Main St Design Working Group investigating potential contingency for moving utility poles (Updated-again)

Above: The Town’s engineers created an overlay of potential plans for rerouting utility poles to keep them off a large section of Main Street. (image cropped from VHB’s document)

Last week, the Main Street Design Working Group discussed David Parry’s proposal for a section of Main Street to be designed without utility poles. The group learned that it would likely need to be a separate project from the reconstruction of the Main Street area. But, they asked Public Works to investigate one area of potential overlap.

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan explained to the group why there isn’t time to include moving utility poles as part of the Main Street reconstruction. The construction is slated to begin next April. That means easements are being completed this fall and bids for work sent out this December. But Verizon has confirmed that engineering plans to move utility poles would take about a year to finalize.

Galligan and the MSDWG agreed that doesn’t mean a project can’t be done. It just means it would be a separate project. (And one that clearly had the Chair Mary Healy’s conceptual support.)

A Main Street resident told the group that she wouldn’t want to lose the lighting that utility poles provide. Healy said the group agrees. They had looked at installing historic streetlights. Those had been ruled out as undesirable when side by side with utility poles. He asked Galligan what it would take to install lights in the future if utility poles were taken down.

The Town’s engineering consultant, Brian Brosnan of VHB, described a way to plan for that contingency. They could include the infrastructure and conduits for separate streetlights. If voters approved taking down utility poles in the future, lighting poles could be installed without trenching sidewalks or roads to lay down their power feeds.  

Galligan said the additional infrastructure work could be paid for in Chapter 90 money as part of the reconstruction project. Including that would require a decision by August.

MSDWG voted to have Public Works and VHB explore what the logistics and cost would be for adding the infrastructure. They were clear that would be to keep the option open for a separate project (soon after reconstruction or further down the road).

But, Parry didn’t give up hope of including the utility pole relocation as part of the reconstruction project. He insisted that the Town had “unique leverage” for utilities to prioritize planning for utility poles and make the time frame much quicker: 

“We needn’t be at the bottom of the pile. We can be at the top. If we work with them collaboratively, they can save themselves a ton of money.”

He stated that utilities would have to pay 50% of the cost for moving most of the poles along Main Street under the current project. He believed their desire to save that money should drive them collaborate with the Town. No one responded to his claim.

Earlier, Galligan explained that Verizon is the company responsible for coordinating engineering plans. A Verizon representative had described to her the work involved in designing plans and going back and forth with other departments on pole placement.

The Public Works head debunked the $60K Parry has referred to as the cost for engineering plans. She said they would have to give Verizon a deposit of at least $5,000. Verizon would then take a preliminary look and get back to them with a better idea of the full price for doing the work.

At points in the meeting, the role of MSDWG was questioned. Healey confirmed with member Brian Shea (who is also a selectman) that their role was mainly in determining any overlap in projects – without impeding or delaying their project – and making related recommendations. Outside of that, they would just provide their feedback on if they believed the concept was worth pursuing. But that pursuit wouldn’t be in their purview (unless their charge is revised by selectmen).

During discussions Healey acknowledged that a project to move utility poles would be a challenge. But he followed, he wanted “not to look for obstacles not to do it, but to look for ways to do it.” There was some support for the project expressed by other members, but there was no formal vote on that yet.

Several members of the public attended. Their reaction to Parry’s plan was mixed, though most were in favor.

A few had reservations. Main Street resident Louise Clough opined the benefit may be for too few property owners given the likely costs. Another resident, who is also a DPW employee, objected to a voter trend to fund “nice” things while underfunding Town infrastructure. She referred to equipment that public works and emergency departments have to go without.*

The majority strongly supported “beautifying” downtown. One resident asserted that, as the downtown and site of public festivals, it is important to many more than just the residents who live there. Historic Commission Dave McCay of the Economic Development Committee shared his committee’s enthusiasm. Advisory’s Sam Stivers joked about how unusual it is for him and McCay to agree.

Historic Commission’s Kate Matison indicated conceptual support, but warned that they may have a hard time getting funding through the Community Preservation Act. Healey argued he couldn’t think of “anything more restorative than removing electricity.”

In the meeting, both Brosnan and Parry walked the committee through potential plans for rerouting the utilities. Brosnan contained his presentation to the area west of Park Street – the segment of Main Street that is part of the reconstruction project. (Click here to open a pdf of VHB’s document.)

