Category Archives: Environment

environmental issues

London high-rise fire: tragedy of the commoners

A catastrophic fire June 14, 2017, at Grenfell Tower, a London high-rise public housing building–killing at least 80 occupants–has developed into a tragedy of the commoners. It is not being visited on British elites. In its aftermath, officials of the current, Tory government spared no effort–to offload blame. Suspicions pointed at building materials that quickly spread flames up the outside of the building.

Philip Hammond, the famously arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, tried to claim that materials used in a recent renovation of Grenfell Tower had been banned under the British building code. He was promptly refuted by reporter David D. Kirkpatrick, writing in the New York Times.

The officials patched together a national emergency action, ordering managers of public housing that had used similar building materials to submit samples for so-called “fire safety” testing–but not managers of private housing. Without waiting for results or advice, the Camden council, in north London, ordered evacuations of five high-rise public housing buildings that had been renovated using such materials.

A testing mystery: Building contractors and materials manufacturers had stated that their practices met standards of the British building code, which include standards for fire resistance. A few days after the catastrophe, however, Tory officials said some samples of materials they received had failed “fire safety” testing–tending to offload blame. At ten days after the catastrophe, the officials disclosed that all 60 samples from public housing tested to date had failed. How could that be?

Nothing from mainstream British news sites explored the obvious conflict. One story in the Guardian said recent tests “lack transparency,” but it stopped there. Absent gross fraud, the “fire safety” tests hastily arranged by officials of the Tory government somehow had to differ from tests claimed to have been performed by manufacturers and builders under the British building code.

The current building code allows two approaches. Individual materials can be tested for “fire spread,” using British Standard BS 476 procedures and regulations. Otherwise, a large sample of an assembled “cladding system” can be tested using British Standard BS 8414 procedures and classified under British Research Establishment BRE 135 regulations.

Manufacturers usually test for “fire spread” using BS 476, or a European equivalent, and builders usually seek materials so tested. The alternative via BS 8414 and BRE 135, or European equivalents, is much more costly to test. Moreover, that approach would limit application to a specific “cladding system” design and to its choices for multiple materials and fastenings.

Potentially flammable materials used on the exterior of Grenfell Tower were Celotex RS5000 insulation, 6 inches thick, and Reynobond PE rainshield, 1/8 inch thick–both manufactured in Europe. Both those materials burned in the catastrophe, but most news reports ignored the rigid polyisocyanurate foam insulation and focused only on the rainshield. It consists of a solid polyethylene core and two thin aluminum outer layers.

If Reynobond PE rainshield gets hot–only around 300 F–highly flammable polyethylene in the core will melt. Liquid might leak from an edge and ignite, or an entire metal layer might release, exposing polyethylene to fire. However, BS 476 test procedures do not create such conditions. They subject a patch in the middle of a rainshield panel to a small flame for a minute. The outer metal layer does not burn, and the brief heating does not melt the whole core and release the metal, so such a panel of rainshield material passes that test.

Mystery resolved: At some time on Monday, July 3, according to automatic logging by other sites, British Research Establishment (BRE) staff, who had been performing emergency “fire safety” testing for Tory government officials, added notes to one of their Web pages describing what they were doing. BRE staff admitted they had used rogue “screening tests” to measure “gross heat of combustion” of materials, not a standard test–such as International Standards Organization ISO 1716–and not a test for “fire spread” or for “combustibility.”

According to the BRE statement, “procedures set out in the [ISO] standard [for heat of combustion] have not been followed.” BRE staff did not test for “combustibility” either, as Tory officials have repeatedly claimed–that is, whether a material will catch fire, under some specified condition. Instead, BRE staff have been scraping out core fragments from samples of rainshield material and then measuring how much heat will be produced when the fragments are forced to burn in an artificial environment of pure oxygen.

Now it is clear why tests according to the British building code might pass but tests recently reported by Tory officials might fail. They are different tests. Rogue tests being carried out by the BRE staff do not measure whether materials will catch fire under controlled conditions. Instead they measure how much heat is produced when core fragments scraped from the materials are forced to burn.

The rogue tests, of course, have not been systematically validated against actual risks of building fires. Such a process would involve extended experiments, analysis, documentation and review. If compared, for example, against longstanding, carefully developed BS 8414 procedures and BRE 135 regulations, rogue tests might either overestimate or underestimate fire hazards from practical situations.

Other options: Little noticed by the public, some building materials apparently similar to those used at Grenfell Tower have passed the rogue test ordered by Tory government officials and conducted by BRE staff. The headline for an article on the BBC News site did not help, saying, “Three hospitals fail fire safety.” The text, however, claimed that “cladding at 11 sites passed the checks, while the other 19 sites which flagged up potential fire safety issues have been told they do not need to take further action.”

The Tory government still has not ordered testing of private housing or commercial buildings, but Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt started a national emergency action to test hospital buildings. When reported by BBC News, 30 had passed the rogue test or been exempted, and only three had failed. Apparently British hospital renovations were more cautious in some ways than those performed by public housing authorities.

Three main grades of metal-clad rainshield materials have been marketed in Europe for about 25 years. They are often designated “PE” (polyethylene core), “FR” (fire-retardant core) and “A2″ (limited combustibility core)–the last one a classification from the European Normative EN 13501 fire-resistance standard.

The Alucobond company of Switzerland introduced an “A2″ product in the early 1990s. Like most other such products, its core is nonflammable mineral wool plus a few percent by weight of polymer binder. At very high temperatures the polymer will char, but flames will not spread far. This type of product is more expensive and more difficult to install than other composite rainshield products. The distribution of results obtained by BRE staff suggest that “A2″ products may pass their rogue test, while “PE” and “FR” products may fail.

Lessons learned and unlearned: Some building renovation managers apparently took more cautious approaches than others. However, the Tory government’s attempt to shift blame for the Grenfell Tower catastrophe onto project designers and managers and onto materials manufacturers amounts to a scam.

The core of the problem has been grossly inadequate building code regulations–allowing an irresponsible alternative to carefully developed fire resistance standards. That is compounded by lack of fire suppression measures, particularly requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

The British government had ample, local warning about the potential for a catastrophe. In 2009, the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, similar in many respects, killed three women and three children. Nothing of much significance was ever done to prevent another such disaster.

The current, Tory government nominated Sir Ken Knight, who compiled a report on the Lakanal fire, to head a panel that is to examine “safety actions” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe. Sir Ken Knight had advised against regulations requiring fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings.

Former Tory housing minister Gavin Barwell told the House of Commons in October, 2016, that the British Building Regulations for fire safety would be reviewed in response to the Lakanal House disaster, but he did nothing. His punishment, after being defeated for re-election, has been to serve as chief of staff to the prime minister, Theresa May.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 6, 2017


Three hospitals fail fire safety checks, BBC News (UK), July 4, 2017

Grenfell Tower fire: ACM cladding testing, British Research Establishment (BRE), July 3, 2017

Richard Hartley-Parkinson, Man overseeing Grenfell disaster previously advised against fitting sprinklers, London Metro, June 28, 2017

Robert Booth, Tower cladding tests after Grenfell fire lack transparency, say experts, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 26, 2017

Sylvia Hui, Associated Press, All samples from high-rise towers in UK fail fire safety tests, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2017

Caroline Mortimer, Grenfell response: number of tower blocks failing fire tests rises to 60, London Independent, June 25, 2017

Shehab Khan, ‘Hundreds’ died in Grenfell Tower fire, says shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, London Independent, June 24, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, Danny Hakim and James Glanz, Why Grenfell Tower burned: regulators put cost before safety, New York Times, June 24, 2017

Danica Kirka, Associated Press, London council evacuates residents amid fire safety concerns, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 23, 2017

Lucy Pasha-Robinson, Tens of thousands of people could be living in lethal tower blocks, tests reveal, London Independent, June 22, 2017

Jack Simpson, Fire experts slam ‘outdated’ Building Regulations following Grenfell, Construction News (UK), June 21, 2017

David D. Kirkpatrick, UK officials said cladding on tower burned in London was banned, but it wasn’t, New York Times, June 19, 2017

Tom Peck, Grenfell Tower cladding is banned in UK, Philip Hammond says, London Independent, June 17, 2017

Dan Bilefsky, London fire death toll rises to 17, New York Times, June 15, 2017

Robert Booth, Ian Sample, David Pegg and Holly Watt, Experts warned government against cladding material used on Grenfell, Manchester Guardian (UK), June 15, 2017

Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka, Associated Press, Death toll rises to 12 in London apartment building inferno, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 14, 2017

ISO 1716:2010, Determination of the gross heat of combustion, International Standards Organization (Geneva, Switzerland), 2017

Resistance to fire: EN 13501, the European standard, Odenwald Faserplattenwerk (Amorbach, Germany), 2017

EN 13501-1: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

BS 476-7: Fire test to building material, Ecosafene Safety and Testing World (Xiamen, China), 2017

Prashant Thakkar, 1992 market introduction of Alucobond A2, Glazing Shopee (Vadodara, India), 2017

Sara Colwell, Illustrated guide to British fire safety testing and standards, British Research Establishment (BRE), 2014

Fire safety: Approved Document B, The Building Regulations 2010, [British] National Archives (effective April, 2007, as amended through 2013)

Craig Bolon, High-rise fire in London: needless catastrophe, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2017

Renewables: inherit the wind

Some are furious at the cockroach President for blowing off the Paris climate treaty, but many expected that, since it had been one of the few stable goals of his lurching campaign. There is little the cockroach can actually do. Under the treaty’s terms, it remains in effect until at least the fall of 2020, and thus it is sure to become a strong factor in the next campaign. If the cockroach tries to run again, he looks likely to lose.

Some political corruption from pandering by the cockroach President will be thwarted by economics. In many places, coal power is no longer cost-competitive, and in some places wind power does not need new subsidies to thrive. The five leading wind-power states–Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota–all voted for the cockroach, but they are not aligned with his hostile views on renewable energy. Many people in those states now earn their livings from it, while few there are sustained by the coal-power industry.

Growth of renewables: The growth of renewables in the U.S. energy supply is a trend decades long. It began with hydroelectric power heavily funded by the federal government during the 1930s. The next surge was wood-fired power from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Despite later being labeled “carbon neutral,” that has fallen out of favor. Toxic emissions are difficult and costly to control. Outputs have been gradually dropping over the past 30 years.

Renewables in the U.S. energy supply

UsRenewableEnergy
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

There are now four major U.S. renewable energy sources: hydro, biofuel, wood and wind–in declining current amounts. As of 2016, each one contributed about 2.0 to 2.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Sources still gaining are biofuel–taking off around 2002–and wind–climbing around 2007. Led by ethanol, biofuel is mostly used for transportation. The other renewable sources are mostly or entirely used to generate electricity.

Two other substantial renewable sources are solar power and waste burning, both around 0.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Solar began to climb around 2013 and is still in early stages of growth. Waste burning has seen little growth since the 1980s. It spreads toxic pollutants–worse than wood. Renewable sources now provide over a tenth of U.S. total energy use: for 2016 about 10.2 out of 97.4 quadrillion Btu.

Although prevailing customs do not count nuclear power among the renewables, it emits hardly any greenhouse gases. For 2016, the U.S. reported 8.4 quadrillion Btu. It is in decline, with older plants closing and new plants rarely opening. When combined with renewable sources, the United States is now getting about 19 percent of total energy consumption from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases.

Sustainable progress: The dominant influences on renewable energy are now state regulations and local initiatives, not federal programs. They will provide sustainable progress despite the cockroach President, although federal programs could improve outcomes. The most important among the state regulations are renewable energy portfolios for electricity, now enforced in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Renewable energy portfolios by states

RenewablePortfolioStates
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Laggard states are in the Deep South and the Mountain West, plus the coal-mining states Kentucky and West Virginia. Standards vary widely. Those in Hawaii and Connecticut are among the most demanding, requiring 30 and 27 percent renewable energy in 2020. Stronger states limit qualifying sources to new wind, solar and geothermal plants. Other states accept hydropower, nuclear power and waste burning. Pennsylvania accepts burning so-called “waste coal.” Ohio accepts burning so-called “clean coal.”

Governors of several states recently announced they had formed a new organization called U.S. Climate Alliance, intended to promote and organize renewable energy standards. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative–organized in 2003 by New England states, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, and more recently joined by Maryland and Virginia–has provided a durable model for effective state coordination.

Worldwide energy use trends

WorldEnergySources
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Despite struggles, the United States continues to maintain a strong record in energy sourcing. As compared with 19 percent of U.S. total energy from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases, for 1990 through 2012–the latest comprehensive data–worldwide performance remained stuck at 15 to 16 percent. Progress with renewables has been swamped by growth in coal burning by countries of southeast Asia, led by China.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2017


Matt Viser, Kerry says Trump’s decision was ‘a day of craven ignorance’, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

Jeremy Bloom, Trump will pull U.S. out of Paris Agreement–in 4 years, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), June 2, 2017

David Abel, Massachusetts joins other states to fulfill U.S. pledges on carbon, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

John Flesher, Associated Press, States and cities pledge action on climate without Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason, Trump says U.S. to withdraw from Paris climate accord, Reuters (UK), June 1, 2017

Associated Press (Berlin), As Europe talks tough on climate, data show emissions rose, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Emma Gilchrist, Trump won’t stop the renewable energy revolution, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), March 31, 2017

Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Administration, May, 2017 (20 MB)

State renewable portfolio standards and goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017

Program Design, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, 2017

David Abel, Suit faults Massachusetts record in cutting emissions, Boston Globe, January 3, 2016

International energy outlook, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016

Renewable portfolio standards, U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015

Matthew L. Wald, Power plants try burning wood with coal to cut carbon emissions, November 3, 2013

Craig Bolon, Surfing a vortex: energy and climate, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2017

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Greenhouse gases: passing the buck, Brookline Beacon, January 11, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Renewable energy: New England experience, Brookline Beacon, August 15, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Power-plant toxics: no longer a political trinket

By appointing Scott Pruitt, former Oklahoma attorney general, as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the cockroach President signaled another warp in the long struggle against emissions from U.S. power-plants. During his former service, Pruitt garnered large political contributions from managers in poultry industries, who wanted to scuttle rules for waste disposal at chicken farms. Pandering to their causes against public interests, Pruitt became Chief Chicken Shit of the Southwest.

If the cockroach were to fall to a heart attack tomorrow, the environment could become even more threatened. Vice President Pence was a promoter of Pruitt. Writing in the Huffington Post, John Halstead described Pence as an environmental racist. While Indiana governor, Pence responded quickly to lead found in the water supply for Greentown, a community that is 97 percent white. He ignored problems in East Chicago, where a majority-black neighborhood suffers from the worst soil concentration of lead ever reported in the U.S.

Industrial waste: At an auto-industry event on March 15, 2017, the cockroach promised, “My administration will work tirelessly to eliminate…industry-killing regulations.” The context was fuel efficiency. The cockroach promoted lower efficiency: that is, more fuel waste, more emissions and a retreat from U.S. energy independence. Some applause came from locals but not from the Detroit Free Press, whose business reporter said the push would undermine “innovation we need to see more of in the Michigan economy.”

On March 28, the cockroach President staged a fantasy act with coal miners in the Oval Office, signing Executive Order 19, an unhinged and antisocial maneuver. It directs that federal “agencies immediately review…regulations that potentially burden…use of domestically produced energy…[where] ‘burden’ means significant costs [for]…utilization…of energy resources.” Climate issues got nearly all the media attention then, but regulations on toxic power-plant emissions also loomed as likely targets.

Pruitt was Oklahoma’s supervising counsel for White Stallion Energy v. EPA, the DC Appeals Court case on toxic power-plant emissions that led to Michigan v. EPA, decided in 2015 by the Supreme Court. That proved to be the last attack on the public interest from clever, antisocial former Justice Scalia, who had managed to bend the ear of Justice Kennedy. Against precedent, Scalia’s opinion said the EPA had to consider costs when regulating toxic power-plant emissions.

According to Coral Davenport, writing in the New York Times, “Pruitt, [then] attorney general of Oklahoma…sued the EPA at least 14 times [in only six years], often in concert with the nation’s largest fossil-fuel companies, to block major environmental regulations.” Fortunately for the environment, he was rarely as successful as he was in Michigan v. EPA, and fortunately that case will have little direct impact.

Contrasts: Residents of the Boston area for more than 50 years will likely remember days when smoke darkened the sky. Before the 1960s there were few air quality rules. Power-plants, factories, offices and homes belched smoke from coal, oil and wastes. “Efficient” cars meant ones getting more than about 12 miles to the gallon. Cities, towns, institutions and businesses burned trash in open incinerators.

Smoke-blackened Washington Street, Boston, 1915

SmokeBlackenedWashingtonStreet1915
Source: Boston Public Library Archives

In November, 2013, a survey of large U.S. cities found that “Boston tops the list as the city with the cleanest air and boasts the lowest Air Quality Index score possible. Boston’s accessible public transportation system…the Air Pollution Control Commission…[and] annual precipitation…are good indicators that Bostonians are breathing easy.” Quite a change from the grimy Boston environment between about 50 and 150 years earlier.

Progress and mischief: Before 1970, most efforts to reduce air pollution were state initiatives. The federal 1970 Clean Air Act amendments [Public Law 88-206] became a watershed, aiming at uniform requirements that states would refine and enforce rather than initiate. The 1970 law authorized national “air quality” standards and regional “performance” standards for pollution emitters.

Coal has long been the most harmful fuel. In recent years, activists became concerned that it produces the most carbon dioxide. However, there are longstanding concerns over emissions of sulfur dioxide, mercury, arsenic and particles of toxic metals from burning coal. The U.S. EPA moved extremely slowly to regulate sulfur dioxide, finally spurred by 1990 Clear Air Act amendments [Public Law 91-604] requiring actions to combat acid rain. Until the Obama era, the agency failed to restrict other toxic components of coal smoke.

The Walker Bush administration tried to gut regulation of power-plant emissions through its proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and Delisting Rule. The music stopped when the DC Appeals Court denounced those two shabby attempts in its decision for New Jersey v. EPA. [517 F.3d 574, 2008] A dramatic sequence of seven federal court rulings overturned much of the environmental mischief oozing from the Walker Bush administration.

*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2005) vacated the New Source Review Rule.
*** New York v. Environmental Protection Agency (2006) vacated the Equipment Replacement Provision Rule.
*** Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency (2007) vacated the refusal to regulate carbon dioxide.
*** Environmental Defense, v. Duke Energy (2007) affirmed the Prevention of Significant Deterioration Rule.
*** New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule.
*** North Carolina v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule.
*** Sierra Club v. Environmental Protection Agency (2008) vacated 2006 Clean Air Act emission limits.

Obama-era progress: The Obama administrations issued two major air-quality regulations: the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) in 2011 and the Clean Power Plan in 2015. When reporting about lawsuits attacking them, news media sometimes failed to distinguish the two regulations clearly. MATS is directed toward the toxic pollutants that have been longstanding concerns of the U.S. EPA. The Clean Power Plan is a climate initiative, intended to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions.

The cockroach President was able to suspend the Clean Power Plan, but the great majority of fossil-fueled power is now produced by plants that comply with MATS. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that as of April, 2016, nearly all coal-fired plants had installed equipment. According to Paul Ciampoli, writing in Power Plant Daily, plants representing about 2 GW out of about 276 GW total–less than a percent of industry capacity–were still operating on MATS waivers. The cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

Good news for the U.S. is that economics blocked obscene politics. When power-plant emissions are filtered enough to bring down ordinary chemical pollution, costs of coal-fired power rise too high for new plants and are shuttering many old ones. Brayton Point in Somerset, MA–once among the filthiest in New England–was outfitted with pollution controls. Recently it has operated less than a quarter of the time, and it is scheduled to close permanently in May, 2017–no longer competitive.

Power from natural gas-fired plants, not government policy, has been the main agent evicting coal-fired power. In plains areas of the Middle West and in giant river valleys of the Pacific Northwest, wind turbines also provide advantages along with very low emissions. There, where winds tend to be stronger and steadier than in other places and where installation costs tend to be lower, one major form of renewable energy no longer needs new subsidies to prosper. Again, the cockroach mashed by feet on the ground.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2017


Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, Court freezes Clean Power Plan lawsuit, signaling likely end to Obama’s signature climate policy, Washington Post, April 28, 2017

Sonal Patel, Trump’s EPA signals changes for power-plant mercury rule, Power Magazine, April 20, 2017

Jonathan Mattise, Associated Press, Federal utility CEO: coal plants not reopening under Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Michael Biesecker and Sam Hananel, Associated Press, EPA seeks to derail cleanup of coal power-plant pollution, WTOP (Washington, DC), April 18, 2017

Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren, With Trump appointees, a raft of potential conflicts and no transparency, New York Times, April 15, 2017

Coral Davenport, Coal is on the way out at electric utilities, no matter what Trump says, New York Times, April 5, 2017

Emily Hammond, President Trump’s executive order on “energy independence,” Vox Media (Washington, DC), March 29, 2017

On promoting energy independence and economic growth, Executive order 19, White House, March 28, 2017

Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump takes aim at Obama’s efforts to curb global warming, Boston Globe, March 27, 2017

Jill Colvin, Associated Press, Trump announces challenge to Obama-era fuel standards, Boston Globe, March 15, 2017

John Gallagher, Why Trump’s rollback of tailpipe emissions rules is a bad idea, Detroit Free Press, March 15, 2017

John Flesher, Matthew Daly and Catherine Lucey, Associated Press, Climate and other programs get deep cuts in EPA budget proposal, WTOP (Washington, DC), March 3, 2017

Coral Davenport, EPA workers try to block Pruitt in show of defiance, New York Times, February 16, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner, Scott Pruitt, EPA designee, expresses doubts on climate, defends oil industry funding, Reuters (UK), January 18, 2017

Alex Formuzis, EPA pick Pruitt stymied cleanup of scenic river fouled by factory chicken-farm waste, Environmental Working Group (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

John Halstead, Mike Pence’s environmental racism, Huffington Post (Washington, DC), January 14, 2017

Eric Lipton and Coral Davenport, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA pick, backed industry donors over regulators, New York Times, January 14, 2017

Inside the Clean Air Act, US Legal (Jackson, MS), 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 19, 2016

Ryan H. Wiser and Mark Bolinger, Wind technologies market report, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, August, 2016

EIA electricity generator data show power industry response to EPA mercury limits, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July 7, 2016

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Consideration of cost in the “appropriate and necessary” finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, 81 FR 24420-24452, April 25, 2016

Keith Goldberg, High court won’t halt EPA mercury rule, Law360 (New York, NY), March 3, 2016

Laura Barron-Lopez, Supreme Court stays Obama’s carbon emissions plan, Huffington Post, February 9, 2016

Elena Craft, Graham McCahan and Mandy Warner, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Environmental Defense Fund (New York, NY), 2016

Rachel Cleetus, Steve Clemmer, Jeff Deyette, Brenda Ekwurzel, Julie McNamara, Jeremy Richardson and John Rogers, The Clean Power Plan: a climate game-changer, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2016

Michael B. Gerrard, Supreme Court ruling on mercury shows little deference to EPA, New York Law Journal 254(49), September 10, 2015

Michigan v. EPA, case no. 2014-46, U.S. Supreme Court, 576 U.S. (2015) June 29, 2015

Samuel Worth, Why EPA should have prohibited cost considerations in White Stallion, Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 42(2):593-606, April 10, 2015

White Stallion Energy v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2012-1100, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 748 F.3d 1222, April 15, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Owner reaffirms 2017 closing of Brayton Point plant, Boston Globe, January 27, 2014

Tracey Jones, Ten cities with the best air quality, CreditDonkey (Pasadena, CA), 2013

Nicholas Morales, New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, Harvard Environmental Law Review 33(1):263-282, 2009

New Jersey v. Environmental Protection Agency, case no. 2005-1097, U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, 517 F.3d 574, February 8, 2008

George A. Gonzales, The Politics of Air Pollution, State University of New York Press, 2005

James J. MacKenzie. Boston’s sufferance of sulfur dioxide, Science 172(3985):792-793, 1971

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, Coal-fired and oil-fired electricity in New England, Energy and Environment, October 17, 2013

Craig Bolon, Tangle of air pollution regulations affecting energy, Energy and Environment, 2008

Protecting park lands: issues and conflicts

Proposals to use town-owned land in south Brookline for a new elementary school, near the intersection of Heath and Hammond Streets, have led to protests from neighbors and from Precinct 15 town meeting members. Between 1941 and 1960, the land hosted a private school: the Rivers School. Brookline bought parcels of land there for recreation and school uses in stages between 1871 and 1960–the last acquired when the Rivers School moved to Weston in 1960.

Brookline renamed the former Rivers School the Baldwin School and named adjacent land the Soule Playground. Baldwin and Soule have a total of 12.3 acres, larger than the site of any current Brookline elementary school. Baldwin space has been used for Brookline classrooms, most recently during Heath School renovation from 2011 to 2013. Buildings on the Soule portion have become the Soule Recreation Center, currently hosting early childhood education operated by the Recreation Department.

Park land controversy: Some Precinct 15 town meeting members have been trying to claim that Baldwin land, Soule land or both cannot be used for a new elementary school because they are restricted as park land under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution. Such claims are false; they run counter to standards well established in Massachusetts law.

In the current Assessor’s Atlas and Property Database, Baldwin land is shown as Block 432, Lots 20-24, property classification code 934. Soule land is shown as Block 432, Lot 08-00, property classification code 931. The classification codes mean town-owned land improved with buildings that is used for municipal or for school purposes.

The classification codes shown in the assessor’s data correctly reflect the purposes for which Brookline acquired the land and for which the land is actually used. Open space that might be eligible for Article 97 protections as park or conservation land would instead have classification code 930, 932 or 936.

Article 97: For many years, Brookline’s government officials seemed to assume that any town-owned land considered to be a park or a conservation reserve was protected against diversion to other uses under Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution–adopted by voters in 1972. The “Article 97″ markers in Brookline’s online Web pages currently reflect such assumptions and are often unreliable. For example, according to its terms of acquisition, Dane Park is currently eligible for school uses.

