Wednesday, June 16, 2021

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Chester, Deep River, and Essex Form Local COVID-19 Recovery Committees

As efforts ramp up to fully implement the first phase of a statewide reopening, actions are being taken at the local level to balance economic interests with the safety of individuals.

Long-term recovery committees, composed of key individuals from local communities, are imperative, say state officials, in helping to plan a coordinated response to easing local restrictions while working within state guidelines.

Consequently, municipal leaders in Chester, Deep River, and Essex are taking a comprehensive approach to forming these committees in each of their respective towns.

“The prime consideration is to build resiliency as we learn to live with the virus and to cautiously manage an imaginative road to recovery. Our decisions must be science driven and safety must dictate,” said Chester First Selectman Lauren Gister, as she quoted documentation from the state at a May 13 Board of Selectman meeting.

“So, the point of this is to use our vested, creative thinkers in town to sort of imagine doing business differently, where we have to look at the safety considerations and work underneath new rules,” said Gister.

Chester’s committee has had several initial orientation calls and meetings to formulate a strategy moving forward, according to Gister. The town is exploring conducting a town-wide survey to ascertain the current needs of residents and business owners.

Deep River’s recovery committee was discussed at the town’s May 12 Board of Selectman meeting.

The committee will be composed of representatives from the town’s businesses and Planning & Zoning and Economic Development commissions, among other areas. It will also solicit the help of town Social Services and Tri-Town Youth Services, according to First Selectman Angus McDonald.

“We’re really just going to work as a conduit between our businesses, our citizens, and state and federal agencies that can help and obviously, we’ll help in any way we can,” he said. “But right now, there’s not a whole lot of teeth to this. It will just be a conduit but will be hopefully full of great ideas to help folks get through the recovery and hopefully get back to as close to normal as they can.”

At the May 6 Board of Selectman meeting in Essex, First Selectman Norman Needleman described his objectives for the town’s recovery committee as wanting it to be “nimble and small.”

“The process of opening is going to be enormously complicated,” he said. “Each one of the decisions, whether it’s opening Pettipaug [Yacht Club & Sailing Academy], or opening the tennis courts, or allowing for restaurants to operate, each one of those things is going to be enormously complicated and it’s going to require a tremendous amount of coordination and work. We want an inclusive committee, but we also want to have a committee that can work.”

Needleman discussed the strengths of a variety of individuals that he felt would be best suited for Essex’s recovery efforts, taking into account the needs of the different areas of town including the waterfront, business establishments, and recreation areas.

“There’s just a lot of nuances,” said Needleman. “They’ve asked all towns to do this, but in the end, how much authority is the state going to let the town have? I just don’t know. I’m pushing that we have a lot of authority, that they should propose the general guidelines, but we know our towns better than they do and we know who can operate safely and who will.”

In updating the town’s Economic Development Commission at its May 13 regular meeting, town consultant to the commission Susan Malan informed members that Essex’s reopen advisory committee had met several times.

Malan and other reopen committee members have been sorting through the governor’s guidelines and making decisions related to some of the town’s recreational facilities.

“We’re really trying hard,” said Malan. “It’s a lot of information and obviously there’s no book on this because we’ve never been through this before.”

Elizabeth Reinhart covers news for Chester, Deep River, and Essex for Zip06. Email Elizabeth at

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