TRURO — The board of health approved a series of updated regulations on May 18 governing cesspools, septic systems, and well-water testing. The most significant change is that all cesspools are now deemed to be “failed” systems. All of them must be replaced with modern septic systems by the end of 2023.
board of health
THE DRAWING BOARD
TRURO — The signers of two petitioned articles that will be on the June 26 annual town meeting warrant want the zoning board of appeals and the board of health to be elected by the public rather than appointed by the select board.
“For me, it is a matter of democracy,” said Joan Holt, who helped circulate the petitions. “I think we all realize how precious our votes are.”
But many in Truro don’t agree, including the chairs of the select board and board of health.
Tracey Rose, the health board chair, said no one has ever brought this up with the members of the board.
“I can only presume it comes from a special interest,” Rose said. “If it was a more universal town-wide request, then absolutely. But I do believe this is a small group of people and that’s disturbing. It’s very suspicious to me.”
The “special interest” Rose referred to is most likely opposition to the proposed Cloverleaf affordable housing development on Highland Road. The ZBA and board of health have both been instrumental in the town’s approval of the project, which has now been challenged in court. (See related article on page 5.)
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Robert Weinstein, the select board chair, of the two town meeting petitions. “One need only look at our planning board, which is elected and which has continued to be an embarrassment to the community.”
Weinstein said the planning board had done nothing to accomplish the development of affordable housing, which is one of the select board’s main goals. Creating housing that’s attainable for year-round residents in a town where the median-price house now sells for $1.2 million has been a priority for years, he said. And yet, the planning board has “done everything in their power to prevent the progress of diverse housing stock,” Weinstein said.
Several planning board members have actively opposed the Cloverleaf development. No one on the planning board responded to calls for comment from the Independent.
Holt argued that elected board members are accountable to the people instead of the five select board members who appoint them. This lessens “the concentration of power,” which she claims is increasing nationally, internationally, and “even locally.”
But, practically speaking, Truro’s planning board members have rarely been elected in a competitive race, said Jay Coburn, a former Truro selectman and director of the nonprofit Community Development Partnership, which promotes and manages affordable housing on the Outer and Lower Cape.
“It’s a complete fallacy that the planning board reflects the will of the people,” Coburn said.
According to Town Clerk Susan Joseph, six members of the current board — Bruce Boleyn, Anne Greenbaum, Peter Herridge, Paul Kiernan, John Riemer, and Steve Sollog — all ran unopposed. Richard Roberts was appointed to fill Karen Tosh’s unexpired term. Coburn pointed out that, when filling an unexpired term, the planning and select boards collectively vote, and there are more planning board than select board members — so, in effect, the planning board can control the filling of vacancies.
Weinstein said several of the petition signers are the “usual subjects” who oppose affordable housing efforts. Herridge, Kiernan, Riemer, Sollog, and Boleyn all signed the petitions.
The authors of these articles got their idea from another petitioned article, which was first presented a year ago but got delayed and so will also appear on the warrant in June, Holt said. It asks voters to make the planning board appointed by the select board rather than elected.
Weinstein supports that article, he said, because “you want the goals and objectives of the policy-making body to be carried out by the regulatory boards.”
This upcoming town meeting is expected to be especially long, since there are 64 articles on the warrant, including nine new petitions and five petitions that were postponed from 2020 in an effort to shorten the town meeting during the pandemic. It begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 26 at the Truro Central School ball field.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article gave the date of the annual town meeting as May 1. On Tuesday evening, the select board voted to move the date to June 26.
THE COVID EFFECT
Rumors started to circulate last week that a rash of Wellfleet restaurants had closed due to positive Covid-19 tests among staff.
According to public notices from restaurateurs, Mac’s Shack closed for 24 hours for a deep cleaning on July 30 after a staff member tested positive; the Fox & Crow shut down voluntarily for deep cleaning on July 30 and 31, though no staff tested positive; and Van Rensselaer’s closed for deep cleaning on July 31 and Aug. 1, without stating why. Mac’s and the Fox & Crow declined to comment for this article, and V.R.’s could not be reached before deadline.
(A July 27 article by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic argued that “deep cleaning” to prevent Covid transmission is a waste of time. Calling the practice “hygiene theater,” he cited research evidence that surface transmission of the virus is exceedingly rare, and that news reports of studies showing the virus remaining alive on surfaces for days were wildly exaggerated.)
The Wellfleet closings followed others in Provincetown. According to public statements by George’s Pizza and Provincetown Brewing Co., each had a staff member test positive for the coronavirus.
