Orleans Stays On Course Through A Stormy Year

By: Ed Maroney

Orleans Assistant Town Clerk Kelly Darling dealt with a stack of mail-in ballots at one of several elections held during the year of the pandemic. FILE PHOTO

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

Darn. We should have saved last year’s lead for this year’s annual round-up.

In 2020, a pandemic swept the world like a nor’easter that wouldn’t quit. Every day, it blew down another familiar part of the landscape: in-classroom learning, committee meetings at town hall, the day program at the senior center, the annual police block party, the Fourth of July parade and fireworks, dinner and drinks with friends. Masks, sanitizer, and separation became the rule while all waited for science to produce a solution.

But somehow, with the metaphorical winds blowing incessantly, Orleans stayed on course. The community moved forward on groundwater protection, affordable housing, and downtown area improvements. Forced to improvise, it held one town meeting outside Nauset Regional Middle School and another at Nauset Beach, the latter with electronic voting. Town committees moved to the Zoom platform, increasing opportunities for interaction with the public.

The business community met its new challenges head on. With the help of town officials, restaurants quickly extended their service areas to the outdoors. Everyone came to realize that groceries were indeed an essential business and community partner. Some businesses closed forever, while others won approval to open their doors. A big-box store that would have replaced the Underground Mall failed to win the approval of the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Committee, sparking a debate about community character and economic development.

In the Nauset schools, there were stops and starts as new methods of learning were tested on the fly. Ventilation problems, now fixed, plagued the regional high school; on the other hand, Orleans Elementary School’s design, with every classroom opening to the outdoors, proved a perfect fit for pandemic pedagogy.

Although the present could look grim, Orleans continued to think about the future. Voters authorized planning for sewering the Meetinghouse Pond area, feasibility studies to consider the future of the aged fire station and the Governor Prence Inn, and funds for permitting dredging of Nauset Estuary, among other initiatives. At town meeting, citizens sought a response to climate change; in June, more than a thousand people marched down Route 28 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As 2021 began, with the prospect of widespread vaccination months away, vigilance was the byword, not only to maintain the public’s health but also to provide for the town’s fiscal well-being. Even before the pandemic, expenses rising faster than the capped property tax levy limit had put Orleans on track for a general override vote this spring to help fund the fiscal year 2022 operating budget. To learn more, “attend” a Zoom meeting of the select board or finance committee; no masks required.