Town officials have been asked to consider a infrastructure project that would allow Hopkinton to tap into MWRA’s supply through Southborough.
On June 14th, Hopkinton officials proposed making an investment into Southborough’s water systems and infrastructure. But it includes a request that our Town match some of the funding for an improvement that would purportedly benefit Southborough – a taller, more efficient water tower on Oak Hill Road. That had an estimated price tag of $1.5-2.5 million for Southborough.*
Residents raised some concerns about proposed details. The Select Board and others put out a public call to have the Public Works Planning Board hold public hearings on the matter.
At the Select Board meeting, Hopkinton’s Town Manager and DPW head introduced the project. They spoke about the Town’s inability to meet its growing water supply needs. To find a solution that would be acceptable/appealing to Southborough, they hired Southborough’s waterworks consultants.
Tim Thies of PARE Corp presented Hopkinton’s proposal. According to PARE’s website, he’s the Key Contact for Southborough’s Water System Engineering Services. PARE conducted prior studies on the Town’s water needs and infrastructure. (Including a plan to build a fourth water tower in town.) They also represented Southborough to oversee Ashland’s connection to the Town water supply.
Thies explained they were hired to look at how Hopkinton could connect to Southborough without negatively impacting Southborough’s current water customers. The hope was to also find additional benefits for Southborough. He pitched that he had.
Thies referred to the Town’s identified need for an additional water tower. That was acknowledged in the recently published Master Plan for the Town. Under Public Water Supply, it refers to a need for increasing the supply and ranks potential sites for a 4th town. The report follows:
Upgrading of the Town’s water distribution system would be relatively costly but should be considered for longer-term capital investment. Town population growth has been slow enough over the past decade to make the need for additional water storage capacity less pressing than originally projected, but this issue remains open for consideration in the Town’s capital planning.
Thies’ new proposal was to instead replace the Oak Hill Road tower and switch from a two zone water supply for the Town to one zone serviced by all three towers. He claimed the more efficient system would improve water pressure by 10 psi for residents currently in a low pressure area, and improve fire protection. Southborough would save money by splitting the expense with Hopkinton. It could potentially also eliminate the need (and therefore maintenance costs) of the tank on Overlook Drive.
The plan included Hopkinton investing $8M in Southborough’s water system infrastructure. (Some of the upgrades/improvements would be to equipment that isn’t that old and wouldn’t need replacing for decades.)
Board members and residents raised multiple questions and concerns about the proposal. (Scroll down for those.)
In the end, the Board was interested in continuing to research the project’s potential. They asked to have the proposal further vetted by the Public Works Planning Board with hearings for public input. (Whether or not that will happen is yet to be seen. Scroll down for more on that.)
They also expect feedback from the Capital Planning Committee.
Select Board member Andrew Dennington raised the conflict of interest issue. He asked Thies if Southborough would have its own independent representative to oversee the connection project on Southborough’s behalf. Thies replied that he was brought on because he represents Southborough, but he followed that Southborough could contract a 3rd party representative.
Officials and Oak Hill Road neighbors worried about the visual impact of a tower that would be 23 feet higher. Thies proposed that an early step would be to “get up there” and do something to help residents visualize the tower. He also noted that the color is important in reducing visibility.
Andrew Pfaff of Oak Hill Road worried that the tower would reduce pressure in his neighborhood. He said that he had to install a pressure pump since his home only gets 6psi. Thies assured that there would be a 10 psi bump for the area. But he was also concerned that 6 psi seemed problematically low and wanted to speak with Pfaff offline about his issues.
Pfaff also asked if trees around the current tower that help with screening would have to be “touched” for new construction. Thies claimed that unless any trees were currently encroaching on the tower, nothing would have to be cut down.
Pfaff also pointed out that the 4th water tower was something PARE argued in favor of five years ago. He wondered about the changed recommendation. Thies explained that looking at how to more efficiently move water through town to get to Hopkinton prompted them to consider raising pressure in the low pressure area. That led to think about consolidating zones, which they hadn’t contemplated before.
Select Board Chair Kathy Cook was concerned that the pitched offset costs appeared to be for lower priority expenses that may not have been planned for the near future.
Michael Weishan urged the Board to reject the proposal. He blamed Hopkinton’s “rampant development” without a plan in place for their water issues. He argued that enabling Hopkinton was like throwing gas on a fire. He worried that Southborough would be bearing the brunt through multi-year road projects with police details and potential tree removals.
Weishan then started to raise concerns about the DPW overseeing such a large project, and referred to an investigation of them by MassDOT’s Inspector General before being cutoff for going off topic.** Weishan rebutted that the Supreme Judicial Court would soon be ruling on the Board’s muzzling people when talking.
John Reed said that Southborough’s future growth was a given. He wanted the Town to ensure that the Town’s water needs down the road wouldn’t exceed the project’s capacity in less than 30 years, when the Town would likely still be paying off a bond to fund it.
Tim Litt noted that when projects get bigger and more complicated, there’s an increase in the operational cost. He asked about the long term impact on Southborough’s Operations & Maintenance costs. Thies replied that Litt was correct. Southborough would see an increased O&M expense. He advised that the Towns could work out Hopkinton’s share of that in the a Memorandum of Understanding.
Both Cook and Planning Board Chair Meme Luttrell said they would like to see the project vetted by the Public Works Planning Board. But Cook noted that even if PWPB doesn’t agree to meet, the Capital Planning Committee would hold public meetings on the topic.
Inactive Public Works Planning Board
The Water project is just one of the items that has had residents and officials invoking the Public Works Planning Board. It was invoked in other discussions about DPW road projects and decision making this spring.
Over the past several months, Debbie DeMuria has publicly raised the issue with the Select Board and in public meetings. She noted that the Board is required to meet under state statute. The PWPB hasn’t met since January 2021. The prior two years, the board met twice. Prior to that it used to meet several time a year.
She and Select Board member Sam Stivers have stated that the majority of the Board’s members have been resistant to meeting. Stivers is one who has wanted to meet. DeMuria indicated the Chair Bill Boland was one that didn’t. The positions of the other three members weren’t specified.
The terms of two of those three were set to expire at the end of this month. It looks like one, (James Harding, a former DPW employee for 43 years) has already been reappointed by Moderator Paul Cimino. (The website now shows his term as through June 2025.)
The Planning Board, which DeMuria was recently elected to, is responsible for the other seat, which is currently held by Susan Baust. This coming Monday, Planning’s agenda includes discussing the appointment. (No names are specified.)
*Thies estimated about $3-5M for the water tank replacement and said the current pitch was a 50/50 split for the Towns.
**Later in the meeting, Town Administrator Mark Purple confirmed that MassDOT met with him and DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan based on its Inspector General’s concerns about the Town’s handling of the finances around the St. Mark’s Street and park project and the associated grant. He reported that the state said funds were spent appropriately, and that the grant would have been awarded without the internal history walk sidewalks in the initial proposal. He assured the Select Board that MassDOT was all set unless no park actually gets built. Then, they’d have to revisit the funding. Upon questioning, Purple said he had requested to get those findings in writing.
On the downside, Purple said that MassDOT’s feedback was that the state may not be willing to issue any new grants to the Town until the park project is completed.