The anticipated proposal of a Monday, June 22, Town Meeting was among four coronavirus-related items that Town Administrator Jay McGrail discussed with the Marion Board of Selectmen at its remote access meeting on April 28.
McGrail planned to formalize the plan later this week with an eye on presenting formally to the board for discussion at its Tuesday, May 5, meeting. The flushing out of details involving three large rooms at Sippican School and possibly involving Tabor Academy, will still leave ample time for the required 20 days public notice.
Working with Town Facilities Manager Shaun Cormier, McGrail is hoping Sippican School’s auditorium, gymnasium, and cafeteria can function as the three primary rooms based on capacity for attendees seated seven feet apart.
“They’ll have to enter and exit one at a time like they do at the supermarket,” McGrail had told the board during its April 23 meeting.
If it comes together, Marion will be aiming for Town Meeting on Monday, June 22, with the election on Friday, June 26, but could go to Monday, June 29, if necessary. “That wouldn’t create a problem. This year is one of the few times where that wouldn’t be a problem,” said McGrail.
His second item for the April 28 meeting was Memorial Day (May 25), for which a celebration is being planned to feature a video montage including remote access interviews with veterans and marching bands performing remotely but woven together. The annual parade has been canceled.
Third, Harbormaster Isaac Perry will join the Board of Health at its Tuesday, May 5 meeting to discuss the reopening of the town dock and has sought state-level guidance that will be used in concert with Marion-related issues to formalize a plan.
Finally, the Town House will remain closed through May 18 in keeping with Governor Baker’s extension of the stay-at-home advisory and closure of non-essential businesses that had been scheduled to expire on May 4. Meantime, McGrail is working with Cormier and Assistant Town Administrator Judy Mooney to get more staff into the building.
McGrail had laid out a concept during the Board of Selectmen’s April 23 meeting in which town officers would meet the public at a window, provide the requested service and then return to their offices. In any case, the wearing of facemasks would be required.
“If we do this plan, we would build some sort of kiosk area with plexiglass in front of it. It’d be almost like going into a bank,” said McGrail, who would welcome the extra time to prepare that the new May 18 state-closure date provides.
Bill Saltonstall, a member of Marion’s Energy Management Committee who attended the April 28 Board of Selectmen meeting, gave a rundown on projects related to the Green Community Grant.
Stressing the priority “to pick projects we could complete within this grant cycle and then go on for a (potential) third grant,” Saltonstall summarized work on five sites: the Community Center (with kitchen and bathrooms the largest of Marion’s Green Community Grant projects); the Music Hall (insulation in the area over the vestibule); the Library (energy savings on interior storm windows); Silvershell Sewage Pumping Station at the corner of Lewis Street (replacing the old, oil-fired furnace with a new, gas-fired model); and the Main Water Station (weatherization work and new furnace using propane instead of oil).
Town Planner Gil Hilario pointed out that all the furnaces in line for replacement are approximately 30 years old.
“We had expected a year ago that, with a grant this year, we might finish the LED lighting at Sippican School, and that’s now been done under a different program,” said Saltonstall. “We had to move on to find other things to fill the bill, and these seemed like the right ones to get done before the end of the year.
“We couldn’t tackle the big ones like the Wastewater Treatment Plant… It seems to take a lot of oil for the square footage, and tackling a project like that would take more time than we have this year.”
Hilario said the Wastewater Treatment Plant would require more research. “You can apply for $200,000 (in Green Community grants). The Wastewater Treatment Plant is a huge user of oil, and we just weren’t ready (to tackle such a project),” he said, adding that Green Community grants would not have worked out to fund Town House renovations.
McGrail passed along comments made by Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative representative Liz Argo letting the board know how valuable Saltonstall has been to CVEC’s board.
In the Board of Selectmen’s April 23 meeting, it became apparent Marion is ready to expand its use of video-conferencing technology to public hearings, not just public meetings.
“Although our town counsel (Jon Witten) doesn’t like the format of it, it definitely works. I have some ideas on what other communities are doing,” said McGrail.
“I think we need to start doing it and schedule hearings in May. I know Jon Witten is extra cautious, but the governor’s blessed it… it’s not in the town’s best interests (to put it off any longer),” said Selectman John Waterman.
Selectman Norm Hills, also a member of the Planning Board, added, “The Planning Board’s going to have to have a public hearing for the items that are on the (Town Meeting) warrant.”
“By late May we need to hold some hearings,” said Waterman.
McGrail said he was working on a hybrid plan.
“Make sure, if we have those public hearings, everyone – if they don’t have a computer or access – somehow I want those people to be able to have ability to participate. That’s my comment to this,” said Chairperson Randy Parker.
McGrail said the 30-second delay in transmission can make such a hearing “a little tricky, but not something we can’t get through.”
Waterman said that residents without access to Zoom technology via computer or smartphone could call in on phone and watch the meeting on ORCTV.
Argo attended the board’s April 23 meeting on behalf of CVEC to discuss the contracts that Marion is entering into with it and with Distributed Solar Development (DSD) for what is hoped will become a profitable solar array atop the Benson Brook landfill.
The attraction of DSD’s bid over two others is a straight lease because Marion had already maximized what it could do on a metered arrangement. The 20-year lease agreement is expected to generate $125,000 per year for the town (see Energy Management Committee story in this edition).
The interconnect with Eversource could prove too costly, but Marion maintains the right to back out of the deal.
“We need to make sure it’s not a net loss,” said Waterman. “We just don’t want to get surprised. We want to make sure we make money over the 20 years.”
Marion joined CVEC last year, joining in with a large number of towns represented by the organization.
Argo expected it will take three weeks to get the first review. DSD would pay for an impact study that could take two months. Then Marion would know where it stands. Argo stressed that the agreement is carefully sculpted to allow termination if the numbers don’t work for Marion.
Hilario confirmed that the 1.5-kilowatt solar project will only exist on the flat, top part of the landfill.
Argo said it’s vital that Marion move quickly due to incentive categories designed to drop when there are delays.
The board accepted the intergovernmental service agreement with CVEC and authorized McGrail to sign the contracts with CVEC and the developer DSD.
In other business, the Board of Selectmen also approved an engineering proposal from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., which specializes in road projects.
In its April 23 meeting, the board held a moment of silence in the memory of former Marion selectman Roger Blanchette, who passed away on March 29 at his home in North Port, Florida.
The longtime Marion resident was chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals for over a decade, served as Water/Sewer commissioner for four years and Parking Clerk for three years. He also served on Marion’s Finance, Private Ways, Housing Partnership, Buzzards Bay Action and Housing Trust committees. He was an elected member of the Board of Selectmen and served for six years from 2006 to 2012.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Thursday, April 30, at 3:00 pm.
Marion Board of Selectmen
By Mick Colageo