To verify such statements and halt false rumors, is there any official way to find out which restaurants have had employees with the virus?
The answer is no. In Provincetown, Wellfleet, and Eastham, local health officials are not naming restaurants with Covid cases. There is no state mandate for reporting. Emily Beebe, Truro’s health director, said on Tuesday that she was still pondering the question.
Elsewhere in the state, Quincy Mayor Tom Koch posts highly specific updates. On Aug. 3, he wrote: “An employee of Manet Lunch at 1099 Sea St. Quincy has tested positive for Covid-19. If you were a patron on 7/11/20 5PM-1AM, 7/12/20 12-5PM, 7/18/20 5PM-1AM or 7/19/20 12-5PM, please call Quincy Health Department at 617-376-1286 or 617-376-1272 so we may advise you regarding further actions.”
Morgan Clark, Provincetown’s director of health and environment, has no intention of naming restaurants because she does not want to “contribute to shaming,” she said. “This community should be more aware than most, given how we lived together in the 1980s,” she added, referring to the AIDS epidemic.
According to Mass. Dept. of Public Health epidemiologist Hillary Johnson, when and where a person worked may not be relevant. That is something contact tracers attempt to deduce.
“There is not a one-to-one correlation with work and infections,” Johnson told the Provincetown Select Board on Monday. That is, roommates, family, or a certain dinner party guest may need to be informed of positive test results, not a business where masks were worn.
Still, some are pushing for mandatory restaurant disclosures of positive tests among staff.
“Shining lights on the actual facts is the way to dispel the rumor mill,” said Louise Venden of the Provincetown Select Board. “I want to thank those who did disclose.”
Erik Borg, co-owner of the Provincetown Brewing Co., said it posted results on social media because “some story will get out there anyway, so why not get the real story?”
Provincetown Select Board member Lise King is advocating that the town list both the numbers of residents and workers employed in Provincetown who test positive. Particular businesses would not be named, said King, but it would give the public notice.
In Wellfleet, Mike DeVasto, chair of the select board, is pushing for full disclosure. “I feel strongly that restaurants should report if they have a case,” he said.
Beebe, Truro’s health agent, said naming the restaurant could motivate owners to focus on mask and hygiene requirements. But, she added, she doesn’t want to discourage businesses from communicating freely with her department.
In Wellfleet, Health Director Hillary Greenberg-Lemos said she depends on businesses to call her about positive tests, since there has been at least one significant lag in results going to the state.
Which Test Is Valid?
But testing itself presents a number of thorny questions. For one, which test is valid? The molecular test that’s covered by insurance at Outer Cape Health Services is the most reliable, but wait times for results have been a week or longer. (Quest Diagnostics claimed on Aug. 3 on its website that the wait time is now five days on average.)
Meanwhile, should a restaurant close, or should only a few employees stay home until results come in?
On his business website, Mac’s Shack owner Mac Hay stated that he learned on July 30 that an employee tested positive. “Following dept. of public health and local board of health directions and protocol, we closed for a deep cleaning and had staff tested,” the statement continued. “All tests came back negative. We believe the negative test results are a testament to following proper guidelines and mitigating risk whenever and wherever possible.” The tests were done at CareWell Urgent Care, with results back that same day for about $160 each.
Health agents, including Clark and Eastham’s Jane Crowley, said they don’t recommend the rapid tests, for which negative results are only about 70 percent accurate. Yet many businesses use the rapid tests anyway. “A lot of times, by the time they get to me, business owners have already gone to CareWell, spending almost $200 a test to do something I wouldn’t even recommend,” Clark said.
On the other hand, the week or longer lag in receiving molecular test results presents a huge problem for contact tracers and businesses. And there’s no easy solution, since Quest Diagnostics, which conducts the virus tests here, is backed up, due to high demand nationally and a lack of supplies, Clark said. Dr. Andrew Jorgensen, medical director of Outer Cape Health Services, said a shortage of plastic has made it difficult to get test pipettes.
Quest’s website says demand has “plateaued” and wait times on test results should decrease.
On July 31, the Provincetown Board of Health sent a letter to the Mass. Dept. of Public Health demanding 48-hour test results. Clark brings it up during every call to the DPH.
“We’re not going to stop talking about it until it is improved,” she said.
Meetings are held remotely. Go to eastham-ma.gov/calendar-by-event-type/16 and click on a particular meeting to read its agenda. That document will provide information about how to view and take part remotely.
