to the East Waterfront Lot. It is important to note that the width of the road will not be excessive or particularly complex for pedestrians crossing, and the flush cobble islands will still send a visual and tactile signal to motorists and help channel and manage traffic. Overall, the project appears to be on schedule in terms of the contractor continuing to anticipate substantial completion by the end of the calendar year, with final paving and landscaping in the spring. The picture below is an example of what the revised plan for the islands would look like. MADOT is reviewing the design change.
Clipper City Rail:
PCB Clean-up Update: Last week, the DEP and EPA approved the Backfill Plan for the PCB Remediation Area in a conference call – this is a long-awaited and important milestone. Based on this approval, we hope to be able to open the old shoreline rail corridor to informal public access in mid-September based on the necessary next steps, as outlined below.
The required cleanup, and then the subsequent backfill plan, have been complicated by the presence of some remaining contaminated soil adjacent to the 23,000-volt underground electric cables. We have had and continue to answer multiple queries from the DEP and EPA, e.g., providing further documentation of the cleanup target, further information from National Grid that the underground electric lines never contained PCBs, recalculating the risk characterization for public access, additional delineation sampling and analysis to further define the disposal area, etc. DEP and EPA have now accepted that the City’s contractor has excavated the safely accessible areas and achieved the cleanup goal in the old rail corridor and addressed the areas adjacent to the underground electrical utilities to the extent feasible. The regulatory agencies have also accepted our plan to install a geotextile fabric demarcating the original soil and then cover the remediation area with at least two feet of clean fill, bringing the grade back up 6” higher than original. The deeper excavated trench areas around the direct buried cables and concrete duct bank will be covered by four to five feet of clean fill. This will allow us to then open the gates and allow the public to safely access the area informally until the construction of the revetment, berm, and rail trail. Please note that the regulatory agencies are considering the backfill plan as a “temporary” solution prior to the “permanent solution” of the additional fill and pavement that will be installed in the subsequent project. DEP will be requiring further formal reporting by the City’s LSPs regarding Risk Characterization, Feasibility Evaluation, whether a legal Activity and Use Limitation will be required, etc., in order to legally close out the site. In addition, we still have some remediation work to do directly on the other side of the fence inside the wastewater treatment facility, where there is no public access.
Currently, the City’s LSP is sending another report to the DEP and EPA with an updated Risk Characterization, documenting that there is no risk to the public accessing the corridor once the backfill is complete. We hope to get DEP’s review and approval of that report and risk characterization in the near term. In addition, the City’s contractor, NRC/US Ecology, is securing samples of the crushed stone to be used as backfill, as well as the stone dust on top, for a full suite waste characterization analysis by a laboratory to document that it is clean fill, as specified. We will eventually need to provide formal documentation to the DEP that the new material being installed is clean fill. The results of the lab analysis are expected by around 8/17/20. Assuming the material is indeed certified as clean fill, and DEP has approved the updated risk characterization, the contractor will secure sufficient quantities of the backfill material and mobilize a large excavator machine to the site around the beginning of the week of 8/24/20. (The material is likely to be clean, but note that if the proposed backfill materials turn out to contain contaminants, the schedule would have to be pushed back by approximately two weeks while other backfill material is identified and tested.) The contractor has indicated that the geotextile, backfill and compaction should take approximately a week or so to implement, weather conditions etc. permitting. The contractor will then remove the larger equipment and bring in a mini excavator to “overdig” and excavate the pocket of contaminated soil on the other side of the WWTF fence during the first week of September. A few panels of the existing chain-link fence fabric and potentially a couple of posts will have to be temporarily removed to facilitate this excavation. Temporary chain-link construction fencing will be installed on the river side of this fencing gap to secure the area from the public. Some of the weeds that have grown up in the old rail corridor will need to be removed. Work focused on the other side of the fence will continue, including post-excavation sampling, laboratory analysis, review and hopefully confirmation of achieving cleanup goals, and then backfill of that area. (If additional contamination is found as part of the iterative remediation process, we will have to repeat the process of additional excavation, sampling, and analysis in this WWTF area.) In the best case scenario, based on all these necessary steps, we hope to be able to open the gates at either end of the old riverfront rail corridor in mid-September to informal public access.
MassTrails Grant Award: Governor and Lt. Governor notified the City that we have been awarded a $100,000 MassTrails 2020 grant award in support of the Riverfront Critical Gap: Clipper City Rail Trail and Storm Surge/Sea Level Rise Resiliency Project.
Paving Plan 2020:
Unfortunately, last year we ran out of time to complete paving and sidewalk plans for major sections of Merrimac St. This year we had to wait for our C.90 state road & sidewalk funds, $519,000, which were not approved until the 2nd week in July. This significantly delayed the startup of paving and sidewalk work this year. The pandemic also impacted the finalization and implementation of the Beta 5-year roadway paving plan. Our goal is to finalize the Beta Plan this fall with full implementation in the 2021 construction season.
This year’s paving schedule is a continuation of work that began last year on Merrimac Street. In addition, we are able to complete projects from the drainage bond bill and pave 2 additional roads. Below is the paving and sidewalk scheduled for completion this year.
School Re-opening: Superintendent Gallagher issued the following to the school community summarizing the approach to re-opening our schools.
School Reopening – District Re-opening Task Force
The Task Force, a group of 70 educators, parents, public health experts, medical personnel and community representatives, has been meeting weekly. Because the work is complex and spans areas from operations to curriculum, we divided the task force into six sub-committees: District Planning, Curriculum and Technology, Buildings and Operations, Health and Safety, Special Education, and Social-Emotional Health.