Parry also covered east of Park, but pitched that the business owners themselves should have the ultimate say on that section. During his presentation, he referenced the many approvals he had gotten from property owners along the route. (Scroll down for his newest diagram).

Parry and Brosnan updated that a section of power lines Parry had sought to use as part of earlier diagrams are off the table. Apparently, nothing is allowed on or within 100 feet of the high voltage pylons on the poles by the Sudbury Reservoir.

To watch the presentations, click here to view the meeting recorded by Southborough Access Media.

*[Editor’s Note: This year, part of selectmen’s compromise with Advisory on the Town’s budget was to again delay the purchase of a new tractor to plow sidewalks, among other cuts. (I thought I remembered that at least one police cruiser was also cut, but I couldn’t confirm in time for this story.) Of course, that also doesn’t cover the budget choices in department meetings behind closed doors that never make it to a public arena.]**

Updated (7/20/17 3:12 pm): Parry asked me to share his diagram as he captured in snapshots below. Click thumbnails to enlarge.

Main Street - Plan for Pole Free Street 1 Main Street - Key to Plan for Pole Free Street 2 Main Street - Pole Free - Northeast Quadarant 3 (1) Main Street - Pole Free - Southeast Quadarant 4 Main Street - Pole Free - Southwest Quadarant 5

Updated (7/20/17 3:25 pm): Parry emailed new pics to replace ones sent earlier. But only the third image seemed different, so that’s what I replaced.

**Updated (7/21/17 12:48 pm): A reader indicated to me that my note about budget discussions “behind closed doors” appeared to be an unfounded accusation of nefarious doings by town committees. I was shocked it was taken that way – since I specifically wrote “budget choices in department meetings behind closed doors”. 

In case anyone else took it the same way. . . 

As I clarified to that person – I wasn’t making accusations of unethical behavior. Behind closed doors was referring to internal staff discussions that aren’t at public meetings.

In other words, all the internal meetings and discussions about wish lists, priorities, and what there is or isn’t money for that are part of the process of creating budgets – well before drafts are ready for public presentation. 


We know the sidewalk tractor was delayed because that made it into the final budget before that decision was made. We wouldn’t know if employees internally pitched that some other equipment was needed – but department managers decided there wasn’t room in this year’s budget. I assume that is a regular and normal part of any budgeting process.

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6 years ago

Again, whats the cost to the taxpayer? Verizon is not going to pass it on to the customers bill as not everyone in southborough is a customer.

David Parry
6 years ago
Reply to  Alan

Yes that is the key question. nd that is the whole point of the design study by Verizon or National Grid — to select the route and determine the cost. They will provide that answer.

6 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

So no idea, then you won’t mind putting up your $5000 to find out.

Al Hamilton
6 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Agreed, Let those that benefit from this program pay for the study and then, if we go ahead, have a special assessment zone where the beneficiaries pay for the upgrade.

Tim Martel
6 years ago
Reply to  Al Hamilton

I find this to be a dangerous way of thinking. Its like saying that only parents of school age children should pay taxes to fund the schools, or that only abutters of open space parcels should pay for open space, or that only those who live near the Burnett house should pay that bill. How about the senior center? We could review all the town’s services and slice and dice them – library, transfer station, etc.

We’re one community and we should think along those lines. Not everything needs to benefit everybody directly in order for it to be valuable.

David parry
6 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Mr Mattel is exactly right.

Not only that, but the irony is that Mr Hamilton, chose, deliberately , to buy a house in the most isolated and rural section of town, and has to drive through a corner of Framingham to get there. Once there, it is very beautiful. But, no surprise, it has no water supply pipes, and all homeowners have their own, perfectly adequate, private wells. And of course he has the financial advantage of not paying high water tax bills. And our fire trucks have to drive that far distance to service that area, so we, the town, also pay the high cosf of fire service on his behalf. I wish I had my own private well.

Yet now , to add to the irony, Mr Hamilton expects all us, the rest of the town , to pay the exceptionally high cost of supplying his isolated area with piped water, at a premium cost, when the homeowners all have adequate wells. ….much the same as almost ALL of NH, Vermont and Maine are on wells.

