Council Vice President Peter Christopher led the council meeting on Feb. 2 in the absence of Pres. Phil Boncore. On the agenda were updates regarding the town planner position, utility work, and the town’s internet connectivity problems.
Town Manager Austin Faison announced that Rachel Kelly began her job as the Winthrop Town Planner on Feb. 1. She will be in charge of supervising all long-range planning programs for the town as they relate to land use and municipal policies. Her first priority will be the old middle school zoning project.
The town is still considered a high-risk community in the Red Zone, with a 5.94 percent positive rate.
Vaccination is now in Phase 2, currently serving all individuals aged 75 and older. These people can be vaccinated at any number of locations, including two in East Boston, one in Chelsea and one in Revere. They can do so by calling 617-568-4870 and making an appointment. The next group to be vaccinated will be those aged 65 and older with at least two qualifying medical conditions.
Board of Health Director Meredith Hurley reported that the vaccine supply in general is very limited and that there were complications with the rollout. No vaccines have been issued to the town, though some have been ordered.
The Town Manager’s office is in the process of resolving the internet issues impacting the schools. It is currently working with various service providers to figure out how to restore full capacity and bandwidth.
“We’re trying our best to get to the bottom of this,” said Town Manager Faison, adding that Supt. Lisa Howard and Admin. Sec. Laurisa Wojcik have been working hard to find a solution.
In the meantime, the schools are using wireless hotspots paid for by the CAREs Act to provide internet to staff and students.
Municipal buildings have also been impacted by the slow-down, with the exception of the town’s fire and police departments, which are managed by an independent service provider. Faison reported that Winthrop doesn’t have redundant internet service, and suggested looking into satellite wireless options in the future.
A representative from National Grid appeared before the council to request permission to install a new pole on Madison Ave. DPW Director Steve Calla asked if the utilities could be installed on an existing pole, rather than installing a new one. Councilor James Letterie added that abutters should be informed and a more robust public process carried out.
“There’s well over 100 poles in town and it’s becoming a hazard,” he said. “I understand the work has to be done, but I think we need to hear more from the neighbors about it.”
National Grid is also seeking to install two four-inch conduits. The first would be 100 feet from existing pole #561 to existing manhole #127. The second would be from an existing manhole to a new transformer at 233 Winthrop St. In order to accommodate the conduits, the company would need to dig two 100-foot trenches.
Director Calla said that some of the roadway in question was repaved recently and that he expected the company to not only refill the trenches, but to “properly seal them with infrared repair.”
The following individuals received citations from the council: Michael Goldberg for his work on the Citizens Finance Committee, and Diane Wallace, the former director of the Winthrop Public Library.
Council recognized that the recent surge in public participation at meetings was due in no small part to remote access to the meeting via the online web conferencing platform Zoom. It agreed that the public should have remote access to meetings even after the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are immediate vacancies on the Airport Hazards Committee; the Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations; and the Winthrop Planning Board.