Although Article 97 describes rigorous steps needed to remove protections, it does not specify how land enters into those protections. Brookline officials got a surprise when they encountered the issues while preparing for the November 17, 2015, town meeting. Article 6 for that town meeting proposed to extend Article 97 protections to most of Larz Anderson Park.

Once Advisory Committee members understood that much of Larz Anderson Park might not be protected and could be used for a school site, they became skeptical. By more than two to one, they opposed the town meeting article. It had been filed to support an application for state park-improvement funds. Just before the town meeting was to begin, the state turned down Brookline’s application, and the matter never came to a vote.

As other Massachusetts jurisdictions wrestled with Article 97 issues, lawsuits arose, with some going all the way to the Supreme Judicial Court. The decisions set standards for situations in which Article 97 is vague. There are two particularly notable cases: Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, decided in 2005, and Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, decided in 2013.

The two cases cited indicate basic steps needed for town-owned open space, in order to guarantee Article 97 protections. It must be designated as park or conservation land by an act of the town. Usually that means a town meeting vote, although a town meeting might delegate authority–for example, in a land taking. The land status must be recorded in a deed, typically as some form of deed restriction. Under Massachusetts standards, playgrounds are recreation uses, not open space. School uses and recreation uses do not qualify for Article 97 protections.

Social justice: In contrast to the current status of Baldwin and Soule land, Brookline has several town-owned parcels whose status is unclear and may need to be investigated and asserted. As those parcels are reviewed, the run-up to the November 17, 2015, town meeting has shown that local policies will need attention. Conflicts can arise. What may seem to some like environmental or neighborhood concerns can look antisocial and greedy to others who have different priorities, such as recreation or public schools.

Consider, for example, possible new protections for some of the Baldwin and Soule land in Precinct 15. The distribution of Brookline’s public open space is grossly unequal. Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total for the whole town. In the urban areas near Coolidge Corner and Washington Square, Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can easily spare enough for a handsome school site.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 25, 2017


Property Database, Town of Brookline, MA, 2017

Soule Early Childhood Center, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2017

Property type classification codes, Massachusetts Department of Revenue, 2016

Joslin Murphy, Brookline Town Counsel, Potential ninth school sites, 2016

John M. Collins (Collins & Associates, Shrewsbury, MA), Applicability of Article 97′s legislative approval requirement to proposed solar array, Oak Bluffs Water District, Oak Bluffs (Martha’s Vineyard), MA, 2016

Baldwin and Soule land, Assessor’s Atlas, page 125, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Mission and history, Rivers School (Weston, MA), 2015

Curley v. Town of Billerica, Massachusetts Land Court, case no. 2012 Misc. 459001, 2013, see Tab F

Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Precinct map, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Dane Park, Public facilities descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA, 2010

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Transfer of land procedure, Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 40, Section 15A (enacted 1951)

Craig Bolon, Town meeting: parks and schools, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

Surfing a vortex: energy and climate

Among the few benefits a Trump administration might have brought was review of energy policies. Only three months after the 2016 elections, however, hostile actions and childish tantrums had cashiered the chance. After that opening, any proposals would be greeted as tainted goods and attacked in federal lawsuits.

Stephen Bannon–latter-day Rasputin–had coaxed his proxy, Donald Trump, to rail against climate change as a “hoax.” Props for the accusation came from clannish behavior of scientists starting in the 1990s, trying to manage access to historical data they had carefully combed. Those tactics produced a so-called “Climategate” incident and risked both scientific and political mischief.

Limits of knowledge: Climate change and measures proposed to cope with it remain clouded by knowledge issues. Some key factors are intrinsic to the physics of weather. Working at MIT in 1963, the late Edward N. Lorenz, a meteorologist, found, while trying to compute results from apparently straightforward equations representing circulation in the atmosphere, that they would not provide stable solutions. Instead, results would diverge by greatly varying amounts.

Comparable behaviors are well known for turbulent fluid flow, and they had been suspected as early as the 1880s for orbits of moons and planets. Lorentz found development of weather patterns similarly lacked predictability. Small eddies could grow into large disturbances. Such effects greatly complicate analysis of climate, which indicates long-term weather.

Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius first estimated the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the Earth surface temperature in 1896. He predicted that a doubling of concentration would lead to a temperature rise of around four degrees Celsius (deg. C). As late as the 1970s, a way to increase the Earth temperature was sometimes welcomed for help in staving off “global cooling” and perhaps another ice age.

Early predictions did not consider time dynamics or the many interacting influences–including changes in plant growth, solar output and Earth orbit, clouds, dust, aerosols, surface variations, water-vapor cycles, human activities, methane and other gases. “Greenhouse factors” relating gas concentrations to temperatures remain uncertain to a fair degree. While few laboratory scientists doubt that there are linkages, measuring the factors became a great challenge–complicated by intrinsic unpredictability of weather, by dynamics of exchanges between the atmosphere, oceans and Earth surfaces and by issues of reliable measurements.

Historical data before the last few decades proved erratic. A 1956 survey of carbon dioxide measurements from the atmosphere found values published during the 1820s through the 1950s ranging from about 200 to 550 parts per million (ppm) by volume. Its authors proposed to “select” some lower values as representative, but they lacked an approach validated through primary evidence.

Improving knowledge: The late Charles D. Keeling, while a geochemistry fellow at Caltech in 1956, began the first systematic survey of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He calibrated newly developed infrared absorption spectroscopy against a primary standard from gas manometry, providing much more reliable measurements than previously available. He soon found regular daily and seasonal variations.

Keeling series, carbon dioxide in ppm, monthly

KeelingSeries1958Thru2016
Source: Scripps and U.S. Department of Energy

The Keeling series, measured since 1958 at Mauna Loa, shows atmospheric carbon dioxide already at a steep rate of increase when it began and therefore at an elevated level–a 1958 average of about 313 ppm. During 2016, the average high-altitude concentration in the northern hemisphere rose above 400 ppm. The residual level from the 1600s, after Columbus and before intensive coal mining, was around 280 ppm.

Measuring solar output and global average Earth temperature is more difficult than measuring atmospheric gas concentrations. Direct temperature sampling is concentrated within industrialized countries. Every populated location has sources of bias. Solar measurements from the Earth are skewed by effects from the atmosphere. More progress was achieved after the deployment of polar-orbit weather satellites by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, starting with Nimbus-7 in late 1978.

GISS series, Earth temperature

GissSeries1979Thru2016
Source: NASA Goddard Institute of Space Science

Satellites do not measure Earth surface temperatures directly. They measure infrared emissions from the sun and from the atmosphere. There is no signal to separate low-altitude from high-altitude emissions, so that numerical interpretations are needed to estimate surface temperatures. Those are among many adjustments applied to satellite data. The adjustments have often changed as measurement issues have been discovered.

The two series shown indicate strong association between carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and Earth surface temperature, as estimated from satellite data. For 1979 through 2014, carbon dioxide increased from about 313 to 398 ppm, a base-2 logarithm of 0.35, while estimated Earth surface temperature rose from about 14.2 to 14.7 deg. C, an increase of 0.5 deg. C. Those amounts lead to a “greenhouse factor” of about 1.4 deg. C for a doubled carbon dioxide concentration–when about 4 deg. C was predicted by Arrhenius.

Controversies: Substantial controversies remain over “greenhouse effect” measurements and their interpretations. The relatively short time spans of reliable measurements–around 35 years–may not be enough to allow mixing between the atmosphere and the oceans. That should produce positive feedback, when warmer temperatures cause carbon dioxide to be released. However, warming effects from greenhouse gases also tend to be offset by cooling effects from human-generated aerosols.

The main source of information about atmospheric changes over much longer time spans has come from analysis of ice cores, starting in the 1970s. The longest cores extracted so far trapped air over around a million years of snowfalls. The 1985 Vostok core from Antarctica was the first to span a glacial cycle, providing a look at transitions between low and high temperatures and gas concentrations over geologic times. That inspired mathematical modeling efforts, trying to reconcile factors contributing to observations.

Over longer times–from dozens of years to a few hundred years–data from ice cores suggest that the carbon-dioxide increase already incurred from human activity, since the 1600s, can produce temperature increases two or more times more those already measured. The Keeling series shows that about half the total increase in carbon dioxide has happened since 1980. Research continues at an active pace, still dotted with controversies.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 12, 2017


David Cohen, Albright on Trump: Bannon pulling the strings, Politico, February 5, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide data, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and U.S. Department of Energy, January, 2017

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, monthly, Scripps Institution, January, 2017

Surface temperature analysis, Goddard Institute for Space Science, U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, January, 2017

Land-ocean temperature index, monthly, Goddard Institute, January, 2017

Spencer R. Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, American Institute of Physics, January, 2017

Edward Wong, Trump calls climate change a Chinese hoax, New York Times, November 18, 2016

Robert Monroe, The Keeling curve: carbon dioxide measurements at Mauna Loa, American Chemical Society, 2015

Adilson E. Motter and David K. Campbell, Chaos at fifty, Physics Today 66(5):27-33, 2013

Andrew Freedman, Satellite climate data at 33 years, Washington Post, December 20, 2011

R.J. Nevle, D.K. Bird, W.F. Ruddiman and R.A. Dull, Neotropical human–landscape interactions, fire and atmospheric CO2 during European conquest, The Holocene 21(5):853-864, 2011

Patrik Jonsson, Climate scientists exonerated in Climategate but public trust damaged, Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 2010

Christopher Booker, Climate change: worst scientific scandal of our generation, London Telegraph, November 28, 2009

Kenneth Chang, Edward N. Lorenz, meteorologist and a father of chaos theory, dies at 90, New York Times, April 17, 2008

C. Lorius, J. Jouzel, D. Raynaud, J. Hansen and H. Le Treut, The ice-core record: climate sensitivity and future greenhouse warming, Nature 347(6289):139-145, 1999

J.M. Barnola, D. Raynaud, Y.S. Korotkevich and C. Lorius, Vostok ice core provides 160,000-year record of atmospheric CO2, Nature 329(6138):408-414, 1987

Walter Sullivan, International team of specialists finds no end in sight to 30-year cooling trend in northern hemisphere, New York Times, January 6, 1978

Stig Fronselius, Folke Koroleff and Karl-Eric Wärme, Carbon dioxide variations in the atmosphere, Tellus A 8(2):176-183, 1956

Svante Arrhenius, On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground, Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (Fifth Series) 4(251):237-276, 1896

After a disaster: confining Chernobyl

In the spring of 1986, toward the end of the Soviet empire, disaster erupted at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, located along a river bank a few miles from the southern border of the Soviet Republic of Byelorussia (now the Republic of Belarus). Soviet managers had continued to build potentially unstable graphite-moderated RBMK reactors, long after the U.S. and other advanced countries abandoned the technologies. Compounding their mismanagement, Soviet agencies approved building large power reactors without secure, heavy enclosures.

The positive void-coefficient of the RBMK design is prone to runaway power surges, and the graphite components readily burn in air. The main advantage of the technologies, which mattered for early programs to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, had been that they could operate with natural, unenriched uranium.

The Chernobyl disaster resulted from rogue testing of an accident-recovery procedure, aiming to measure responses to system failures. Plans for testing, using Unit 4 at the Chernobyl plant, had been proposed by plant engineers but never submitted to Soviet regulators. Because the plans called for deliberately disabling safety systems, regulators would probably have intervened had they known.

Disaster strikes: The testing was performed during the midnight shift early on April 26, 1986, by young, inexperienced reactor operators, after most plant engineers went home. Erratic maneuvers by the operators put the reactor into a highly unstable condition.

An enormous power spike overwhelmed the partly disabled safety systems, causing the reactor’s water coolant to flash into steam and explode. The two-million-pound cover of the steel reactor vessel blew into the lightly built roof of the reactor building, shattering walls and exposing fuel rods and graphite components to the atmosphere.

Chernobyl Unit 4 shattered, May, 1986

chernobylunit4remains1986may
Source: Ministry of Nuclear Energy, USSR

That led to a swift temperature surge. Reactor core materials caught fire, burning out-of-control for hours. Multiple explosions occurred, fed by steam and hydrogen. After burial in millions of pounds of sand and chemicals dropped from helicopters over a few days, remains of the reactor core smoldered for about a month.

Two technicians directly exposed to the initial explosion died at the scene of the disaster. Aleksandr Akimov and Anatoly Baranov, a senior operator and senior engineer on duty at the time, died several days later from radiation exposure. Thousands of rescue workers and salvage workers called “liquidators” who were exposed to intense radiation suffered, and many died from radiation effects over the following years, although few were tracked. More than 300,000 residents of the area were relocated.

Soviet officials tried to ignore the severity of the incident, finally outlining a disaster almost two days after the initial explosion. They and some of their successors after the end of the Soviet empire have never acknowledged the heavy burden of delayed sickness and death. Outside the Soviet empire, concealment failed. Less than 24 hours after the initial explosion, nuclear researchers working in Denmark described a reactor meltdown. A day later, U.S. satellite photos showed massive destruction at the site.

Winds quickly carried fumes and particles into eastern Europe, Scandinavia and then western Europe. Strong, airborne radioactivity appeared within a week in Albania, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Within a month, radioactivity from the disaster had been detected worldwide. Testing and mitigation efforts are likely to continue in Europe for generations.

Covering up a disaster scene: In a half year after the disaster, Soviet workers buried the Chernobyl disaster site in a makeshift of steel beams, concrete and metal panels. The unstable, so-called “sarcophagus,” loosely assembled from about four million pounds of materials, was not expected to last more than 30 years.

Following over 15 years of negotiation, planning, design and construction, this fall a large, so-called New Safe Confinement structure, costing about $1.5 billion, has been mounted over the Chernobyl “sarcophagus” assembled in 1986. After the disintegration of the Soviet empire, there was no coherent government left to salvage Chernobyl. Most of the burdens of the confinement project are borne by countries of the European Union, who remain at high risk from further site degradation and spread of radioactivity.

Despite its name, there is nothing entirely “safe” about the newly installed confinement. Experience at the Fukushima nuclear-disaster site in Japan shows that the intense levels of radioactivity inside it can degrade electrical mechanisms and robotic systems the confinement houses and polymers used to protect structural steel against rust. The confinement structure is rated to withstand an F1 tornado, but a stronger one could warp and might collapse it.

The mechanisms and robotics were intended to allow recovery and permanent disposal of the Chernobyl Unit 4 ruins. However, so far no detailed plans have been published for such a project, which would probably take decades, and no funds are available to carry it out. There is no known safe repository for the debris, some of which will remain strongly radioactive for at least hundreds of years and hazardous to health for up to a million years.

A substantial fraction of the reactor’s final inventory of radioactivity remains in soils and water bodies of the surrounding Chernobyl “exclusion zone”–about 1,000 square miles. No substantial remediation has been performed; none is currently planned. Trees and other plants have been allowed to grow unmanaged, absorbing radioactivity from soils. A wildfire could spread another Chernobyl radiation disaster throughout Europe.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 30, 2016


John Wendle, Chernobyl’s radioactive ruins get a new tomb, National Geographic, 2016

New Safe Confinement, Chernobyl Shelter Fund, European Bank, 2016 (technical description, 2 MB)

Chernobyl accident 1986, World Nuclear Association, 2016 (brief summary)

A. Artmann, G. Pretzsch and V. Krasnov, Radioecological problems in connection with the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement (Gesellschaft für Anlagen- und Reaktorsicherheit, Germany), Eurosafe Forum, 2016

Madhi Rageb, Chernobyl accident, University of Illinois (Urbana), 2015

Inside the sargophagus, Chernobyl Gallery (UK), 2015 (recent photos)

Gerd Ludwig, The long shadow of Chernobyl, Gerd Ludwig Photography (Los Angeles, CA), 2014

Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2013 (brief summary)

Dirk Bannink and Henk van der Keur, Chronology of the Chernobyl disaster, Nuclear Information & Resource Service (Netherlands), 2011

W. Robert Johnston, Chernobyl reactor accident 1986, L-3 Comunications Systems, 2006

Alexey Yablokov, et al., The Chernobyl catastrophe: consequences for human health, Greenpeace (Netherlands), 2006

Bill Keller, Chernobyl plant being mismanaged Pravda charges, New York Times, April 25, 1988

Report on the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, NUREG-1250, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1987 (poor quality reproduction)

Robert Gillette, Evidence mounts of high-level Soviet lapse in Chernobyl alert, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 1986

Soviets admit nuclear accident, British Broadcasting Corporation (UK), April 28, 1986

Serge Schemann, Soviet announces nuclear accident at electric plant, New York Times, April 26, 1986

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Hillary Clinton for President

Despite reservations, we support Hillary Clinton. Like former Senator and current Secretary Kerry, former Senator and Secretary Clinton might lean toward aggression as a Cabinet officer. As President, she will own the outcomes. Like President Obama, she is much more likely to resist rather than promote foreign adventures.

With a second President Clinton, we can expect to sustain progressive programs from the last two Democratic administrations. We can expect strong opposition to scams left from the last Republican one, such as its attempts to sell out national assets and shutter pollution regulation.

There is a major lapse in judgment waiting to be corrected: a quagmire left from launching the Affordable Care programs without any Republican support and without sound financial plans. Few national figures have more experience with the topic than Hillary Clinton.

The two candidates from small parties offer nothing comparable. When at his best, the Republican candidate is a sick joke. His hero is Richard Nixon, the only President to resign the office and the historical promoter of racism that now pervades the Republican Party.

Hillary Clinton is well qualified to serve as President. She deserves our support.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 8, 2016


Editorial, Hillary Clinton for President, Boston Globe, October 8, 2016

Richard Cohen, Why do Republicans suddenly find Trump repugnant? He looks like a loser, Washington Post, October 8, 2016

Patrick Healy and Alan Rappeport, Tape reveals Donald Trump bragging about groping women, New York Times, October 7, 2016

Editorial, Hillary Clinton for President, New York Times, September 25, 2016

Craig Bolon, Chump disease: political virus, Brookline Beacon, October 2, 2016

How soon will Zika disease spread to New England?

Zika disease, at epidemic levels in Brazil for more than a year, has come to Miami, FL. Although often described as a “tropical disease,” it has escaped the tropics, and people are keeping a greater distance. This month, the Miami Herald quoted the operator of a Florida travel business, saying, “I had to cancel eight out of my 12 weekly summer season tours.” In recent days, several locally transmitted Zika cases were reported in Miami Beach, and the danger zone was expanded from 1-1/2 square miles to most of the community.

Origin of the threat: Zika is not a new threat. It was first found almost 70 years ago as a disease of rhesus monkeys in the Ziika Forest–for which the disease was named–located near Lake Victoria in Uganda. The cause is a flavivirus (“yellow virus”). That virus family and genus includes the agents of yellow fever, dengue fever, chikungunya and West Nile fever. The diseases have mostly been transmitted by aggressive species of mosquitos common in the tropics. Some of the diseases have migrated to temperate regions, and some infect wild and domesticated animals–including goats, sheep and mice–as well as humans.

The flaviviruses are single-strand RNA viruses, like the virus that causes AIDS. Lacking stabilizing effects of DNA-based genetics, they mutate relatively often, sometimes producing new, persistent strains. Research shows that happened in recent years with Zika. The original strain found in Africa caused mostly mild, brief illness in humans. The common symptoms were low fever, sometimes with skin rash or joint pain, that lasted up to a week.

The disease spread from Africa into south and southeast Asia. A 2007 outbreak on Yap and nearby islands of Micronesia drew attention because it seemed very widespread, even though it caused no deaths or long-term health problems. A survey using immunology tests suggested that about three-quarters of the population had been infected. Those tests encounter cross-reactions among the flaviviruses. A previous infection by dengue or chikungunya may produce a positive result. Since dengue is often present where Zika strikes, estimates of infections using immunology tests can be clouded by errors.

Growth of the threat: Starting in 2013, another flavivirus epidemic occurred in Tahiti and nearby islands of French Polynesia. This time health centers had genetics tests available when live virus could be sampled. They distinguish more clearly among viruses, and Zika was soon identified as a main cause of the epidemic. However, the virus had mutated, producing new strains. Some victims had more severe symptoms than previously reported for Zika disease. A small fraction of the victims developed long-term problems including profound muscle weakness, known as Guillain-Barré syndrome.

After the epidemic in French Polynesia, unusual problems began to be found in newborns: smaller heads than normal, called microcephaly. While such symptoms occur without Zika, they occurred more often in births from pregnancies during the epidemic. Other severe problems began to be found, including defects in the brain, eyes and spinal cord. Immunology tests associated a high proportion of newborn victims with Zika exposure.

During 2014, newer strains of Zika spread eastward, appearing in other Pacific islands and then in South America. During 2015, the disease spread through most of Brazil, then appeared in neighboring countries and Central America, including the Caribbean. Windblown mosquitos helped spread the disease, but epidemiologists also attribute the spread to infected people traveling to places where aggressive species of mosquitos are common. Cabo Verde, near the west coast of Africa, recently reported cases involving newer strains of Zika.

As of 2012, only five strains of Zika had been reported. By early spring, 2016, about 60 Zika strains had been identified by gene sequencing. Comparisons found two main groups: one common in Africa, the other common in south and southeast Asia. Strains responsible for the 2013 outbreak in French Polynesia and the recent outbreaks in South and Central America had developed from previous Asian strains. As with older strains, many people apparently infected by newer strains did not seek care for relatively mild symptoms, while the virus was infecting cells and multiplying.

During the past year, publications surged. By mid-September, 2016, gene sequences for almost 100 strains had been reported. Compared with other diseases, however, research on Zika immunology and therapeutics remains poorly developed. According to a recent review of the science, researchers “currently lack major basic tools for [Zika vaccine] development, including reliable animal models, reference reagents and assays.” In Congress, for months Republicans driven by reactionary agendas failed to act on President Obama’s request of February, 2016, seeking $1.9 billion in emergency funds for applied research on Zika.

Dangers and precautions: Soon after an infection has taken hold, Zika has been found in many body tissues and fluids. It may persist for months after symptoms of an infection–if there were any–have gone away. Laboratory measurements found that newer Zika strains are highly infectious; just a few copies of the virus may be needed to transmit the disease. Although apparently not contagious, the disease is transmitted by intimate contact, including sex. Since current genetics tests cannot insure that levels of Zika virus are below an infectious threshold, major health organizations have been recommending long delays between potential Zika exposure and pregnancy.

It is not yet known whether antibodies produced during infection by one Zika strain can prevent infection by other strains. A pattern from the closely related dengue virus is troubling. A previous infection involving one class of dengue virus does not prevent infection by strains belonging to another class and may worsen health hazards. Early indications, still controversial, suggest Zika infections might behave similarly.

There is no approved vaccine against Zika. One candidate vaccine recently began the first of three stages in clinical trials: testing for safety. The first vaccine approved against dengue began marketing just this year, after over 80 years of experiments, and already it has been clouded with safety issues–potentially worsening health hazards, including those from Zika.

Spreading disease: Mosquitos, notably those in the Aedes genus, have been the main vectors for Zika and other flaviviruses. The Aedes aegypti species is adapted to humans and their habitats. Other Aedes species are also frequent carriers, helping to infect wild and domesticated animals as well as humans. Although often called “tropical,” Aedes mosquitos live throughout the southern half of the United States. They are also key vectors for yellow fever virus, which became a scourge of East Coast and Mississippi River cities during the late 1600s through the late 1800s. New England is already visited by dengue fever, the flavivirus most closely related to Zika.

New England dengue fever cases

denguefevercasesnewengland2009
Source: Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

The Aedes aegypti mosquito range extends into New England, including at least the western seacoasts of Connecticut. However, laboratory experiments show that mosquitos in the Culex genus can also carry Zika. They are common back-yard and house mosquitos throughout New England, with ranges extending well into Canada. During the last few decades, they have become vectors in the region for West Nile virus, and they may be vectors for dengue virus. Although the region is not likely to see Zika epidemics as widespread as those in the tropics, New England remains under threat.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 20, 2016


Roni Caryn Rabin, Zika test not easy to obtain, New York Times, September 20, 2016

Brendan O’Brien, Florida expands Zika zone in Miami Beach after five new cases, Reuters (UK), September 17, 2016

Lizette Alvarez, Pregnant women anxious as Florida’s Zika test results take weeks, New York Times, September 13, 2016

Chabeli Herrera, Nancy Dahlberg and Nicholas Nehamas, Zika takes bite out of Miami-Dade economy, Miami Herald, September 9, 2016

Maggie Fox, Zika funding fails again in Congress, NBC News, September 6, 2016

WHO expands Zika sexual transmission advice, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, September 6, 2016

Wanwisa Dejnirattisai, et al., Dengue virus sero-cross-reactivity drives antibody-dependent enhancement of infection with Zika virus, Nature Immunology 17(9):1102-1108, September, 2016

Raj K. Singh, et al., Zika virus: emergence, evolution, pathology, diagnosis and control, Veterinary Quarterly 36(3):150-175, September, 2016

Rafael A. Larocca, et al., Vaccine protection against Zika virus from Brazil, Nature 536(7617):474–478, August 25, 2016

Luisa Barzon, et al., Infection dynamics in a traveler with persistent shedding of Zika virus, Eurosurveillance 21(32) online, August 11, 2016

Paulo Prada, Brazilian scientists find Zika traces in Culex mosquitoes in wild, Reuters (UK), July 21, 2016

Jesse J. Waggoner, et al., Single-reaction multiplex reverse transcription PCR for detection of Zika, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Emerging Infectious Diseases 22(7):1295-1297, July, 2016

Didier Mussoa and Duane J. Gublerb, Zika virus, Clinical Microbiology Reviews 29(3):487-524, July, 2016

Contrary dengue vaccine response hints at possible problems with Zika, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota, July, 2016

Amanda B. Keener, Zika and dengue immunity: a complex relationship, The Scientist (Canada), June 28, 2016

Ingrid B. Rabe, et al., Guidance for interpretation of Zika virus antibody test results, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 3, 2016

Charlotte J. Haug, et al., The Zika challenge, New England Journal of Medicine 374(19):1801-1803, May 12, 2016

Van-Mai Cao-Lormeau, et al., Guillain-Barré syndrome outbreak associated with Zika virus infection in French Polynesia, Lancet 387(10027):1531-1548, April 9, 2016

Estimated U.S. ranges of Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 1, 2016

Lauren M. Paul, et al., Dengue virus antibodies enhance Zika virus infection, Florida Gulf Coast University (not yet published), April, 2016

New CDC laboratory test for Zika virus authorized for emergency use by FDA, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 26, 2016

Jason Beaubien, Zika in French Polynesia, (U.S.) National Public Radio, February 9, 2016

Jon Cohen, Zika’s long, strange trip into the limelight, Science (online edition), February 8, 2016

Andrew D. Haddow, et al., Genetic characterization of Zika virus strains, Neglected Tropical Diseases 6(2) online, Public Library of Science, February, 2012

Mark R. Duffy, et al., Zika virus outbreak on Yap island, New England Journal of Medicine 360(24):2536-2543, June 11, 2009

Kim Knowlton, Gina Solomon and Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, Mosquito-borne dengue fever, Natural Resources Defense Council, 2009

Andrea Ryan and Melissa Lee Smith, Major American epidemics of yellow fever 1793-1905, (U.S.) Public Broadcasting Service, 2006

Laura B. Goddard, et al., Vector competence of California mosquitos for West Nile virus, Emerging Infectious Diseases 8(12):1385-1391, December, 2002

China’s influence on nuclear power

Over the next several years, China is likely to influence “third generation” nuclear power more than any other country. That is partly because China already is and will likely continue to be the largest market. It is also because China has the most active efforts at nuclear design, manufacturing and construction.

