Selectmen updated on proposal to relocate Main Street utility poles

by beth on July 25, 2017

Post image for Selectmen updated on proposal to relocate Main Street utility poles

Above: Parry pitching his plan to selectmen during public comment at last week’s BOS meeting. (image from SAM video)

Last week, the Board of Selectmen heard about David Parry’s proposal to move utility poles on Main Street. The discussion included news that just a contingency to allow a future project could cost $1M.

The agenda item was just an update on the July 11th meeting of the Main Street Design Working Group. So the Chair attempted to keep discussion brief. But the overall tone was much less enthusiastic than the MSDWG meeting the week prior.

Selectman Brian Shea, who also sits on the MSDWG, updated fellow selectmen. He recapped that the group had determined there isn’t time to combine utility relocation with Main St reconstruction.

Shea explained that the group had asked for more information on what is entailed in the one area of potential overlap. That would be adding infrastructure and conduits for future light poles in case utility poles were taken down in the future.

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan updated that she got an estimate of about $1M for the engineering and construction of light pole infrastructure.

Galligan didn’t have details yet. But her assumption was that about 10% would be for electrical with TIP* funds covering the rest. The $100K could be paid by the Chapter 90* funds allotted to the Town. She confirmed that bucket is the one used to fund other Town road projects – like improvements at Flagg Road and Deerfoot discussed earlier that night. 

Chair Dan Kolenda and member Lisa Braccio shared that residents had approached them with concerns. They wondered how utility poles in “people’s backyards” would be handled in the case of outages caused by snowstorms. Shea said that was just one part of details they didn’t have answers to yet.

During public comment, Parry rebutted that utility companies would only allow poles to be placed in accessible areas, like next to driveways.

Parry continued to push the Town to fast-track the utility project by leveraging supposed savings of $500K-$1M for utility companies if projects were combined:

We’d go to the top of the pile if we called them next week, not the bottom.

In contrast, Town Administrator Mark Purple cautioned the board against rushing any decisions. He agreed with what he interpreted as the board’s decision to wait on hard numbers before making any decisions.

Purple opined they should be very careful about going back to voters with a potentially “seven figure” ask, so soon after the “extremely generous” approval of over $27M for the public safety building and golf course: 

The impact of that decision has not yet been felt in the tax rate; probably won’t be felt for a couple years. 

Kolenda chimed in by voicing reservations on a potentially expensive beautification project for “on one strip of land” vs other priorities, such as “schools, seniors, public safety, etc.”

Purple also told the board and public that he wanted on the record that neither St. Mark’s School or Fay School “have given any support” to Parry’s proposal. This followed Parry’s repeated claim at prior meetings that he had an offer from Fay School to use either one of two houses they own on Middle Road for utility poles to cross through.

The TA didn’t claim the schools oppose the project. Instead, he clarified that they are remaining neutral at this stage. He based that on conversations he and Galligan had with the administrations of the schools.

And Purple responded to Parry’s repeated boast that he has made it easy for the Town by getting the easements needed for the project. Purple pointed out that it would be up to the utility companies to decide what easements they need, and for their job to pursue those.

During the discussion, Parry and Galligan also updated that Verizon no longer has responsibility for utility poles. That was recently “switched” to National Grid.

*Editor’s Note: If you’ve closely followed the Main St project discussions over the years, you are probably familiar with TIP and Chapter 90 by now. But many readers may not be familiar with the jargon commonly used by Town officials.

TIP = the partially state funded projects under the Mass DOT (Department of Transportation) Transportation Improvement Plan

Chapter 90 funds are apportioned to the Town by the state to reimburse expenses for approved projects such as “Capital Improvement Projects for Highway Construction, Preservation and Improvement Projects that create or extend the life of Capital Facilities”.

1 David Parry July 30, 2017 at 12:10 PM

It has become necessary to write this sharp letter, telling the truth, because I have witnessed,  first hand,  the small political machine which is working behind the scenes to destroy this project. It is literally destroying our ability to remove the utility poles at the same time as our Main St is reconstructed.

I have tried to avoid taking this step, but now I am left with no alternative, because It has become abundantly clear that the  objective of a very small, but powerful, group of town officials is out to kill the project, through devious means …. Delay after delay, until,it is literally impractical. This is all explained below.

I am not pulling any punches, because it is better to tell the truth, and lay it on the line. You, town residents, may think that your local government is going to give you the right to vote up or down, but that may not really be the case, because there may be NO project at all, ever, if matters continue the way they have been handled over the past two months.

