Jul 23

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 23, 2021

Posted on July 23, 2021 at 9:54 AM by Tiffany Marletta

Central Street Culvert/Sawmill Brook Restoration Project Update
By Gregory T. Federspiel

One of the larger infrastructure projects that has been in the works for many years is the replacement of the Central Street Culvert and Restoration of Sawmill Brook.  Sawmill Brook travels through the village and empties into the inner harbor next to Seaside 1 after passing under Central Street.   

The old stone arch culvert and dam is failing and needs a complete replacement. Further upstream, the seawalls along the old pond are also severely compromised with sections having fallen into the water channel.  While some band-aid measures have been taken to keep the culvert from collapsing, we are on borrowed time here.  The Town had a scare back during the 2006 Mother’s Day storm when major flooding along Sawmill Brook caused extensive damage to homes and roads along the brook.   As storms intensify and sea levels rise, improving drainage through the central part of town will be even more important.

The culvert replacement project and restoration plan for the Brook has been the focus of detailed analysis over the past four years.  The hydraulics of the brook, the impacts of the old tide gate restricting water flow, and the impact on homes and wildlife have all been studied.  We have been fortunate to receive grant funding for much of this and now have engineering plans about ready for bidding.  Most recently permitting work has been undertaken and is nearly complete.

The cost of the extensive work is projected to be just shy of $6 million.  A new dam and larger culvert are planned along with the rebuilding of a large percentage of the seawalls around the culvert and further upstream past the Fire Station. We are in the running for a federal grant under FEMA’s “BRIC” (Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities) program.   Our application for $4.5 million has advanced to the next level.  We will hear by the end of the year whether we will receive this substantial grant. Representative Seth Moulton helped secure letters of support from Senator Warren and Markie.  He was in town last week to gain a first-hand look at the project.  We have received $500,000 from the State under their small bridge program toward the project.  Local dollars will be needed to complete the funding picture.

Further complicating construction is the presence of primary electrical transmission lines that feed not only Manchester, but most of Cape Ann.  These lines will need to be temporality relocated in order to allow the construction to proceed.  While not as challenging, a town water line also is in the way.  Building foundations that double as seawalls are yet another challenge for this project.

The goal is to begin construction a year from this September. Disruptions will be inevitable with the need for closing Central Street for periods of time during the 6 months construction will take.  While details still need to be worked out, we are aiming to accommodate a temporary pedestrian passage over the brook near the construction site.  Vehicular traffic will need to be rerouted during portions of the construction.  

The new culvert without the tide gate will enhance water flow and prevent flooding during all but the worst of storms. The new design took into account higher sea levels as well.   The new design means that instead of a large storm overtopping Central Street by over a foot of water and the subsequent flooding upstream, water will be some 4 feet lower as it flows under the enlarged culvert.

The upstream work will restore the natural flow of the brook and the former march grasses making for a more esthetically pleasing area that will be more attractive to wildlife as well.   

Obviously, Central Street is a critical route for Manchester.  It is essential that we maintain this route. To ensure its long-term viability, we will have to endure the pain of reconstruction. We have over a year to prepare and to develop strategies to minimize the impacts of the construction effort to the extent possible.  Given the location, we will need to be as creative as possible!  

Jul 19

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 16, 2021

Posted on July 19, 2021 at 4:07 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Dispatch Discussions Continue
By Gregory T. Federspiel

Discussions continue regarding how best to provide public dispatch services at the Selectmen’s meeting on Thursday, July 22.  The Board will host another public forum as part of their regular meeting via Zoom (check the agenda on the Town’s web site for log in information and timing.)

We have come to a critical point with dispatching.  There are deficiencies with our current operation which must be corrected.  We have two basic choices: reinvest in our “in-house” operations or switch over to the state-run North Shore Regional 911 Center in Middleton.   As with most choices, there are pros and cons to each option.

Current operations suffer from occasional staffing shortages.  This comes in two forms.  We have one dispatcher on duty at a time.  During a critical call, this single dispatcher must juggle the needs of the critical call while still trying to manage any new in-coming calls.   During a longer lasting emergency event – an active fire, an involved car crash, etc. – this can compromise the safety of the first responders and victims of the incident unless we can add a second dispatcher quickly by calling someone in. The recommended standard for EMS and Fire calls is to have a dedicated dispatch operator for each call.   Our current model does not meet this standard. To guarantee that we do, we would need to double our current staffing.   The regional service typically has 4-6 dispatchers on at any time.  Having a dedicated dispatcher for critical calls is a top concern of Fire Chief Cleary and our fire fighters.

The other struggle with staffing we have is weekend coverage.  We rely on part-time dispatchers for weekend coverage.  It is increasingly difficult to fill these weekend shifts.  We have had to require police officers to work overtime more often lately to cover a shift.  Hiring a fourth full-time dispatcher and putting all dispatchers on the same 4 on/2 off schedule as police officers would help alleviate this growing problem.   

We also lack computer-aided dispatch software.  Both Fire and Police would benefit from a modern dispatching platform.  This software is expensive – initial cost is around $190,000 and annual costs run about $15,000.  We either need to purchase this new software or join the North Shore 911 Center which provides this in their service.  Both Chief Fitzgerald and Cleary see the benefit of obtaining a much-improved software platform to manage and track all service calls.