China’s nuclear fleet: Before 1994, no nuclear power operated in China. China never built “first generation” nuclear-power plants or any power plants with “boiling water” reactors. During 2016, 34 “second generation” nuclear-power units are or will be in full, normal operations at 11 power plants in China. Organizations primarily responsible for construction have been China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) of Beijing–5 plants and 15 units–and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) of Shenzhen–6 plants and 19 units.

Nuclear-power units operating in China during 2016

Click Here for a table of China’s nuclear power-plant units in full operation during 2016: plant and province, unit number, rated net MW, equipment type and source, year and month in full operation, builder organization.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

CNNC worked with several types and sources of equipment designs. CGN concentrated on a single type, first sourced from France. After building four units, CGN localized the type to China, with increased output, as the CPR-1000 design. That became the major nuclear-power design in China, built by CNNC as well as by CGN and representing 19 of the 34 units operating in 2016. The first CPR-1000 unit at Ling Ao in Guangdong province took 6-1/2 years to build. More recent CPR-1000 units have been completed in a little over 4 years, with about 90 percent of the value sourced from China.

Responses to disaster: After the Japanese nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in March, 2011, the government of China briefly halted nuclear plant and unit authorizations and began a review of China’s nuclear-power programs. A so-called “white paper” from October, 2012–officially a statement of “energy policy”–provided the following:

“Since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in 2011, China has launched comprehensive safety inspections at all nuclear-power plants. The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China…China’s installed capacity of nuclear power is expected to reach 40 GW by 2015.” [Information Office of the State Council, China’s Energy Policy 2012, as released in English October 24, 2012, pp. 12-13 of 25]

The capacity goal was silently ignored. China’s net rated nuclear generation capacity at the start of 2015 totaled only 20 GW–half the claimed goal. No clear public statement came from China’s government reflecting the nuclear safety review. There was little chance of a candid assessment amid a command economy and regimes long arrogant toward the people of China. Because disclosing information outside official channels is harshly punished, China’s regulation of its nuclear industry is far less effective than even United States regulation in 1974, before dissolving the former Atomic Energy Commission and starting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Some changes began with retirement of Hu Jintao as general secretary in the fall of 2012 and succession of Xi Jinping. During the Hu regime, China promoted pell-mell industrial growth at the expense of infrastructure and environment. Energy production gorged on China’s coal and led to large coal imports. Motor vehicle traffic grew apace, combining exhaust fumes with coal smoke to produce intense storms of air pollution–sometimes worse than Pittsburgh in the 1940s but enormously larger.

Regime change: Near the start of the Xi regime, the Chinese government lifted the moratorium on nuclear authorizations and quickly moved to consolidate and spur activities of nuclear organizations. Owing to needs for large sources of capital, these are all effectively arms of government–regardless of charters. A modest growth in nuclear-power capacity became a surge. More than half the nuclear generation capacity at the end of 2016 will have begun normal operations within the latest three years.

Nuclear generation capacity in China by years

chinanuclearpower2003to2016
Source: International Atomic Energy Agency, 2016

A practical effect in China of the nuclear catastrophe in Japan was to accelerate “third generation” nuclear-power technology, in hopes it would deliver on claims of safety yet to be proven through operating experience. Plans for “second generation” units were cut back and new plans for “third generation” units pushed forward. China had already contracted to build four AP-1000 units at Sanmen and Haiyang, mostly designed at Westinghouse in the United States, and two EPR units at Taishan, mostly designed at Areva in France. China had licensed Rev. 15 of AP-1000 designs from Toshiba of Japan–omitting aircraft impact resistance and rejected for U.S. plants, which use Rev. 19 of AP-1000 designs. Chinese organizations apparently saw EPR technology as less promising and had not licensed it from Areva of France.

In a reversal of usual behaviors, typically more proactive CGN had taken responsibility for EPR technology, while CNNC took responsibility for AP-1000 technology. Nevertheless, CGN moved rapidly toward a Chinese localization of “third generation” nuclear-power technology using AP-1000 rather than EPR as a model. The overall approach appears to wrap protective AP-1000 “third generation” elements around CPR-1000 “second generation” designs–the latter adapted and promoted by CGN but also utilized by CNNC.

For a time, CNNC and CGN elaborated separate, competitive approaches to integrating AP-1000 “third generation” nuclear technologies into Chinese “second generation” designs. Both organizations had built locally sourced “second generation” nuclear units at multiple power plants. In early 2014, China’s government directed the two organizations to produce a single design. They soon began to refer to the object of the joint effort as the 华龙 Hualong (grand China dragon) design.

Disputes over still separate elements of plans were resolved by reviewers assembled by Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology Company, a 50-50 joint venture of CNNC and CGN begun in March, 2016. Bloomberg News reported in early August, 2016, that CNNC elements were chosen over those from CGN. The organization will seek overseas business. Its 1.09 GW nuclear-power design has been designated HPR-1000. Geographic regions were separated for CNNC versus CGN activity. CGN, now focused on Guangxi, Guangdong and parts of Fujian provinces, will pursue opportunities in Europe. CNNC will seek overseas business in South America.

CNNC asserts that the HPR-1000 “design concept and technologies…have been verified” by “natural science.” That sounds like an appeal to magic. By comparison with the United States and the European Union, regulatory review in China has been, at best, extremely hasty. News sourced from China shows foundations being built for the first HPR-1000 unit in May, 2015, before organizing joint management and more than a year before resolving design issues. In telling contrast, U.S. regulatory review for the AP-1000 design took from March, 2002–when the first complete design was submitted–through December, 2011. No construction occurred during that interval.

Developing technology: The HPR-1000 design is not a knockoff of the AP-1000 design, although it uses similar approaches and has nearly the same external ratings. Obvious differences include these five. (1) AP-1000 has a water reservoir for passive cooling on the roof of its containment building; HPR-1000 has a water reservoir inside its building. (2) AP-1000 has two “loops”–steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (3) AP-1000 has four coolant pumps moving reactor water through its steam generators; HPR-1000 has three. (4) AP-1000 has a core with 157 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 15.0 ft long; HPR-1000 has a core with 177 fuel assemblies, each 264 rods that are 12.7 ft long. (5) AP-1000 has a vessel with 13.3 ft diameter around the core; HPR-1000 has a vessel with 14.4 ft diameter around the core.

Nuclear “third generation” designs in China

Characteristic AP-1000 HPR-1000
rated net MWe 1110 1090
heat transfer 2-loop 3-loop
coolant pumps 4 3
fuel assemblies 157 177
rods per assembly 264 264
fuel rod length 15.0 ft 12.7 ft
vessel diameter 13.3 ft 14.4 ft
water reservoir on roof inside
passive survival 72 hr 72 hr
ground acceleration 0.3 g 0.3 g
seamless vessel on core yes yes
bottom cap solid solid
double containment yes yes
load following yes yes
refueling cycle 18 mo 18 mo
design life 60 yr 60 yr

Source: China National Nuclear Corporation, 2016

The HPR-1000 design leverages China’s infrastructure built around the CPR-1000 design, by far its most widely applied nuclear-power technologies. Chinese type AFA3G fuel assemblies have become its high-volume nuclear fuel, required by the CPR-1000 units. Type CF3 fuel rods for HPR-1000 assemblies are slightly (15.9 mm) shorter than type AFA3G rods for CPR-1000 assemblies and use a double-welding process. Dimensions of reactor vessels and steam generators nearly match, assuring that current manufacturers will be able to build them.

China’s nuclear industries remain plagued by lack of consistent standards for dimensioning, measuring, testing, inspection and qualification. Instead of adopting or developing a comprehensive set of standards, China continues to apply multiple standards copied from the countries that have been sources for equipment. Those include France, Russia, Canada, the United States, Japan and Spain. A document from China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration suggests that the French RCC-M code (Règles de Conception et de Construction des Matériels Mécaniques) may be the most common standard, because it was used for the CPR-1000 design. When foreign standards are revised–a frequent occurence–it is unlikely that the forest of Chinese copies can be kept synchronized. Over time, that can become a potential source of equipment failures.

According to CNNC in 2015, longstanding Chinese official policy of a “closed nuclear fuel cycle” remains unchanged. A presentation at a meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil stated, “China has been adopting the closed nuclear fuel cycle, i.e., the spent fuel shall be reprocessed to recycled uranium, plutonium and other elements to enhance the fuel utilization.” [text in English, figure legends in Chinese] However, locations in the general area of a reprocessing facility proposed near Jiayuguan in Gansu, near a military outpost since the 1950s, currently provide only storage, despite a claim by CNNC about plans for “big commercial reprocessing.”

Energy context: During 2015, China’s nuclear-power fleet produced about three percent of China’s net electricity. So far, growth in nuclear electricity is far outpaced by growth in coal-fired electricity. Between 2014 and 2015, a rated 6 GW of nuclear capacity was added, while a rated 72 GW in coal-fired capacity was added. At recent rates of change, China might never achieve the current world average of about 11 percent nuclear electricity.

Quoting from China’s National Bureau of Statistics, Energy Post–produced in the Netherlands–finds that renewable electricity has been growing faster. Between 2014 and 2015, China reported adding about 33 GW, peak in wind capacity and adding about 18 GW, peak in solar capacity. Discounted by typical capacity factors of 90 percent for nuclear, 25 percent for wind and 12 percent for solar, China reported adding about 5.4 GW in average nuclear capacity and about 10.3 GW in average renewable capacity. There has been no information on China’s internal energy development costs that is generally regarded as reliable.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 9, 2016


Nuclear power-plants in China, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), September, 2016

Nuclear power in China, World Nuclear Association (London), August, 2016

Tom Holland, Why Britain’s Hinkley nuclear reactor is a horror show, South China Morning Post, August 29, 2016

Edward Wong, Coal burning causes the most air pollution deaths in China, New York Times, August 18, 2016

Chris Buckley, Chinese city backs down on proposed nuclear fuel plant after protests, New York Times, August 11, 2016

Aibing Guo, CNNC says its plan to merge ‘Hualong One’ reactor designs favored, Bloomberg News, August 3, 2016

David Dalton, China nuclear companies form joint venture to export ‘Hualong One’ reactor, NucNet Newsletter (Brussels), March 17, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

China’s electricity mix, Energy Post (Netherlands), March 1, 2016

China to build more ‘Hualong One’ reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), February 25, 2016

Nuclear fuel industry in China, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), October, 2015

Chinese reprocessing plant to start up in 2030, World Nuclear News (UK), September 24, 2015

Haiyang Wang, China’s nuclear power development and ‘Hualong One’ (HPR-1000) pressurized water reactor technology, China National Nuclear Corporation (Beijing, in English), September, 2015

Emma Graham-Harrison, China warned over plans for new nuclear power plants, Manchester Guardian (UK), May 25, 2015

Fuqing-5 foundation in place, World Nuclear News (UK), May 12, 2015

Tang Bo, Use of mechanical code and standard in Chinese nuclear-power plants, National Nuclear Safety Administration (Beijing, in English), c. 2015

Ian Hore-Lacy, China’s new nuclear baby, World Nuclear News (UK), September 2, 2014

Caroline Peachey, Chinese reactor design evolution, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), May 22, 2014

Jane Nakano, The United States and China: making nuclear energy safer, Thornton China Center, Brookings Institution (Washington, DC), February 6, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Approval of reactor design clears path for new plants, New York Times, December 23, 2011

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress

The AP-1000 nuclear power-plant design from the U.S. Westinghouse division of Toshiba in Japan may become the major and perhaps sole survivor of competition in “third generation” nuclear. Eight units are currently under construction in the United States and China. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) from Areva of France has four units under construction in Finland, France and China. However, it is currently on life-support, owing to design and testing scandals and to major manufacturing defects.

“Third generation” nuclear from Rosatom in Russia, Kepco in South Korea and Hitachi in Japan gained little traction outside countries of origin. No plants are under construction, and no financing has been announced for deals reported with governments in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, Poland and India. A former barrier to manufacturing–as of 2009 only one plant, located in Japan, able to produce critical components–has been overcome by large, new steel forging facilities in several countries, including China, Korea, India and the United States.

There are other claimants to “third generation” technology–not credited by international business. In Japan, Hitachi completed four ABWR units in the 1990s. All remain idle in the aftermath of the March, 2011, nuclear catastrophe at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Using French technology, China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) in Guangdong province developed the CPR-1000 design. Like the Hitachi ABWR, it produces a slightly improved “second generation” nuclear power-plant. More recently, possibly using technology from the AP-1000, CGN announced another cheapened design called ACC1000 at first and more recently 华龙一 Hualong One, couched in Chlingish, or HPR-1000. A prototype has been announced for the Fuqing plant in Fujian province, which currently has two CPR-1000 units.

Schedules and costs: There are currently four AP-1000 nuclear units under construction in the United States, using the Rev. 19 design–providing aircraft impact resistance–approved in 2011 by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There are four units under construction in China using the Rev. 15 design, documented in 2006 by the U.S. but lacking aircraft impact resistance. A nationalized company in China licensed the Rev. 15 design and announced plans to build 10 or more additional units. Rev. 19 of the AP-1000 received “interim” approval by the UK in 2011. Currently, UK officials remain conflicted about whether to build EPR units. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has registered slow movement toward final AP-1000 approval.

An AP-1000 unit in Sanmen, China looks likely to become the first “third generation” nuclear unit to operate. Chinese industry got a head start by adopting the Rev. 15 design, rejected for U.S. plants. However, all AP-1000 projects world-wide are around three years behind schedule. The worst delays were caused by test failures of coolant pumps built by Curtis-Wright of Cheswick, PA. Those were controversial elements, based on technology developed for U.S. nuclear-powered submarines. Each AP-1000 unit has four of the pumps, using an innovative, sealed design unproven in industrial applications. After delivery delays of up to about two years, revised pumps have been installed at four of the eight AP-1000 units currently under construction. The revised pump designs are apparently not part of the Rev. 15 technology licensed to Chinese industry.

Fully burdened costs of AP-1000 units in the U.S. were recently reported more than $7 a watt, nearly a factor of two cost overrun. Full cost of the EPR unit at Flamanville, France is also reported at over $7 a watt–and still growing. Both European EPR projects are around ten years behind schedule, with cost overruns at least a factor of three. Schedules for the two EPR units in Taishan, China leaped ahead of the two in Europe, under a less demanding regime of regulation. However, schedules for all EPR projects are now in question from recent threats of catastrophic failure, owing to major manufacturing defects that remain under review in Europe.

Safety concerns: Safety concerns are always relative. Fatalities in automobile crashes per miles of vehicle travel probably peaked in the United States during 1900 through 1920, years before the U.S. government compiled records. Since 24.1 deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles for 1921, official tallies fell almost continuously to a low of 1.08 for 2014. For decades, however, the lures of automobile travel distracted U.S. attention from the dangers, while enthusiasm surged.

Lures of nuclear power in China and several other countries will more likely be weighed against hazards of alternatives rather than against hazards of nuclear power-plants. Hazards in those countries are dominated by large-scale burning of coal. Chinese steel, smelting and cement plants have been expanding rapidly, most of them burning coal. Over the past ten years, China added more than 800 coal-fired power units averaging 600 MW capacity. Academic research published in the summer of 2015 attributed more than a million and a half deaths per year in China to air pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 6, 2016


First two AP1000s move closer to commissioning in China, World Nuclear News (UK), May 26, 2016

Scott Judy, U.S. contractor shake-up stirs nuclear project’s acceleration, Engineering News Record (Troy, MI), March 31, 2016

‘Hualong One’ joint venture officially launched by China, World Nuclear News (UK), March 17, 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association (UK), 2016

Fatality analysis reporting system, U.S. National Highway Safety Administration, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unraveling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Rod Adams, Reactor coolant pumps for AP-1000 still a problem, Atomic Insights (Crystal City, VA), August 29, 2015

Dan Levin, Study links polluted air in China to 1.6 million deaths a year, New York Times, August 14, 2015

As U.S. shutters coal plants, China and Japan are building them, Institute for Energy Research (Washington, DC), April 23, 2015

UK assessment of AP-1000 design advances, World Nuclear News (UK), March 12, 2015

Robert Ladefian, The world’s largest canned motor pump, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), January 1, 2013

AP-1000 overview (Westinghouse), International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), 2011

Sven Baumgarten, Bernhard Brecht, Uwe Bruhns and Pete Fehring, Reactor coolant pump type RUV for Westinghouse reactor AP-1000, American Nuclear Society, Paper 10339, Proceedings of the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants, June 13-17, 2010

Stephen V. Mladineo and Charles D. Ferguson, On the Westinghouse AP-1000 sale to China and its possible military implications, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (Arlington, VA), March 29, 2008

Craig Bolon, Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2016

Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects

Recent reports show hidden risks of catastrophic failure at dozens of nuclear power-plants, world wide. Those include the Millstone plant in Waterford, CT. They arise from previously unreported manufacturing defects and potential defects in large mechanical components produced at Creusot Forge in France. That manufacturer–soon to be controlled by Électricité de France (EDF), the French power utility–has been in operation since the eighteenth century.

A foundry at Le Creusot, in the highlands of central France, opened in 1782 to make cannons for the kings of France. It has produced steel forgings since 1876. As of 2010, it had the third-largest forging equipment in Europe, featuring a 17 million pound-force press, built in 1956, and a 25 million pound-force press, built in 2008. Its heaviest press can produce thick-wall metal cylinders up to 19 ft in diameter.

Areva–the French nuclear conglomerate once known as Framatome and soon to join with EDF–bought the Creusot factory in 2006 from the Schneider enterprises, its operators since 1835. Areva and predecessors have employed the factory since the 1950s to design and produce large mechanical components of nuclear power-plants: reactor vessels, steam generator shells and pressurizer shells.

Creusot Forge has supplied hundreds of large components for many industrial plants now operating in Europe, Asia, the United States, South America and Africa. Faulty components went to three European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) nuclear units that are under construction in Flamanville, France, and in Taishan, China. Others were produced for two EPR units proposed at Hinkley Point in the UK. Faulty components have already been installed in France and China.

Nature of defects: Yves Marignac of World Information Service on Energy in Paris has supplied a detailed description of the EPR defects. They affect the heads and bottom caps of reactor vessels. Such a vessel is made from large forged parts: a “head,” a cylinder segment with ports for cooling water, two plain cylinder segments and a bottom cap. The last four are welded together, and the head is bolted on top.

Heads and bottom caps have been reported to have major defects caused by improper forging performed at the Creusot Forge factory. According to Mr. Marignac, portions of those thick metal parts have too much carbon in the steel, tending to make them less resistant to thermal shock than they need to be. In the event of a rapid cooldown to recover from an equipment problem, they would be prone to rupture, leading to catastrophic failure.

According to Mr. Marignac, the forging problem leading to “carbon segregation” is an issue known in industry that can be controlled by manufacturing techniques. When Creusot Forge made the EPR parts, starting in 2006, one of each type was supposed to be tested for the “carbon segregation” issue. That requires drilling into a part, extracting solid samples and analyzing them–destroying the part. However, the run of EPR parts, six of each type, was completed without such testing.

Eventually the French nuclear regulatory agency required testing, performed in the fall of 2014. Test failures were soon found. However, by that time three EPR reactor vessels had been completed. They had been delivered to one reactor under construction in Flamanville, France and two under construction in Taishan, China. There they had been installed and connected to other equipment. Reactor vessels and possibly other major components at those sites may have to be removed and scrapped, causing long delays and huge added costs. The Flamanville project is already many years behind schedule, and it has suffered at least a factor of three cost overrun.

Hidden defects: After learning about the defects in EPR reactor vessels, the French nuclear regulatory agency required an audit of nuclear-part manufacturing performed at the Creusot Forge factory. That uncovered potential defects in more than 400 large parts, going back to 1965. The agency has suspended the operating license for one French nuclear-power unit (Fessenheim Unit 2), found to have a defective part. At least 18 French nuclear-power units are being investigated for defects.

Based on the audit in France, at least 17 U.S. nuclear-power units are at risk from potentially defective parts made at the Creusot Forge factory. For example, Millstone Unit 2 in Waterford, CT, has a potentially defective replacement pressurizer. Some units have more than one potential defect. Kerri Kavanagh, a division head at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, released a statement last June, committing to “appropriate regulatory and enforcement action if we find issues of safety significance.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 3, 2016


Benjamin Leveau, EDF reactor may remain shut after regulator suspends certificate, Nucleonics Week (Platts, UK), July 19, 2016

French regulator investigating components in 18 reactors, Nuclear Engineering International (UK), June 29, 2016

Kerri Kavanagh, Quality assurance issues in France: implications for U.S. plants, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, June 20, 2016

Quentin Philippe, Is the EPR nuclear reactor fit for the current market?, Energy Post (Amsterdam), June 20, 2016

Anomalies and suspected falsifications at Areva’s Creusot Forge site, Greenpeace France, June 13, 2016

Nick Butler, EDF’s real problem is Flamanville not Hinkley Point, Financial Times (UK), May 14, 2016

Yves Marignac, Defauts de fabrication sur la cuve du reacteur EPR de Flamanville-3, [in English at GreenWorld] Fabrication flaws in the pressure vessel of the EPR Flamanville-3, International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna), April 13, 2016

Creusot Forge and Creusot Mécanique, Areva Group (France, in English), 2016

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association, 2016

Jim Green, EPR fiasco unravelling in France and the UK, Nuclear Monitor (WISE International, Amsterdam), October 15, 2015

Oliver Tickell, Flamanville nuclear safety fail sounds death knell for Hinkley C, The Ecologist (UK), October 2, 2015

Henry Samuel, Areva aware ‘as early as 2006′ of serious fault in nuclear reactor destined for UK, London Telegraph (UK), July 9, 2015

Ernest Kao, Hong Kong experts flag fresh concern over Guangdong nuclear plant, South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), April 19, 2015

John Lichfield, UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project, Independent (London), April 17, 2015

Peter Thornton and Vito J. Colangelo, Variation of mechanical properties in large steel forgings, Watervliet Arsenal, U.S. Army, 1975

Craig Bolon, Will New England revive nuclear power?, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2016

Will New England revive nuclear power?

Many New England people became enthusiasts for nuclear power after World War II. Nuclear research reactors, nuclear equipment and service firms and one small nuclear power-plant emerged. Yankee Rowe, located in the Berkshire foothills of Massachusetts–the second commercial plant in the U.S.–closed in 1992. As of 2007 it had been disassembled and taken away, its buildings had been razed and the grounds had been cleared.

Yankee Rowe site in 1986 and 2006

YankeeRoweSite2006
Source: Vermont Public Service Board

All that is left now at the former Yankee Rowe site are 16 steel and concrete casks, weighing more than 100 tons each and guarded at all times, holding spent but highly radioactive nuclear fuel. One small research reactor remains–at M.I.T. in Cambridge, just southwest of Massachusetts Ave. between Vassar and Albany Sts. beside historic tracks of the former Grand Junction Railroad, now operated by the MBTA. Little known to the public, the M.I.T. reactor long ran on weapons-grade enriched uranium. Students and staff called the former Warner Calvary’s, next to the service entrance, the “nuclear diner”–zapped while you ate, no extra charge.

M.I.T. nuclear reactor, Cambridge, MA

Looking southeast toward Metropolitan Storage

MitResearchReactor2012
Source: Cambridge City Council, 2012

Nuclear eclipse: With closure of Vermont Yankee in Vernon, at the end of 2014, New England was left with four operating nuclear-power units. One of those four, the unit at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth, MA, is now scheduled to close on May 31, 2019.

New England nuclear-power units

167 MW Yankee Rowe Rowe, MA opened 1963 closed 1992
641 MW Millstone 1 Waterford, CT opened 1970 closed 1985
860 MW Maine Yankee Wiscasset, ME opened 1972 closed 1996
620 MW Vermont Yankee Vernon, VT opened 1972 closed 2014
680 MW Pilgrim Plymouth, MA opened 1972 to close 2019
1130 MW Seabrook 2 Portsmouth, NH begun 1976 abandoned 1988
882 MW Millstone 2 Waterford, CT opened 1975
1155 MW Millstone 3 Waterford, CT opened 1986
1194 MW Seabrook 1 Portsmouth, NH opened 1990

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

From peak nuclear generating capacity of 5.6 GW in mid-1991, New England will be left with 3.2 GW in mid-2019, a decrease of 42 percent over 28 years–with six of nine commercial nuclear-power units out-of-service. (Unit 2 at Seabrook was abandoned during construction and never operated.) Little of those losses can be made up from wind or solar sources, since they will stop when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. Instead, the deficits are mostly being filled from newer combined-cycle power-plants fired by natural gas. The latest one, being built by Footprint Power at the site of the former coal-fired Salem Station, has about the capacity of the Pilgrim nuclear plant, soon to close.

