The Halifax Selectmen met in-person on the evening of June 14. There was a public hearing for earth removal for the Morse Brothers’ cranberry property. Selectman Alex Meade said, “I remember most of the residents’ concerns were about the roadway itself and dust control. Since then, we’ve had questions about runoff from the trucks so leaking hydraulics things like that. I don’t know if you plan on putting in some kind of catch basin filters in?” “Certainly, we would be willing to talk about that,” the Morse Brothers representative said.
Meade said he would like to have a clear-cut definition of what the expectations are for the road condition as well as dust control. The spokesman said that the earth removal was necessary because the current layout is not conducive to newer ways of growing cranberries. “The things that we are talking about make sense for cranberry production. If we change the property to the new way, it now becomes a highest and best use for that property… there are good things for the town, there are good things for the grower… at the end of the day, we just want to coexist,” he continued.
They showed maps of the property to the residents present for the hearing and said that they were also available at Mass Mapper under Zone 2. Residents spoke about their concerns including home depreciation and the safety of children. One resident said that they already deal with being inconvenienced in September and October but said that was just part of the cranberry business. He said, however, that this was different and would cause disruption for years. Another resident said that he worries about the environmental impact of the properties surrounding the one in question including walking trails leading into Burrage. Another resident asked that the official abutters list be expanded to include more properties. Someone else expressed concern about the ability of first responders to get through to homes given the heavy truck traffic which was described as sounding like an “earthquake.”
The Selectmen agreed to do a site visit and then revisit the project in early August. “I don’t think we are at a point in this project to vote either way,” Selectmen Chair Ashley DiSesa said.
Treatments to Monponsett Ponds
The Selectmen also spoke with Morse Brothers to discuss the treatments to the Monponsett ponds. They said that three weeks ago they completed renovations on a 9 ½ acre property that included new plantings requiring irrigation from West Monponsett Pond. They said they were notified that day that the pond had received a sonar treatment. While there is research on the effects of such a treatment on mature plants, there is no research on the effects to newly planted vegetation. They said it was of “great concern” that they weren’t notified. They said in the past they were given considerable notice from the Town Administrator. Current Interim Town Administrator Ed Thorne said that he would share information he received from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding the effects on immature plantings. The Selectmen also said that they would not move forward with a second treatment to the West pond at this time. A spokesman for Morse Brothers said that they had some plants that were growing as they should and others that are not. “The UMASS Cranberry Station are very involved, Cape Cod Cranberry Growers’ Association, they are all monitoring it with us,” he said. He continued, “We are talking about infected food product, and we are talking about a systemic herbicide.”
Fire Chief Search
The Selectmen discussed the search for a new fire chief by speaking remotely with the person hired to conduct the search. They discussed the best way to form a search committee. Selectman Jonathan Selig said that he was slated to be on that committee as well as Police Chief Joao Chaves, the Interim Fire Chief, the Interim Town Administrator, and a still to be appointed citizen-at -large or two. A former Selectman, a Department Head, and the Administrative Assistant for the Fire Department were being considered for the citizen-at-large opening. The company hired to do the search will do the initial screening before sending applicants to the Search Committee for review.
Regarding the talent bank forms for the citizen-at-large, Selig said that the company conducting the search said that it wasn’t necessary for that person to be a firefighter or first responder. They said it might be best to have someone from another walk of life to round out the Committee. Selig said his recommendation would be for the Fire Department Administrative Assistant to be named to the Committee. Selig and DiSesa both said they would like to see Candace Kniffen as she was a former Selectman. Meade said, “I’m not a big fan of having the administrative assistant picking her boss.” The Selectmen voted to have Kniffen and current Library Director Jean Gallant appointed to the search Committee.
Monitoring of Town Beaches
Chief Joao Chaves met with the Selectmen to discuss the flock of both residents and non-residents to town beaches, specifically the one off of 4th Ave. “There was a lot of back and forth on social media, some things that I wasn’t really happy with, that I was informed about that was being said… I thought to have a platform where residents can see the video, kind of know that we are trying to work this problem out, look for ideas to try and mitigate this problem before it gets any worse,” Chaves said. He said that the signage at the beach is terrible. “Some of these fixes, if the town decides to do it, are going to cost the town some money,” he added. He recommended a person stationed at the beach to monitor the use. He pointed out that young people are always looking for jobs over the summer. They are also considering an officer on a boat.
Chaves said that they have issued several parking tickets. A proposal was made to the Selectmen to increase that fee. An officer at the meeting made the distinction that the beach is open to the general public though parking is limited to Halifax residents. The Selectmen asked that the appropriate departments create a plan to deal with the issue and then present it back to them for approval.
Town Hall Rearrangement
Director of Building Maintenance Scott Materna spoke to the Selectmen regarding the plan to rearrange offices in Town Hall to make the ones most visited by the public to be on the first floor. Materna said that multiple departments were upset over the plan for various reasons. Some of the issues include vast filing cabinets stored on the second floor. Materna asked to have the Building Committee involved in the plan. Selig said he would also like to see the Department heads get together. He said he wanted people to feel that their opinions matter. “A building shuffle, personally, I don’t feel like is high on my list of priorities,” Selig said. DiSesa said it might also be best to wait until they have a new, permanent Town Administrator in place.
Fire Department Discussion
Interim Fire Chief Jeffrey Cuozzo met with the Board regarding the hiring of personnel. “Right now, we have 26 firefighters… we average over the years 31.” Cuozzo said that one of their firefighters is currently expecting and therefore in more of an administrative role at the moment. Additionally, COVID and other illnesses have left firefighters out of commission at times. “With that being said, we have shifts to be filled,” he told the Selectmen. The interim contract does not allow Cuozzo to make hires so Selig asked how they could amend that. Cuozzo said that a change didn’t need to be made contractually as the Selectmen could make the final approval. The Selectmen gave him the necessary approval to move forward with hiring up to five on-call firefighters.
Beautification Committee Appointment
The Selectmen met with Colby Silva about her application for the Beautification Committee. She told the Selectmen that she has lived in town for 10 years and would like to have a hand in making the town more beautiful. She said that herself and her children have been picking up trash for years. She was appointed to a one-year term.
Use of Town Property
The Selectmen approved the use of the town green for a Boy Scout bottle drive on Saturday, July 9, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. They also received a request for use of the town roadways for a Harbor to the Bay Bike Ride on Saturday, September 17. DiSesa said that the event hasn’t been held for the last two years due to COVID. This year would mark the twentieth year the charity event has run through the town. Both Police and Fire had previously signed off on the event. The Selectmen agreed to push the final approval off until the July meeting to iron out a few details.
Waste Management Contract
Selig said he would like to see a Committee formed to come up with a long-term solution to what he called “our trash problem.” They agreed to move further discussion on the matter to their July meeting.
Selig made a motion to make Linda Cole the Interim Treasurer/Collector. He said, “In speaking with all of the different departments – Accounting, Treasury… it came to the conclusion that we need somebody to fill the spot especially in a regulatory way,” he said. He added that he would not want to see the new person that will become the permanent treasurer be overwhelmed by a backlog of paperwork.
Increased Police Presence at Elementary School
Selig said, “Given things today, we figured it would be nice to have a little bit more of a police presence at our Elementary School.” He said they were looking at ways to do so without sacrificing patrols in other portions of the town. Selig said they were considering splitting the position between the School and Police Departments. Chaves said that the Department still needs to review their budget before making any decisions. The Selectmen agreed to discuss the idea further at a meeting in July.