HARWICH — Because dollars talk, it is safe to say wastewater management expenses were the main topic bantered about in town in 2018.
Voters in the annual town meeting approved $24,775,000 for the construction of sewers in East Harwich, and the town is working closely with Dennis and Yarmouth to develop a tri-town sewage treatment plant.
There have been a number of battles and accomplishments in the community in 2018. Accomplishments include major changes at Saquatucket Harbor; creation of the Harwich Cultural Center; and the decision to ban retail marijuana sales. There were battles over the development of a municipally-owned pet burial grounds and the location of a commercial farm in a residential neighborhood.
Business enterprise in Harwich Port raised parking concerns and noise issues, and initiatives began seeking to restore vitality to Harwich Center while protecting the historic charm of the village. Voters also agreed to fund the construction of a new Cape Cod Regional Technical High School in the Pleasant Lake section of town.
The town lost a few citizens in 2018 who were major contributors to community over the years, including James Marceline, who served his country in World War II, was committed to his community and neighbors, left behind a legacy of generosity, caring and love of community.
Well know for his affable character and for running Marceline Salvage Company, he had his hand in shaping Cranberry Valley Golf Course, made possible the development of Cape Cod Regional Technical High School through a land donation, and was there to assist families in need well before social service agencies extended a hand.
Just a few weeks ago Harwich lost Emulous E. “Buddy” Hall, who served the town in many volunteer capacities for half a century. He was a WWII veteran who returned to Harwich and became involved in the community, serving on the finance committee for 15 years, on the planning board for eight years and was the town's representative to the Cape Cod Economic Development Council. Hall was a volunteer firefighter for 22 years. He operated Bud's Go-Karts in town for 58 years.
Former selectman Freeman Allison also passed this year. Allison was a selectman during the time of transition in conformance with the newly approved Harwich Home Rule Charter in1987, which altered the role of the full-time board of selectmen. He also served on the board of health and planning board.
Elections, Town Meeting, Sewers
In the annual election in May, voters returned Ed McManus to the board of selectmen. He had previously served as a selectman for 11 years, but stepped down to comply with a provision of the town charter, when he was elected to serve as the town's representative to the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates. In an extremely tight race, McManus out-distanced political newcomer Thomas Sherry by 21 votes.
In the annual town meeting, voters approved phase two of the comprehensive wastewater management plan, authorizing by a two-thirds majority vote a debt exclusion ballot question for $24,775,000 for the design and construction of sewers for 650 properties in East Harwich and to fund the connection with the town of Chatham for treatment in that town's sewer plant. Voters approved the debt exclusion funding by a 1,287 to 524 vote.
The vote was recognized as a strong confirmation of the town's wastewater management plan. But there were many questions from residents about tax impacts. Residents of East Harwich who would be required to hook up to the sewers had many questions about associated costs, including consulting engineering fees and the cost of extending sewerage pipes from their properties to the new system.
Selectmen worked hard to try to keep residents informed and provide information on county loans, should they be necessary. They established a wastewater support committee to craft pamphlets providing information and held several interactive sessions in which the necessary steps were discussed at length. The design phase of the sewer system is nearing completion.
In 2018, the town gave serious consideration to altering the wastewater plan, which calls for construction of a treatment plant at the former landfill site on Queen Anne Road. The town entered into a partnership with Dennis and Yarmouth to investigate a tri-town treatment plant in Dennis.
“We'd pay a higher amount doing our own facility. Do we want that or to pay less on a regional basis?” Town Administrator Christopher Clark said, referring to a projected $100 million savings for the towns with a regional treatment facility. He said the town's share of the cost, based on projected sewage flow, would be 16 or 17 percent. Discussions on the details of an intermunicipal agreement for the treatment facility are ongoing and voters could be asked as early as this spring, but more likely in 2021, to fund the regional treatment facility.
Voters also made a firm statement at town meeting that they do not want recreational marijuana sold in town. They did so by casting more than a two-thirds majority vote, 184-48, in favor of a zoning provision that bans all types of non-medical marijuana establishments in zoning districts in the community. The ban includes marijuana cultivators, independent testing labs, product manufacturers, retailers and other types of licensed marijuana-related businesses.
Voters also approved a town meeting article and debt exclusion vote in May for $6,750,000 to construct a new fire station in East Harwich, replacing the 42-year-old structure that had outgrown the needed service to community.
It was a big year for improvements in and around Saquatucket Harbor with the completion of a $7 million waterside reconstruction of slips and docks. While the project pinched the boating season a bit last spring, with winter slowing the project a little, only half of the dock system was available to boaters by Memorial Day weekend. But BTT Marine Construction continued to press forward and the aluminum platform ramps were installed in late June, completing the project.
“They've done a great job,” Harbormaster John Rendon said of the work BTT performed at the harbor. While the project was concluding Eastward Companies of Chatham was busy working on the landside project at the harbor. With the town's purchase of the adjacent Downey property the opportunity for major improvements surrounding the harbor was evident to town officials, but just what was needed was a matter of dispute. There was agreement a new harbormaster's office was necessary, along with a new boardwalk and a marina-based maintenance building for the harbor department.