Two months may not seem like a long time, but for this project these 8 weeks are a potential disaster, because we are approaching the kill zone in terms of timing…. It is , soon, going to become —TOO LATE !!!!

IS THERE A CREATIVE CONSTRUCTION MANAGER IN THIS TOWN. ? If so, we need you to think of a way for the street project to start on time, in March 2018, and to have the general contractor schedule his work carefully, so that he can hold off on moving the utility poles until the very end of the project. That would give us, the Town, and National Grid some extra time to design the alternative, off-street route of new poles, and for Town Meeting to vote (up or down) on the final construction cost. The vote will be based on National Grid’s design and plans, so it will be highly detailed. If town Meeting votes to approve, then, after the new poles are installed and hooked up, the contractor can remove the existing poles, for ever. That would mean less work for the contractor. Also, no work at all for National Grid in moving the existing poles. Money saved. Problem solved, maybe. .

1. SUMMARY OF THE PROJECT.

Before I explain the current situation, let me very briefly summarize the project.
The project is to remove all utility poles along Main Street, from the Railroad to the main entrance to Fay School. And to do so soon, and to avoid the  movement  of the existing poles along Main St. The route of poles along the street will be replaced by a new route of poles off-street, far away off Main street, behind most buildings. The poles will NOT be located in rear yards. They will be outside the yards, usually on public property. 

This idea is not new. Far from it. Hundreds of town’s have done this. It is far less expensive than putting utlility wires underground. Undergrounding is  now impossible because the street is almost fully designed.

2.  THE PROBABLE ROUTE OF NEW OFF-STREET POLES.

The new route of poles will likely run as follows:
–  North of Main, from the RR to directly opposite 16  Main.
–  16 Main to Woodward School.
–   Along the north edge of Woodward School to Rte 85.
–   Up Rte 85,  to north of Library.
–   Westward, running north of Town Hall and north of the Burnett Cemetary., to the main entrance of Fay School.

This route has been examined by town engineering consultants VHB, and found  feasible. Many of the easements have been promised by the property owners.

3.  TIMING OF CONSTRUCTION.
THE OBJECTIVE IS TO ACCOMPLISH THE TASK WITHOUT DISRUPTING THE SCHEDULE OF THE MAIN ST PROJECT , which is scheduled to start in March 2018, and continue for two full years, except for the winter months.

4.   PROCEDURE AND FEASIBILITY STUDY.
The procedure is to have an official  feasibility study done by National Grid, who coordinate with all other utility companies. The feasibility study will end up with a design and a final construction cost. Town Meeting will vote up or down whether to fund that cost. There is no estimate yet, but the final cost may run between $1 and $3 million. Undergrounding would have cost $ 11 million, and is now impossible, because it is too late.

The feasibility study will cost at least $5,000 initially. The Town Manager claims he does not have  $5,000.

The plans  drawn for the street are almost completed. The plans for the street assume that all existing utility poles will remain, but, ironically, all poles will have to be MOVED a few feet or inches, so that the poles  align with the new street layout.

This project is separate from the Main Street Project, and overlaps only in small parts. It has to be funded by the Town.

5.   THE UTILITY POLES AND TIMING

The project will result in the removal of the existing poles.
THE KEY QUESTION IS WHETHER IT CAN BE IMPLEMENTED FAST ENOUGH, SO AS TO AVOID HAVING TO MOVE THE EXISTING POLES, which would save about  $1 million, split 50-50 between National Grid and State Highway.

Faster implementation would also avoid future disruption if it  was done 10 or more years later. The downtown businesses do not want one project after another. They want it all over and done with,  in one coordinated project. And they want it done soon.
The Town manager is talking about 20 years in the future. Many of us will be very old or dead by then.

6.    LATEST TURN OF EVENTS —
PRIVATE FUNDING OBTAINED, BUT TOWN MANAGER AND  SELECTMEN CHAIR REJECT AGENDA.

I requested the Bd of Sel for an agenda item, with notice that I had donors of $10,000 toward the feasibility study to be done by National Grid. The Town actually needs “about  5,000″, according to DPW. There is an urgent need to kick start this feasibility study , before it is too late. 

Too late means just that …. We are literally running out of time before construction begins on the street itself , and especially when utility poles will have to be MOVED ALL ALONG MAIN STREET  ITSELF,  by a few puny feet , to fit the new street alignment.

That pole movement will cost National Grid and State Highway a half million dollars each. One million total. That is sheer ” waste,” which I intend to notify both agencies about …. Because it is shameful.