We have shared district preliminary plans and examined DESE requirements. Conversations within the sub committees and among the larger group are providing us with a deeper understanding of the needs of our students, parents, and staff and are allowing us to explore local options. Recommendations and feedback from the Task Force, staff and parents/guardians will guide our final re-opening plans.
School Reopening – Culture of Health and Safety
As we develop these plans, we are guided by public health and state guidance. By combining a number of practices and safety protocols, we will create a safe environment for learning. Some of these practices include but are not limited to:
• Wearing masks
• Providing physical distance
• Practicing good hygiene (i.e. hand washing, hand sanitizers)
• Pre-screening for health before entering a building
All planning is built on creating a culture and structure that support these practices. To support a successful and safe opening, everyone in our community will need to commit to these safety protocols.
School Reopening – Re-opening Models and DESE Plans
As I have shared in earlier messages, DESE is asking each district to develop three preliminary plans for returning to school: (1) full in-person learning, (2) a hybrid of in-person and remote learning, and (3) fully remote learning.
Full In-person. Although we will submit a full in-person plan to the State, the only way that plan would be possible is if we used three-foot distancing in the classrooms. After setting up model classrooms, walking through the modified daily routines, and considering the health and safety of our staff and students, we have determined we cannot safely return all 2,300 students to school using a full in-person model in the fall.
School Reopening – Hybrid: Each school has developed a model for hybrid learning. Since a hybrid model brings only 50% of our students into the building at one time, we are able to set up learning spaces using six-foot distance guidelines. The details of hybrid models for each school are still in development. Every hybrid plan will provide a combination of in-person and remote learning, daily live instruction, and standards-based curricula.
School Reopening – Remote: Each school also has a remote learning plan. Like our hybrid plans, administrators have worked collaboratively to create developmentally appropriate plans that are responsive to staff, student and parent feedback and meet the expectations of DESE.
School Reopening – Decision Timelines: The three preliminary plans, as mentioned above, were submitted to DESE. The School Committee will vote on a model plan on August 17th, which will provide direction for the school district in re-opening. The work of the District, the Task Force, and our school community to finalize the details for the plan that works best for the Newburyport Public Schools will continue throughout the summer weeks. September 16th will be the first day of school.
I applaud Superintendent Gallagher for the intensive work he and his leadership team have coordinated with community stakeholders to create the best model at this juncture to re-open our schools. Decisions are being made with the health and safety of students and faculty as the first priority. It has been extremely difficult to move plans forward with poor direction and unrealistic timelines from DESE resulting in many districts revising plans. However, I am pleased to report that on Wednesday, Superintend Gallagher and each of the principals will be taping a presentation on each of our schools’ re-opening plans. The video will posted on the schools homepage with an opportunity for parents to ask specific questions to each principal and the Superintendent. Superintendent Gallagher will also join me Thursday at 4 pm for my weekly able address to also review the current plans. It is important to note our goal is to get students full time back into schools but MUST follow the data and do so in a means that ensures the safety of our school district and community.
Video Presentation: On Wed., August 12th Superintendent Gallagher and Principals will tape plans for school reopening. The plans will be posted on the school and city websites with opportunity to post questions. This will be very helpful for SC members and the community to weigh in before the SC vote on 8/17.
FY21 Budget Delivery – August 18
Based on the information above, I am delaying the submission of the final full year fiscal and have arranged with the City Council President a special City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 18th for the budget. The Council will receive the budget on the 18th electronically with paper copies delivered to the City Clerk soon after.
Ordinance Review Committee:
The following have agreed to serve on the Ordinance Review Committee required by our Charter. I am assuming Council President will organize the ad hoc committee so a Chair may be selected and the work can begin. I believe assigning sections to smaller teams for review and comment will expedite the process.
Lt. Rick Seimesko
Council President appointees:
Cllr. Jared Eigerman
Cllr. Barry Connell
Cllr. Afroz Khan
Jim Connolly, Esq.
COVID-19 Reopening Plans – Library, Senior Center, City Hall
On August 3rd, 2020 the Newburyport Public Library resumed limited in-person services
with specific guidelines in place. Basically, the library is open to the public for limited browsing and use of computers by appointment. Patio pickup on Harris Street will continue. Detailed information on the Library’s reopening protocols are available on the library website. I want to thank Library Director Giselle Stevens and her staff for working so hard to put together a workable reopening plan that priorities the health and safety of both staff and the general public.
We have also been working with Senior Center Director Roseann Robillard and Health Director Frank Giacalone on the reopening plan for the Senior Center. For now, limited programming will continue outside under a temporary tent. Programming will be phased to inside in November and December for Seniors only. We will not be allowing any outside organizations to use the Senior Center until January 1st at earliest. Private events will also not be allowed in the Senior Center until January 1st. We want to make sure our Senior Center is safe once opened and our focus for the reopening is to provide much needed programming to our senior population. Our Seniors have missed these services throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and we will continue to work on this plan.
City Hall remains closed to the public. The public is strongly encouraged to visit our online services page – nearly all permits and payments can be undertaken online, including vital records, tax bills payments, parking permits, and yard waste permits. The public can also make arrangements to meet in person with City Hall staff by appointment. Staff will meet at the City Hall entrance by appointment. City Hall is fully staffed so the public can call or email departments for additional information.
We have also restarted our Senior Tax Work Off Program and have our senior volunteers at the front desk answering phone inquiries and monitoring the front door in case there is public that needs immediate assistance.
Housing Choice Community Designation
I am pleased to report that the City of Newburyport has been designated by the Baker-Polito Administration as a Housing Choice Community. This designation recognizes communities who have made substantial progress towards housing development goals and for the implementation of housing best practices to encourage sustainable development. The designation allows the City to apply for Housing Choice grants to further promote housing production locally. We are fortunate to reach many of the criteria of the program and look forward to funding for more sustainable housing development.