Two beach communities on the North Shore are refusing to hook up the water supply for summer homes as a way to discourage the influx of seasonal residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
Both Newburyport and neighboring Salisbury have told owners of summer houses that reinstalling water meters is too big of a public health risk to its workers and to nearby residents.
“We're still concerned with people coming back into the community who are coming from hotspots,” said Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday. “Are they going to quarantine for two weeks? Are they bringing the virus with them? They're coming from Florida, New York, other places.”
Since the start of pandemic, the influx of seasonal homeowners back to theirsecond homes on the Cape and Islands and the Berkshires has stirred up resentment and concern among year-rounders and political leadership in those communities.
Leaders in Newburyport and Salisbury said their decisions are in line with the state’s emergency public health orders, which Gov. Charlie Baker extended on Tuesday from May 4 to May 18.
Holaday said it’s possible that Newburyport would relax its policy before May 18, but she is trying to coordinate with Salisbury town leaders.
Newburyport’s decision to hold off on restoring water supply also affects homes in Newbury, which shares the Plum Island barrier beach along the Atlantic Ocean. Between the three communities, there are potentially hundreds of homes affected by the prohibition on reinstalling water meters and service.
“People are angry. There’s no question about it,” Holaday said, pointing to the reaction of some seasonal homeowners. “I can't force staff to go into people's homes that potentially could be carriers. That's not fair, potentially infecting a shift of our (public works) staff.”
On the South Shore, Marshfield will not restore water service to seasonal homes if the water meters are located inside the house. But if the meter is located in a place outside the dwelling, such as a crawl space, Marshfield’s town administrator Michael Maresco said the town will turn water back on.
Until last Monday, some seasonal homeowners on Martha’s Vineyard had faced similar barriers to getting their water service restored because town leaders had banned construction related work.
Oak Bluffs Water Superintendent Kevin Johnson said homeowners typically hire plumbers to finish the process of restoring water services after the town has turned on the water supply to a home.
“If they’re already a customer, they have a right to water,” Johnson said. “But in all these situations, we need to protect the people who work for us and balance that with the public mission we have.”