Candidates Talk About Leadership, Sustainability

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Politics

Candidates for selectmen are (from left) Dean Nicastro, Jamie Bassett, Seth Taylor, Peter Cocolis and Cory Metters. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

CHATHAM The five men seeking three seats on the board of selectmen met voters face-to-face in a candidates’ forum at the Eldredge Public Library Wednesday. Before a crowd of more than 120 people, they staked out their positions on conservation, sustainability and what constitutes good government. The session was sponsored by the Chatham Alliance for Preservation and Conservation, which has held similar forums six times in the past.

Taking part in the forum were incumbent selectmen Cory Metters and Dean Nicastro and challenger Seth Taylor, each seeking one of two three-year terms on the board. Hoping to fill the one-year vacancy created when Amanda Love resigned from the board are Jamie Bassett and Peter Cocolis.

Seeking Full 3-year Terms
Choose Two:
Cory Metters (i)
Dean Nicastro (i)
Seth Taylor
 Seeking 1-year Unexpired Term
Choose One:
Jamie Bassett
Peter Cocolis

Asked about the town’s most important natural resource challenges, Nicastro said one is coastal erosion, which is the target of a beach nourishment article on the annual town meeting warrant. The best way to support the town’s natural resources is to have “really well balanced regulatory boards,” he said. Last year, Nicastro said he felt the conservation commission was “veering too far in one direction,” and helped re-balance the board membership.

Bassett said the town is lucky to have active volunteer boards with members who are all striving to do the right thing. He said he’s witnessed this in his service on the shellfish advisory committee, where members strive to protect “that one natural resource, our coastline, that we all share.”

Taylor said the threats to the town’s natural resources come from density, demographics and climate change. Having too many people in one locale burdens the town’s waterways and its infrastructure, while the aging demographic and high property values mean that some seniors can’t continue to afford to live here. When he was on the board, Taylor said he was the only local elected official to attend key conferences on climate change and wastewater treatment.

As a member of the planning board, Cocolis said he was proud to have worked on a bylaw that reduced residential density and its associated impacts on natural resources. He said the town needs to continue to focus on controlling nitrogen and expanding the sewer system, and selectmen need to make careful appointments to key committees. “It’s not a political move. It’s not patronage. It’s who has the best experience and knowledge,” he said.

If re-elected, Metters said he would have no easy answers to the town’s natural resources challenges. “It falls on the shoulders of all of us,” he said. Taxpayers are already committed to the town’s wastewater project and may see the need to expand drinking water infrastructure. Water resources are being pushed to the limit, he said, and if they are not conserved, the town will cease to be a desirable place to live. Key controls are needed “while balancing some reasonable growth,” Metters said.

A second question asked the candidates about how Chatham can best deal with the impact of summer visitors on natural resources and infrastructure like the drinking water supply. “We’re sort of a victim of our own success,” Bassett said. As a child growing up here, he said he remembers all of his summer friends, “and all of a sudden on Labor Day everyone was gone.” Accommodating the surge in visitors is “a work in progress,” he said.

When there is a high demand on resources, the only solution is to increase those resources’ capacity or to acknowledge that they are at capacity already, Taylor said. When more infrastructure is needed, selectmen should plan those projects carefully “and then try to find a way to apply those costs and recover those costs from the folks that are benefiting from the increased presence of those people in the town,” he said. A single-family home with 12 renters puts a higher demand than the same home with one family, he said.

Cocolis said he doesn’t know exactly how much the water problem is related to the amount of water in the aquifer as compared to the capacity of the town pumps, but he said it’s clear the system is being taxed and there’s a need for the town to look closely at the problem. “This is not a solution that one of us is going to come up with,” he said.

“It’s always going to be a balancing act,” Metters said. The influx of people in the summer taxes infrastructure but also supports the economy. The wastewater system is being expanded, the police and fire buildings are new, and in many ways the town is keeping up with infrastructure needs, he said. “We still want to keep this the quaint town that it’s always been,” he said.

