By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — The two candidates vying for Rockport’s open Board of Selectmen seat Tuesday night talked parking meters, Long Beach leases, the adjoining seawall and changing demographics during a debate hosted by Cape Ann’s chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Don Campbell Jr. and Eliza Lucas — whose debate in the studio of Cape Ann TV in Gloucester’s Blackburn Industrial Park will be shown several times between now and May 5, leading into the May 7 election — agreed that Long Beach’s seawall was a central issue facing the town, the two had opposing views of its cost.
Noting the estimated $13 million cost of repairing the Long Beach seawall, Campbell noted that, “initial projections, you have to take them with a grain of salt.” He said such a project could very well cost more.
If the project is approved and built, Campbell said the cottage owners would bear some of the fiscal responsibility.
Campbell said he has examined the site.
”There are repairs that need to be done as soon as possible,” he said.
Lucas, meanwhile, said that one of her first goals as a selectman would be to secure federal and state funding for the seawall and other capital improvements.
“If I was on the board, I would be asking a lot of questions and not making a lot of assumptions,” she said. “I wouldn’t assume 12 or $13 million would turn into more; I hope less would be spent.”
She said the town should not be left with the entire bill for the project, nor should the entire amount be incorporated into any lease agreement.
Both candidates agreed with the sediment transport study, which was approved by voters at the Annual Town Meeting and is seen as an important step in the right direction.
Money for new parking meters was also approved at the Annual Town Meeting, and new meters would mean increased rates.
Lucas said she was in favor of new meters and increased rates, adding they will provide a boost to the economy.
”Folks in and around Boston are not going to be burdened by this small amount,” she said.
Campbell said he does not like the concept of a five-hour time limit on the meters.
”It’s not conducive to rapid turnover,” he said.
The candidates were also asked how the town’s operations could be financed in a continuing recession.
”There is no magic answer to this,” Campbell said. “Tax increases should be a last resort.”
Campbell said selectmen have to rely on the people around them.
”I am merely an extension of the people I represent,” he said.
Lucas said that reaching out to boost tourism during the off season is one means of drawing in more revenue, noting that the Shalin Liu Performance Arts Center has become a proven resource for attracting visitors to Rockport during the fall and winter months.
”At the very least, we can attract more people to come to Rockport outside of July and August,” she said.
She also said that, by increasing night time activities, expanding the Park and Ride program and adding parking information around town, Rockport might be able to expand its tourism season.
Campbell noted one the complaints he has heard from merchants is that many restaurants in the town are only open part of the year; having them open year round might spur more shopping and tourism.
”It’s not a Board of Selectmen decision to make, we can only guide a friendly business environment,” he said. “The Board of Selectmen would work with them of course, but it is ultimately their decision.”
Lucas also said the idea of working better with all businesses would be beneficial to the town.
”It’s something that is going to happen organically,” she said, adding that the town might want to look into working with insurance companies to reduce premiums for businesses near the waterfront.
Lucas said the flood insurance for the Top Dog, which she co-owns with her husband, Scott, is becoming problematic and is not business friendly.
”... it’s becoming debilitating to have a business down there because flood insurance is so high,” she said.
Campbell and Lucas also traded views on how Rockport can attract more people to town, changing the demographics of one of the state’s oldest communities.
”The answer is very simple,” Campbell said: The community, he said, needs to be more affordable and nobody should be excluded for economic reasons; he added the process of how properties are assessed in town needs to be examined.
Lucas also said there needs to be more efforts to make houses more affordable in town.
Candidates were also asked how to get people more involved with town government. Both suggested the town could offer an incentive to get people to serve of boards and committees, and suggested that the town’s website is in need of an overhaul.
Campbell works in internet sales for the Lynn based Pride Motor Group and formerly served as a reserve intermittent officer with the Rockport Police Department and worked with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office; his wife is a member of the local Parent Teacher Organization.
In addition to co-owning the Top Dog restaurant with her husband Scott on Bearskin Neck, she is also a freelance media producer and a member of the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce.
Both candidates have children in the Rockport Public School system and noted their professional experience and love of Rockport are their reasons for running for the open seat, left vacant when current Selectwoman Frances Fleming declined to seek re-election.
The questions were developed by members of the League of Women Voters. To see the full listing of when it will air, visit capeanntv.org/Listing.cfm.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.