GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

May 2, 2013

Candidates take stances on Conomo Point, finances, infrastructure

Candidates differ on what to do with Conomo Point

By James Niedzinski
Staff Writer

---- — ESSEX — Although there are no contested races listed on the local election ballot, Karin Gertsch has launched a write-in campaign to challenge incumbent Selectman Lisa O’Donnell for her three-year seat.

Gertsch, a resident for more than 40 years, has worked as an author, publisher and marketing consultant. She is a graduate of Manchester High School and attended night classes at Harvard University.

O’Donnell operates her own structural engineering firm out of her home. The Princeton University graduate completed post-graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she has taught occasionally for about 14 years.

Gertsch was elected to a seat on the Board of Library Trustees, and said she was a catalyst in starting the Essex Garden Club in the 1980s in addition to voluntarily running writing programs at TOHP Burnham Library.

O’Donnell has served on the Conomo Point Planning Committee and still serves on the town’s Long Term Planning Committee and is chairman the Building Committee.

Gertsch said she did not intend to run as a write-in candidate — she planned to run on the ballot, but there was some confusion and she did not submit nomination papers before the March deadline.

Gertsch said Conomo Point, while an important issue, has taken up too much of Essex residents’ attention. “I’ve been here a long time, and I’m seeing some problems,” she said.

Gertsch said issues such as the increase of town clam diggers in Essex waters and possible illegal dumping at the transfer station have gone unnoticed.

O’Donnell said Conomo Point is something she would like to see settled.

Selectmen voted unanimously to put an article on the Annual Town Meeting warrant that would create Central Conomo Point, consisting of Robbins Island Road and Beach Circle. If passed, the zoning bylaw would be the first step to selling the areas; the sales themselves would have to be approved at another town meeting.

“We still have some big steps ahead of us,” O’Donnell said.

Gertsch has previously told the Times it is in the town’s best interest to retain as much land as possible in Northern Conomo Point.

Both candidates agreed on one topic: the town’s fiscal responsibilities.

O’Donnell said the Conomo Point issues are making the town financially unstable. If the town had more money available, long-term capital projects could get under way and benefit the town in the long run, she said.

Gertsch said increasing taxes is a major concern, according to what she has heard while talking with other residents.

Gertsch said if elected, she would look into the idea of a townwide audit, to get an assessment of the town’s financial standing.

“It would be really beneficial to know where we are at,” she said.

Gertsch added other nearby municipalities have gone through similar financial procedures.

Both candidates also noted the town’s infrastructure problems.

While selectmen also put forth an article asking for approximately $700,000 for design plans for a new safety building on John Wise Avenue, O’Donnell noted other infrastructure concerns.

“Both Essex Elementary School and Manchester Memorial Elementary School are older buildings, which may need some TLC,” she said.

She also noted that Town Hall is not in its best condition, from water-proofing to hot-water heaters.

Gertsch did not say whether or not she is in favor of a new public safety building, but she did say conditions in town buildings could be better.

“Our buildings are rundown, we need something,” she said.

The Annual Town Election is set for May 13.

Town Clerk Christina Wright said she is not aware of any other active write-in campaigns, although there are two seats open on the Planning Board.

In an email to the Times, Wright said the seats can be hard to fill, as they are both five-year terms.

Write-in campaigns, however, are nothing new in Essex, Wright noted that Moderator Rolf Madsen and School Committeewoman Kathleen Quill both ran successful write-in campaigns last year.

James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3455 or jniedzinski@gloucestertimes.com.