Wednesday, July 8
- Finance Committee, 5 p.m.
Thursday, July 9
- Zoning Board of Appeals, 4 p.m.
- Tee-Time Development Committee Community Development Workgroup, 5 p.m.
- Nauset Regional School Committee, 6 p.m.
As of June 27, the number of active cases in Eastham was 10. The number of cases has remained at 10 since June 4.
Teardown Draws Seashore’s Interest
A plan to raze three residential dwellings and a garage at 885 Doane Road Rear and build one new house and an accessory guest house and garage is on hold as owners Jeffrey and Mary McAleney, town officials, and the Cape Cod National Seashore try to come to agreement on the site’s square footage and its development potential.
Last month, the planning board continued its site plan review of the project until its meeting on Aug. 19.
On May 13, Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom told the town of “serious concerns … due to the scale of the proposal and its noncompliance with zoning parameters for the Seashore District.” Carlstrom wrote that current square-footage numbers used in the application are not consistent with the Seashore’s 1959 information, the basis for the determination.
“We urge that the Planning Board request that the applicant downsize the project because we believe it is possible to propose a project that is more consistent with Eastham’s zoning bylaws,” Carlstrom wrote. “If this project proceeds to obtain the Board’s approval, moving forward with the project would subject the property to revocation of the Certificate of Suspension of Condemnation.”
The certificate Carlstrom referred to was created in 1961, when the U.S. secretary of the interior issued standards for approval of town zoning bylaws related to properties in the Seashore. Those bylaws, according to the Park Service, “would result in the suspension of the secretary’s authority to acquire by condemnation ‘improved’ properties located within Cape Cod National Seashore.” —Ed Maroney
Rivers Is New Chair
Jamie Rivers will now serve as the chair of the select board after the board voted to reorganize. Aimée Eckman will serve as vice chair and the board’s new member, Art Autorino, will serve as clerk.
BOH Approves Steele Rd. Septic
The board of health approved Stephen and Mimi Henning’s plan to add a sunroom to their small house on Steele Road. The Hennings first appeared before the board on May 28, when the board asked for improvements to the septic system, to protect groundwater in the area.
“Even with all the improvements in Title 5, we continue to see deterioration of our groundwater and estuaries, so we have been looking to do the best we can on these small properties,” board of health chair Joanna Buffington said at the May 28 meeting. She said the original plan looked reasonable but “there’s an opportunity to upgrade the septic system for better nitrogen control, especially with that close groundwater distance.”
Health Agent Jane Crowley said the bottom of the leach field on the plan showed 48 inches to observed groundwater.
So, the Hennings returned on June 25, represented by Jason Ellis, with an updated plan. Ellis said the redesign of the septic system will use the existing 1,000-gallon septic tank and add a new pump chamber. The leach field has been updated to maintain five-foot separation to the groundwater level in the area and the residence will also be hooking up to town water in an effort to eliminate the well system for the property.
The board agreed with the changes and voted unanimously to approve the project.
Revising the FY21 Budget
The town’s new finance director, Rich Bienvenue, gave an update on the proposed fiscal 2021 budget to the select board on June 29.
Bienvenue said the town is expecting a 10-percent decrease in state receipts and a 25-percent decrease in local receipts. That local receipt decline would amount to about $1 million.
Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe said the town will be reducing hours in certain departments as well as making a reduction in DPW contract services. The town still has about $1 million in unused cash and nearly $700,000 in its stabilization fund, Bienvenue said.
“We’re in a good position, all things considered,” he said.
Beebe said the elimination of the council on aging day program and summer recreation program have cut costs, although, she said, “Those are clearly programs we are going to want to replace.”
The finance committee will review and approve the FY21 budget before it comes back to the select board for a full review.
The board will also have to draft and approve warrant articles for fall town meeting, as well as draft and approve ballot questions for the family support package and police department radios, which are articles that require an override.
The select board voted to reappoint Tricia Ford to the cable TV licenses renewal advisory committee; Janis Nogas, William Salem, and Patricia Unish to the council on aging board of directors; Charles McVinney to the cultural council; and Ed Cassarella to the recreation commission and to the community preservation committee as the recreation commission representative.
The board also voted to accept Judith Parmelee’s resignation from the Eastham 400 Committee. —Ryan Fitzgerald
PROVINCETOWN — The Outer Cape’s health agents’ duties range from enforcing food and water safety to supporting emotional connection. Their jobs touch on sex, rats, and sewers. And that was before Covid-19 put them at the center of our economic and personal space issues.
