ORLEANS — With two outdoor town meetings and one presidential balloting behind them, voters will be asked to make one more set of decisions in 2020 on Tuesday, Dec. 1. That’s when a special town election will determine whether the town moves ahead on a feasibility study for the renovation and/or expansion of the aged and inadequate fire station, the planned purchase of a new pumper truck, and continuing preparation for overdue dredging of Nauset Estuary and Pleasant Bay.
Voters who requested mail-in ballots have received them from the town clerk and can return them by mail or drop them off at the secure lock box outside town hall. Voting in person is limited to Dec. 1 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the senior center on Rock Harbor Road.
All four related articles were approved by substantial margins Oct. 31 at town meeting. Tuesday’s votes, which require only a simple majority to pass, are to exempt borrowing for the measures from Proposition 2½ tax levy limits.
“The $100,000 feasibility study is absolutely critical to planning for the future needs of the facilities of the fire department,” Fire Chief Geof Deering said in an interview last week. “It’s very well documented that we have less than ideal living and working conditions. There are air quality issues that we are working on. (Also), when the building was built in 1987, there were three people on duty at a time. Sometimes today, there are 10 people working in the building. We have no more space to put any more personnel or equipment.”
Fire stations of Orleans’s vintage were built “with no consideration of exhaust fumes, soot, and carcinogens on members’ turnout gear, or of contamination from a medical call,” Deering said. “There’s not enough separation between the bays where equipment comes in and out and living quarters.”
Another concern is on-site training capacity, “something we’ve lacked for a long time,” said the chief. “Now that we’re in the COVID world, it would be really nice to have training facilities, (such as) space for medical training for EMTs and paramedics… From a firefighting standpoint, members need to be proficient (also) in raising ladders [and] advancing hose lines to ensure that we deliver the highest level of service. Having those things on site would mean we don’t have to take members out of service to send them to another facility.”
The second question on the ballot would cover borrowing of $675,000 to replace the department’s 2001 pumper truck. At the Oct. 31 town meeting, finance committee chair Lynn Bruneau said the chief had “confirmed that the average life of these big trucks is 20 years, the first 10 on the front line and the second 10 as backup. This year, both pumper trucks were out of service (and we) borrowed a pumper from Yarmouth. For the older truck, a part costs $7,000. Finding that part is a unicorn hunt.”
Fire departments are wary of buying used rather than new pumpers. “If you find one, you wouldn’t want to buy it,” Bruneau said. “It’s likely it’s been in a crash or has major mechanical problems or was underwater in a flood area.” Deering agreed. “Most departments don’t get rid of trucks after five years,” he said.
A new truck will incorporate upgrades in safety features and technology, the chief noted. “The newer ones have air bags and rollover protection, different suspension components and braking systems,” he said. “The 20-year-old pumper doesn’t have air conditioning. That may sound luxurious, but (think of) the heat stress for firefighters. They’re wearing 70 pounds of gear.” What’s more, modern trucks are designed for easier decontamination and have surfaces that are easier to clean between runs.
Both the study and the pumper truck “are crucial to ensuring the long-term sustainability of delivering high-quality public safety to the town of Orleans,” Deering said. “They’re separate but intertwined. We rely heavily on firefighters to deliver services, but they need the tools and facilities to do that.”
Staying the Course on Dredging
Improved public safety is also among the goals of efforts to dredge heavily-shoaled Nauset Estuary and a group of channels in Pleasant Bay. Other reasons “relate to the property tax revenues that are generated both by homeowners who love the waters of Orleans as well as the businesses that are marine related,” dredge advisory committee chairman Charlie Carlson said in an interview last week. Along with the water quality improvement increased tidal flushing could bring, “the reasons for pursuing dredging are quite broad, and it’s really something that’s important to all Orleans residents, even if they’re not users of those waters on a regular basis, since attracting home purchasers and tourists and day visitors is fundamental to our economy.”
The questions on the Dec. 1 ballot do not address actual digging. One is for $120,000 to continue engineering, design, and permitting services for the Nauset Estuary project, and the second would OK $50,000 of the same services for dredge disposal/dewatering sites for spoils from Pleasant Bay dredging as well as a feasibility study of dredging a navigation channel from Mill Pond to Nauset Estuary.
“The process of undertaking a dredging project is a long one,” said Carlson, who also chairs the Nauset Estuary Stakeholders Group. “It requires, for better or worse, a great amount of study that is required by various permitting agencies that will have to render a verdict on the dredging, so there has (already) been a big investment in those studies. Those studies have concluded that dredging is not only important for some of the reasons I’ve described but, more importantly, [so] that the actual dredging work can get done.”
Over the next two years, the stakeholders group, which includes Eastham representatives, will work with Woods Hole Group to permit a major dredging project in Nauset Estuary that would include follow-up maintenance dredging in later years. Without such action, conditions will continue to deteriorate. As Carlson wrote in a fact sheet distributed at town meeting, “Boats commonly run aground and each grounding brings the potential for personal injuries. Even more importantly, because of shoaling, rescue boats cannot make their way quickly to an accident scene or are entirely prevented from reaching the scene when tides are low.”
The need to get back to maintaining Pleasant Bay channels as well is longstanding; Carlson estimates that area hasn’t seen a dredge since the 1960s.
“There are five channels in Pleasant Bay that need to be dredged,” he said, citing the Narrows between Little Pleasant Bay and Pleasant Bay) and the entrance channels to Lonnie’s, Arey’s, Pah Wah, and Quanset ponds, known as the Salt Ponds. “At low tide, they’re a foot or two deep in some places,” he said. “Just for the simple purpose of recreational and commercial boaters coming in and out of those ponds for their moorings, we need better channels. You have to regulate your access based on tide right now, and that’s problematical.”
Deepening the channels, according to Carlson, “will undoubtedly have some positive impact on water quality in those terminal ponds because they will experience a greater level of ‘flushing’ from the tides, and that will reduce stagnant water and bring in more fresh water. It should help to benefit all sorts of creatures who live in those ponds.”