Survivors: Although not well known to most of the public, after mid-2019 New England will no longer have any operating nuclear units with relatively hazardous Mark 1 “boiling water” containment designs–like those that exploded in March, 2011, at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in Japan. Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim plants used those designs. The three nuclear units to remain in New England used “pressurized water” designs, with more stable characteristics. Unit 2 at Millstone, with two secondary loops, will then become the region’s least stable. It was developed by Combustion Engineering–a high flyer of the 1960s that built 15 of the 119 completed U.S. utility-scale nuclear-power units, wound down operations during the 1980s and was sold in 1990.

Millstone Unit 3 and Seabrook Unit 1 both use Westinghouse 4-loop “pressurized water” designs. They were both completed after the major upgrades to safety requirements that followed the Three Mile island nuclear meltdown in 1979, under supervision of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Three Mile island has “pressurized water” units designed by Babcock & Wilcox, with only two secondary loops. Nevertheless, margins of stability were enough that the meltdown of Unit 2 was almost entirely contained. In contrast, Mark 1 “boiling water” containment designs had been strongly criticized during the 1960s for inadequate margins, but an industry-dominated Atomic Energy Commission, which was disbanded in 1975, had failed to intervene.

Survival of current nuclear power-plants is hardly guaranteed. Heat exchangers, which industry calls “steam generator loops,” are major sources of added stability for “pressurized water” designs. They are also among the worst sources of failures. The reason that Maine Yankee was shut down after only 24 years service was impending failures of those devices. More recently, operators of the San Onofre plant in California squandered nearly a billion dollars on steam-generator replacements–botching the jobs, getting only about another year of service and starting disputes and chicanery after the San Onofre shutdown that could take a decade to resolve.

New thinking: In the late 1990s, manufacturers of nuclear-power equipment, encouraged by academics at M.I.T. and other schools of engineering, began to work up plans for a so-called “third generation” of nuclear power-plants. It was, perhaps timely, an era of “millennial thinking.” The initial goals, in the aftermath of the Three Mile Island meltdown and the Chernobyl disaster, were to make nuclear power far safer. Rather soon, however, came notions that nuclear power-plants might also be much cheaper than they had been for some 20 years. The two concerns reflected widely perceived problems of the industry.

In 1954, Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, spoke at the National Association of Science Writers annual meeting, saying nuclear power would become “too cheap to meter.” He was soon countered by industry spokespersons, but the phrase stuck in memory, and notions that nuclear power should be low in cost became widespread expectations. If such notions ever had merit, they were demolished by long delays and steep cost increases to meet U.S. safety requirements added after the Three Mile Island meltdown. During the 1980s, the Vogtle plant in Georgia became a poster child for schedule and budget overruns. Its two units came on line in 1987 and 1989, more than 10 years late and at over 25 times the cost budgeted in 1971.

Alvin Weinberg, a former director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory–who had enthusiastically endorsed the “too cheap to meter” claim of the 1950s–re-emerged years later to make a claim for everlasting equipment. “If nuclear reactors receive normal maintenance,” he wrote, “they will never wear out, and this will profoundly affect the economic performance of the reactors.” Dr. Weinberg was not an engineer; he had never worked in industry. Still, trained as a physicist, he should have known better. He dismissed out-of-hand embrittlement and build-up of radioactivity, and he likely did not even think about structures and control systems. Such a cavalier approach reflected “millennial thinking” that remained common in public views for about a decade.

Rubber meets road, gives way: The U.S. economic recovery from 2002 through 2007 began to stimulate utility interest. During the Walker Bush administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission proposed a one-step process for utilities, to expedite approval of nuclear plants using standard designs. Four contenders vied for design approval: Westinghouse Nuclear, by then a division of Toshiba in Japan, General Electric Nuclear, by then a division of Hitachi in Japan, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan and Areva, the French nuclear conglomerate. No application came from Rosatom in Russia or Kepco in Korea, despite both announcing plans. Toward the end of 2007, Nuclear Street, a trade publication, reported 34 letters of intent to build new U.S. nuclear-power units. Of the 28 naming a design, 14 proposed to use the AP-1000 from Westinghouse.

By the late 1990s, academics and consultants were enjoying great sport as market speculators, projecting ever lower costs based on supposed economies of scale. In order to exhibit the lowest possible amounts, they touted so-called “overnight” costs–omitting interest, infrastructure, land and site preparation. “Overnight” estimates ranged as low as about $1 a watt, although some plants from the 1980s had cost around $4 a watt, before factoring inflation. After glory days of a so-called “nuclear renaissance”–around 1997 through 2007–both everyday and episodic factors intervened. The rubber was to meet the road when the equipment builders proposed prices and their potential utility customers had to figure out whether they could afford the tabs.

Starting in 2008, along with a sharp recession, the tabs came in high: at least $4 a watt, maybe more. The outgoing Walker Bush administration assembled $18.5 billion in a loan-guarantee program, likely supporting less than 5 GW of capacity and perhaps four nuclear-power units. Soon the incoming Obama administration faced huge economic stress to reverse the Walker Bush recession, the worst downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was eager to identify fast-growth opportunities, and it offered nothing more toward slow-growth nuclear power. Then came the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in March, 2011, and financial losses threatened by the January, 2012, shutdowns of both San Onofre units near San Diego. Those episodes capped off a would-be “nuclear renaissance.” U.S. support for investments in nuclear power collapsed.

Active applications to build third-generation nuclear-power units in the U.S. dropped rapidly. In states with deregulated electricity markets, none survive. Utilities operating as unregulated merchant power generators proved unwilling to accept financial risks at prices being proposed–with or without loan guarantees. Only utilities continuing to function as government-backed monopolies maintained interest. Of 34 proposed new nuclear-power units, as named in 2007, only four units are now active–all using the Westinghouse AP-1000 design. Two are under construction at the Summer plant in South Carolina, and two are at the Vogtle plant in Georgia–the 1980s poster child for cost overruns. These projects took the federal loan guarantees, emptying the pot.

Propping up survivors: Odd as it might sound, Andrew Cuomo (D, New Castle), the New York governor opposed to the Indian Point nuclear power-plant in Buchanan, NY, has arranged subsidies funded by electricity customers to prop up four other nuclear-power units in the state. Estimated only a few months ago at perhaps $200 million over about ten years, the subsidies are now widely reported as likely to cost $8 billion or more. Within days Exelon, which already owned three of the units, announced a plan to buy the fourth from Entergy. Exelon is able to economize by sharing personnel, now the main expense of running nuclear plants fully depreciated years ago.

Operating New York nuclear-power units

610 MW Ginna Ontario, NY opened 1970
838 MW FitzPatrick Scriba, NY opened 1975
621 MW 9-Mile Point 1 Scriba, NY opened 1974
1140 MW 9-Mile Point 2 Scriba, NY opened 1987
1032 MW Indian Point 2 Buchanan, NY opened 1974
1051 MW Indian Point 3 Buchanan, NY opened 1976

Source: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

FitzPatrick and 9-Mile Point 1 used the Mark 1 “boiling water” containment design, the same as Vermont Yankee, Pilgrim and the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi units in Japan. If the two plants in New England deserved to be shuttered, then so do FitzPatrick and 9-Mile Point 1. However, unlike the many, longstanding critics of nuclear power in southern Vermont and eastern Massachusetts, in upstate New York very few people are demanding action on hazards their region faces. There are no signs that the Cuomo administration has genuine concerns about such hazards either, aside from personally and politically motivated attention to the Indian Point plant, located less than 15 miles from the governor’s home.

News from New York government sources has been the usual, opaque OCA blarney–officials covering arses–but obviously money spoke. A tiny fraction of $8 billion could fund a huge legacy of political campaigns. However, despite long entrenched corruption, Illinois governments rebuffed Exelon solicitations this year. Mr. Cuomo invoked environmental saviors to buttress his cause–notably James Hansen, a Columbia professor. Joined by three less well known partners, Dr. Hansen occupied a New York Times pulpit in November, 2013, to present a prayer for nuclear power. It was, the four then claimed, “the only viable path forward on climate change.”

Others disagreed. As the late Michael Mariotte of Nuclear Information and Research Service wrote, “No environmental organization took the bait. Instead, NRDC, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Sierra Club decry nuclear power….” According to Morningstar, in an investment newsletter issued a week after the Hansen prayer, “Enormous costs, political and popular opposition, and regulatory uncertainty” render new reactors infeasible [as recounted in Forbes]. Low costs for nuclear power occurred only before nuclear disasters of the 1970s and 1980s, leading to stringent and costly safety regulations, and under repressive oligarchies, ignoring lessons from the disasters. Outside command economies of Russia, China and South Korea, only two of several “third generation” nuclear designs are being implemented: the AP-1000 in the U.S. and the EPR in Europe.

Practical developments: The European [or "evolutionary"] pressurized reactor (EPR), designed by Areva in France, took a partly conventional approach to reliability: increasing steam generator “loops” for a “pressurized water” reactor to four instead of two or three. That was adapted from a proven design: the Westinghouse 4-loop “pressurized water” units built in the U.S. during the 1980s. The EPR specifications have been disrupted by several surges of changes, leaving the first unit in Olkiluoto, Finland, more than ten years late, with at least a factor of three in cost overrun. Last year, the government of Finland cancelled another EPR unit, but the former Cameron and Osborne regime in Britain signed up for two EPR units at Hinkley Point in Somerset, on the Bristol Channel. Recently the successor British regime, headed by Theresa May, put those plans on hold, questioning Chinese involvement in the project.

The AP-1000, designed by Westinghouse in the U.S. and by Toshiba in Japan, mainly took a structural approach to reliability: providing a very large volume of passive cooling to manage a thermal spike. While the EPR design tends to increase complexity, working against reliability, the AP-1000 design tends to reduce complexity, at least in some respects. Four units are under construction in the U.S. as noted before, and four are being built in China at Sanmen and Haiyang. China has also licensed the technology, and it has developed a much-cheapened system, the CPR-1000, omitting most of the major improvements in safety and reliability. AP-1000 units in China use a cheapened design of that type, omitting protection against aircraft impacts required in the U.S.

All AP-1000 projects are running years behind schedules. Those in the U.S. suffer from major cost overruns, but there is no reliable information from China, since anyone providing it would probably be jailed or killed. Last year Chicago Bridge & Iron, one major contractor for the U.S. projects, sold out to Westinghouse, the other major contractor, creating an effective U.S. monopoly in nuclear power-plant construction. U.S. utility sponsors are protected by CWIP regulations–construction work in progress–enacted by politically captive state governments in Georgia and South Carolina and allowing the utilities to charge customers increased rates before the plants are operating.

New England opportunities: So far, there are few signs that New England will respond to what parts of the nuclear-power industry might cast as opportunities. New England nuclear generation capacity has been falling for about a quarter century. Once Pilgrim in Plymouth, MA, closes in 2019, only New Hampshire and Connecticut will have nuclear power-plants operating. No utility is likely to propose any new nuclear facility for the region until the “third generation” units under construction in Georgia and South Carolina have been operating for quite a few years and unless their safety and economic performance has lived up to claims.

Dominion Power, the operator of Millstone in Waterford, CT, since 2000, tried to put a squeeze on Connecticut government, similar to what Exelon has pulled off in New York. They frightened the state senate into passing a subsidy bill in April, 2016, but after that their momentum stalled. Dannel Malloy (D, Stamford), the state’s governor, could prove as susceptible as Andrew Cuomo became in New York. Last March, Malloy reportedly met privately with Dominion lobbyists and executives. Typical shell-game tactics are showing up. One news report quotes a state senator, Paul Doyle (D, Wethersfield), saying, “It’s not a subsidy.” Maybe, but it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck….

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 10, 2016


Karen DeWitt, Nuclear part of New York’s energy future, WRVO (Oswego, NY), August 10, 2016

Leonard Hyman and William Tilles, New York nuclear plants deemed a ‘public necessity’, Oil Price (London, UK), August 6, 2016

Tim Knauss, New York board approves ratepayer subsidy to save upstate nukes, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, August 1, 2016

Kate Holton and William James, UK’s May worried by China investment, intervened to delay Hinkley, Reuters (UK), July 30, 2016

Vivian Yee, Nuclear subsidies are key part of New York’s clean-energy plan, New York Times, July 21, 2016

John O’Connor, Exelon to close two nuclear plants in Illinois, still seeking subsidies, Associated Press, June 2, 2016

Michael Steinberg, Nuclear shutdown ripped off California ratepayers, San Diego Free Press, June 2, 2016

Walter C. Jones, Who will pay for Vogtle construction costs?, Augusta (GA) Chronicle, May 1, 2016

Mark Pazniokas, Connecticut senate passes bill to stabilize revenues in nuclear industry, Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), April 30, 2016

Carol Matlack, French plans for a nuclear plant begin to look like a bad deal for Britain, Bloomberg News, April 29, 2016

David Abel and John R. Ellement, Closing date set for Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Boston Globe, April 14, 2016

Steve Daniels, Exelon’s Crane beats the drum again for nuke subsidies, Chicago Business, February 3, 2016

Jeff McDonald, It’s not just the steam generators that failed, San Diego Tribune, January 30, 2016

Linda A. DeStefano, Oswego County leaders short-sighted in backing nuclear energy, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, December 23, 2015

Aaron Larson, CB&I out, Fluor in at Vogtle and V.C. Summer nuclear power plant construction projects, Power Magazine, October 28, 2015

John Lichfield, UK nuclear strategy faces meltdown as faults are found in identical French project, Independent (London, UK), April 17, 2015

List of power reactor units, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015

Jack Newsham, Vermont Yankee nuclear plant shutdown complete, Boston Globe, December 29, 2014

Rinaldo Brutoco, Nuclear power: totally unqualified to combat climate change, Safe Energy Project (Santa Barbara, CA), September 14, 2014

Jusen Asa, et al., Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change mitigation, Tohoku University (Japan), January 31, 2014

Michael Mariotte, Letter by Hansen et al. misses the mark on nuclear power and renewables, Nuclear Information and Research Service, November, 2013

Jeff McMahon, Morningstar calls nuclear renaissance fiction and fantasy, Forbes, November 10, 2013

Andrew C. Revkin, James Hansen, et al., To those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power, New York Times, November 3, 2013

Michael R. Blood, Associated Press, Federal regulators say design led to nuclear plant problems, Boston Globe, June 18, 2012

John S. Quarterman, Original Plant Vogtle cost overruns, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (Valdosta, GA), 2012

David E. Moncton, MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory, Cambridge (MA) City Council, 2012

Fred Contrada, Casks holding spent fuel assemblies all that’s left of Yankee Rowe, Springfield (MA) Republican, April 17, 2011

Yuri Kageyama, Associated Press, History of bungles and cover-ups in Japan’s nuclear industry, Sydney Morning Herald (Australia), March 17, 2011

Nuclear Reactor Characteristics and Operational History, Nuclear Reactor Operational Status Tables, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2011

Adriaan Buijs, Too cheap to meter?, Canadian Nuclear Society, 2009

Loan guarantee applications for nuclear power plant construction, U.S. Department of Energy, 2008

David Schlissel and Bruce Biewald, Nuclear power plant construction cost, Synapse Energy Economics, 2008

Proposed new nuclear power plants, Nuclear Street, 2007

Tyson Slocum, The failure of electricity deregulation, Public Citizen, 2007

Yankee Rowe site closure plan, Rev. 4, Vermont Public Service Board, 2006

Alvin M. Weinberg, New life for nuclear power, Issues in Science and Technology 19(4), online, Summer 2003

John Deutch, Ernest J. Moniz, et al., The future of nuclear power, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003

Brandon Haddock, Morris News Service, Nuclear power plant not drawing same attention as before, Athens (GA) Banner-Herald, May 18, 1999

Igor Kudrik, Russian nuclear power for the next century (in English), Bellona Foundation (Norway), 1998

Jim Riccio and Michael Grynberg, NRC’s efforts to renew nuclear reactor licenses, Public Citizen, 1995

Dan Adams, Conversion of MIT reactor to safer fuel pushed to 2027, Boston Globe, September 2, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Little need for new gas pipelines

A year ago, companies based in the Southwest were planning about 3.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in new natural gas pipeline capacity entering New England, nearly doubling current capacity of about 3.6 BCf/d. Why would that happen? New England is at most a slowly growing energy market. Since the region was already well advanced in switching from coal-fired and oil-fired to gas-fired electricity generation, there were no huge, likely new customers. It was clear that pipeline companies had other motives.

Although pipeline companies would not admit it, most industry observers read those motives as sending U.S. natural gas into international markets through Canada. For such purposes, New England is not a market but a transportation route. The region does not need to accept environmental hazards in order to boost pipeline company profits milked from the region by using it as a pathway to foreign trade.

Gas giant collapses: Since then, new information appeared, and pipeline momentum stalled. Last November, Maura Healey, the state’s attorney general, released a report prepared by Analysis Group of Boston (AGB), examining needs for new gas pipeline capacity to provide reliable electricity. In its 70-page report, AGB showed that adaptation of the current electricity network can meet needs for at least the next fifteen years, without new gas pipelines.

New England was not well outfitted for cold winters of 2013 and 2014, when natural gas supplies were stressed, causing spikes in electricity prices. Advance preparation–stockpiling fuels and equipping plants to burn either gas or oil–began to help the next year. In the winter of 2016, milder weather and better preparation led to no electricity price spike.

Monthly electricity prices, Jan. 2010 thru June 2016

IsoNeMonthlyHubDayAhead2010to2016
Source: ISO New England data, July, 2016

The region’s average wholesale electricity price for the utility year ended March 31 was 2.8 cents per kWh. Wholesale electricity prices this year stand comparable to other regions that organize competitive generation markets. Retail prices remain higher in New England than in most of the U.S., but that is mainly because of aging distribution networks, incurring high maintenance costs. Despite claims from pipeline promoters, given good management of current gas supplies, New England has little to gain and much to lose from new pipelines.

This spring, the proposed Northeast Direct pipeline was cancelled by financial parent Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. It was the largest and most disruptive of the New England projects, threatening undisturbed lands and state forests across northwestern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Although Kinder Morgan cited “market” factors, it no could longer depend on political pressures stimulated by electricity price spikes.

Next largest projects: Access Northeast, sponsored by Spectra Energy of Houston, is the next largest project. Unlike Kinder Morgan’s proposed line, most of Spectra’s proposal was sited along rights of way for the Algonquin pipeline, opened in 1953, which Spectra now operates. However, Access Northeast also includes large branches that would plow through new territories.

Spectra Access Northeast, eastern Connecticut through Massachusetts

SpectraAccessNortheastCTRIMA2016
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, July, 2016

The largest new branches are proposed in central and eastern Massachusetts, running from the Algonquin main line in Medway to West Boylston, just north of Worcester, and from Medway to Canton, where that new branch is to rejoin and reinforce the southern part of the main line, heading toward Weymouth. The branches through new territories, about 50 miles in all, are generating much more opposition than the rest of the project, about 75 miles that are nearly all sited on current Algonquin rights of way.

Opponents of Spectra have more complex targets than opponents of Kinder Morgan. There are now three Spectra projects in New England. Algonquin Incremental Market has been in construction since 2015, aimed at increasing capacity along the Algonquin main line between southern New York and eastern Massachusetts. Its most controversial feature has been a high pressure, 3-1/2 ft diameter pipe under the Hudson River, passing a few hundred feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, NY.

International exports: Atlantic Bridge is the most revealing and speculative Spectra project. It would increase compressor power all along the Algonquin line and add a new compressor in Weymouth. That one would be used to reverse gas flow on the HubLine, opened in 2003 across Massachusetts Bay between Weymouth and Beverly Harbors. There are no proven markets in New England to be served. Instead, like the recently cancelled Kinder Morgan project, Atlantic Bridge would aid international export of U.S. natural gas through Canada.

So far, Spectra has shuffled along plans for its three large, mutually reinforcing projects in defiance of law. The combined new capacity from the three large Spectra projects is more than the capacity that was planned from the cancelled Kinder Morgan project. A 1976 Supreme Court opinion held that “when several proposals…that will have cumulative or synergistic environmental impact upon a region are pending concurrently before an agency, their environmental consequences must be considered together.”

Ms. Healey, the attorney general, is currently defending the state against a pipeline company lawsuit for a small project, extending a branch line into northwestern Connecticut across a state forest. So far, however, while she raised the issue of concurrent projects in comments sent to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, she has not launched a court challenge against the Spectra projects–all seeking separate reviews instead of joint review as elements of a single, larger project.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 20, 2016


Jon Chesto, Kinder Morgan shelves $3 billion pipeline project, Boston Globe, April 20, 2016

Mild weather, ample natural gas supply curb Northeast winter power and natural gas prices, U.S. Energy Information Administration, April 5, 2016

Sam Thielman, Planned gas pipeline alongside Indian Point nuclear plant stirs meltdown fears, Manchester Guardian (UK), April 4, 2016

Clarence Fanto, Massachusetts attorney general picks up fight against natural gas pipeline that would serve Connecticut, New Haven (CT) Register, March 21, 2016

Wholesale power prices decrease across the country in 2015, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 11, 2016

Paul J. Hibbard and Craig P. Aubuchon, Power system reliability in New England, Analysis Group (Boston, MA), November 18, 2015 (1 MB)

Paul L. Joskow, Natural gas: from shortages to abundance in the U.S., American Economic Review, 103(3):338-343, 2013

Bruce Estrella, HubLine impact assessment, mitigation and restoration, Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, 2009

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in, Brookline Beacon, November 1, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

Opioid overdose deaths: Brookline reporting low hazards

Opioid overdose deaths, caused by both prescription painkillers and illegal narcotics, have grown rapidly in the past few years. According to recent articles in the Boston Globe, the problem is particularly severe in New England, including Massachusetts. However, community burdens are grossly unequal.

A recent Globe article indicated that some small towns, including Aquinnah on Martha’s Vineyard, have major problems. However, the Globe lacks math skills. Its reporters and editors failed to consider whether data they presented had statistical significance. For Aquinnah, numbers of events were so small that there was little significance. Lack of significance occurred with 254 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Rates of opioid overdose deaths varied greatly among the 97 communities for which data had strong statistical significance. For the four years of data now available, calendar 2012 through 2015, the statewide average was 162 deaths per year per million residents. Communities can be compared by the differences between their opioid overdose death rates and the state average. Expressing those differences in units of confidence intervals gives a statistically weighted picture when comparing communities.

Considered that way, the three least hazardous communities were Brookline, Needham and Wellesley:

Community 4-year rate 95%-confidence interval difference, in intervals
Brookline 17 17.0 -8.5
Needham 9 26.0 -5.9
Wellesley 9 26.8 -5.7

From 2012 through 2015, Brookline experienced a rate of 17 opioid overdose deaths per year per million residents–from a total of 4 events. Statistics gave 17.0 as a 95%-confidence interval for its rate. The Brookline rate was 8.5 confidence intervals lower than the state average: a very significant difference.

At the other end of the scale, the three most hazardous communities were Lynn, Quincy and New Bedford:

Community 4-year rate 95%-confidence interval difference, in intervals
Lynn 357 62.9 +3.1
Quincy 333 60.1 +2.9
New Bedford 329 58.8 +2.8

From 2012 through 2015, Lynn experienced a rate of 357 opioid overdose deaths per year per million residents–from a total of 125 events. Statistics gave 62.9 as a 95%-confidence interval for its rate. The Lynn rate was 3.1 confidence intervals higher than the state average: a very significant difference.

Massachusetts opioid overdose deaths concentrated in 17 high-hazard communities: Lynn, Quincy, New Bedford, Fall River, Worcester, Lowell, Haverhill, Brockton, Everett, Revere, Weymouth, Pittsfield, Taunton, Malden, Wareham, Stoughton and Carver. With 18 percent of the state population, they experienced 33 percent of the events.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 4, 2016


Lenny Bernstein, Deaths from opioid overdoses set a record in 2014, Washington Post, December 11, 2015

Matt Rocheleau, Opioid overdose deaths by Massachusetts town from 2012 to 2015, Boston Globe, May 3, 2016

Opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts communities, 2012-2015, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2016

Babcock Street: a fake bicycle track

Staff of the Transportation Division in Public Works have come up with plans for a so-called “bicycle track” on Babcock Street. A classic bicycle track is a fully separated path, similar to much of the 40-year-old Paul Dudley White path around the lower Charles River. Shabby Brookline plans were shown at a public meeting in Town Hall on Wednesday, March 9.

Babcock Street is much too narrow to insert a bicycle track without some other change. The two plan variants show most of Babcock Street becoming one-way for motor vehicles, from the north boundary of Fire Station 5 toward the south side of Commonwealth Avenue. The proposed bicycle track would use street width now occupied by southbound traffic on Babcock Street.

One variant leaves short, two-way segments between Freeman Street and Manchester Road and between Commonwealth Avenue and Winslow Road–producing four changes between one-way and two-way in less than half a mile. Both variants require bicyclists to cross an open, unprotected segment of Babcock Street near the fire station.

Who ordered that? Actually, no one did. The plans developed during a review of street patterns triggered by a project to rebuild Babcock Street, replacing crumbling concrete pavement. There was no coherent strategy and hardly any structural thinking when choosing Babcock Street for Brookline’s first major, urban bicycle track. It was not an obvious town priority.

At Bicycle Advisory Committee last summer, Babcock Street proved merely a convenient target of opportunity, located in a neighborhood where members of the committee did not live. Over the years, that committee has lapsed into a claque of mostly single-interest “groupies” who collaborate to select a replacement for a member who leaves. The practice has left no diversity of outlook and little broad-based community engagement.

Neither plan variant provides a fully separated path. Instead, both merely show soft pavement raised a few inches above street level, leaving bicyclists exposed to trucks and cars. No guard rails or other physical barriers have been planned. Trucks and cars could easily climb the beveled edges of the track. Northbound bicycle riders would have northbound truck and car traffic approaching from behind, out of direct sight.

At the Wednesday meeting, bicycle promoters claimed the proposed track would improve the neighborhood. It would appeal, they said, to youngsters riding tricycles and scooters, to people using wheelchairs and to older bicycle riders. However, coming mostly from people living outside the neighborhood, those sentiments lacked appeal. No one could imagine a responsible parent allowing a child onto the proposed track.