In a normal year, agents focus on food, water, housing, and wastewater. In Truro and Wellfleet, water and wastewater are so central to the job that the health and conservation departments are merged.
“Most of Truro is on private wells, and we supply municipal water for Provincetown,” said Truro Health Agent Emily Beebe. “Protecting that lens of groundwater is our responsibility. We don’t have a public sewer system, so we spend a lot of time working with septic systems as well.”
In any given week, Beebe might work with runoff models for a large roadway, septic calculations for a new kitchen or bedroom, water quality tests for the beach department, and a private home owner worried about her well. She checks restaurants for food storage and cleanliness, and farms, too.
“Truro has a surprising number of farms,” said Beebe. “Goats, chickens, horses, pigs, a couple of cows, turkeys, ducks. And guinea fowl.”
Safe housing is another major responsibility. In Eastham, rental properties have been on a certification and inspection program for years.
“In most years,” said Eastham Director of Health and Environment Jane Crowley, “we have about 1,100 rental properties registered. We have a rotating system of inspections — we do about 300 seasonal, year-round, and short-term rental properties a year.”
Inspectors look for fire and carbon monoxide detectors, unobstructed fire exits, and unsafe wiring. They establish the safe occupancy number for the property, so if a complaint about overcrowding comes in, they already know how many people should be there.
The Wellfleet Board of Health is considering a similar program. “We’re looking at a self-certification program, like Provincetown has, but with a few more questions about wells and septics,” said Health Agent Hillary Greenberg-Lemos. A public hearing on this topic is scheduled for June 10 at 1 p.m. For call-in information, see the town’s website.
Community connection, mental health, and substance abuse are priorities for Provincetown’s health department. The “Winter Wednesdays” learning workshops were developed to help fight social isolation in the dark months. Yoga for Addiction Recovery, the Breastfeeding Support Program, and the Provincetown Crop Swap are initiatives that Health Director Morgan Clark said were especially meaningful to her.
Now that the departments are involved in making critical decisions about how and when to reopen businesses, how to manage humans’ innate tendency to congregate, and how to ensure help still gets to those who need it, Clark says she misses putting her all into those programs.
“What kills me is, I’m not able to spend more time trying to support community and connection and mental health,” Clark said. “We’re doing population models, we’re building a health dashboard to track local Covid metrics. This virus strikes right at our social resources. Talking to people, exercising, singing, these are the ways we connect. On the street, with a mask on, you can’t see someone smile.
“My new role in public health is to be telling the world how dangerous singing is,” Clark added. “There’s no safe way to sing indoors. That hurts my heart.”
Town Hall is closed to the public. The meetings listed below are still posted but may change.
Eastham is holding virtual regulatory town board public hearings through online live stream. Follow the instructions below to watch and participate in the meetings.
Go to the Eastham website homepage, www.eastham-ma.gov. Scroll down to the “Popular Link” menu on the left-hand side and click “CH 18 Schedule and Live Streaming.” There, you will be able to access the upcoming meeting schedule and view meeting live streams by clicking the video box. When a live meeting is in progress, a phone number will be posted on the screen that viewers can use to call or text any input or questions. The chair of the meeting will read aloud any questions or comments you send.
Thursday, March 26
- Board of Health, 3 p.m., Earle Mountain Meeting Room, Town Hall
Monday, March 30
- Eastham 400 Commemoration Committee, 10:30 a.m., Eastham Public Library
Tuesday, March 31
- Search Committee, 4 p.m., Small Meeting Room, Town Hall
Wednesday, April 1
- Community Preservation Act Committee, 5:30 p.m., Small Meeting Room, Town Hall
Thursday, April 2
- Zoning board, 5 p.m.
Stay in Touch
The town has issued guidelines for public participation in meetings while town hall is closed to the public, and they seem to be working. Monday’s select board session found members Aimee Eckman and Jared Collins sitting with Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe around a square of tables in front of a big-screen TV filled with images of select board members Al Cestaro, Martin McDonald, and Jamie Rivers, who were calling in. As Video Services Coordinator Mike Caliri tweaked the equipment, the voices of shellfishermen, Shellfish Constable Nicole Paine, and the new owner of The Landing joined the conversation. There were only occasional blips in the live stream.
The phone number for the public to call to participate is 508-922-5983. Information about sending texts will also be displayed on the screen.
“Thank you all for your patience,” Caliri wrote in a March 18 posting, “as we continue to explore better ways to conduct non-meeting meetings!”