I wlll however give Al Hamilton kudos for identifying himself, and NOT hiding anonymously behind a false name, and slashing out with personal attacks. He is a very sensible, bright and knowledgaable man who might be able to think how we might create a very beautiful town center, which all of us , town – wide will visit, benefit from, and be proud of.

J. David
6 years ago
Reply to  Tim Martel

Wait, what? I thought I remember Mr. Parry writing under several pseudonyms on this very blog in the past in an attempt to sway readers to see his point of view.

Anyway, I keep reading about “historic downtown Southborough”. Here is what Merrian-Webster defines as “Historic”:
Definition of historic
: historical: such as
a : famous or important in history historic battlefields
b : having great and lasting importance a historic occasion
c : known or established in the past historic interest rates
d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture historic buildings historic artifacts

Concord and Lexington certainly contain historic areas (battlefields), etc.

I still fail to see what is “historic” about what remains of “downtown Southborough”. Old buildings, yes; a contribution to some sort of history, no??

David Parry
6 years ago

Thanks for the comment Mr David. You are a real erson, living on [removed by editor], and listed in the town’s register of voters.

Your comments are interesting, because you appear to be unaware of the historic buildings we are lucky to have in downtown Southborough. Also you seem to be unaware of the fact that this town actually has a definition of “historic” — it is a building more than 85 years old, or of other significance. Town Meeting just added that definition at the last Town Meeting, which you may have missed.

Let us look at two examples, two buildings, located at the two ends of our downtown, where street reconstruction will take place.

On the west end stands the Burnett Mansion. Is that historic? Yes it is, and our Town Meeting backed that up by voting to pay $1 million to the owner, (who is already a very rich man), in exchange for a “Preservation Restriction” on the building. That Restriction will prevent the building from ever being torn down or altered on the exterior. — a Restriction that will pass from one owner to the next owner, for ever.

Similarly , on the east end of downtown, at the railroad, you appear to be unaware of the significance of the Knights of Columbus building, opposite the Spa ” restaurant. It was built in the 1700’s and is the older building in town !

There are literally dozens of historic buildings in our downtown. We are extraordinarily fortunate that they still exist. In fact I will ask a member of the Town Historic Commission to explain, (in a separate “comment” in MySouthborough), how the Commission is far along in proposing that Town Meting vote to create a “National Register Historic District”

This, proposal, taking hundreds of hours of footwork by the Historical Commission, coicides neatly with the proposed limits of the “NO Pole section of Main St — starting on the west end at the new main driveway leading into Fay School, and ending at the east end at the Railroad crossing.

This proposal ,for a Historic District, took hundreds of hours to research and propose, with layers of State and National criteria. t has huge support.

Thanks for the comment. Please keep the comments coming, because that is the only way we can get the varying opinions out there, and many opinions deserve a response to clarify matters factually..

Please notice that I did NOT attack you personally. I concentrated on the facts. Let us get this comment board respectable and stop the personal attacks.

Thank you also for identifying yourself as a real person, and stating what you believe in, however much I may agree or disagree. We can disagree. We can vote.

6 years ago
Reply to  David Parry

Did you really just say that you did not personally attack someone in the same post where you gave out his home address after he posted semi-anonymously? 8% of the electorate is probably the same percentage that find this behavior acceptable, so that explains your showing in the election.

David parry
6 years ago

“Jack”, the anonymous poster, claims that I attacked someone by (1) giving out his personal address, even though that address is public information available in printed booklets and on the web , and (2) this same “Jack”, claims that this “someone” actually posted “SEMI-ANONYMOUSLY”, (his words). when in fact he gave his full surname., and first initial, so obviously he was not afraid to identify himself., Wow, tell me another.

I applaud Mr David for stating his name, his REAL name, and therefore giving us his REAL opinion.

“Jack” on the other hand deserves no applause, because he is hiding. Obviously fearful that he will be found out. Watch out folks — he might be “Jack the Ripper”.

6 years ago
Reply to  David parry

While Mr. Parry has the right to post on this website as much as he chooses, in any way he chooses…

I also have the right to no longer use this website. While Mr. Parry may find it fashionable and witty to display someone’s home address, I find it appalling. The comment section has become his circus, and it’s utterly boring and nonsensical. (no blame on Beth, she does a wonderful job and it’s not her job to tell anyone to shush).

Let us all celebrate Mr. Parry is not currently representing this town in any official manner.