Instead, the proposed track–burdened with gross, obvious hazards–looked likely to discourage anyone but the “road warriors” who are willing to use the current, dangerous painted bicycle lanes in the open streets. For them, it would likely become no more than a luxury hood ornament, subsidizing private vanity at public expense. Rather than a real bicycle track, it’s a TINO: a Track In Name Only.

Comparisons: Fortunately, there are nearby comparisons, showing how some hazards of the proposed bicycle track have been reduced elsewhere. The divided bicycle track segment on Vassar Street in Cambridge, between Memorial Drive and Massachusetts Avenue, opened several years ago. The street schematic has the following elements, from north to south:

• north-side walkway
• one-way bicycle track, heading west
• tree berm
• high curb, north side
• parking lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading east
• high curb, south side
• tree berm
• one-way bicycle track, heading east
• south-side walkway

Vassar Street bicycle lanes have dark paving and gray edge blocks, totaling about 6 ft wide starting about 4 ft from curbs. Walkways, also about 6 ft wide, have light paving blocks and are farthest from the roadway. Bicycle lanes have painted, federal-standard bicycle markings and painted arrows. Spans between bicycle lanes and curbs include trees in some portions. However, there are no traffic signals.

Separation from motor vehicle lanes, tree berms, parking lanes and high curbs all contribute to safety. None of those major safety features have been planned for Babcock Street, even though they need not subtract from street width. The features are not some kind of “Cambridge pattern.” Across Massachusetts Avenue, running toward Main Street, Cambridge narrowed the spacings and removed most tree berms and parking lanes. That part of the Vassar Street track has seen several serious bicycle crashes, including at least one fatality.

A newer Cambridge bicycle track, opened around a year ago, extends along the north side of Western Avenue from Central Square to Memorial Drive. Like the Babcock Street proposal, it has a two-way track on one side of the street, with the following schematic elements, from north to south:

• north-side walkway
• two-way bicycle track
• tree berm
• high curb, north side
• parking lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading west
• vehicle lane, heading west
• high curb, south side
• tree berm
• south-side walkway

Like the main portion of the Vassar Street bicycle track, the Western Avenue track uses contrasting pavements and positions high curbs, tree berms and parking lanes to protect bicyclists. Traffic signals include elements for bicycles, pedestrians and motor vehicles. None of those major safety features have been planned for Babcock Street. While it will take several years to measure effects on safety, the care and thoughtfulness put into the Western Avenue design are obvious. They show the current Babcock Street plan as a TINO: a Track In Name Only.

A way forward: Current plans for a fake bicycle track on Babcock Street should be shelved. They violate responsibilities for public safety. Clearly Brookline lacks the technical skills and the seasoned, mature leadership that would be needed for such a project. Rather than waste more resources on project plans, the town should start recruitment efforts.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 12, 2016


Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Molly Laas, Cambridge bike lane death trap, Boston Phoenix, July 11, 2002

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 26, started at 7:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, read a statement about complaints of racial mistreatment lodged by staff of the fire and police departments. While expressing concerns over the issues, Mr. Wishinsky’s statement did not mention new efforts to address them.

Civil rights lawsuit: In a document filed at the federal court in Boston on the day of the meeting, the civil rights lawsuit brought on behalf of firefighter Gerald Alston was joined by police officers Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun. Five other Brookline workers and residents–all alleging racial mistreatment–also joined: Cruz Sanabria, Juana Baez, Rogelio Rodas, Demetrius Oviedo and Deon Fincher.

The Brookline police officers rejected an offer of mediation made by Daniel O’Leary, Brookline’s chief of police, writing that “Racism cannot be mediated.” According to the officers, “The Chief and the Selectmen made promises regarding ‘zero tolerance’ for racism on the force, but we have experienced two separate occasions already where we reported these incidents and the perpetrators remain on the job, without consequence.”

The amended complaint in the lawsuit now names several Brookline staff alleged to have engaged in racial mistreatment, although it does not add them to the list of defendants. A central issue raised in the lawsuit remains an alleged “racist and unconstitutional policy” claimed to be “longstanding” in town government. Brookline’s Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission testified to the board on January 5 that the town government has “a culture of institutional racism” which “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

Some allegations can grow more chilling as one understands them better. For example, “Other police officers referred to [Mr. Zerai-Misgun] repeatedly as an FI, the police designation for a suspicious individual….” [Amended complaint, paragraph 18, p. 8] The abbreviation means a target of “field interrogation”–suggesting that an African-American may be targeted by race.

Complaints of racial mistreatment: An African-American member of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission has described, at a public meeting of the commission on December 16, how he was personally targeted. The commission meeting was attended by Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who is African-American. The amended complaint also recounts other incidents involving Mr. Greene.

“Following the meeting, Selectman Bernard Greene met with the Police Chief and other town officials to formulate a plan to discredit the officers’ allegations. Selectman Greene later executed that plan by sending a confidential e-mail to selected town residents…Selectman Greene intended for his e-mail to be confidentially distributed among a select group of politically active residents as part of a broader whispering campaign to discredit and smear the officers and their supporters.” [Amended complaint, paragraph 31, p. 13, and paragraph 38, p. 15]

These allegations sound at least as serious as ones directed at Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit. However, Mr. Greene has not been named as a defendant. The Brookline Department of Public Works and Office of Human Resources are implicated in other incidents described in the amended complaint.

“Deon Fincher was hired by the Town of Brookline as a laborer in 2009…Mr. Fincher was the only Black worker in [the] sanitation division…All the teams alternated between driving and collecting trash, except for one…On Mr. Fincher’s team, Mr. Fincher threw trash full time…In 2010, he injured his shoulder and required an operation…Mr. Fincher complained that the repetitive throwing motion was damaging his shoulder…The Town’s Human Resources director refused to assign Mr. Fincher another job…The head of the division…was hostile to Mr. Fincher when he attempted to assert his contractual rights. Mr. Johnson yelled at Mr. Fincher for requesting a union representative. White employees did not receive the same hostility.” [Amended complaint, paragraphs 87-96, pp. 29-31]

Sandra DeBow-Huang, director of the Office of Human Resources, has been named as a defendant in the civil rights lawsuit. Kevin Johnson, the highway, sanitation and fleet maintenance director in the Department of Public Works, has not been named as a defendant.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 27, 2016


Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, Racism cannot be mediated, statement to Brookline Board of Selectmen, January 26, 2016

Amended complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 26, 2016

Memorandum in support of partial motion to dismiss, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 12, 2016

Complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed December 1, 2015

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Greenhouse gases: passing the buck

For several years, the General Court and the Patrick administration made an intramural sport out of passing the buck over greenhouse-gas emission limits: extremely ambitious goals set for dates long after terms of the legislators, bureaucrats and governor had expired. The fit is finally hitting the Shan over one episode, the so-called Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) of 2008.

Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit, organized a challenge on behalf of four Massachusetts high-school students, claiming that the state Department of Environmental Protection had failed to satisfy a GWSA requirement. In August, 2014, lawyers from the Boston firm of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen filed suit, joined by the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston and by the Energy Consumers Alliance of New England. [Kane v. Massachusetts]

Bad law makes hard cases: The terms of state legislation have made the Kane case an uphill struggle. The GWSA provision at issue requires: “The [Department of Environmental Protection] shall promulgate regulations establishing a desired level of declining annual aggregate emission limits for sources or categories of sources that emit greenhouse gas emissions [sic].” [Massachusetts General Laws C. 21N, S. 3(d), as enacted by Acts and Resolves of 2008, C. 298, S. 6]

What plaintiffs in the Kane case clearly want is some form of overall state limit on Massachusetts greenhouse gas emissions, declining year-by-year. For better or worse, that was not required by GWSA. Instead, the state was directed to establish declining goals for some sources, and it did more than that. Its defense to the lawsuit cited three state regulations with declining, mandatory limits, adopted after GWSA.

In 2012, the state updated regulations for the Ultra-low-emission Vehicle Program. [310 CMR 7.40(2)(a)] In 2013, it amended regulations for the CO2 Budget Trading Program. [310 CMR 7.70(5)] In 2014, it issued new regulations for sulfur hexafluoride emissions from gas-insulated switchgear. [310 CMR 7.72] Each of those had declining, mandatory limits–not just goals–for years from 2015 through 2020.

Judge Robert Gordon of Suffolk Superior Court made swift work of the original case. He wrote, “The regulatory initiatives implemented by DEP may or may not prove effective…it will not be because the Department flouted the statutory directives…It is not…for this Court to rewrite the statute that the plaintiffs wish the General Court had enacted…the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has substantially satisfied the requirements of Mass. G.L. C. 20N, S. 3(d).”

Newspapers make mischief: In their typical, hackneyed “he said…she said” style, newspapers have spun a straightforward decision into a moral crisis. Writing in the Boston Globe, David Abel quoted lawyers who argued for the plaintiffs in the Kane case, saying, “…the state has failed to take sufficient action to comply with the state’s 2008 Global Warming Solutions Act.”

The Supreme Judicial Court allowed the case an expedited appeal, soliciting briefs from “friends of the court” and hearing arguments on Friday, January 8. However, even an activist court would need to perform gymnastics to find that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection did less than GWSA asked. So far, newspapers and lawyers let off the hook the legislators who drafted a poorly planned and badly written law.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 11, 2016


An act establishing the Global Warming Solutions Act, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2008, Chapter 298

Complaint, Kane, et al. v. Massachusetts DEP, Suffolk Superior Court Case No. 14-02551, filed August 11, 2014

Judgment, Kane, et al. v. Massachusetts DEP, Suffolk Superior Court Case No. 14-02551, issued March 23, 2015

Reducing sulfur hexafluoride emissions from gas-insulated switchgear, Massachusetts regulation 310 CMR 7.72, April 25, 2014

CO2 budget trading program, CO2 allowance allocations, Massachusetts regulation 310 CMR 7.70(5), revised December 6, 2013

Ultra-low-emission vehicle program, Emissions requirements and prohibitions, Massachusetts regulation 310 CMR 7.40(2)(a), most recently revised January 1, 2016

David Abel, Suit faults Massachusetts record in cutting emissions, Boston Globe, January 3, 2016

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 5, started at 7:05 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. While North Korea was testing its first thermonuclear bomb, the board conducted a public hearing about what it called “diversity issues involving the town”–also an explosive catastrophe, at least on a local scale.

A standing-room-only audience of around 200 gathered in a hearing room with only about 100 seats. For many Brookline residents it was an evening of despair–airing incident after incident of racial discrimination, targeting and harassment–lasting more than two hours.

Commission statement: At its meeting the previous evening, the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission had reviewed testimony and reports it received about racial issues affecting the Brookline work force. Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, read a statement to the Board of Selectmen that the commission had authorized.

Dr. Coleman said the commission, which began in January, 2015, “spent the last year trying to move forward.” Hopes for progress had been dashed at a December 16 meeting, when two Brookline police officers testified in open session that their department was afflicted with racial tensions, from which they personally suffered. Town government, according to the commission statement, has “a culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture. This is a matter of extreme urgency, which the Board of Selectmen needs to address with actions, not words, now.” Members of the board listened but did not comment.

Police testimony: Prentice Pilot, one of the two African-American police officers who spoke out on December 16, told the Board of Selectmen he had worked on the force for 17 years. He recalled another minority police officer who “went to the chief about racial incidents” a year ago, apparently joining Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun then, but got no action. In response to his recent complaint about a racial insult, he said, “the chief had a preliminary investigation” but called it “inconclusive.”

After his recent testimony to the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Officer Pilot said, the commission “asked Selectman Greene to get more of the story…I haven’t heard anything from him.” Mr. Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Board of Selectmen, became the board’s delegate to the commission and was present when Mr. Pilot testified on December 16.

Officer Pilot said a recent report on the racial climate in the Police and Fire Departments, sent to commission members, offers “insights from the Police Department leadership: no major incidents” in the department. “The chief,” he said, “had a free diversity report when the three of us went to him in December of 2014.” Applause from the audience lasted most of a minute.

Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, the other African-American police officer who spoke out on December 16, described “the chief’s assurance” of respect in the department. “He gave me his assurance a year ago,” said Officer Zerai-Misgun. “Nothing has changed…All you say is that you’re waiting…Nobody has contacted me.” He told the Board of Selectmen, “It is not a safe environment there. The chief failed me last year…Now you’re failing me today.”

Lee Smith, an African-American former police officer in Brookline, told the board about experiences starting in April, 1998. He also left a much longer version of his remarks in writing. As a beginning Brookline officer, he said, after he wrote a parking ticket a superior officer “chewed me up,” telling Mr. Smith, “That ticket belongs to a friend of mine.” Mr. Smith explained that there was a covert system of marking tickets to indicate they were supposed to be discarded and ignored, which he had not followed.

At a “diversity meeting” held more than 15 years ago, Mr. Smith said, fellow officers ridiculed the training, “complaining, ‘why do we have to be here for this?’” Written materials were distributed at the training, according to Mr. Smith. “I saw guys ripping it up, tossing it in the trash.”

Harassment complaints: Leslie Epps, who operates Finesse Florist on Washington St., told about experiences as an African-American living in Brookline and running a retail business. “I’ve experienced such racism,” said Ms. Epps. “I have filed complaints. These complaints have disappeared. There has been intimidation: ticketing my vehicle falsely, targeting my shop.”

Ms. Epps described herself as “keynote speaker” at the most recent Martin Luther King Day event in Brookline. Now, she said, “I have stress disorder…at the hands of Brookline police.” Not one to give up. Ms. Epps told the Board of Selectmen, “This is my country. I will not be moved…I am looking for restorative justice.”

Cruz Sanabria of Rice Street, a Marine veteran and a public school teacher in Boston, who was a member of the former Human Relations Commission, described harassment from neighbors and antagonism from Brookline police officers. In one incident, he said, he was falsely cited for a crime.

According to Mr. Sanabria, he was charged with “assault with a dangerous weapon…It was dismissed.” Mr. Sanabria told the Board of Selectmen, “The horror I went through is worse than anything else I have had in my life…You put me in a position that I shouldn’t have been in. Why? Because I’m Puerto Rican.”

Reactions: Brookline residents who are not members of a minority had strong reactions. Bob Miller of Copley St., a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a teacher at Heath School, told the Board of Selectmen, “I’ve heard talk about racism in Brookline,” calling it “an issue that can destroy the town that I love.” He urged “the strongest possible actions to let it be known that this will not be tolerated.”

Pat Bartels of Wolcott Rd. said her family “moved to Brookline because we believed it was going to be a caring and liberal community.” Her two children, she said, are graduates of Brookline High School. “Their friends were from Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Korea…from all over the world…Those are the values they shared.”

Shifra-Lilith Freewoman of Longwood Ave. was less forgiving. In Leslie Epps’s shop, she said, “She treated me like gold…It breaks my heart. Everybody black that I know has encounters with police in this town.” The problem, according to Ms. Freewoman, has been that “words don’t translate into clear action.” She told the Board of Selectmen, “If this board can’t do it, then let’s elect another board.”

Years ago: Andrew Leong of Marion Terrace described his experiences inside the Brookline Police Department many years ago. He is a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “We are sick and tired of more studies, more training,” said Prof. Leong. “I did that training 27 years ago.”

At the time, he said, “a black officer told me, ‘I’m so glad you came and spoke…All those racist things [are] happening to me on this police force.’” Referring to Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun, Prof. Leong said, “They are risking their jobs. What do we want? We want them to be on paid administrative leave.” Applause from the audience again lasted for most of a minute.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2016


James Pearson and Tony Munroe, North Korea says successfully conducts first H-bomb test, Reuters (UK), January 6, 2016

Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Lee Smith, Statement at Brookline Board of Selectmen hearing, January 5, 2016

Diversity Commission: police and fire department report, Brookline Beacon, December 20, 2015

Net metering for electricity: fair practices

Among climate activists, so-called “net metering” has become a popular cause. Allowing operators of small, nonpolluting generators to export surplus power into local power networks and earn credits at the same rates as the usual electricity prices will help promote those generators, they contend. However, such a practice will also help enrich the owners of those generators.

Costs of service: If retail electricity were priced in the same way Brookline prices water, there might be few problems with net metering. Brookline’s water rates apply combinations of demand charges and usage charges. Demand charges vary with the capacities of connections to the water network and pay costs to maintain the network. Usage charges vary with the metered uses of water and wholesale water prices.

If retail electricity were priced similarly, operators of small, nonpolluting generators would pay demand charges based on capacities of their connections and could use the connections either to import or to export power. When they import power, they would accrue charges that depend on amounts used and on wholesale costs of power at points of use. When they export power, they would accrue credits at the same rates.

Such a practice could allocate costs of service fairly. Customers would pay to maintain local power networks in proportion to capacities of their connections, whether used for import or export. Customers who operate small, nonpolluting generators and export electricity to other customers would earn credits at the same rates as prices of conventionally generated power they displace, as figured at the points of use.

Retail billing: Many industrial and some commercial electricity customers are already covered by billing divided into demand and usage charges, but most residential customers are not. Instead, residential electricity rates usually lump costs of maintaining local power networks together with costs of wholesale electricity and long-distance electricity transport.

A residential electricity customer typically sees a single, composite billing rate applied to amounts of electricity used. If residential customers are allowed to export electricity at the same composite billing rate, credits they receive offset not only costs of electricity but also costs to maintain local power networks. Over time, such an approach to billing means that their shares of costs to maintain local networks will be paid by other customers attached to the networks.

Fair practices: Most subsidies to small, nonpolluting generators flow from the general economy through tax collections, which distribute the burdens partly on the basis of ability to pay. Burdens produced by net metering flow against those principles and tend to benefit people with higher incomes at the expense of people with lower incomes. The small, nonpolluting generators are largely owned by people with higher incomes, who can better afford major investments that they require.

As long as amounts of electricity generated by small, nonpolluting generators remain relatively minor, burdens of unfair billing from net metering also remain minor. As these generators become more common, unfair burdens grow apace. The more fortunate few, with higher incomes, tax the many less fortunate, with lower incomes, forcing them to pay excess shares of maintaining local power networks.

If net metering of electricity is to be expanded–while defending a just society–then fair practices need to be applied in retail billing for electricity. Residential electricity bills need to be separated into accurately assessed demand charges and usage charges, as Brookline water billing now does. Net metering needs to apply the rates for usage charges. Climate action can support social justice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 21, 2015


Eddie Ahn, ed., Social justice groups advocate expansion of solar through net metering, Brightline Defense Project (San Francisco, CA), March 9, 2015

Matthew C. Whitaker (professor of history, Arizona State University), Net metering and its potential impact on low-income consumers, Atlanta Blackstar (Atlanta, GA), July 2, 2014

Town meeting: parks and schools

Warm controversies at this year’s fall town meeting cooled quickly in a flurry of surprises and compromises. In the afternoon before the first session on Tuesday, November 17, town staff learned that Brookline was no longer in line for a major state grant to assist with Larz Anderson Park. We are too rich a town to qualify.

Article 6: Rejection of the state grant application quashed a dispute over Article 6 on the town meeting warrant, seeking matching funds to improve Larz Anderson Park. To qualify for up to $400,000 in additional state aid, the town meeting would have to restrict Larz Anderson to recreation and conservation uses only, invoking Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.

A few weeks earlier, consultants hired by the Board of Selectmen had named Larz Anderson as a potential site for a new elementary school. The 1949 will of Isabella Weld Anderson, leaving the land to the town, required that it be used for educational, recreational or charitable purposes. Agreeing to the state’s conditions would abandon potential uses involving two of those three categories. The town meeting took no action.

Political chatter also started to call out Larz Anderson as a potential site for high-school expansion. Never mind that the park is remote from centers of population and not well served by streets and transit. Park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts sounded flustered, to say the least.

Open space: Over the past 150 years, since the Civil War, the town acquired about 475 acres of usable open space–not counting the traffic islands and cemeteries. The 53 major sites, totaling about three-quarters of a square mile, represent about 11 percent of the town. Only about a tenth of that space is part of school sites. The rest provides recreation facilities, pedestrian parks and conservation areas.

The distribution of usable, public open space became grossly unequal. Each precinct in the town has nearly the same population. However, Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total. The average amount of usable, public open space is only about 30 acres per precinct. Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Precinct 13, snaking along the Brighton line, has none.

 

Brookline’s usable, public open space

Year Acres Precinct Source Site name
2011 10.0 14 purchase Fisher Hill Reservoir Park
1977 1.6 1 taking Amory Woods Conservation Area
1975 3.5 1 taking Halls Pond Conservation Area
1972 0.5 4 purchase Billy Ward Playground
1970 4.2 5 purchase Lincoln School Playground
1967 0.4 5 taking Juniper Street Playground
1961 25.0 16 bequest Blakely Hoar Conservation Area
1961 1.1 9 purchase Lawton Playground
1960 9.5 15 purchase Soule Center
1953 17.2 15 purchase Dane Park
1951 2.4 7 purchase Pierce School Playground
1948 61.1 15 bequest Larz Anderson Park
1946 1.1 12 purchase Schick Park
1945 30.2 15 purchase Lost Pond Conservation Area
1945 15.2 15 purchase Skyline Park
1944 11.1 14 purchase Warren Field
1941 1.3 15 purchase Baldwin School Playground
1939 2.4 5 donation Robinson Playground
1935 11.3 16 donation Baker School Playground
1915 0.5 4 purchase Murphy Playground
1914 8.7 5 purchase Downes Field
1913 0.8 14 purchase Eliot Little Field Park
1913 1.7 5 purchase Clark Playground
1910 4.0 11 purchase Driscoll School Playground
1907 2.1 6 purchase Emerson Garden
1907 119.9 15 purchase Putterham Meadows Golf Course
1905 1.7 9 purchase Coolidge Playground
1903 8.3 1 purchase Amory Playground
1903 3.1 12 purchase Runkle School Playground
1902 32.2 14 donation Brookline Reservoir Park
1902 2.6 1 donation Longwood Mall
1902 2.8 1 donation Knyvet Square
1902 1.1 1 donation Mason Square
1902 1.9 2 purchase Winthrop Square
1902 6.5 14 purchase Heath School Playground
1901 5.6 14 purchase Waldstein Playground
1901 0.3 5 purchase Philbrick Square
1901 3.3 10 donation Griggs Park
1900 13.8 1,3 purchase Riverway Park
1900 4.2 11 purchase Corey Hill Park
1899 0.3 4 donation Linden Park
1897 0.4 10 donation Saint Mark’s Square
1895 0.2 4 donation Linden Square
1894 12.9 4,5 purchase Olmsted Park
1891 6.7 8 purchase Devotion School Playground
1891 5.0 3 purchase Longwood Playground
1890 2.8 15 purchase Singletree Hill Reservoir
1871 4.1 4 purchase Brookline Avenue Playground
1871 5.2 6 purchase Cypress Street Playground
1871 2.0 4 purchase Town Hall Square
1868 1.2 6 purchase Boylston Street Playground
1864 0.2 1 purchase Monmouth Street Park
1827 0.2 5 donation Town Green

Source: Open space plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011

 

Social justice: Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can spare a little for a school site. There are at least three obvious, well qualified candidates:

• Putterham Meadows Golf Course, at 120 acres–a conspicuous luxury. Five acres carved from a corner of this cradle of riches would capably house a three-section elementary school.

• Soule Recreation Center, at 10 acres, a site perennially looking for a gainful occupation. Its rapid churn of personnel has become a community scandal.

• Dane Park, at 17 acres, by far the least used of Brookline’s major parks.

The town has not commissioned a new school site since Baker in 1935. The new Lincoln School, opened in 1994, took over the old, private Park School site–after that school moved away to Goddard Ave. It would take a coldly rigid, greedy set of park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts to find that there is no adequate space they could possibly spare from Precinct 15.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2015


Open Space Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011 (8 MB, uses obsolete precinct numbers)

Precinct Map, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2012 (1 MB)

Craig Bolon, School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie, Brookline Beacon, October 25, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

State transportation project: Carlton St. footbridge

On Wednesday evening, November 4, state transportation staff held a hearing on plans to renovate the Carlton St. footbridge, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The state is now managing a project that Brookline began in 1998.

Tracks and bridges: The footbridge was built in the 1890s over rail tracks–then part of the Boston & Albany Rail Road–running beside the Muddy River in Brookline, near the Longwood neighborhoods. From there, the river flows into the Back Bay Fens, one of the “public grounds” designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for the Boston park department. In an 1883 report, Olmsted resisted calling the facilities “parks.” He wrote that instead they were landscaped “drainage works.”

Site of the Carlton St. footbridge, 1887

MuddyRiverFensFootbridgeSite
Source: National Park Service

The arrow in the figure points to the site of the Carlton St. footbridge–near the intersection of Carlton St., coming south from Beacon St., with Colchester St. On the 1887 map from the Boston park department, the rail tracks are crossed by bridges at Longwood Ave. and at Park Dr., as the latter is now known. A footpath appears to connect a “flag stop” along the rail tracks with one of the circulation paths.

The tracks were originally built for the Boston & Worcester Railroad and Charles River Branch Railroad between Boston and Newton. From the 1850s through the 1870s, the railroad–through extensions, mergers and name changes–carried millions of tons of gravel from Newton and Needham into Boston to fill the Back Bay salt marsh, creating dry land for neighborhoods that continue to use the Back Bay name today.

In the 1870s, as the Back Bay landfill project wound down, the Boston & Albany (B&A) Rail Road took over the tracks running through Brookline and Allston into Boston, transporting both passengers and freight. There was a B&A terminal on Station St. in Brookline. Over tracks near the intersection of Carlton and Colchester Sts. the town built a pedestrian bridge–giving access from Longwood neighborhoods to the B&A “flag stop.”

Carlton St. footbridge, c. 1896

CarltonStreetBridge1896Mono
Source: Public Library of Brookline

Alexis H. French. Brookline’s first town engineer, oversaw construction of the bridge, built in the summer of 1894. It is a utilitarian steel “pony truss” design, with riveted beams and cross members. The main span is about 75 ft, and the overall length including staircases at each end is about 110 ft. Originally there were steel circles mounted along the sides, the only ornamentation.