Town Administrator Mr Purple / and Selectman Chair Mr Kolenda , have rejected the agenda item, with the following reason given in writing …. “lack of information”. This is very ironic, given the vast amount of information we have, and our consultant engineers VHB saying it is feasible, snd  last but not least), the very purpose of the feasibility study is to actually gather information !

In other words, to speak frankly, it is really a  weak political excuse to DO NOTHING,  DELAY MORE, AND DELIBERATELY KILL THE PROJECT,  THROUGH DELAY ITSELF.

7.   GIFT OF MONEY TO FUND THE FEASIBILITY STUDY, TO BE DONE BY NATIONAL GRID.

As noted above, DPW has stated that National Grid needs a down payment of $5,000 to begin. Mr Purple has stated he does not have the funds needed.  I managed to get donors, ( who wish to remain anonymous), for a total of $10,000. However, one donor has since withdrawn $5,000 because he was plain angry  at the lack of action by the Board of Selectmen.  Therefore I am nervous about  losing the remaining $5,000 unless prompt action is taken to move the feasibility study forward.

Stage 1 of the feasibility study,  by National Grid, will tell us definitively if it is feasible in the opinion of National Grid, which is, by law, the implementing agency, and they will coordinate with all other utility companies. (Note that town consulting  engineer VHB has already reviewed it in detail, and stated it IS feasible).

Stage 2 of the feasibility study will prepare an actual design (of the new pole route, off- street). From that final design will come the actual final construction cost — to install the new poles along the new route, and hook up all wires, and finalize all easements,  etc.

Note that we already have agreements for many  easements , donated for free, from  the majority of private property owners, especially from downtown businessmen.

8.    THE PROJECT IS NOT ON THE AGENDA … THEREFORE NO OFFICIAL DECISIONS CAN BE MADE (at this meeting),  BUT THE PUBLIC HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOICE THEIR COMMENTS.

The next Selevtmens meeting  is at 8 AM. ( NOT PM ). It starts with a closed Executive session, for maybe 15 to 30 minutes. Then the public session opens. Therexarexvery few items on the agenda, and all ate pro-forma. Then the meeting ends with  PUBLIC COMMENT / QUESTIONS, which is the agreed custom at all Selectmens meetings.

9.   ESSENTIAL NEED TO BE PLACED ON OFFICIAL AGENDA FOR THE AUGUST 8TH SELECTMENS MEETING.

It is absolutely critical to get on the agenda for the  Selectmens meeting  of August 8th. It is essential to take FAST, PROACTIVE  actions…. Because we are literally running out of time before construction begins, and when poles will have to be MOVED ALL ALONG MAIN ST ITSELF, by a few puny feet  !…. To repeat this enormously important point ….That will cost National Grid and State Highway a half million dollars each. That is sheer waste.

IF the new pole route, off-street,  can be built in time, then the existing, old poles can be left in place, unmoved, until later when they can be totally REmoved out of the street, for ever …. thus avoiding the total waste of moving them a few inches or feet along the street to conform to the new street alignment. 

Of course National Grid will be interested in saving themselves a half million dollars, and therefore  they are very likely to cooperate with the Town on implementing the new pole route, very fast indeed.

However, if  we, the Town, delay deliberstely,  (which is clearly the situation today, solely  because of a handful of town officials who are opposed to the project, and determined to kill it by delay, before it can start), THEN NATIONAL GRID HAS EVERY RIGHT TO TELL THE TOWN TO GO TO HELL,  IF WE MAKE THEM MOVE THE OLD POLES A FEW INCHES, AND THEN, A FEW YEARS LATER, WE ASK THEM ….” PLEASE WILL YOU BUILD US AN ALTERNATIVE POLE ROUTE OFF-STREET “. THEY WILL BE MAD AS HELL , AND RIGHTLY SO,  BECAUSE WE WILL HAVE COST THEM A HALF MILLION DOLLARS, UNNECESSARILY.

There has been a whole series of deliberate delays by Mr Purple and Mr Kolenda …since May.  It is now August. We have already lost 8 full weeks by inexcusable inaction. Mr Purple’s stated reasoning for opposing pole removal is that we have voted to spend  $21 million on the future Public Safety Bldg …. I.E. his opposition has nothing whatever to do with the merits of a totally separate project, to remove the utility poles from Main St.

AS TO THE FUTURE,  I should note that Mr Purple advocated destroying our St Marks golf course, and using it for an assemblage of miscellaneous,  town construction projects, INSTEAD OF SAVING IT,  FOREVER. His goals are NOT our goals.

