Cannabis, Cranberry Highway, new top cop: Wareham looks ahead to 2019

Jan 1, 2019

With 2019 here, officials are looking ahead at the changes and challenges the New Year may have in store for Wareham.

A multi-million dollar highway project, the search for a permanent police chief and a “green rush” of marijuana-related businesses are all on tap.

Read on for a look at what will be making news in the coming year.

Long awaited Cranberry Highway reconstruction

Costing an estimated $20 million, the state and federally funded highway project will overhaul a dangerous stretch of Cranberry Highway in East Wareham.

The project went out to bid in September, according to state officials. It would revamp the highway from near the Cranberry Plaza Shopping Center, where Routes 6 and 28 split into west and eastbound lanes, to a point approximately 900 feet east of the Red Brook Road Intersection.

The project aims to address several safety issues by installing a median and upgrading traffic signals, according to state officials. Additionally, a new drainage system should reduce flooding on the highway.

Specific work includes building four travel lanes (two lanes in each direction separated by a median), bicycle accommodating shoulders and sidewalks on both sides of the road.

Selectmen Chair Alan Slavin said a contractor will likely be announced this winter. Construction is slated to begin in spring of this year.

Slavin noted the overhaul will likely have a big impact on that part of town during construction, which is estimated to last roughly three years. Construction will be halted during summer. 

“I think there will be some disruption,” said Slavin. “It’s going to have some effect. Utility companies will be moving poles. It’s a fairly major project.”

Last year, business owners along Cranberry Highway expressed reservations about the project, saying it might hurt sales while the road is torn up.

Slavin said the state is committed to finishing the project and has the support of local officials.

“It’s a tough thing when it comes to the businesses,” said Slavin. “But we’re also looking at it from a safety standpoint. There’s a 150 accidents annually there and a few people have died over the years.”

Marijuana companies come calling

Wareham became the fourth place in Massachusetts where recreational marijuana is sold after Verilife opened on Main Street in December.

While recreational sales have made headlines, several other marijuana-related businesses are quietly moving forward with plans to open locally.

At least three businesses – two processors and a testing facility – have announced plans to open.

Colorado-based Organa Brands is looking to process 60 to 90 pounds of marijuana a day into products such as edibles. The company is set to operate in the historic Tremont Nail Factory District.

Organa Brands President Chris Driessen said the company is still working to gain approval from the state in several areas. Locally, Town Meeting voters approved a zoning change at the district last year, paving the way for the company to open.

Driessen said it’s not clear when the business will be up and running. He’s hopeful it will be in April, but that’s an early estimate.

The business is expected to generate $2.4 million worth of revenue for the town over a 5-year period. The deal includes rent (the town owns the district), an annual donation and a sales tax.

Boston-based Coastal Cultivars announced plans to open a cultivation facility at 0 Patterson Brook Road. The land is currently undeveloped. Plans call for constructing a 40,000-square foot processing plant that would employ 20 people in the first year of operation with up to 50 employees expected in the future.

A second company, National Labs, plans to test marijuana from cultivators, dispensaries and recreational shops along the South Coast to ensure they meet state standards. Testing carried out the lab would look for things such as pesticides, metals and other substances in marijuana plants and their soil. The business is slated to open this year a 4 Recovery Road. Recreational marijuana will not be sold at either site.

Driessen credited local leaders for making Wareham attractive to the cannabis industry.

“Wareham has a great manufacturing and agricultural background with a great labor pool,” said Driessen. “Kudos to the leaders of the town for making it known that Wareham is open for business.”

Seeking a police chief

Wareham has been without a permanent police chief since May following the abrupt retirement of Kevin Walsh.

That could change in 2019.

Lt. John Walcek has served as acting chief since Walsh’s retirement. During his tenure, Walcek has worked to raise the department’s profile through the media and brought attention to an inadequate police station.

Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said officials have started the search. However, police chief candidates are subject to a civil service examination. The soonest the tests are offered is the end of February or early March.

“We have started the process,” said Sullivan. “It does take some time.”

Potential candidates will be interviewed by Selectmen in private and then likely public sessions. Sullivan said it’s unclear when a new chief will be hired. He did not comment on the possibility of Walcek becoming chief.