Records now known show no involvement by Olmsted or his firm in building the Carlton St. footbridge. According to Prof. Charles Beveridge of American University, unpublished archives from 1892 showed it as a late addition to Riverway plans. For over 80 years, the bridge provided an alternate entrance to the Riverway segment that Olmsted and his firm designed–giving it historical context and significance.

Changes and decline: In 1958, the B&A notified the state that it was going to discontinue passenger service on the rail line. Massachusetts acquired interests in the route and contracted with Perini Corp. of Framingham to install electrical wiring and redirect the Boston end underground, to connect with trolley services at Kenmore Square. Perini completed the work in about a year.

Electrically powered service started in 1959 on what became the MTA Highland line–now known as the D branch of the MBTA Green Line. That introduced a new hazard for the Carlton St. footbridge: proximity to 600 volt, high current wires. Its 1894 state permit had called for a 15 ft height. The span was barely above the trolley wires, and the structure was in decline.

Indifferent maintenance, including use of road salt in the winter, led to weakening of stair treads, cross members and braces. By the 1970s, corrosion had become severe, and the bridge was a safety hazard. In the fall of 1975, both ends were blocked with chain-link fencing. Brookline looked into removing the structure but delayed doing anything because of costs and dangers from working around an active transit line.

By the 1990s, deterioration of the fenced-off, rusting structure had become so advanced that ordinary repairs had become impractical. The wood decking and smaller metal elements were stripped away, so they would not fall onto the trolley tracks. Only the original main steel columns and beams were sturdy enough to stay in place near the tracks.

Controversy and revival: Some neighbors hoped that the footbridge would be reopened. For example, the late Henry Kohn, a former Precinct 1 town meeting member, had used it almost every day. Dr. Kohn walked between his home on Monmouth Ct. and his office at Shields Warren Laboratory in the medical area. Others neighbors were wary of vagabonds known to collect in secluded parts of the Riverway, and they opposed reopening the bridge.

For several years, neighborhood opposition gained the upper hand, ousting many of the conservation-oriented Precinct 1 town meeting members who had supported efforts to reopen the footbridge. Starting in 2006, trends changed, and over the next few years the opposition contingent gave way to a new generation in Precinct 1 that supported efforts to reopen the footbridge.

Cathleen Cavell, a Precinct 1 town meeting member and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, began organizing to restore the footbridge in the late 1980s and formed Friends of the Carlton St. Footbridge in the late 1990s. They attracted support from the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, a membership group founded in 1987 to advocate and educate around open space issues. However, interest remained low and progress slow.

A lingering storm in October, 1996 helped the fortunes of the footbridge. About 8 to 12 inches of rain fell over three days. The Muddy River quickly flooded, and floodwaters flowed down Green Line tracks into the Kenmore Square station. From there, the flood spread into the trolley tunnel toward downtown Boston, under Boylston St. Damages to property and to the transit system ran to around $100 million, in current value. The Green Line repairs took about two years, with frequent interruptions and breakdowns.

In the aftermath, Boston and Brookline began closer cooperation on planning flood control for the Riverway and Fenway. A four-party plan developed, seeking assistance from the state and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the Swift administration in 2002, Ellen Herzfelder, who was then the state secretary of environmental affairs, made restoring the Carlton St. footbridge a component of the Muddy River flood control project, pressuring Brookline to provide funds and coordinate efforts to renovate the footbridge.

After years of planning and disputes, the fall town meeting of 2009 finally provided project funds. Article 5 allocated $1.4 million for design and restoration, passed by a 194-24 roll-call vote. By that time, political changes in Precinct 1 had developed and settled. Every town meeting member from the precinct voted in favor of funds to restore the footbridge.

Project underway: At the November 4 hearing, Margaret Walsh and William Chi of the state highway department described the current $2.7 million project to renovate the Carlton St. footbridge. The largest amount of the cost is expected to be paid from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds. If realized, Brookline and the state would each pay about $270,000 of the total. Brookline would be able to reclaim nearly $1 million from its 2009 appropriation, to use for other purposes.

Andre Martecchini of Kleinfelder SEA in Cambridge described the current design, for which Brookline paid the initial costs. It is intended to satisfy handicapped access requirements by attaching ramps at both ends of the span, just inside the staircases. Each ramp extends eastward toward Kenmore Sq. and loops back to the foot of its staircase. Original materials for the main steel beams are to be reused; most other parts will be new materials. Decking for the span is be Ipe hardwood, with an estimated 75-year service life.

Construction plans are to detach the staircases, lift the span and station it in a tent nearby. It will be renovated on-site, while ramps are built and staircases are rebuilt off-site. New foundations will raise the span about a foot and shift its location about a yard into the park, avoiding existing trees. When the structures are all ready, the span will be lifted back into place and the bridge reassembled, adding the new ramps and installing security screening along the span.

The current design is rated about 25 percent complete. It does not include any bridge or park lighting. The next part of the project is to produce working specifications and advertise for bids. The remaining project duration is estimated at around two years. Green Line service will be replaced with bus service for two weekends when the span is being lifted out and back, a significant part of project costs.

Comments and questions: Six town meeting members from Precinct 1 spoke in support of the project: Cathleen Cavell, James Franco, Neil Gordon, Sean Lynn-Jones, Robert Schram and Robert Sloane. None were opposed. Ms. Cavell, who started efforts that led to the project, said she had been “longing to see the bridge renovated and reopened.” Benjamin Franco, a former Precinct 1 resident and current member of the Board of Selectmen, said the project will “restore the Olmsted vision.”

Mr. Lynn-Jones, who chairs the Advisory Committee, asked about colors. Like the original, the renovated bridge will be mostly painted steel. Mr. Martecchini of Kleinfelder said the security screening will be black but “the rest will have some color,” not yet chosen. The original bridge was painted black, although what remains is heavily rusted.

Precinct 5 town meeting members Robert Daves, Betsy Shure Gross and Hugh Mattison and Precinct 6 town meeting member Thomas Vitolo spoke in favor of project plans. Mr. Mattison said they were the result of a “town-wide effort.” Arlene Mattison of Pond Ave, president of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, and Frances Shedd-Fisher of Walnut St., a former Precinct 5 town meeting member, echoed those sentiments.

Starting in 2006, Dr. Vitolo–a recent transplant from Precinct 1–became a figure in replacing a former Precinct 1 contingent that opposed reopening the bridge. He said he looked forward to bicycle crossings using the new ramps, expecting them to relieve congestion at the Longwood MBTA stop. New bicycle ramps on the Riverway, at the Route 9 intersection, will open at about the same time, he said, and should also help.

Others favoring the plans included Gilbert Hoy of Reservoir Rd., a former member of the Board of Selectmen who chaired Brookline’s project committee for the footbridge, Frances Gershwin of Glenoe Rd., who chairs the Oversight Committee for the Muddy River flood control project, Elton Elperin of Monmouth St., a member of the Preservation Commission, and John Dempsey of Brington Rd., a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Three former Precinct 1 town meeting members continued to oppose the project: Pamela Zelnick of Carlton St., a member of the Transportation Board, Frederick Lebow of Colchester St., chair of the Naming Committee, and Melvin Clouse of Monmouth St. Ms. Zelnick called the project “a total waste of taxpayer money.” Mr. Lebow recalled hearing “when that bridge was open, there was a higher crime rate.”

Anthony Raynes of Carlton St. echoed the opposition, saying the new “design is excellent” but claiming that the “bridge was closed because of crime.” With more bicycle traffic encouraged by a renovated bridge with ramps, Dr. Raynes said Carlton St. will become “total mayhem…the accident rate will be terrible.” Dr. Clouse said very few Brookline pedestrians would likely use the bridge, calling it a “bridge to nowhere.”

Opponents of renovating the Carlton St. footbridge, by now heavily outnumbered by supporters of the bridge, sounded unlikely to derail the project. Mr. Elperin of the Preservation Commission, an architect, said he “never expected the project would take this long or cost this much.” He commended the designers for “great care taken to make the ramps as light as possible” and observed that over time a steel bridge would be seen as “more valuable by being a rare feature of an Olmsted park.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 9, 2015

– Updated November 11, 2015, with letter from Prof. Charles Beveridge


Design public hearing for project 606316, proposal B-27-016, Highway Division, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, November 4, 2015

Transportation project funding, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, 2015

Priority evaluations, highway projects FY2016, Massachusetts Department of Transportaton, 2015

FY2013 Capital improvement program, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012, See $1,254,000 bond fund for 10 years for Carlton St. footbridge.

Minutes, Brookline Preservation Commission, April 12, 2011

Roll-call vote, Article 5, November 17, 2009, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant report for November 17, 2009, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Hugh Mattison, The Muddy River restoration project, Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, 2009

William A. Newman and Wilfred F. Holton, Back Bay: The Story of America’s Greatest Nineteenth-Century Landfill Project, Northeastern University Press, 2006

David O. Mendelsohn, Muddy River project facilitation, in Robert L. France, ed., Facilitating Watershed Management, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, pp. 55-58

Bridge to nowhere, Carlton Street Footbridge, 2003

Letter to Gilbert Hoy, Board of Selectmen, from Charles E. Beveridge, American University, re Carlton St. footbridge plans, September 25, 2001 (obtained from Cathleen Cavell)

Report of the town engineer, in Annual Report of Town Officers, Town of Brookline, MA, 1906, p. 157

Bridge over Boston & Albany Railroad at Carlton Street in Brookline, May 4, 1894, in Annual Report, Massachusetts Board of Railway Commissioners, 1895, p. 193

Report of the landscape architect, 1883, and Map for the Back Bay Fens, 1887, in Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, Vol. 8: The Early Boston Years, reprinted by National Association for Olmsted Parks, 2010

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Hazards of rail transport, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2014

New England gas pipelines: attorney general weighs in

In New England, there are now six natural gas pipeline projects active, in review or announced. They would increase total pipeline capacity into the region by about 75 percent. There is no foreseeable market in the region for that amount of new gas. Instead, pipeline companies appear to be speculating on exporting U.S. natural gas through New England into international markets. However, they want New England utility customers to pay for their pipelines, and they have been working to sign up utility companies as business partners.

Northern route: The biggest project remains Northeast Direct, proposed by the Tennessee Gas division of Kinder Morgan, headquartered in Houston, TX. It is intended to connect between a major pipeline hub in Schoharie County, NY, just south of the Adirondacks, and a major hub in Dracut, MA. Most of it was originally routed across northern Massachusetts, carrying hydrofractured shale gas from eastern Pennsylvania into east central New England, with a design capacity of 2.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d).

The original Tennessee Gas proposal would have increased total gas pipeline capacity into New England by more than half, passing through conservation lands and close to many homes. It has been in state reviews and is in “pre-filing” status at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). It sparked intense protests in Massachusetts, with hundreds of residents turning out at each of several public hearings.

Tennessee Gas recently scaled back capacity to 1.3 Bcf/d, after rerouting much of the line through southern New Hampshire. The “pre-filing” comment period ended October 16. That day, Maura Healey–elected last year as Massachusetts attorney general–sent “scoping comments” to FERC about the Tennessee Gas proposal. The comments recommended measures to organize federal reviews:

• Rather than analyze isolated projects, FERC should prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that forecasts regional needs for new natural gas pipeline capacity in New England and considers the combined impacts of all six current pipeline projects.

• The EIS should review potential impacts on both the region’s environment and the global environment. In particular, it should consider protected conservation lands, global warming and human health and safety.

Arguments: The attorney general clearly saw that piecemeal reviews were likely to lead to excess pipeline capacity, costs and environmental risks. However, in order to prevail, the attorney general needs to prepare for federal lawsuits, challenging a hidebound federal agency, and will need to break a logjam of legal barriers.

The attorney general cited Kleppe v. Sierra Club. [427 U.S. 390, 1976] In that case, early in the development of Powder River Basin coal in the Mountain West, the Supreme Court found that a regional review of proposals for coal mines was not required under federal law, but its opinion said regional reviews would be necessary in other circumstances.

The 1976 opinion held, “…when several proposals…that will have cumulative or synergistic environmental impact upon a region are pending concurrently before an agency, their environmental consequences must be considered together.” The Kleppe case has rarely been useful. Its range of conditions is so narrow that few practical circumstances qualify. As typically happens, New England gas pipeline projects that the attorney general cited are not now “pending concurrently before an agency.” Instead, they are at different stages:

Spectra, Algonquin Incremental Markets 0.342 Bcf/d under construction
Tennessee Gas, Connecticut Expansion 0.072 Bcf/d final FERC review
Tennessee Gas, Northeast Energy Direct 1.3 Bcf/d FERC pre-filing
Spectra, Atlantic Bridge 0.13 Bcf/d FERC pre-filing
Spectra, Access Northeast to 1.0 Bcf/d open season ended
Portland Natural Gas, Continent to Coast to 0.13 Bcf/d open season ended

As tallied by the attorney general, the projects total up to 2.974 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of new gas pipeline capacity, compared with 3.951 Bcf/d of current gas pipeline capacity.

The attorney general also cited some marginal cases and statutes: Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency [549 U.S. 497], decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, and the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and Global Warming Solutions Act. [St. 1990, C. 408, and St. 2008, C. 298] The Supreme Court case required new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for greenhouse gas emissions but said nothing about FERC projects. State laws might apply to state reviews of pipeline projects, but they do not govern FERC.

Regulations: Potentially stronger arguments from the attorney general are based on federal regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970. Under rules for scope of review [40 CFR 1508.25], federal agencies must consider “cumulative actions, which when viewed with other proposed actions have cumulatively significant impacts,” as well as “similar actions, which when viewed with other reasonably foreseeable or proposed agency actions, have similarities that provide a basis for evaluating their environmental consequences.”

Gas pipeline projects in New England certainly “have similarities.” They are all “reasonably foreseeable,” and they look likely to have “cumulatively significant impacts.” Beyond those strong suits, environmental objections from the attorney general might be overstated. They cite provisions of “guidance” documents, construing them as “requirements.” Section IV.B, third paragraph, asks for compliance with a draft document, “2014 CEQ Climate Impact Guidance,” which is also mentioned in Section IV.D of the comments.

Need versus greed: The attorney general’s comments said FERC is brushing off analyzing needs for more gas pipeline capacity as part of an environmental review. “FERC has indicated that this inquiry will not be part of the EIS.” [Detailed comments, first paragraph] Moving proactively, the attorney general arranged a professional review of those issues, described as follows:

“The Attorney General’s Office will soon release a study it commissioned…that examines the extent of New England’s need for additional energy supplies to ensure electric system reliability through the year 2030 and analyzes alternative solutions to meeting any such need, including costs to ratepayers and effects on greenhouse gas emissions.” [Introduction and summary of comments, sixth paragraph]

When first announced in early July, the study by Analysis Group of Boston was to be “completed by October, 2015.” Since then, its release has been postponed at least twice and was most recently promised for some time in November. It is to consider, in particular, the ocean import terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) now serving New England, specifically: “whether [needed] gas can by supplied by LNG or additional pipeline capacity is needed.”

New England is served by four ocean import terminals for LNG, with total capacity about 3.2 Bcf/d. However, because of high prices in overseas markets, during 2011 through 2014 only the Distrigas terminal in Everett, adjacent to Boston Harbor, received deliveries. The operator, GDF Suez, had long-term contracts at favorable prices. This past winter, price spikes in New England gas and electricity appear to have been trimmed by reactivation of the Northeast Gateway terminal off Gloucester.

Nearly doubling gas pipeline capacity into New England, as originally proposed, never made financial sense, if it were intended to meet needs of New England. The motive behind the giant proposals from the pipeline companies always looked like speculation on shipping hydrofractured shale gas coming from the Appalachians, particularly Pennsylvania, into Canada.

From Canada, the pipeline companies would export gas as LNG, coupling U.S. natural gas into international markets and expecting to raise prices. There are now permits for two Canadian terminals to export a total of about 1.5 BCf/d. From the viewpoints of the pipeline companies, New England has become a shipping route.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 1, 2015


Attorney General Healey calls on FERC to weigh gas needs and pending projects as part of review of Kinder Morgan pipeline, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, October 19, 2015

Scoping comments for the Northeast Energy Direct project, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, October 16, 2015 (edited for internal consistency)

Office to lead regional gas capacity study, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, July 6, 2015

Tux Turkel, Deliveries of liquefied natural gas, Portland (ME) Press Herald, February 1, 2015

Mary Serreze, Gas pipeline foes form three-state coalition, Springfield (MA) Republican, January 30, 2015

Joe Mahoney, Pipeline plan crosses archaeological site, sparks feud with FERC, Oneonta (NY) Daily Star, September 21, 2015

Alvin L. Alm, National Environmental Policy Act: past, present and future, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1988

Scope of environmental review, Federal Regulations 40 CFR 1508.25, Cornell University Law School, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England gas pipelines: need versus greed, Brookline Beacon, August 29, 2015

Earthquake risks: raised for Brookline and New England

Although earthquakes in New England have been rare, risks in the region are greater than previously known. Our main sponsor of earthquake investigations has been the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), an agency in the Department of the Interior. The agency issued revised estimates of U.S. earthquake risks in 2014, explained in a scientific journal article published in 2015.

Earthquake history: The most recent major earthquake in the region occurred 260 years ago: the Cape Ann earthquake of November, 1755. Its energy has been estimated at Richter magnitude 6.2, only a little less than the Northridge earthquake of 1994 that collapsed Interstate 5 through Santa Monica, CA. Hundreds of Boston chimneys shattered in 1755, church steeples toppled and walls of more than a dozen brick buildings collapsed.

Cape Ann earthquake of 1755, in Boston

CapeAnn1755EarthquakeUsgs
Source: antique woodcut, U.S. Geological Survey

Damage from a similar earthquake today could be widespread and severe, given the area’s large inventory of unreinforced solid brick buildings from the 1920s and before on soft, waterlogged soils–found in much of the urban parts of Boston, Brookline and nearby communities. A strong earthquake could liquefy soft soils and jolt foundations. The main MIT campus, built over garbage and landfill, might be at major risk.

Revised risk estimates: According to seismologist William Leith of USGS, “The [2014] exposure estimate [of 143 million U.S. residents at risk from earthquakes] is nearly double the [2006] estimate of 75 million….” Dr. Leith omitted to mention that an “at risk” criterion had been changed by the agency, a kind of mission creep.

However, some of the 2014 risk estimates, as compared with previous estimates in 2006, represent real increases in recognized risks. Much of the recent evidence comes from monitoring and reanalysis of small earthquakes, frequently occurring in New England. The U.S. northeast shows five main clusters of increased risk recognition, the greatest south of the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Earthquake risk changes, northeastern U.S.

EarthquakeRiskChanges2006to2014EastCentralUs
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 vs. 2006

Despite improvements, distance intervals used with USGS earthquake risk estimation remain too coarse to reflect New England soils. Subsoil structure can change greatly in a mile or less. So far, New England governments have not tried to address those challenges of estimation. According to 2014 USGS analytical maps, risks in metropolitan Boston rapidly rise toward the north and fall toward the south.

For urban Brookline and Boston, a 2014 USGS risk contour map shows a 2 percent risk in 50 years of an earthquake with about 0.15 g peak ground acceleration. That would be between 6 and 7 on the Mercalli scale of local intensity. By comparison, effects in Boston from the 1755 Cape Ann earthquake have been estimated at about Mercalli 8, an intensity currently predicted to occur around once per 700 years (that is, a more frequent event).

Earthquake risk contours, northeastern U.S.

NortheastGroundAccelerationContours2014
Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2014

An apparent discrepancy in Boston-area risk estimates could come from local amplification of earthquake effects, owing to soil conditions and building techniques. Urban areas around Boston have risk factors that might be compared with Mexico City. Effects there of a September, 1985, earthquake were severe, although the magnitude 8 epicenter was about 250 miles west, near the Pacific coast.

Risks in New England are significant but notably less than those near New Madrid, MO, and Charleston, SC–the eastern U.S. areas at highest risk. Three major earthquakes between December, 1811, and February, 1812–up to near magnitude 8 and centered in southeast Missouri, northeast Arkansas and westernmost Kentucky–were the strongest series in recorded U.S. history.

New Madrid, MO, was largely destroyed in 1812. Ground shaking was noted in Boston, about 1,100 miles away. Seismic activity in the New Madrid area remains high. Investigations found similar, disastrous earthquakes had previously occurred nearby over recent millennia.

Consequences: Potential consequences of 2014 USGS risk revisions in the Boston area, over several years, are changes to earthquake resistance codes for buildings and infrastructure. Unreinforced solid brick buildings could require total replacement after a strong earthquake. While most homeowner insurance policies exclude earthquake coverage, riders are usually available, but premiums may rise.

The Earthquake Hazards Program at USGS has become a child of neglect. It has been funded at about the same amount for 2015, in dollars of the year, as for 1975–while general inflation eroded over three-quarters of the former purchasing power. Spending in the wake of a disaster does not help to prevent or reduce it.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 14, 2015


Michael Casey, Nearly half of Americans at risk of an earthquake, CBS News, August 10, 2015

Matt Rocheleau, Major quake expected in New England once every 1,000 years, Boston Globe, July 23, 2015

Jeremy Miller, Boston’s earthquake problem, Boston Globe, May 28, 2006

Carl W. Stover and Jerry L. Coffman, The Cape Ann (MA) earthquake of 1755, U.S. Geological Survey, 1993

Kishor S. Jaiswal, et al., Earthquake shaking hazard estimates and exposure changes in the conterminous United States, Earthquake Spectra 31(3), 2015 (forthcoming, online 10.1193/111814EQS195M)

Mark D. Petersen, et al,, Documentation for the 2014 update of the United States national seismic hazard maps, U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 (113 MB)

Mark D. Petersen, et al,, Seismic-hazard maps for the conterminous United States, U.S. Geological Survey, 2014 (Sheet 2, map of peak horizontal acceleration with 2% probability of exceedance in 50 years, 10 MB)

Tony Schinella, Another NH earthquake hits the capital region, Nashua (NH) Patch, August 1, 2015

Earthquakes of 1811-1812, City of New Madrid, MO, c. 2014

John E. Ebel, Report on the New England Seismic Network, U.S. Geological Survey, 2012

Robert A. Williams, Earthquake hazard in the New Madrid seismic zone remains a concern, U.S. Geological Survey, 2009

John E. Ebel, Earthquakes in New England, Cape Naturalist 13(4):63-66, spring 1985

Advisory Committee: return of the leafblowers

On Thursday, October 8, the Advisory Committee got off to an uncertain start at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. With Sean Lynn-Jones away, Carla Benka, the vice chair, led a session that focused mainly on leafblowers.

Beginning in 2000 with a petition article from Jerome Sadow, unsuccessful on first try, this is the fourth visit by leafblowers to town meeting. Article 10 for the fall town meeting, starting November 17, calls for a total ban on the machines–however powered and however used. Article 11 calls, on the other hand, for extensions to seasons of allowed use. Noise remains the most common complaint.

Sound and noise levels: Ordinary conversations typically involve sound levels around 60 decibels A-weighted (dBA), at a distance of 3 ft. Perceived loudness doubles with each 6 dBA increase. Federal noise exposure limits, intended to prevent hearing damage, have long been 85 dBA for an 8-hour workday. At that intensity, conversation is almost impossible. The noise would sound around 20 times louder than ordinary conversation.

Introduced in the 1970s, small leafblowers have long been loathed because of noise, although performance has gradually become more tolerable. Some of the earliest machines emitted literally earsplitting noise: as loud as 95 dBA, measured at a distance of 50 ft. Unprotected operators, who work much closer to machines, experienced up to 115 dBA, comparable to peak noise from a 737 jet on takeoff, measured about 200 ft from a runway.

Demographic shifts: As Brookline’s populations changed, more people tended to be working longer hours. They tended to have less free time and more surplus income. Rather than do their own lawn care and gardening, they turned increasingly to landscapers, who brought increasing amounts of power equipment, including leafblowers.

By the middle 1990s, Brookline had a noise bylaw limiting lawn and garden equipment to a maximum noise level of 80 dBA at a distance of 50 ft. Many leafblowers then in use were noisier than permitted, but there was little enforcement. In 2000, that situation prompted Mr. Sadow to propose limiting leafblower noise to 72 dBA. However, only a few leafblowers then available could meet such a standard.

Leafblower limits: After a long review by a moderator’s committee, the fall town meeting of 2001 voted to limit leafblower noise to 72 dBA for units manufactured in 2002 or later and to limit hours of operation: 8 am to 6 pm on weekdays and 9 am to 6 pm on weekends. The Police Department got more sound level meters, and enforcement became somewhat more attentive.

The slow phase-out of older, noisier leafblowers and the continued increases in use left many residents unsatisfied. At the fall town meeting of 2008, a package of revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw, introduced by the Board of Selectmen, lowered the maximum allowed noise level for leafblowers manufactured in 2009 and later to 67 dBA, measured at 50 ft. However, hours of permitted use were extended: 7 am to 7 pm weekdays and 8:30 am to 6 pm weekends and holidays. Those standards remain in effect today.

After seeking stronger measures from the 2008 fall town meeting and leaving empty-handed, Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, returned at the 2011 fall town meeting proposing restrictions specific to leafblowers in a new bylaw. It set seasons of allowed use: between March 15 and May 15 and between September 15 and December 15, allowing emergency uses out-of-season by town workers. It also set penalties: from a warning on a first offense to a $200 fine on a third or later offense.

For his efforts, Mr. Fischer was rewarded by opposition from all members of the Board of Selectmen and from all but one member of the Advisory Committee. They tried to shoo him away with a resolution, merely asking residents and contractors to be “considerate…sensitive…[and] reasonable.” Mr. Fischer argued that lapses from those fine sentiments had been at the heart of continuing problems with leafblowers. He won the day.

Another round of review: This fall, Richard Nangle, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, with other petitioners, is seeking a total ban on leafblower use in Brookline, under Article 10. At Advisory, Mr. Nangle argued that enforcement of Mr. Fisher’s leafblower law has not worked. Leafblowers continue in use out-of-season, landscapers sometimes claim they are “exempt” from laws and police are rarely able to catch violators. Only ten percent of complaints logged over three years resulted in citations.