Under our current in-house dispatch operations, the dispatchers also provide services to anyone who walks into the Police Station lobby, a service Police Chief Fitzgerald would like to continue.  The number of walk-ins is low – averaging about 1.4 per day during the four years prior to COVID.  It is extremely rare that someone with an emergency is rushing into the Police lobby.   In the last thirty years this has happened once or twice.  When a medical or fire call comes in the Fire Station is usually left unstaffed, a situation that has not caused a problem.  

Nonetheless, should we want to continue to staff the police lobby there are ways to do so even if the dispatching operations move to the regional center.  Staffing it 24/7 as it is currently would cost almost the same as providing dispatch services in-house.  While not offering much in the way of savings, this approach could gain us the extra services of the reginal dispatch center.  Providing lobby staffing for the day and evening shifts, but not the midnight shift saves roughly $125,000 annually.  Savings up to $225,000 a year are possible while still providing lobby coverage during the day and half of the evening shift, which covers almost all of the historic walk-in traffic.  Other communities have gone to virtual lobby coverage through audio/video connections to the regional dispatch center with the ability to have a patrol officer arrive within minutes to a lobby that can be locked from the inside. Under this last scenario, we maximize our dollar savings at over $335,000/year plus the savings on capital needs.  

As noted in an earlier article, the decision regarding in-house versus regional dispatching is not just about dollars.  Some argue for keeping the service local.  Others feel we can receive more robust dispatching service from the regional center.  At the recent Town Meeting, the majority of voters wanted to keep talking about the pros and cons of the two choices we have.  Attend Thursday’s forum to ask your questions and/or lend your perspective as the Selectmen continue to assess what is best for the community.  

Jul 09

From the Town Administrator's Desk - July 9, 2021

Posted on July 9, 2021 at 12:59 PM by Tiffany Marletta

Grateful for Community - By Gregory T. Federspiel
Despite less than ideal weather (and a 40 degree drop in temperatures from a few days beforehand!) the 4th of July holiday weekend demonstrated the strong sense of community Manchester possesses.  We live in a beautiful place and enjoy a high quality of life – aspects we do well to remember and not take for granted.

The return of Rotary’s Red, White and Blue Pancake Breakfast saw a very large turnout, so large that some folks had to be turned away.  The cool, misty morning did not dampen turn-out. Working the parking lot was a busy affair while those flipping the ‘cakes, including Representative Brad Hill and Senator Bruce Tarr, worked non-stop.  An army of Rotarians joined forces to make the event possible. 

Two stalwarts of community service, Tom Kehoe and Sue Thorne, were honored during a brief ceremony at the breakfast. Tom and Sue have served on numerous town boards and committees spanning decades. Even after they step down from serving regular assignments, they step forward again to serve on special committees, the 375th Anniversary Committee being the latest.

 Smiling painted faces riding the ponies completed this family-oriented event.  You could practically hear the sense of normalcy the event provided.

While our traditional July 4th parade did not take place, a creative and well attended boat parade provided a new twist.  Boats of all shapes and sizes, decorated for the occasion looped through the harbor, providing shoreside viewers the chance to cheer their favorites.  A new tradition is born!

The weather cleared nicely for the evening concert at Masconomo Park.  Many families laid out picnic dinners to enjoy the big band sounds.  Children played on the swings and slides, while the music played. Couples took to the grass to dance.  The line was constant at Captain Dusty’s for an evening treat.  Parks and Recreation Director Cheryl Marshall made sure the evening went off without a hitch.  The July 4th Committee has their sights set on a grand parade and celebration in conjunction with the 375th ( 1) Committee for a final celebration this September. 

Volunteers are at the heart of these activities and their efforts prove how individuals make a difference. Another individual to mention is Board of Selectmen chairperson Eli Boling. This time of year, the Selectmen hold their annual organizational meeting to elect a chair and vice char of the Board.  Eli, while still serving as a member of the Board, steps down after a two-year stint as chairperson.  What a two years it has been!  But Eli’s calm demeanor skillfully guided the Board through the pandemic crisis and the attempted 40B negotiations with SLV to name just two of the many issues with which the Board has contended. The Board works extremely hard as they wade through a myriad of issues, both large and small.  As Chairman, Eli dedicated untold hours to Town affairs.  With attendance at Board meetings being very high, a positive aspect of having to go virtual, more residents can appreciate the breadth of issues their elected officials process.      

As a small community we do not have a large staff of paid professionals.  Thus, we rely heavily on residents to serve as volunteers on many different boards and committees.  We have openings to fill and you are encouraged to see how you can contribute to the running of the Town.  You get to work with your neighbors and help shape the future of Manchester. These efforts also build community. 

The pandemic forced us to change our daily routines.  A lot of the changes were hard to make and getting through the darkest stretches of the health crises were challenging to say the least.  But as a community we have rallied.  We put into place procedures and measures that reduced our risks and now with one of the highest percentages of vaccinated residents (nearly 100% of eligible people!) we can start enjoying many of our social gatherings that we had to forego.  As the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  We cherish community and we missed it.  Perhaps these past 16 months will encourage us to work even harder at fostering strong community connections.  Given what we saw this past holiday weekend, I am optimistic this is the case.