In Many Categories, 2019 Was No 2018

By: Ed Maroney

Police Lt. Kevin Higgins, left, and Fire Chief Anthony Pike entered the town's service in 1987 as summer special police officers. Higgins retired last fall, and weeks later Pike announced his retirement in June 2020.

BARRY DONAHUE PHOTO

TO

ORLEANS – The story of 2019 is how different it was from 2018.

Housing

Twelve months ago, the affordable housing trust board had yet to hold its first meeting. The town hadn’t bought land to turn over to Habitat for Humanity to build an affordable home, nor had it purchased a condo unit to rent at an affordable rate. Working with the affordable housing committee and consultants, the trust looked at converting the Cape Cod Five’s operations center into housing and pursued a line of credit that would allow it to leverage funds committed to its care by the voters.

A private effort to build residences for adults on the autism spectrum hadn’t broken ground in 2018; Cape Cod Village is expected to welcome its first residents this month. Meanwhile, Cape Abilities decided not to open a center at 107 Main St., a former fraternal lodge, and entered an agreement with the housing trust to keep it off the market while the trust explored its potential for housing.

Dredging, Nauset Beach

Waiting to debut a year ago was the dredging advisory committee, formed in the heat of wrangling with Eastham and Cape Cod National Seashore over opening up Nauset Estuary and the need to decide whether the town should buy its own dredge. Common ground for allowing pre-permitting studies of the estuary would be found.

Breath was held at the end of 2018 as the town raced to rebuild a dune to protect the remainder of the Nauset Beach parking lot. The family that had operated the Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge above the beach for generations passed on renewing its lease with the Seashore, and the town dared hope it could secure the land for eventual relocation of its facilities. The dune held, but the lease went to a motel operator.

Historic And Land Preservation

In 2018, the historic Kenrick-Sparrow House in South Orleans still existed; in 2019, it was demolished as the historical commission worked to establish the town’s first local historic district. A centuries-old home on Great Oak Road had yet to be knocked down for a large replacement building that would be advertised for short-term rentals for up to 22, and a neighbor had yet to file a complaint that would be knocked down by the zoning board of appeals.

Buying Sipson Island in Pleasant Bay wasn’t much of an option in 2018 unless you had the $12 million asking price, but by the end of 2019, a purchase agreement for less than half that amount, one that allowed for eventual public access, was getting closer even after town meeting declined by a narrow margin to chip in. The Orleans Conservation Trust raised funds toward purchasing three lots on Portaminicut Road that would link dozens of acres of open space.

Police, Fire Chiefs Retire

In 2018, Police Lt. Kevin Higgins and Fire Chief Anthony Pike, who had started out together as summer special officers at the PD in 1987, were not retired. In 2019, Higgins retired in the fall but returned quickly as a special officer; near year’s end, Pike announced his planned retirement in June 2020. Town leaders began to think more about succession plans for long-serving administrators, and how to recruit public safety staff via greater housing opportunities and more competitive compensation.

PAYT, Recycling, Dogs

Things were going along pretty well with the town’s municipal solid waste disposal multi-year contract in 2018, yielding another year of relative savings, but there was trouble ahead. A plan to turn waste into clean-burning briquettes for sale in New Hampshire was rejected by that state, and the pass-along costs meant a big jump in per-ton disposal cost. It was time to think again about something that hadn’t been much on the radar in 2018: a Pay As You Throw system in which sticker holders would pay for each specially-marked bag of garbage they tossed; the idea was to encourage recycling and reduce tonnage to be hauled. But at a public hearing in 2019, citizens called for more emphasis on recycling before taking the PAYT plunge.

State Green Communities funds started showing up in 2019, and were used to help defray the costs of municipal electric vehicles and charging stations. Recharge stations for the public were slated for Depot Square, which by midsummer might also offer recharge infrastructure for thirsty bike riders and walkers at hydration stations there and elsewhere in town. Selectman David Currier decided to pay to put solar panels on both his business and his home.

One option for the hydration stations was to have an attachment from which dogs could get a drink. The past year saw canines front and center in controversies over getting to exercise on town beaches and other properties. An animal control and regulation task force appointed by the selectmen wrestled with that and related issues. Another task force closed in on reporting public sentiment on the need for an ombudsman to steer applicants through town regulatory hoops.

Wastewater

In 2018, two big votes on wastewater remained. In May 2019, town meeting said yes to spending $47 million in the coming decades on the downtown sewer collection system, a treatment plant, and effluent disposal area; a ballot box blessing for exclusion of the debt from the tax levy limit followed the next week. “We’ve laid the foundation,” Paul Davis said at town meeting. “Let’s build the house, the house that gets us clean water for this town.”

New Buildings

A sprawling new home of the DPW off Giddiah Hill Road opened in 2019, the first full year of operation for the new police station, construction of the new Cape Cod Regional Technical High School facility, and the run-up to a new Nauset Regional High School. As in 2018, Snow Library’s trustees kept moving forward with planning for a new building, and as in 2018 and too many years before that, Chief Pike kept pointing out deficiencies in the decades-old fire station off Eldredge Park Way. Perhaps exhausted by other debt exclusion questions on the May ballot, voters declined to fund a study of the station. The only bright light for the FD was the promise of a long-sought traffic light at its entrance by year’s end.

Select Board

In 2019, Selectmen Chairman Alan McClennen chose not to run for another term, Cecil Newcomb won the open seat, and Selectman Mark Mathison moved up to chairman. The board remained all-male, the only one on the Cape, but change was in the wings. If voters approve at the May town election, Orleans will join many other communities in having a select board.