Local landscapers led by Faith Michaels and Peter Gately, who are behind Article 11 seeking to extend the leafblower seasons, spent most of their efforts opposing Article 10. They claimed leafblowers have been key elements in making money as landscapers. Erin Gallentine, the director of Parks and Open Space, was equally emphatic, citing time and motion studies. Under Article 11, landscapers want to end the spring season on June 15, not May 15, and want to end the fall season on December 31, not December 15.

Leafblowers, they all said, do a better and more efficient job than rakes and brooms. However, Ms. Michaels and Ms. Gallentine were unable to explain why total clearance of leaves should be critical today, when 40 years ago and earlier–before leafblowers came to Brookline–it wasn’t. Somehow, previous generations had managed to live safely and happily despite some stray leaves.

After 20 minutes into a stem-winding report from the subcommittee on public safety, Janice Kahn, the chair, disclosed that it had no position on Article 10, seeking a ban–despite two sessions of public hearings. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, sought to send Article 10 to a committee, when it had already arrived at a committee: the Advisory Committee.

Subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein described regulations in Cambridge and Arlington. Unlike Brookline, those communities limit numbers of leafblowers in simultaneous use, according to sizes of lots. It did not seem to occur to subcommittee members that anything between the status quo and a total ban might come within the scope of Article 10, and they did not propose such limits for Brookline.

Alan Balsam, the health director, undercut one argument against leafblowers: debris they blow into the air along with leaves. Dr. Balsam said the Advisory Council on Public Health had “found no compelling health threat.” Ms. Michaels dealt with another concern, worker exposure to noise. Units her company and others said they now use, rated for 65 dBA noise at 50 feet, expose workers to 83 dBA, below the federal limit for 8-hour industrial exposure.

Recommendations: Slogging through a total of six motions from Advisory Committee members, Ms. Benka organized recommendations. The committee opposed a leafblower ban under Article 10. That got only three votes. Under Article 11, the committee supported a minor change authorizing the public works commissioner to allow leafblower use in emergencies, but it opposed extending regular leafblower seasons.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 11, 2015


Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Records of town meetings since 2000, Town of Brookline, MA, 2015

Leaf blower information, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Leaf blower study group, Town of Lincoln, MA, 2015

Leaf blowing, Department of Public Works, City of Cambridge, MA, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions, Brookline Beacon, October 6, 2015

Public works: solid waste carts

In the next few months, the Brookline Department of Public Works is expected to propose changes to solid waste collection, the first since so-called “single stream” recycle carts were delivered to households five years ago. This time the department is expected to supply carts for general refuse. The word so far is that the cart capacity might be 35 gallons or less–far smaller than most cities and towns provide.

Standard waste containers: The past several years have seen a trend toward cities and towns in Massachusetts supplying waste bins or carts rather than expecting residents to provide them. In Brookline that began in 1990 with 12-gallon “blue bins” supplied by Laidlaw, Inc., when it began to collect and process Brookline’s second-generation, multiple stream recycle waste.

Twenty years later, Brookline switched to “single stream” recycling operated by Waste Management, Inc. Flatbed trucks distributed a 65-gallon cart with wheels to each participating household. Although little publicized, on request Public Works will supply a 35-gallon or a 95-gallon cart instead.

As of 2014, at least 56 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns were supplying waste carts to residents, according to municipal solid waste survey reports available from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. The 1.1 million households in those communities are nearly half the state population of 2.4 million households.

For recycle waste, 49 communities provided carts. For general refuse, 37 communities provided carts. Seven communities provided only carts for general refuse, while 19 communities, including Brookline, provided only carts for recycle waste. All data are from the state survey report for 2014 except for Newton and Bedford, which did not report that year; their data from 2013 were used instead.

Cart sizes: Capacities of most solid waste carts are rated at about 65 or 95 gallons. A few towns use other sizes, including about 25, 35 or 50 gallons. Weighted by the numbers of participating households, the statewide average capacity of a cart for general refuse was 69 gallons. The average capacity of a cart for recycle waste was 75 gallons.

Numbers of households using waste carts, by capacities

HouseholdsUsingRefuseCartSizes
 
 
HouseholdsUsingRecycleCartSizes
Source of data: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

A solid waste cart size of 35 gallons or less would put Brookline far outside the mainstream practices of Massachusetts cities and towns. Only the two small towns of Hamilton and Wenham provide carts for general refuse in that range of capacity. They represent less than one percent of households participating in Massachusetts programs with municipally supplied carts.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 9, 2015


Waste reduction and recycling, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 2015

Capacities of waste carts by Massachusetts communities for 2014, with numbers of participating households, data from Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, 2015

Craig Bolon, Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions, Brookline Beacon, October 6, 2015

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014


Editor’s note –

Advisory Committee member Stanley Spiegel wrote, stating that Hamilton and Wenham operate food waste collections for composting, separate from general refuse. So far, Brookline is not known to be planning any similar program.

Recycling: from wartime campaigns to secular religions

As John Tierney recently wrote in the NY Times, today recycling is being “promoted as a goal in and of itself”–turning away from traditional grounding in environmental and financial concerns. No local activists involved with solid waste are known to have career experience in process management, industry economics, mechanical engineering or manufacturing. While goals might sound civic-minded, backgrounds do not suggest skills to develop policies for waste handling.

Recycling generations: Municipal recycling emerged in the 1940s with “paper drives” to support World War II efforts, collecting telephone books and newspapers. Those could often be converted into low-strength containers and excelsior, or “wood wool”–with financial gains realized mainly through unpaid, volunteer labor.

A wider scope of efforts took off in the 1960s–involving multiple materials and paid curbside pickup. While they made inspiring news copy, within a few years financial and environmental inventories showed efforts to be counterproductive. More petroleum and other nonrenewable resources were being consumed than saved.

Third-generation efforts, taking off in the 1990s, tended to evade criticism. Sponsors announced internal rather than external goals: simply aiming to divert tonnages in waste streams rather than trying to justify programs through either environmental or financial benefits. Somewhat like bake sales: “just because.”

Modern times: So-called “single-stream”–a recycling poster-child for the past several years–involves less effort for households and for collection crews. Otherwise, it has become a financial and environmental disaster. Once-plentiful streams of old newspapers and telephone books are largely gone, thanks to an Internet age when few people want information on paper.

Mixing rather than separating materials causes everything to be smeared with food waste, mashed and broken. Retrieving anything useful from the rubble takes more effort and yields materials that are either ruined by soilage, including paper, or that need expensive washing, including plastics and metals. Net returns from recycled materials have plummeted. However, some ordinary recycling has survived.

Take leaves–for example–or rather, “rake leaves.” That’s what we’ve been doing for over 40 years. A small plot in back holds most of a year’s leaf-fall. By the next year, rain has packed it into a dense layer, and we can add another year’s harvest. After about 20 years, there was enough well-digested leaf compost to start enriching gardens and flowerbeds.

Besides providing fall exercise, the habits save town labor and fuel. They slow, but they do not eliminate, air pollution. Decomposing leaves release some methane, a greenhouse gas. Commercial composters have started trapping methane and using it to generate electricity. Burning leaves, as people used to do, would release large amounts of carbon dioxide and pollute the air with smoke, including partly burned compounds.

We, the town and the state all fail to inventory recycling and publish results on environmental life cycles and overall finances. While we are aware of general directions in which some efforts are leading, we know little about amounts or balances.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 6, 2015


John Tierney, The reign of recycling, New York Times, October 4, 2015

Peter Thorsheim, Waste into Weapons: Recycling in Britain during the Second World War, Cambridge University Press, 2015

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land

The first Advisory Committee warrant review for the fall, 2015, town meeting got underway at 7:30 pm on Thursday, October 1, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. The committee tackled Article 6, likely to be one of the most contentious. It recommended against adding more restrictions on use of town land–specifically, Larz Anderson Park–until community needs for school expansion are better understood.

Lakeside view at Larz Anderson Park

LarzAndersonLake
Source: Brookline Recreation Department

Larz Anderson Park: The land now known as Larz Anderson Park was conveyed to the Town of Brookline through the will of Isabel Weld Perkins Anderson, wife of Larz Anderson, III (1866-1937), after she died in 1948. The Weld family, from whom she was descended, had owned the former Windy Top estate since the 1840s. It also owned the site of today’s Hancock Village, using it for a private golf course until 1945.

Although it might seem odd now, Brookline’s 1949 annual town meeting struggled over whether to accept the gift of land. Some said Brookline could not afford to maintain it. The large parcel was then occupied by a mansion, by Italianate gardens at the hilltop and by several support buildings–including a handsome garage for classic automobiles that had interested Mr. Anderson.

Eventually doubts were overcome, and the town meeting voted to accept the bequest. That said the land must be used for park, educational or charitable purposes. A location at the edge of town–64 acres bordering Jamaica Plain, far from the town’s population centers–led to use for what has become Brookline’s best known public park. It includes a small lake, picnic and grill facilities, baseball fields and an outdoor skating rink.

Unfortunately, the Brookline DPW description of Larz Anderson Park on the municipal Web site omits nearly all the rich historical context of the site. The DPW map display offers text that will be unreadable with most browsers and monitors. The map information is not page-linkable, does not name, locate or describe the park features and does not outline the park boundaries–a disgrace.

Parkland protection: For many years, most involved in Brookline’s government had thought the major town parks were protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts state constitution. However, several may not be, including most of Larz Anderson Park. Parkland protection under Article 97 requires a declaration by a town meeting.

At a public hearing held September 30 by the Advisory subcommittee on capital, Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, testified that the status of protection for several Brookline parks is uncertain. Recent cases from state appellate courts say protection is not active simply because of ways land has been acquired or used.

Restrictions in wills, deeds and trusts are not generally permanent, under Massachusetts law. Brookline was sharply reminded of that by the recent Court of Appeals decision affecting Hancock Village. In many circumstances, those restrictions expire after 30 years. Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 184 (Real Property), Section 23, provides (in part):

“Conditions or restrictions, unlimited as to time, by which the title or use of real property is affected, shall be limited to the term of thirty years after the date of the deed or other instrument or the date of the probate of the will creating them, except in cases of gifts or devises for public, charitable or religious purposes.”

There are other exceptions to the 30-year rule. Conditions of wills and deeds involved with Brookline parks will need review. Brookline also needs to review which parks or parts of them are covered by town meeting declarations protecting land under Article 97. Such protection can be altered, but according to Ms. Murphy that takes a unanimous vote of the supervising board and two-thirds votes of both a town meeting and the General Court. Only votes in the General Court are required by Article 97. Ms. Murphy did not cite any sources for other requirements.

Proposal and background: In Article 6 for the November town meeting, the Park and Recreation Commission is proposing to declare about 55 of the 64 acres at Larz Anderson Park protected under Article 97. That would be needed to satisfy requirements for a state grant, reimbursing parts of planned improvements. The hilltop, now occupied by the town’s skating rink, was protected in 1998. According to Ms. Murphy, most of the remaining park area is probably not similarly protected.

In 2013, under item B.15 of Article 8, the annual town meeting appropriated $0.66 million for a program of improvements at Larz Anderson Park. However, the DPW Division of Parks and Open Space had developed a plan needing more than $1 million. For the balance, the division expected to seek state support. The division has prepared an application for a $0.4 million grant, not yet acted on.

Brookline’s continuing surge in school enrollment became a wild card in the deck. In December, 2014, the town hired a consultant to review needs and possibilities to build new schools. After a surge of school building during the middle and late nineteenth century, school sites have become a foreign topic. During the twentieth century, the only new school site was for Baker School on Beverly Rd., opened in 1939. The new Lincoln School opened in 1994 at the former, private Park School site on Kennard Rd.

It has been more than 75 years since Brookline had to search for a wholly new school site, one that was not in similar use before. Over that time, the town has become fully built-out, and land prices have escalated. If Brookline tried to buy land equivalent to Larz Anderson Park today, $50 million might not be enough. Most of that parkland area apparently remains eligible for use as a school site.

Advisory review: The Advisory subcommittee on capital brought in a recommendation against Article 6, by a vote of 1-4. Amy Hummel took more than ten minutes to present it, mentioning only at the end that all the other subcommittee members opposed Article 6. A prospect of locking up $50 million or more in permanent land value in return for $0.4 million or less in one-time state aid had not convinced them.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, tried to sway the committee with arguments about a 1989 “master plan.” She said park improvements were “the next big vision for the community.” The 1989 document has not been available on the municipal Web site–a plan that few committee members had even heard about. The recently prepared grant application has not been available on the municipal Web site either.

Strangely, Ms. Gallentine did not distribute details of the grant application to Advisory Committee members, who were left to imagine what it proposed. Committee member David-Marc Goldstein asked how likely Brookline stood to get $0.4 million. Ms. Gallentine offered a rambling reply that sounded uncertain. An amendment was offered to restrict spending to any amount awarded. John Doggett asked about protecting a smaller part of the park. Ms. Gallentine complained she would have to change the grant application.

Exploring an activity that seemed contrary to restrictions of the Anderson bequest, Leonard Weiss asked how DPW equipment garages came to be built on Larz Anderson land. Ms. Gallentine claimed not to know, saying that had happened “before my time…done by the Park Department.” The former independent department was made into a DPW division through a 1981 town meeting article, after long-time director Daniel Warren retired.

Carla Benka, chair of the subcommittee on capital, described her work years ago to get Larz Anderson Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That insures a process of review for most proposed changes. She questioned the relevance of a 1989 plan, comparing school versus open-space priorities and saying, “It’s not right to play favorites…a whole lot has changed in 26 years.”

Several committee members defended Article 6 against detractors, including Mariah Nobrega, Michael Sandman and Stanley Spiegel. However, few votes were there for those views. Ms. Benka joined a majority of more than two to one, recommending that town meeting turn down Article 6.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 3, 2015


Larz Anderson Park information and reservations, Recreation Department, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012

Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Sanjoy Mahajan v. Department of Environmental Protection, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 464 Mass. 604, 2013

Board of Selectmen of Hanson v. Melody Lindsay, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, 444 Mass. 502, 2005

Adele Toro v. Mayor of Revere, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, 9 Mass. App. Ct. 87, 1980

Massachusetts Constitution, as amended through 1990, see Article XCVII (97, approved 1972) and Article XLIX (49, superseded)

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

School news: new superintendent, Devotion plans

News spread Wednesday, September 30, that William Lupini, the school superintendent since 2004, will be leaving Brookline schools soon. Dr. Lupini is expected to head Essex North Shore, a county-based district founded in 1913 serving several communities–including Beverly, Boxford, Danvers, Essex, Gloucester, Hamilton, Lynnfield, Manchester, Marblehead, Middleton, Nahant, Rockport, Salem, Swampscott, Topsfield and Wenham. That might involve less time commuting from the North Shore town where he lives.

Interim superintendent: The near-term replacement, pending final negotiations, is expected to be Joseph Connolly, since 2014 the interim principal of Devotion School–as he confirmed to the Beacon on Wednesday. Dr. Connolly enjoyed a long career in public-school teaching and leadership before retiring as superintendent of the Stoneham public schools in 2007. His would-be “retirement” was soon interrupted by several interim leadership positions, most lasting about a year.

Before heading the Devotion School administration, Dr. Connolly served during 2009 and 2010 as the interim principal of Runkle School, following another sudden resignation. At both Runkle and Devotion, he has been involved in major renovations of Brookline school buildings, now in advanced planning for Devotion. He has also served as interim superintendent of the Gloucester and the Harvard public schools and as both interim school superintendent and interim town administrator in Boylston.

Dr. Connolly had been a strong favorite for the interim position among parents and teachers. He is widely respected and much liked. Four years ago, after signing up as interim superintendent in Harvard, MA, he described his management approach as “open door”–saying, “I can’t help people if I don’t know that they have a problem.”

Devotion School plans: The 20-member Devotion School Building Committee provided a public presentation and hearing on its plans to rebuild and renovate the school during the 2016-2017 and the 2017-2018 school years. It began at 7 pm Wednesday evening, September 30, in the Devotion School auditorium.

The main architecture has been stable for about the past year, since a low-rise, community-oriented option was chosen over somewhat less costly but much less friendly alternatives. It fully preserves the historic center building, opened in 1915, and it preserves the historic, community-oriented site plan, with east-west wings aligned to Stedman St. toward the north and to Babcock St. toward the south.

Since the fall of 2014, the new north wing has moved nearer to Harvard St. and away from the playground in back. The new south wing, toward Babcock St., has been stepped away from nearby houses and apartments. Those revisions appeared at the Planning Board review in January, 2015. At that point, a visually appealing tilt to the front of the new north wing also appeared, parallel to sides of the 1686 Devotion House and designed to maintain an open appearance for the Devotion House lawn and the Harvard St. frontage.

HMFH, our Cambridge-based architects, are clearly unfamiliar with neighborhood senses of direction and history. They persist in calling the new wings “east” and “west”–much as they persist in calling the historic center structure the “1913 building,” although it opened to the public in 1915. To long-term residents of North Brookline neighborhoods, who typically navigate without compasses, one travels “north” on Harvard St. from Coolidge Corner to the Allston town line.

Relocation plan: A major new element in plans calls for Devotion School to be rebuilt and renovated in a single stage of work, with all the students relocated offsite. Upper grades, fifth through eighth, are already at the old Lincoln School on Boylston St. and will stay there two more school years. No other suitable, vacant school property could be found either in Brookline or in neighboring communities.

An approach that now seems workable is leasing the building at 30 Webster St., a block from Coolidge Corner and now the Coolidge House nursing care center–renovating it for school uses. The center is slated to close by the end of 2015. The building might serve for at least one more school building project beyond the Devotion School project. A disadvantage is limited outdoor space in the back, not more than around 2,000 sq ft. However, there is parking already available to the public at the Courtyard Hotel next door.

School plans and reactions: Few of about 80 parents and neighborhood residents at the September 30 event had attended previous meetings of the Devotion School Building Committee. Those occurred mostly at 8 o’clock weekday mornings. Except for illustrations published in the Beacon, many were viewing plans to build a new Devotion School for the first time.

There were sounds of surprise on seeing a front vista, showing the Devotion House nestled among the historic center structure and new north and south wings. The new wings look lively and contemporary. Because of the choice of a low-rise approach a year ago, they don’t loom over the historic structures, but they do present some contrasts that are not so modest as those from the 1955 south wing and the 1976 north wing.

New Devotion School, from above Harvard St.

DevotionPlanFrontOverhead20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

Since last January, the architects toned down initial and highly assertive designs–now showing less glass, more brick, softer colors, more shrubs and trees, and some friendly, community-oriented spaces directly along Harvard St. Philip “Pip” Lewis, chief architect for the project, Deborah Kahn, project manager, and Kathy Ottenberg, landscape designer, described design development and responded to questions.

New Devotion School, along Stedman St. toward Harvard St.

DevotionPlanStedmanStreet20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

The usual, everyday entrance will move from a back corner of the current north wing to the side of the new north wing along Stedman St., where now there is just a plain brick wall at street level. On the east end, toward the playground at street level and just off the new main entrance, will be rooms for pre-kindergarten and perhaps after-school care. Those will also have doors to the playground.

New Devotion School, along the side toward Babcock St.

DevotionPlanBabcockSide20150909
Source: Devotion School Building Committee

Landscaping along the Babcock St. side has changed considerably since the first plans from September, 2014. Gardening space, intended to support classroom programs, increases from about 200 sq ft now to about 400 sq ft, meeting ADA requirements for handicapped access. Tiers of cedar boxes are intended to support management of different micro-environments. A public walkway between Harvard St. and Devotion St. will feature gently graded ramps instead of steps.

Interior plans were previously more developed, even a year ago. Changes have been fewer and less dramatic. Grade clustering of classrooms has been maintained, with kindergarten through second grade on the lower main floor of the new north, Stedman St. wing, with third through fifth grades on the corresponding floor of the new south wing, toward Babcock St., and with sixth through eighth grades on the upper main floor of that wing.

Special facilities for science, art and music are on the upper main floor of the new north wing. Core facilities–cafeteria, library, auditorium (now a “multipurpose room”), technology labs and gymnasiums–are behind the historic center structure and mostly between the two new wings. Mezzanine space between the ground floor along Stedman St. and the lower main floors of the new wings houses ventilating equipment and has the utility and storage rooms. Nearly all the new roof space is left available for solar panels.

There was one, fairly predictable audience reaction to the exterior design, calling it “boxy, modern and incongruous.” Most reactions, however, focused on open spaces around the new school. Many were concerned about the limited amount of play spaces.

Mr. Lewis of HMFH explained that architects had tried to maximize the usability of open spaces, in the face of safety requirements and a larger building area. He said that the usable parts of the playground will actually be larger in total area than they are now. Dr. Connolly, leading the meeting in one his last events as Devotion School principal before he takes over as Brookline’s superintendent, explained how play spaces had been consolidated behind the buildings, “the safest area” of the historic school site.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 1, 2015


Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans, Brookline Beacon, January 18, 2015

Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school, Brookline Beacon, September 26, 2014

Hancock Village lawsuit: Brookline’s appeal dismissed

Brookline’s first lawsuit over a Chapter 40B housing development Hancock Village has lost, in what looks tantamount to a final outcome. Following a hearing on September 14, 2015, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals issued a speedy decision with a written memorandum, dated September 25. Earlier, adverse superior court rulings were upheld on both their major points: the effects of a 1946 agreement with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company and the effects of 2008 changes to state regulations for Chapter 40B developments.

Arguments and rulings: The Appeals Court wrote that the 1946 agreement had expired in 30 years, under state law. In finding that the agreement was not currently recognizable under Massachusetts law, its memorandum cited procedures that had been followed. Quoting from a recent case, the court said that a recognizable agreement would have to be “land use restrictions imposed as a condition to the discretionary grant of regulatory approval.” [Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Court of Appeals, 2014]

Instead of restrictions imposed during regulatory approval, the 1946 procedures had involved a voluntary agreement by the original developer, the John Hancock Company, offered as an inducement to allow apartment zoning. The Court of Appeals found those procedures similar to ones of a will or trust, saying that the agreement had therefore expired in 30 years.

The main issue in the original superior court case brought by Brookline had been a challenge to a “project eligibility letter” for the Chapter 40B development, issued by the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency. The town contended that the agency had not followed state regulations, saying that a lawsuit was its only recourse, since 2008 changes in state regulations had eliminated administrative remedies.

The Appeals Court disagreed–writing, without explanation, that it was “unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ argument.” According to the memorandum, “The issuance of a project eligibility letter is a necessary precondition to consideration of a comprehensive permit application, but it is not final action on the permit.” The Appeals Court cited the case relied on by the superior court. [Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority, Court of Appeals, 2007]

Prospects: Like its ruling on the 1946 agreement, the Appeals Court’s ruling on the 2008 regulations turns on a balance of factors and could conceivably have gone the other way. However, both are plainly stated interpretations of state law, citing recent cases at the Appeals Court. A further appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court is surely possible but would look to be a steep, uphill struggle.

The recent ruling appears to collapse a case that the Board of Selectmen filed later in the Land Court, challenging the comprehensive permit granted by Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals. A key argument in that case invoked the 1946 agreement, which the Appeals Court ruled has lapsed.

Other arguments, concerning suitability of the development plan for the Hancock Village site, have typically been difficult to sustain in legal challenges against Chapter 40B projects. The Board of Appeals heard over a year of testimony, received major concessions from the Hancock Village developers and imposed over 60 conditions–reducing the scale of the project.

An alternative: Pursuing an alternate vision for Hancock Village, Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, filed Article 18 for annual town meeting of May, 2015. It sought a study of acquiring the Hancock Village “buffers” for permanent recreation and open space. Those are unbuilt strips of land near Russett and Beverly Roads that had been set aside, separating Hancock Village from the nearby single-family houses, following 1940s agreements with the Town of Brookline.

So far, no such study has been published. To surprise of many in the community, the Board of Selectmen has failed to appoint an independent, objective study committee–as generally expected when the May, 2015, town meeting approved Article 18. Seeing the lack of progress, Ms. Frawley filed Article 15 for the upcoming November, 2015, town meeting. It seeks an independent, objective study committee to be appointed by the moderator of town meeting and by the Advisory Committee.

Ms. Frawley found the recent Appeals Court decision on the Web and distributed it to people who have been concerned about the proposed Hancock Village development. However, she has not become involved with the Hancock Village lawsuits. She continues to pursue her original vision: to provide Brookline’s southernmost neighborhoods with permanent recreation and open space that, so far, they have never enjoyed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 29, 2015


Memorandum and order, case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, September 25, 2015

Martha Samuelson and another v. Planning Board of Orleans and others, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, July 2, 2014

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, February 12, 2007

Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015

Appeals Court: Brookline v. MassDevelopment, Brookline Beacon, September 15, 2015

Craig Bolon, Court of Appeals: Brookline’s first lawsuit over Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, September 12, 2015

Land Court: Dueling boards, Selectmen v. Zoning Appeals, Brookline Beacon, September 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Craig Bolon, Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well, Brookline Beacon, July 2, 2015

Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants

The Pilgrim nuclear power-plant in Plymouth may be the next casualty from the Fukushima, Japan disaster in 2011. Safety director David Noyes has warned that Entergy may close the plant if it can’t see a way to make money. Many South Shore neighbors would say, “Good riddance.”

Nuclear shutdowns: At the end of 2014, Entergy closed the Vermont Yankee nuclear power-plant in Vernon, near Brattleboro. Both the Plymouth and the Vernon reactors are close relatives of the wrecked nuclear reactors in Japan. All use BWR-3 and BWR-4 “Mark I” designs by General Electric, dating from the middle and late 1960s.

Those so-called “boiling water” reactors were cheaper to build than the “pressurized water” reactors from Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox and Combustion Engineering. They send steam directly from reactor cores into power turbines, rather than through heat exchangers that isolate radioactively contaminated core water.

For decades, the industry-dominated U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed potential problems with “boiling water” reactors as unlikely. Then came the simultaneous collapse of three of those reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, challenged by an earthquake and a tsunami. The three reactor enclosures failed, along with the spent-fuel enclosure of a fourth reactor, releasing clouds and streams of enormously radioactive materials into the countryside and the ocean.

