Year in Review: Solar, schools and seafood defined 2022

Dec 27, 2022

For Wareham, 2022 began as it did for the rest of the country. Covid-19 cases exploded in January due to the highly-contagious Omicron variant, with Wareham reporting a record-breaking 271 new cases in the first week of January alone. In the second week, that number shot up to 387, and in the third week, the total number of Covid cases in Wareham went past the 4,000 mark

After the January surge, Covid cases declined, and like much of America, Wareham started to “go back to normal.” The Wareham School District dropped its mask mandate in March, and annual events like the Onset Bay Association’s Easter Egg Hunt and the Buzzards Bay Coalition’s Swim for Clean Water made their triumphant return. 

However, the rest of the year was anything but normal, as Wareham braced for massive changes in 2022 and the years, even decades, to follow. 

Long-anticipated town projects finally started to come to fruition. Construction began on Danny Warren’s Main Street marina, with its 6,500 square foot restaurant and events space, as well as the Wareham Dog Park. Damien’s Place Food Pantry announced plans to expand at a new, larger location on 242 Marion Road.

Even town officials are planning on moving things around. In August, the Select Board voted to recommend Town Administrator Derek Sullivan’s plan to move the Police Department to Town Hall, move the Council on Aging and town departments to the vacant Decas school building and create a community center in the current Multi-Service Center. 

Three of the Board members who voted were newcomers. After a tense campaign, Ron Besse, Jared Chadwick and Tricia Wurts won the May town elections and joined the Board. 

Sullivan’s plan did not go without controversy, as the Decas School Steering Committee unsuccessfully tried to convince the Board, and attendees at October’s Town Meeting, to turn the Decas school into a community center. 

After months of taking feedback from residents, the Fuss and O’Neill consulting firm narrowed down three possible plans for removing the crumbling Parker Mills Dam. Whether the dam is removed by five feet, ten feet or somewhere in between, the decision would have a massive impact on recreation opportunities and historic buildings in the area. 

In November, the Redevelopment Authority proposed a decades-long overhaul to Main Street and surrounding streets, which would include tearing down dilapidated buildings, constructing mixed-use buildings with a possible maximum height of 65 feet and creating infrastructure to combat sea level rise. The town plans to work with local residents and business owners to devise the best plan to maximize the potential of waterfront space on Merchants Avenue while also preventing floods.

At October’s Town Meeting, voters approved $6 million to replace two miles of deteriorating sewer main, $2 million to fix leaky pipes in Swifts Beach and $4 million to replace outdated components of the town sewer system. 

Other projects in town were not as well-received. Environmental advocates, town officials and corporate representatives engaged in a drawn-out battle over the fates of proposed solar fields on Fearing Hill Road, Charge Pond Road, Tihonet Road and Route 25. Environmentalists, as well as the town, are skeptical that the solar panels will not leak harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater or encroach upon protected wetlands. They also questioned whether the panels can be safely recycled at the end of their useful life. 

At April’s Town Meeting, voters passed a bylaw which restricted the construction of new solar projects. The law made the Planning Board the only authority allowed to permit solar projects, and required solar fields to be built on already-cleared land. A similar bylaw passed in 2021 was shut down by Attorney General Maura Healey in March. 

The Wareham School District struggled in the aftermath of the pandemic. School officials blamed declining MCAS scores and rising absentee rates on post-pandemic learning loss. The school plans to spend some of its controversial $34 million budget on salaries for the 24 social workers the District has hired to combat learning loss and improve student mental health. More challenges came from a shortage of bus drivers and paraprofessionals protesting for higher wages.

In the realm of sports, Wareham had plenty to celebrate. 2016 Wareham High School graduate and flag football coach Joshua Onujiogu signed with the Seattle Seahawks. The Warriors hockey team won its second championship in a row. The Wareham Tigers Midgets team won the Old Colony Youth Football League “Super Bowl” for the first time in its history, and the Tigers Pride Cheer team won first place in their division at the Quest Recreational Cheer Championships at Disney World.

However, the most shocking news Wareham received in 2022 came on Monday, Nov. 28, when Cheri Lindsey, owner of Lindsey’s Family Restaurant, announced that the 74-year-old seafood staple was permanently closed. Hundreds of Wareham residents, past and present, expressed their grief online. One, Grace Morrison Hartley, wrote a song about it. 

The news of Lindsey’s closure came two months after the Lobster Bowl, another iconic Wareham restaurant that closed its doors in 2000, was demolished

In many respects, 2022 marked the end of an era for Wareham. In others, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in the town’s history.