6 years ago
Reply to  David parry

I’m sorry David, but I can no longer take you seriously reading your comments. You obviously are in this for your own good, and not the town’s. Moving the utility poles is a waste of tax payer money, and is not a necessity.

6 years ago
Reply to  Townie

Thank you for clarifying what “semi-anonymously” means, as he did not provide his first name and you had to do research to figure it out. I suppose if I tell you my initials are JA, then I will successfully distract you for a full day while you try to hunt down my identity from the voter registration records so you can publish my home address, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name. You should focus on real issues instead of wasting your time trying to sound smarter than everyone else, which has proven to be very counter-productive.

David parry
6 years ago

Ok. Now we have an attack on me, personally, …..I am “out for my own good” ….and a criticism of the project. Par for the course.

You say the project is “…not in the town’s (good). Moving the poles is a waste of tax payer money, and is not a necessity. ”

My response …


For starters, the town’s own Economic Development Commission strongly disagree with you, unanymously. They believe it is strongly in the town’s interest, and will benefit the entire town …. Exactly as have hundreds of similar downtown improvement projects across the country.


Your gigantic irony …You say: “Moving the poles is a waste of tax payer money” . Indeed it is .. a GIGANTIC WASTE OF MONEY AND AN OUTRIGHT SCANDAL …, but not in the way you believe. Obviously you don’t realize that almost all existing poles in the official project, are slated to be moved ….by about 12 inches on average …yes !! 5 ft here, 6 inches there, etc. Why is that ? It is because of the State design standards, which do not allow poles to be in certain areas, as (for instance) no pole can be within 2 1/2 feet of a curb. The town puts poles anywhere it wants, but the State won’t allow that freedom of design in an official State project. And this IS AN OFFICIAL STATE PROJECT. So most poles have to be moved, all along the “new” Main St.

The cost of this is huge. …. Approaching a million ….. And this cost is born 50 – 50 by the State Highway Dept, and half by National Grid.

Now , that entire cost could be eliminated IF we installed our own route of local poles , (with the guidance of National Grid), off of Main St, hooked it up to all the buildings, and then simply REmoved the existing poles from Main St, forever.

One million dollars saved.

So therefore you must surely be able to see , NOW, that National Grid will be very eager to work with us, the Town, in designing our own local route of poles, and installing it was quickly as possible, so that all THEIR work , moving the old poles along Main St, can be avoided. …. National Grid can just pull them all out, and take them away, leaving us with a much more beautiful downtown.

So, in fact, IF ONLY WE COULD GET OFF OUR REAR END AND TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION TO IMPLEMENT our local route of poles, “off street”….. We could not only get a more beautiful town center , (which will benefit the whole Town by encouraging business revitalization, and providing a more beautiful setting for festivals and parades, benefiting the whole town ), BUT WE COULD ALSO SAVE NATIONAL GRUD …. OUR MUST-WORK-WITH. PARTNER, WHO MUST DO THE DESIGN AND DETERMINE THE COST …. A GIGANTIC AMOUNT OF MONEY.

That is what is normally called preventing waste.

Downtown Resident
6 years ago

I was driving down Main St. today and was thinking how lovely it would look without the poles and wires. Too bad it’s so expensive to move them.
Oh, & btw, I happen to think that “saving the golf course ” is a waste of tax payer’s money and not at all a necessity. So, to each his own…

Southside Mark
6 years ago

Save 1 million dollars because we wont have to move the poles an average of 12 inches? Did I miss something? If we relocate (synonym for “move”) the poles to where ever Parry is proposing, is that somehow free of charge? I would argue that it will cost significantly more (to whomever is paying for it) based on nothing more than logical thought. If we move all of these poles to Mr. Parry’s backyard, the Grid would need to rewire all of the poles, cut trees, put in access roads, pay surveyors, etc. If we only need to move the poles 12 inches, the existing wire would remain intact and nothing else would need to be done. That doesn’t even factor moving some of the wires underground in certain areas!

Mr. Parry, while I admire your tenacity and copious amounts of time spent on this, please, PLEASE give it a rest. This has become a viable 3-ring circus and you aren’t fooling anyone. Your previous post regarding water lines to Pine Hill Road shows your true colors. This post isn’t meant as a personal attack in any way, but as a plea to end the show. Would Main Street look good without telephone poles, yes, of course. Bury them, or deal with them as they stand. The end.

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