10.  WHAT HAVE THE DELAYS AND EXCUSES BEEN ?  The Town Manager, and the Chairman of the Selectmen, working in concert, will not agree to discuss this matter at all  …. Just send it to the Main Street Working Group …. 6 weeks delay …. The MSWG meets as requested, and approves it by a unanimous vote in just two (2) hours, including a detailed presentation from the consulting engineers VHB …. But who cares? The Manager and Chairman just deny an agenda item at the next  official meeting,  and thereby cause more delay, along with the loss of a  $5,000 donation which would have funded the feasibility study …. Very clever? NO. Very devious? YES.  But what next ??

Lets think, really hard.  How can we delay it some more, to REALLY BURY IT DEEP?  I know, I have just thought of the perfect  excuse to do absolutely nothing at all …. We just have to delay it enough so that it automatically  becomes infeasible, through sheer inaction,  because it is so late that the Town is starting construction on the street, and WILL VERY SOON  START TO MOVE THE EXISTING POLES …. Wow, we  actually succeeded in killing it. Oh God, now what are we going to tell the public? ….  “Sorry folks, it it is just too late now. ” !

If you feel annoyed at this, then BE annoyed, and DO something about it, because the Selectmen  are quite literally counting faces in the crowd of attendees,  for amy  sign of support or opposition. Call your elected representatives, your Selectmen.

11.   PRO-ACTIVE ACTIONS,  WHICH NEED TO BE TAKEN, VERY SOON.
This town needs definitive actions taken, soon, including the following :

A.  DESIGNATE WHO IS IN CHARGE.
Selectman Shea has recommended that the Main Street Working Group become the entity in charge , not just of the street, but also of pole removal, and specifically of the feasibility study, and all contacts with National Grid. Why hasn’t this been voted ?

B.  DESIGNATE THE PRINCIPAL CONTACT  PERSON, WHO MUST BE PROACTIVE, TO WORK WITH NATIONAL GRID …. The contact person cannot be opposed to the fast-track schedule, or the concept …. I.e. it should NOT be the Chair of the Board of Selectmen, or Mr  Purple, or  the Superintendent of DPW, ALL OF WHOM ARE IN THE SAME GROUP 

The three other members, of the four member Board of Selectmen,  must stand up, make motions, and TAKE CHARGE.

C.  ACCEPT DONATION OF  $5,000 …. toward feasibility study cost. (Assuming I can salvage it, and the other donor doesn’t get angry too.)

D. INSTRUCT CONSULTING ENGINEERS VHB TO INCLUDE NEW INFRASTRUCTURE, FOR THE FOLLOWING …..

D.1.  Future street lights …. Underground conduit (pipe for future wires) etc . These construction items can be paid for by the STATE, as part of the official Main Street Reconstruction Project !

D.2   Large diameter empty pipes (concrete or plastic , non conducting), running under Main St,  crosswise …. to take future wires under and across Main , at right angles to Main St …. At 4 points, as follows:

1.  West of Railroad …. This is where the pole removal logically begins, (just west of the RR),  because this location,  at one stroke,  eliminates the need to get easements from the RR. Also, going further East only accomplishes very little …. the removal of one additional pole).
From the existing pole,  just west of the RR, on the  south side of Main St, next to Mauro’s Cafe,  the wires will pass DOWN the pole, then under Main St, north, then UP a new pole located behind the Southborough House Of Pizza (which has agreed to provide an easement, for free). .

2.  School / Latisquama . The wires running along  these streets must be continuous, and they  must therefore pass in pipes under Main Street.

3.  11 to 16 Main (leading south to Woodward) . An aerial easement has already been granted,  in writing,  from the property owner of 16 Main St.

4.   Rte 85 . The wires running north-south, along Rte 85, must be continuous, and therefore must be In underground pipes across Main St. This is also the likely route for the major trunk route, running through the north side woods of Woodward School, then up Rte 85, north of the Library, then running westward …. North of both Town Hall and the Burnett Cemetary, all the way to the main entrance to Fay School.

**** NOTE … NO CUTTING INTO MAIN ST IS ALLOWED FOR 5 YEARS AFTER ROAD COMPLETION …. The Town is NOT legally allowed to cut, or dig open, the surface of  Main St,  after the Project has been completed …. For 5 years, because it is State funded.) ****

NEXT ACTIONS

Action MUST be taken at the following meeting of the Bd of Selectmen, scheduled for August 8th, if there is to be any hope of success.

