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.
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.