Seeking additional safety measures, it was agreed charter and passenger boat ticket booths should be put in a safe location where people did not have to cross Route 28, and with the eye to bringing more people harborside, artisan shacks were added.
But the big issue was whether or not to locate a snack shack overlooking the harbor. The town approved $3 million for the landside harbor project, including providing additional parking on the former Downey property. There was a segment of the community that questioned the need for a snack shack that would compete with other businesses in the area, and when bids for the project came in above the $3 million mark, debate heated up.
But the town received a $1 million grant, in addition to one for the waterside project, from the state Seaport Economic Council, so the question became should that grant be used to offset the cost of the project or to complete the project as proposed. The snack shack was caught in the middle. After a nearly hour-long discussion on town meeting floor in May, voters approved the use of the grant to complete the $3,780,000 landside project with a snack shack.
Pet Burial Ground
The town received an innovation awarded in January at the annual Massachusetts Municipal Association for proposing to establish a pet burial grounds on town land. But that proposal was met with a backlash from many residents in the community. A petition was filed questioning the use of tax dollars for the project and seeking a 10-year business plan. Work on the burial grounds on Queen Anne Road was already underway using funds from the cemetery account, but a legal opinion said the funds were designed for human burials, not animals. There were a number of questions about the use of those funds, and Town Administrator Christopher Clark had to renege on a contract for the burial grounds. Voters in town meeting also decided to indefinitely postpone a request for $577,950 to construct a crematorium on the site.
It was a big year for cultural activities in the town. It started with a decision to allow the use of the former middle school on Sisson Road as a cultural center. The school was used very little for recreational purposes, and Community Center Director Carolyn Carey was provided the opportunity to bring it back to life and generate revenue for the town.
The project has taken off and the Harwich Cultural Center is being fully used; the activities there continue to grow. Selectmen voted to extend the cultural center use for five years. Activities have also extended to the auditorium, library and cafeteria. In April the facility was center stage in ArtWeek, a statewide celebration of the arts in the commonwealth.
The success, together with the efforts of the town's cultural council, the chamber of commerce and the town planning department, drew recognition from the state, which selected Harwich as the only town, along with several cites, to be part of a state-wide Cultural Compact. The program provided grant funding to the town helped promote ongoing efforts to develop two cultural districts in the community.
Harwich Port has emerged as a vital part of the town's economy with restaurants, new shops and music venues drawing people into the village. But parking emerged as a major issue, with a new development eliminating what had been a significant parking area.
When Town Administrator Christopher Clark went to the planning board last summer seeking to use expand the municipal Schoolhouse Road parking lot to a lot covered with trees at the rear, it brought out a neighborhood protest. Neighbors challenged the town's proposal to add the parking there through a waiver from the planning board.
“We're suffering from our success,” Board of Selectmen Chair Julia Kavanagh said of the strengthening business climate in the village.
“I would suggest with this parking lot, you are not solving a problem, your are merely transferring a problem. You are creating a major problem for the residents of Pleasant Street,” Rosemary O'Neill said.
Selectmen agreed to put a parking committee together to study parking issues in town over this winter.
In Harwich Center there was an effort to get approval for a mixed-use convenience store with two apartments at the location of a former gas station in the center of the village. Several hearings were by the historic district and historical commission, adjustments were proposed, but late in the hearing process, neighbors provided a strong voice of opposition, citing the need for a building that represents the historic character of the village, and the project was withdrawn.
Numerous discussions in recent years as well as the convenience store proposal were instrumental in the re-establishment of the Harwich Center initiative committee. The new committee plans to work with the stakeholders in the village in January to develop a direction for moving forward with revitalizing Harwich Center.
Farm vs. Neighbors
Neighbors were upset when Resilient Farm began operation at 35 Chatham Rd. There were complaints about commercial farming activities on land surrounded by residential properties which kept the town's community development department busy for a good part of the year with board of health issues, conservation commission hearings and building department interpretations. Farm owner Barry Dino Viprino filed suit against the town this summer “seeking to protect from unlawful interference certain rights guaranteed by Harwich Town Code, the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, Massachusetts General Law and the U.S. Constitution.”
Another longstanding battle with neighbors was settled this year when Fran Zarette was granted permits to allow a shellfish hatchery in the former fish house on the Herring River. Aquacultural Research Corporation has been nurturing clams and oysters there since the summer.
Construction work on the new Cape Cod Regional Technical High School is scheduled to begin next month in the Pleasant Lake section of town. Voters in 10 towns across the Cape supported the project. Late in the year there was good news on the cost front: low bidder Brait Builders Corporation of Marshfield came in $12 million below the initial construction estimate. The construction of the 220,000-square-foot, two-story building is expected to take two and half years.