No Rush on Town Meeting Warrant
A review of town meeting articles was on the select board’s agenda Monday, but “we’re not going to do that,” Chair Aimee Eckman said. “We have bigger fish to fry. Everybody have fun reading the warrant, and I’m sure we’ll be talking next meeting about what our plans are for town meeting and the town election.”
Town meeting “won’t be May 4,” the date now on the schedule, Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe told the board later. “It may be sometime in June, and we’d have a second date available. I’m consulting with the moderator and town clerk and coming up with some options for you.”
Plans for the meeting, and the May 19 town election, have been thrown into a cocked hat by the pandemic. Legislation to allow delays of both events, perhaps even past the end of the fiscal year on June 30, is in the works on Beacon Hill.
Town Departments ‘Open’ for Business
“We have valiantly been trying to keep up with everything we would normally do,” Town Administrator Jacqui Beebe reported to the select board Monday. “As we go into this new phase of staying in place, we will have some things that may take a longer time or that we may not be able to do until after April 7. I hope people will be patient with us but let us know what’s critical versus noncritical.”
Staggered shifts of employees are working at town hall while it’s closed to the public, but “we are all on duty and available,” Beebe said. “I have a lot of staff working from home…. We are still doing building inspections, electrical inspections, plumbing and fire inspections.” She said water testing for rental certificates may have to wait until next week.
Beebe said the state is extending some deadlines, such as allowing residents to go conduct real estate closings without a fire inspection for up to 90 days, if the realtor and owner agree.
“It’s amazing to see our town come together,” Board Bember Jared Collins said as the meeting began. “I think we’re doing things a lot faster than the state and federal [governments]. It’s our ability to adapt.”
“Try to be patient with people, and us,” Eckman said just before adjournment. “Everybody’s sort of stressed about this. Be patient and we’ll get through this. Keep as safe as possible, and see you in a couple of weeks.”
Health Board and COVID-19
The board of health is scheduled to discuss the pandemic and the town’s response today (March 26) at 3 p.m. Also on the agenda is a review of two proposed housing developments on Route 6, one for townhouse units and the other a mixed-use commercial building with apartments on the second floor. (See separate story on page 5.) Those developments will also be reviewed by the zoning board at its April 2 meeting.
On the Run?
The last day to obtain nomination papers to run in the town election — whenever it will be held — is March 30. Contact the town clerk’s office for more information. —Ed Maroney
TRURO — About 50 residents of a rundown Route 6 motel that serves as affordable year-round housing were spared eviction on Thursday night when the Truro Board of Health voted against condemning the property.
Despite what board of health members described as serious state code violations — including overloaded electrical outlets — the board voted 4-1 to extend the Truro Motor Inn’s license until the end of the year. The property owner, Daniel Delgizzi of Braintree, was given less than a month to get repairs of all sanitary code violations under way. This includes upgrading a failed septic system.
If the owner of the property, who has a history of ignoring town regulations and failing to pay property taxes, doesn’t make progress on those repairs before the board of health’s deadlines, the town will petition the state housing court to order a receiver to take charge of the property.
The receiver, said Truro Town Counsel Gregg Corbo, would then use the rent paid by the tenants, estimated to be about $400,000 a year, to make the repairs.
Carolyn Delgizzi of Weston, representing the owner, her father-in-law, told the board of health that her family would be able to meet its timeline to get the renovation of the motel under way.
The board’s vote avoided eviction of the year-round tenants, which was the possible scenario that brought more than 50 people to the meeting at Truro Town Hall on Thursday. Several occupants of the motel made emotional pleas to protect their home. One tenant, Paul Wundrock, accused town officials of targeting the inn for “racist and classist” reasons.
“Maybe an invisible servant class is all they want here,” said Wundrock, who was applauded by the other tenants.
Wundrock was nearly thrown out of the meeting when the board of health chair, Tracey Rose, called in a police officer after he refused to stop speaking when his time was up. Wundrock did sit down before being removed by the officer. But the moment highlighted the tense position that the board of health is in, caught between the need to penalize the owner’s negligence and a desire to keep people from becoming homeless.
“I’m looking at people in this room who need a place to live and I cannot in good conscience put them out on the street,” said board member Mark Peters. “So with deep reservations I’ll vote for this and God have mercy on all our souls if something happens.”
Follow-up reporting on this landlord’s infractions in other towns is under way at the Independent.
K.C. Myers is the Independent’s senior reporter.