Nicastro said the town is investing in its water system, and together with the wet winter and conservation efforts, there is reason for optimism. But he said he worries that the town is spending such money to treat water to drinking water standards and then pouring it back into the ground through irrigation systems, particularly ones that waste water by spraying it on the roads or sidewalks. Parking is another stressed piece of the town’s infrastructure, and the trial paid parking program at the Eldredge Garage should be a “good experiment,” he said.

The candidates were also asked about two key transportation projects, and they all favored keeping roadway widths to a minimum as part of the reconstruction of the Five Corners intersection at Crowell Road, Queen Anne and Route 28. With regard to the West Chatham Route 28 reconstruction, Cocolis said he supports the two-lane plan for that road, noting that the project is in its final stages of development. “I understand the passion that’s involved with this, but it seems to me the rest of the town is not as concerned about it,” he said. Metters and Nicastro agreed, saying that, regardless of the process by which the project was approved, selectmen now have the responsibility to see the job to fruition and make sure it is done well.

Bassett said it was irresponsible for a previous board of selectmen to move ahead with the project despite a town meeting referendum that narrowly opposed the roadway plan. He said he opposes the idea of roundabouts at George Ryder and Barn Hill roads. “I think we’re going to have problems with that type of configuration,” Bassett said. Taylor also opposes the project, not because of the particular design but because it was rejected at town meeting. “Our legislative body said no,” Taylor said.

Asked about the best location and scale for a new senior center, Nicastro said he supports the idea of a replacement facility and supports spending $100,000 for a feasibility study. But the town shouldn’t invest in a new senior center until selectmen have decided on a location, he said.

Bassett also supports the feasibility study, but said the location of the senior center should be near the community center, which would create an inter-generational environment. “I do not want to cart our seniors off into the woods in West Chatham,” he said, referring to town land near the wastewater plant.

Taylor said he would like a better sense of the depth of local seniors’ needs, and wants to make sure any project integrates well with partner agencies like Elder Services, FISH and the VNA. Any facility should also target the town’s most vulnerable seniors, like those who are housebound, he said.

At first, Cocolis said he thought the senior center suggested by the town’s needs assessment was “a little bit excessive,” but he favors an “appropriately sized” facility in a location that is accessible, not in a remote place like Middle Road in West Chatham.

“It’s time for a new council on aging facility,” Metters said. He said he would not support building it on the little league fields behind the community center, which is an important resource for children, when “we’re in an environment when we’re trying to promote younger families.” Some private sites might be more suitable, if they are close to amenities like transportation and medical facilities, he said.

With the exception of Taylor, all candidates said they support Article 23, which seeks to impose a half-percent real estate transfer excise tax to raise money toward the town’s other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liabilities. Taylor said he opposes the idea and would prefer asking town meeting to appropriate contributions directly toward the OPEB Trust Fund.

In his closing statement, Taylor said Chatham “isn’t 24 square miles. It is a body politic.” Voters must decide who will best serve on the board of selectmen, and candidates should be able to put forth ideas without fear of political action committees or politicking that represents “the filthiest stuff available.” Other than his own family, “this town matters to me more than anything in the world,” he said.

Cocolis said he and his wife aren’t from here, but chose to live in Chatham because it is a special place. He said he has served the town “with a proven record of accomplishments” and knows the challenges facing Chatham’s environment and its sustainability. If elected, Cocolis pledged to work for all of his constituents.

“This is my home,” Metters said. He said he is glad to have had the chance to live and work in town and is proud of his service on the board of selectmen and planning board. He said he believes he has been open, fair and approachable, and while the town has many challenges ahead, Metters said he believes the problems can be solved through collaboration.

Nicastro said the town has a track record of taking on difficult problems by sharing disparate views in an environment of collegiality and respect. He urged voters to be certain to cast two votes for candidates for both three-year seats. “Please don’t throw your second vote away,” he said.

Bassett said he has tried to run a respectful campaign and has not accepted any campaign contributions. He said he has met with some town department heads “so I will be able to hit the ground running” if elected.

For detailed candidate profiles, see this week's print edition.