AUGUST 31st, 2020
Mayor Donna D. Holaday
CORRECTION – It was reported at the City Council meeting last night that one of the 5 active COVID-19 cases is a toddler. This is not correct. There have been no toddler aged COVID-19 cases in Newburyport.
Non-Essential Water Restriction and Reservoir Algae Bloom: Since algae bloom was discovered on the Upper and Lower Artichoke Reservoirs the week of August 10th, our Department of Public Services Water Division has continued to test of the water as our reservoirs are treated to eradicate the bloom. There continues to be no indication of toxins in the treated drinking water.
We are working with limnologists who have expertise in treating algae blooms safely. Treatment of the blooms is underway and our consultants have recommended we continue the water restriction until after the treatment has been completed. The treatment does not have an effect on the drinking water.
The water remains safe for drinking and other essential uses. However, we will continue to have the mandatory water restrictions on non-essential water uses until further notice. The water use restriction has helped to control the spread of the algae bloom and allows the Water division to control the bloom more quickly.
COVID-19 Reopening Plans – Public Meetings: I understand Councillors’ desire to return to in-person public meetings. I, too, am eager to fully restore City Hall and local government services. It has been great to have City Hall fully staffed since June, and it has helped with morale and made it much easier to deliver services. In addition, we’ve been able to better serve the public by providing limited in-person service. But we all need to proceed carefully with utmost caution. Over the weekend we saw a significant increase in COVID-19 cases in Newburyport. For several weeks we never had more than 1 active case, and we currently now have 5 active cases. With schools opening mid-September, we need to remain cautious with reopening our government. If Councillors do decide to adopt an in-person meeting policy, I ask that it’s phased so that only Councillors and staff meet in person initially. In City Hall it was been very effective to restrict public access indoors. We encourage the public to utilize our service online, but we do meet the public just outside the entrance if they prefer in-person service. Limiting public access has helped keep our staff safe, and my priority is to continue to keep City Hall staff safe. Port Media and Zoom can be utilized so that the public can still be engaged and provide comment, albeit remotely. The School Committee has held two in-person meetings safely at the Senior Community Center, and this could a safe venue for holding in-person or hybrid City Council meetings.
Reservation Terrace Shoreline Stabilization: On your agenda tonight is a transfer request of $50,000 from the Plum Island Utility Trust fund for a shoreline stabilization project on Reservation Terrace. The situation on Reservation Terrace is dire. Back in April a storm finished the job and wiped out what remained of the dune system on Reservation Terrace. Our water and sewer systems, as well as residents in the area are now extremely vulnerable and susceptible to future storm surges. We have been working with GZA engineering consultants to design a near-term solution to provide some protection for the upcoming storm season. The design is a row of “super sacs” filled with sand that can be installed and stacked in the area where the dune once existed. We have a small window to mobilize and install the super sacs, with the plover season ending tomorrow and the storm season ramping up in October. The transfer should cover the cost of this project, but we are also in the process of working with the State and residents on additional funding sources. Jamie Tuccolo is working with GZA and the contractor who completed the last dune nourishment last fall on the final plan and will be available to answer any questions during the Council’s deliberation. I ask that Councillors consider funding this important project and protect our infrastructure and our fellow residents as we continue to work on the long term solution, the onshore placement of dredged material from the Merrimack River.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force: In my weekly update last Thursday I announced that I will be assembling a Task Force to address diversity, equity and inclusion in Newburyport. Racial equity, in particular, will be one of the main focuses for this Task Force, due to the recent local incidences. There is simply no room for this kind of hate and intolerance, and we will take the necessary steps to reduce this kind of prejudice and racism in Newburyport. In the coming weeks, I plan to assemble a task force and anticipate members consisting of local political, religious, business, and community advocates, along with our Human Rights Commission. This collaborative work effort by these key partners will be focused on developing measurable and attainable goals for a sustainable community plan on racial justice. I have also included funding for this effort in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposal.
Online Permitting Launch: I am pleased to report that beginning next week plumbing, gas, electrical, and sheet metal permits will be available through our online permitting platform. This is the first phase of our migration to online permitting. Online building permits will launch in October and Planning permits soon after. The online permitting platform, hosted by OpenGov, allows for applicant to submit an entire application electronically, including online credit card payment. In addition, city departments will be able to issue permits digitally, and there’s a robust routing system and permit tracking capabilities for city staff and for the general public. Links to online permitting will be available on the City website beginning next week. Thanks for Andy Port and Bob Armstrong and their staff in the Planning and Building Departments for all their work on getting online permitting launched.
Building Commissioner Appointment – Bob Armstrong: In your agenda packets tonight is Bob’s appointment to Building Commissioner. Bob has been a great addition to the department and has really stepped up since Peter Binnette’s departure. Bob’s prior experience with our online permitting platform will help with a smooth transition for the Building Department.
2020 Paving Update: The milling of Dennett Street, Finnegan Way, and Merrimac Street from Doner Dr to Ashland St occurred the week August 10th. DPS is working with our paving contractor on schedule of paving and anticipates this to occur in September. For Malcolm Hoyt Dr., we are still waiting on the contractor to bring in the reclamation machine. East Boylston will be paved in the next few weeks and we expect a starting date shortly.
Sidewalk and curbing work prep continue on Merrimac Street. The sidewalk contractor will begin ripping up curbing and sidewalk on Merrimac St from Forester St to Broad Street. Replacement of new sidewalk and curbing would follow. East Boylston not scheduled we expect to be completed in the next few weeks.
As mentioned, the pandemic also impacted the finalization and implementation of the Beta 5-year roadway paving plan. The plan is to finalize the Beta Plan this fall with full implementation in the 2021 construction season.
Safe Routes to School Update: The project continues to be on schedule with substantial completion by the end of the calendar year and final paving and landscaping in the spring.
Clipper City Rail: PCB Clean-up Update: Back fill is nearly complete and we continue to anticipate opening the old shoreline rail corridor to informal public access in September.
Parker St and State Street Complete Streets: I ask that Councillors please approve the $40,000 transfer of CPA funds to fully fund this important project. The awarded contractor is ready to proceed with construction.
Fire Stations Feasibility Study: Our consultant Winter Street Architects is focusing on Task 1 of the revised feasibility study, schematic design of renovations/additions to the Central Fire Station at 0 Greenleaf, including a new training room/EOC. It is important to get a better understanding of what the scope of work would be to modernize Greenleaf and bring it to code before we complete the West End station design. We should have an update later in September.
Green Communities Grant Award: I am pleased to announce that the City of Newburyport was awarded a $200,000 Green Communities Competitive Grant to fund energy efficiency projects at the high school and the Library. Projects include demand control ventilation improvements and interior LED lighting upgrades at the High School and LED lighting at the library.
57 Circulator Bus: I am pleased to announce that the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) is launching a new circulator bus route exclusive to Newburyport. The new 57 line will be a looped route entirely within Newburyport which will allow for more frequent and reliable bus service. The service will run on the half hour from 7AM to 7:30 PM weekdays and 8AM to 6:30PM on weekends. The route includes High Street and could be an additional option for students to get to and from Newburyport High School. The existing 54 line will continue to operate and provide out-of-town service. Both lines will stop at the Intermodal Facility and the Community Rail Station. This circulator route has been years in the making and I want to thank the MVRTA for working with us on improving our intracity public transportation system.