Of course,  this situation was deliberately planned all along by DPW and the Town Manager …. Just sit back, and delay, and that will kill it .

And, of course, now you readers of this letter can all predict what will happen next … I think we are going to hear tons of excuses adding up to nothing.

2 beth August 1, 2017 at 7:57 AM

Town Administrator Mark Purple responded to the accusations about the refusal to include the item on the agenda for this morning’s Board of Selectmen Meeting:

David:

Good afternoon.

I just wanted to clarify and/or answer a few of your comments below.

When the issue of the Town purchasing the golf course was presented to me in December 2015, there were many options discussed as to how the property could be used. One thought was a municipal campus. Once the proposal became more developed as negotiations went on, this idea was quickly dismissed. My goals are those set by the Selectmen.

As to your mischaracterization of the issue not moving forward by the Selectmen for a “lack of information”, this is based on the Town’s information gathering, not the information that you have supplied us. While your information provides a concept for relocation of the poles behind the properties on Main Street, the Town has been trying to validate both the feasibility and cost of such a proposal with the tenants on the poles. Both Karen Galligan and I have had conversations with National Grid, and Karen has had extensive conversations with Verizon. As you are aware, the proposal does not move forward without the collaborative effort of ALL of the utility companies. I am in the process of setting up a meeting with the pole tenants to review the proposal and provide a cost for initial review (each tenant has the right to institute a charge for their review).

In terms of the donations that you have stated you have to pay for the utilities to review the proposal, those funds would have to be submitted by the donors to the Town for acceptance by the Board of Selectmen, defined for a specific purpose (i.e., utility review process for Main Street pole relocation proposal).

I hope this helps to provide some clarification. Thank you.

3 David parry July 31, 2017 at 2:14 PM

Here is another example of how the construction schedule for the proposal (for the removal of utility poles from downtown Main Street) has been artificially extended, such that it appears that the proposal can NOT be constructed fast enough to be completed in sync the the Main Street Construction Project …. And avoid the necessity to move existing poles a few feet, so that the pole locations conform exactly to the new ( and altered) street alignment.

Remember that the movement of existing poles is extraordinarily expensive, costing about one million dollars total , and costing our “partner” in any pole removal project ( National Grid ) half of that cost, or about one half million dollars.

Well, that hypothetical, written construction schefule, includes the following two gigantic errors,:

1. A whole year taken to find a suitable alignment and design it. This is ridiculous,because we already have the alignment, exactly, and to design it (I.e. to located pole precisely, and figure out the wiring, and coordinate this with other utilities,, could take about 1 to 2 months, because it is inherently simple …. and of VITAL IMPORTANCE ….. NATIONAL GRID WOULD HAVE A VERY POWERFUL FINANCIAL INCENTIVE TO GET THE DESIGN FINISHED FAST, BECAUSE IT COULD SAVE THEM ONE HALF MILLION DOLLARS, especially if it was assigned to a capable engineer.

2. The other schedule deals with obtaining easements, because these are critical, becaus they MUST be finalized and recorded before construction can begin.

Well again, there are NO, ZERO, APPRAISALS REQUIRED ….. why not ? Simple ….. because the easements are being granted by the property owners to National Grid for FREE, ZERO DOLLARS ….. Why again ? Simple again ….. because the property owners WANT THE PROJECT DONE FAST, AND AT LEAST COST TO THE TOWN.

CONCLUSION

The two written handed handouts are just plain WRONG.
The proposed new pole route can be designed and implemented extraordinarily fast compared to the typical project for several reasons …..

1. We have a plan alignment already worked out.
2. We have the easements worked out
3. We do not need appraisals.

What we do need is more honest attempts to get this project started, instead of devious attempts to bury it by inflating construction timelines and ongoing perpetual, deliberate delays.

Delays can kill it. But the real facts are going to come out ..,.. every one of them, And National Grid and Mass Highway are going to learn all the details about this ridiculous game, which is going to cost them a full one million dollars wasted on unnecessary movement of existing poles along our Main Street.

Thank you all.

Frankly, I would have preferred NOT to have to lay this all out to public view, but I think you may understand that I have no alternative except to tell the whole truth about the internet political machinations underway by 3 persons in our local government, who are determined to make this project SEEM impossible.

Not only is this a possibility. More than that that, it can be a wonderful asset to our wonderful town, and all our local businessmen and schools want it done, and it can act as a positive generator for economic revitalization in our struggling, but potentially extremely attractive, historic downtown.

There is far more to come, if necessary.

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