Despite major alarms from the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, its “pressurized water” reactor resisted a partial collapse. Unlike gross failures of the “boiling water” reactors in Japan, nearly all the damage at Three Mile Island was contained inside a reactor enclosure.

Compared with their initially more costly relatives, “boiling water” reactors have narrower ranges of stability, making them more likely to overheat and collapse when challenged by problems. Among their problems, extra monitoring and maintenance has tended to make them more costly to operate. Quoting an unpublished report from UBS (formerly Union Bank of Switzerland), David Abel and Beth Healy of the Boston Globe claim the nuclear plant in Plymouth is losing more than $2 million a month.

Closing barn doors: NRC trundled out a set of “safety enhancements” that require costly retrofits. In traditional nuke-speak, institutional NRC flacks call those “lessons learned”–making themselves sound like sleazebags. Many lessons about hazards of boiling-water reactors were taught 40 years ago, after a near-disaster at the Browns Ferry nuclear power-plant in Alabama, but those lessons were not really learned.

A March, 1975, fire under the unit 1 control room at the Browns Ferry plant, ignited by careless workers, disabled safety systems and came within about an hour of collapsing the “boiling water” reactor. After that incident, General Electric assigned three senior engineering managers to investigate the safety of the plant’s three reactors. They reported that the reactors could not survive a major challenge.

The company largely disregarded their analysis. In February, 1976, Dale G. Bridenbaugh, manager of product service for the nuclear division of General Electric, and two other GE nuclear engineers, Richard Hubbard and Gregory Minor, resigned and tried to publicize the hazards. NRC commissioned a safety review, sometimes known as the Rasmussen Report (WASH-1400).

In a 1986 conference with industry executives, held at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Harold Denton, then director of the NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, referred to the Rasmussen Report, saying it showed “something like a 90 percent probability of a containment failing” in a “boiling water” reactor using the General Electric “Mark I” designs.

Pilgrim’s progress: During the 1980s, Boston Edison, then the owner and operator of the Pilgrim plant, was plagued by safety citations. In 1982, NRC imposed its largest fine ever, $550,000, for safety failures. Boston Edison spent about $300 million on upgrades, but the failures continued. From 1986 to 1989, NRC closed Pilgrim, mainly for extensive worker retraining.

Trying to curry favor with NRC, in 1987 Boston Edison proposed a “direct torus vent system” intended to reduce hazards, also known as a “hard vent” system. NRC did not certify the system but allowed it to be installed. Although the “hard vent” system at Pilgrim was never given realistic testing, eventually most reactors of its type were retrofitted with similar “hard vents,” including ones in Japan.

The “hard vents” of the three Japanese reactors that collapsed all failed, and then the enclosures of those reactors exploded. NRC staff responded to the unreliability of “hard vents,” first designed for Pilgrim, in their highest-priority recommendations for new regulations in 2011. The required retrofits are very expensive, and they may not prevent disasters, because they do not address basic instabilities of the “Mark I” designs.

Nuclear losers: This year, Pilgrim is back in the federal doghouse. In March, it was downgraded to the lowest NRC safety rating short of impending closure. Entergy and Exelon are apparently pulling out. Exelon announced that it will close the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey by the end of 2019. That was built with an even earlier version of the “Mark I” reactor designs.

A parade of nuclear losers continues to lengthen. They are being ousted from business by poor operating economics of “boiling water” reactors, by high costs to recover from maintenance blunders and by high costs to retrofit unsafe designs. Those already ousted, over the past three years, have been:
* Crystal River 3, one reactor, Crystal Rver, FL, closed in 2013
* Kewaunee, one reactor, Carlton, WI, closed in 2013
* San Onofre, two reactors, San Diego County, CA, closed in 2013
* Vermont Yankee, one reactor, Vernon, VT, closed in 2014
* Oyster Creek, one reactor, Lacey Township, NJ, closing in 2019

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 27, 2015


Evan Allen, Pilgrim nuclear plant safety rating downgraded, Boston Globe, September 2, 2015

David Abel, Pilgrim nuclear plant says it may shut down, Boston Globe, September 17, 2015

David Abel and Beth Healy, No easy answers for Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Boston Globe, September 26, 2015

Market-driven reactor shutdowns threaten local economies, Nuclear Energy Institute, 2015

Jeff McMahon, Six nuclear plants that could be next to shut down, Forbes, November 7, 2013

Japan: lessons learned, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015

Prioritization of recommended actions, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, SECY-11-0137, October 3, 2011

Craig Bolon (as AppDev), Will Japan’s nuclear disaster help make Pilgrim in Plymouth safer?, Boston Globe, October 31, 2011

Tom Zeller, Jr., Experts had long criticized potential weakness in reactor design, New York Times, March 15, 2011

Matthew Mosk, Nuclear reactor design caused GE scientist to quit in protest, ABC News, March 15, 2011

Pilgrim reactor restarted after 3-year shutdown, Associated Press, January 1, 1989

David Dinsmore Comey, Fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear power station, Friends of the Earth, 1976

Court of Appeals: Brookline’s first lawsuit over Hancock Village

Proposed development at Hancock Village in south Brookline has led to two lawsuits filed in state courts on behalf of the Town of Brookline. News reports so far don’t explain much about the differences between them. The first case, begun in 2013, challenges actions of a state agency. The second case, begun in 2015, challenges actions of the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals. The first case is at the Massachusetts Court of Appeals in Boston on Monday, September 14 for a hearing on the merits.

Development plans: Between 2008 and 2011, executives at Chestnut Hill Realty (CHR) promoted plans for major development at Hancock Village, proposing up to 466 new housing units. Responses from nearby neighborhoods and Brookline government varied from concern to alarm. In November, 2011, Brookline enacted a neighborhood conservation law, making Hancock Village the first regulated district.

In 2012, CHR abandoned plans for conventional development under zoning, turning instead to Chapter 40B of the General Laws, Sections 20-23 and aiming to force through development in return for partly subsidized housing. To start such an approach, CHR needed sponsorship from a state agency. Rather than look to agencies mainly oriented to housing, CHR approached the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency (MDFA). Proposals were made through a CHR subsidiary called Residences of South Brookline, LLC.

In late 2012 and early 2013, MDFA reviewed a CHR proposal to add 271 housing units in 12 new buildings. This plan was similar to other CHR plans in its overall approach. There would be a high-rise structure over a rock outcrop, previously considered unbuildable: five stories of apartments above two stories of parking. There would also be 11 low-rise structures on unbuilt land near Russett and Beverly Roads that had been reserved as “buffers” following 1940s agreements with the Town of Brookline.

MDFA sought comments from Brookline and visited the site in December, 2012. In February, 2013, MDFA drafted a response, rejecting the CHR proposal because it was “not generally appropriate for the site.” The agency cited “complete elimination of the greenbelt buffer” and “massing of the…five-story building.” Possibly tipped off to impending rejection, CHR withdrew its proposal just before the response was to be sent.

The following June, CHR proposed to MDFA a revised project with 192 new housing units in 13 new buildings. Now, over the rock outcrop, there would be four stories of apartments above two stories of parking. Although the project still eliminated the greenbelt buffer and it still included a high-rise looming over the neighborhood, built over a rock outcrop, this time MDFA approved, sending a “project eligibility letter” in October, 2013.

Reversing its previously pending rejection, MDFA offered a sentence of justification. That said the project “is generally appropriate for the site taking into account factors such as proposed use, conceptual site plan and building massing, topography, environmental resources and integration into existing development patterns.”

Court of Appeals case: Within a few weeks, the Town of Brookline filed a case against MDFA in superior court, challenging validity of the project eligibility letter. As part of this first lawsuit over Hancock Village, the Town of Brookline also asserted rights under a 1946 agreement with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company, providing enduring restrictions on Hancock Village in return for the 1946 rezoning to allow construction of apartments.

In superior court, lawyers for CHR filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that claims by the Town of Brookline were inconsistent with prior cases and with state law. The circumstances are complex, but after a brief hearing on the motions, without considering circumstances in detail, Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court allowed the motions. Brookline appealed. On Monday, September 14, the circumstances will be reviewed in detail for the first time by a full panel at the Court of Appeals.

There are two main issues in the appeal:
(1) Did Judge Brady at Norfolk Superior Court make an error in dismissing claims by the Town of Brookline that the project eligibility letter was issued without adequate justification?
(2) Did Judge Brady make an error in dismissing Brookline claims about rights under a 1946 agreement with the John Hancock Life Insurance Company that led to rezoning Hancock Village for apartments?

Issue (2) might be of more interest to the second Brookline lawsuit–against the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn the “comprehensive permit” the zoning appeals board granted this year. However, it was also cited in the first lawsuit–against MDFA. There it was opposed by CHR lawyers, through one of the summary judgment motions Judge Brady allowed–boosting the 1946 agreement into an early appellate orbit.

Project eligibility letter: Issue (1) arguments pressed by the Town of Brookline against MDFA claim the agency failed to follow state regulations. Under 760 CMR 56.04(4)(b), those require an agency reviewing a 40B project to consider whether a site is “generally appropriate for residential development” and whether a “conceptual project design is generally appropriate for the site.”

In both instances, state regulations require a “finding, with supporting reasoning, to be set forth in reasonable detail.” The Town of Brookline asserted that the agency merely recited, like cookbook exercises, the types of 760 CMR 56 findings it would need to make but did not explain them with “supporting reasoning” of any kind, much less with “reasonable detail.” [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 25-27]

The Town of Brookline asserted it has no useful remedy other than a lawsuit, because a change to state regulations in 2008–apparently made for the convenience of the state Housing Appeals Committee–relabeled agency findings for project eligibility letters “conclusive” and eliminated administrative reviews. [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 27-29]

For issue (1) MDFA owns the heavy lifting. Its response was bulked up with dozens of pages of regulations, case memoranda and official announcements. However, the gist of the defense came down to a bald assertion that a project eligibility letter is “merely an interim step” in project approval, quoting a Massachusetts case made obsolete by 2008 changes to state regulations. [Defendant's brief from MDFA, p. 1, quoting Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority, Court of Appeals, 2007]

The brief filed for MDFA danced around Brookline’s arguments about lack of justification for a project eligibility letter. It tried to treat a summary judgment allowed in superior court, after a brief hearing during a motion session, as though it were a settled matter of law. Instead, the purpose of an appeals case is to examine reasoning applied by a lower court. [Defendant's brief from MDFA, p. 7] [Standard of review, in Plaintiff's initial brief, p. 13]

For this case, there is little reasoning from a lower court to be examined. At Norfolk Superior Court, Judge Brady merely stated that he “remain[ed] of the view that [the Marion case] applies,” without explaining why it should–over arguments from the Town of Brookline that changes in state regulations made it obsolete. [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 23, 27-29 and 31-33]

The brief filed for MDFA also claimed that the state provides for a “post-permit review”–apparently meaning administrative procedures after a “comprehensive permit” has been granted. However, post-permit procedures do not include comments, and they focus on “cost examination.” There is no process for an appellant to challenge whether a site is “appropriate for residential development” or whether a “conceptual project design” is “appropriate for the site.” [Massachusetts regulations 760 CMR 56.04(7), final approval]

As the Town of Brookline observed, without a court review “of project eligibility, abutters [including the Town of Brookline] are left without any meaningful recourse.” They might have a further opportunity for administrative review only if the developer were dissatisfied with Brookline zoning appeals board actions and sought relief from the state Housing Appeals Committee. However, CHR representatives stated at a public hearing that they were satisfied with outcomes from the zoning appeals board. [Plaintiff's reply brief, p. 6]

The brief filed for CHR also opposed court review of a project eligibility letter, ignoring 2008 revisions to state regulations that closed off administrative appeals and claiming project eligibility is not a “final agency action.” CHR accused the Town of Brookline of trying to subvert purposes of Chapter 40B, Sections 20-23 with “lengthy and expensive delays occasioned by court battles.” [Defendant's brief from CHR, p. 19]

In response, the Town of Brookline quoted the court opinion in the same case CHR referenced, “…interest in…affordable housing must be balanced against…protection of health and safety…and preservation of open space.” [Plaintiff's reply brief, p. 8, quoting Standerwick v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Supreme Judicial Court, 2006]

Like MDFA, CHR did not respond to the Town of Brookline’s argument that “post-permit review” leaves no process for an appellant to challenge whether a site is “appropriate for residential development” and whether a “conceptual project design” is “appropriate for the site.” [Defendant's brief from CHR, pp. 23-25] [Massachusetts regulations 760 CMR 56.04(7), final approval]

Contract zoning restrictions: Issue (2) arguments pressed by the Town of Brookline against MDFA and CHR claim the proposed project would violate terms of a 1946 agreement with the Town of Brookline by the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. For this issue CHR owns the heavy lifting, since its financial interests are at stake.

At Norfolk Superior Court, MDFA and CHR claimed that any requirements from the 1946 agreement had been extinguished after 30 years by Chapter 184, Section 23 of the General Laws. However, that law governs recorded deed restrictions. Previous Massachusetts cases held that it does not limit public agreements, including ones sometimes called “contract zoning.” [Plaintiff's initial brief, pp. 3-4 and 14-19, quoting Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Court of Appeals, 2011]

The Appeals Court may regard the Killorin case as particularly relevant, since two of the three judges who heard that case have been assigned to the current Brookline case: Elspeth B. Cypher and Sydney Hanlon. The Town of Brookline asserts that it has a continuing interest in the 1946 agreement, that the proposed project would violate the agreement and that at Norfolk Superior Court Judge Brady conducted a “myopic review,” finding the Killorin decision applied only to a special zoning permit. [Plaintiff's initial brief, p. 21]

The brief filed for CHR did not respond forthrightly to arguments from the Town of Brookline. Instead, CHR asserted, “It is settled…restrictions which burden land such as those contained in the 1946 agreement can only be enforced for a period of 30 years.” However, whether or not that may be true is a main dispute in the current Appeals Court case. Wishing won’t make it so. [Defendant's brief from CHR, p. 28]

The CHR brief repeated arguments offered at Norfolk Superior Court, saying that the Killorin case “involved conditions imposed on a property by a special zoning permit.” However, the court’s summary of its decision shows it regarded special permits as examples, writing that the law at issue “did not apply to conditions or restrictions set by a government agency such as a local zoning board of appeals as part of the process of granting a special permit. [Defendant's brief from CHR, p. 28] [Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Court of Appeals, 2011, emphasis added]

CHR based its brief on selected quotations from court opinions, trying to argue that exceptions to the law limiting deed restrictions to 30 years applied only to special zoning permits or subdivision control, topics under which cases arose. A recent Appeals Court decision expressed a broader view, as the Town of Brookline argued in its response. [Plaintiff's reply brief, pp. 10-11]

The recent decision said, “The holding of Killorin does not turn on the identify of the local board or on the particular nature of the regulatory decision at issue.” It explained that “the key distinction was…the discretionary grant…under the police power”–that is, the general regulatory powers of a municipality. [Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Court of Appeals, 2014]

Analysis: In its fairly aggressive reaction to the project eligibility letter issued by MDFA, the Town of Brookline appears to be pursuing a strong remedy, seeking early intervention by a superior court rather than waiting for a “comprehensive permit” and then asking for intervention from the Land Court, as Brookline now has also done.

The main argument for early intervention by a superior court has been a claim that 2008 revisions of state regulations closed off avenues for administrative appeals. MDFA and CHR objected that no right to early intervention is provided by state law, but they did not address an equity argument that administrative remedies formerly available have been withdrawn.

In bidding to sustain a 1946 contract zoning agreement, the Town of Brookline is also treading on unusual territory. So far, no one has cited another such agreement by a Massachusetts town that was brought to a town meeting rather than negotiated through a planning board or zoning appeals board. The extensions from circumstances of prior cases may seem obvious, but they are hardly foregone conclusions.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 12, 2015


Docket for case number 2014-P-1817, Town of Brookline and others v. Massachusetts Development Finance Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, filed November 14, 2014

Plaintiff’s initial brief, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, January 12, 2015 (missing the preamble and table indexes)

Defendant’s brief from MDFA, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, February 11, 2015 (11 MB, too large for the Brookline Beacon site, obtainable at Brookline Office of Town Counsel)

Defendant’s brief from CHR, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, February 11, 2015 (10 MB, too large for the Brookline Beacon site, obtainable at Brookline Office of Town Counsel)

Plaintiff’s reply brief, Case 2014-P-1817, Massachusetts Court of Appeals, March 13, 2015 (4 MB)

Project eligibility letter, issued to Residences of South Brookline c/o Chestnut Hill Realty, Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, October 8, 2013

Draft denial of project eligibility, addressed to Residences of South Brookline c/o Chestnut Hill Realty, Massachusetts Development Finance Agency, February 13, 2013 (obtained by Town of Brookline via discovery)

Comprehensive permits [under Chapter 40B], Massachusetts regulations 760 CMR 56, Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2015 (current version)

Martha Samuelson and another v. Planning Board of Orleans and others, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, July 2, 2014

Eric H. Killorin and others v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and another, 80 Mass.App.Ct. 665, October 14, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Authority, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, February 12, 2007

Eileen Standerwick and others v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and another, 447 Mass. 20, June 16, 2006

Land Court: Dueling boards, Selectmen v. Zoning Appeals, Brookline Beacon, September 5, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

New England gas pipelines: need versus greed

Brookline residents may have heard about protests over a natural gas pipeline in a rural area or found a diatribe on the needs for or the evils of pipelines. As with many energy issues, information from state governments, industry sources and advocacy groups may be compromised: patronizing, frozen into agendas or blind to practical affairs.

New England gas pipelines: New England has no natural gas resources, and until 1953 it had no natural gas distribution. In Brookline and other urban areas, fuel gas was manufactured by heating coal with water, producing a flammable but poisonous mix of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and hydrocarbons–leaving toxic coal ash. The current New England land-based supply of natural gas, up to 3.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), is provided by five long-distance pipelines (listed with delivery capacity to New England):

Name of line Bcf/d Start Sources
Tennessee 1.26 1953 Gulf, Southwest
Algonquin 1.09 1953 Gulf, Southwest
Maritime & NE 0.83 1999 Canada east
Iroquois 0.22 1993 Canada west
Portland 0.15 1999 Canada west

 

Major New England gas pipelines

NewEnglandPipelines2000
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

In addition, New England is served by four ocean import terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG), with total capacity about 3.2 Bcf/d. However, because of high prices in overseas markets, during 2011 through 2014 only the Distrigas terminal in Everett, adjacent to Boston Harbor, received deliveries. The operator, GDF Suez, had long-term contracts at favorable prices.

A west-to-east pipeline entering through Connecticut was built by Algonquin Gas Transmission Co. of Boston, a partner with Texas Eastern Transmission Co., operating lines from the Gulf and Southwest. A west-to-east pipeline entering through Massachusetts was built by Northeastern Gas Transmission Co. of Springfield, MA, a partner with Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., also operating lines from the Gulf and Southwest.

Fierce competition over rights to New England territories was resolved in 1953. The former Federal Power Commission (since 1977 FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) allowed both companies to operate in separate territories. By that point, they had substantially completed the two pipelines.

The Northeastern line was later acquired by Tennessee Gas Pipeline, now a division of Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. It is currently designated as part of the Tennessee pipeline system. The Algonquin line now operates as a division of Spectra Energy of Houston, TX. Since 1954, the two lines have been interconnected at Southington, CT, where they cross, tending to limit monopoly power of either company.

New gas pipeline capacity: In recent years, owners of the two largest New England pipelines began new competition, proposing major expansions. As Prof. Christopher Castaneda of California State at Sacramento described in his 1993 book, Regulated Enterprise, during the early 1950s Tennessee Gas Pipeline aimed not only to dominate New England markets but also to export natural gas to Canada.

Under Kinder Morgan management, the Tennessee pipeline company appears to have begun playing the same games again. Its current play, up to 2.2 Bcf/d, most recently called Northeast Direct, has been promoted for over three years to state and local governments and modified at least twice but still not formally proposed to FERC.

Northeast Direct needs major new rights of way. It was first proposed across northern Massachusetts. After strong protests, it was rerouted early this year, partly through southern New Hampshire. As of April, 2015, according to Northeast Gas Association, Northeast Direct had customers for only about 23 percent of the proposed capacity. Excess capacity appears useful mainly to reverse flows along the Maritime & Northeast line, sending U.S. gas northward into eastern Canada, where there are few current, underserved customers.

Proposed and current New England gas pipelines

NewEnglandPipelinesProposed2015
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Instead of one big play, Spectra developed three smaller ones, mostly using existing rights of way for the Algonquin line. Its Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) was approved by FERC in March, 2015, and is now underway. AIM will provide 0.34 Bcf/day increase in capacity, adding about 37 miles of pipeline and raising compressor power at stations in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Another Spectra play called Atlantic Bridge, not yet formally proposed to FERC, would add compressor power at two stations in Connecticut and at Weymouth, MA. The latter connects to Beverly, MA, and to the Maritime & Northeast line via the Hubline–completed under Boston Harbor in 2003. Apparently unable to attract enough customers, this spring Spectra reduced proposed capacity from 0.22 to 0.13 Bcf/d. The Hubline was built for north-to-south flow, supplied from Canada, but Atlantic Bridge appears intended to reverse the direction, sending U.S. gas northward, potentially into Canada.

The largest Spectra play is called Access Northeast, also not yet formally proposed to FERC. It would add up to 1.0 Bcf/d through changes along current Algonquin rights of way. New England’s largest two electricity distributors, Eversource (formerly NStar) and National Grid, recently proposed to invest in 60 percent of that project.

Involvement in a long-distance gas pipeline is outside the charters of Eversource and National Grid. They are local electricity distributors, not generation companies, transmission companies or long-distance pipeline operators. It would tend to put them into gross conflicts of interest, selling wholesale gas delivery to generating plants from which they buy wholesale electricity.

More natural gas capacity?: Does New England need more natural-gas pipeline capacity? The most prominent evidence from pipeline companies and their business allies has been electricity price spikes in mid-winter–strong during early 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Monthly electricity prices, Jan. 2010 through Jul. 2015

IsoNeMonthlyHubDayAhead2010to2015
Source: ISO New England data, August, 2015

Long-term contracts caused natural gas to be allocated to heating customers, limiting supplies at combined cycle, natural gas-fired plants that generate the largest share of New England electricity. During 2013 and 2014, ISO New England coordinated “winter reliability programs”–installing burners and filling tanks with refined fuel oil and liquefied petroleum gas at some generating plants.

The ISO New England pilot program in early 2014 was ineffective, but the next one in early 2015 appeared to moderate price spikes. That program was helped by a milder winter and by prices of crude oil falling since July, 2014, which lowered worldwide prices of natural gas and led to renewed ocean imports. The annual average wholesale electricity prices through March 31, from April 1 of the previous year, show the sway of the ISO New England price bulge in early 2014 and the more moderate average prices before and since.
Through March 31, 2011……..$0.051 per kWh
Through March 31, 2012……..$0.040 per kWh
Through March 31, 2013……..$0.050 per kWh
Through March 31, 2014……..$0.071 per kWh
Through March 31, 2015……..$0.050 per kWh

Pipeline promoters claim New England suffers from a shortage in natural gas delivery capacity of 2 Bcf/d or more. However, their estimates are for worst cases, they apply to only 5 to 7 weeks in deep winter and they assume no added ocean imports. Operators of natural-gas ocean import terminals say they have more than enough capacity to supply winter needs and say lower worldwide gas prices make that financially reasonable.

Since spring, Maura Healey, elected last year as attorney general of Massachusetts, has urged caution on gas pipeline projects. Assistant Attorney General Christina Belew of the Energy and Telecommunications Division called the proposed projects “an inefficient expense…units added would be minimally utilized.” Ms. Healey’s office contracted with Analysis Group of Boston for a comprehensive study of “energy resource options to meet [electrical] reliability needs” through 2030, now underway and to be completed by October.

Industry greed: For about 60 years, starting around 1950, New England natural gas prices remained higher than prices elsewhere in the U.S. In the 1970s and 1980s, imports of natural gas to Boston Harbor from Algeria and later from Jamaica proved favorable. Starting around 2010, gas from Appalachian shale began to reduce prices in the Northeast. Recent natural gas prices in New England and New York have often been lower than U.S. averages.

U.S. natural gas prices, September, 2014

NaturalGasSpotPricesFerc20140930
Source: U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

As oversupply emerged in Appalachian shale gas and prices started to fall, pipeline companies began to see opportunities. In 2013, FERC allowed Millenium Pipeline Co. a capacity enhancement for the Empire line into the New York City area. In December, 2014, FERC approved an application from the Williams Co. of Tulsa, OK, to build a new Constitution pipeline from the eastern Pennsylvania gas fields to Wright Township, Schoharie County, NY–a major pipeline interconnection junction.

In February of this year, Repsol, which has operated the Canaport ocean import terminal for LNG in New Brunswick since 2008, applied for a permit to build an export terminal, at 0.75 Bcf/d. The terminal is connected via the Brunswick pipeline to the Maritime & Northeast pipeline. Declining gas production in eastern Canada could not sustain Canaport exports. Instead, the recent proposal appears to be a year-round opportunity for the Spectra and Kinder Morgan projects to ship gas for international export.

In August of this year, the National Energy Board of Canada awarded a license to Pieridae Energy to export LNG from Goldboro, Nova Scotia. Like Canaport, Pieridae would lack a reliable supply of Canadian gas and need to draw on U.S. pipelines. The U.S. Department of Energy previously approved a permit allowing Pieridae to export 0.80 Bcf/d of U.S. natural gas through its Nova Scotia facility.

Traditionally, pipeline promoters tend to wrap themselves in patriotic garb and promise prosperity, but history indicates they have only been interested in profit. Low prices for Appalachian shale gas and high overseas prices obviously point toward setting up ocean exports from the East Coast. Such a process would couple Appalachian gas into international markets–likely raising prices for New England.

New England is unlikely to be well served by encouraging new natural gas pipelines, when it can probably manage demands for electricity through conservation, increased efficiency, added renewable sources, short-term fuel substitution and ocean imports of natural gas. Utility sponsorship of a pipeline project could be disastrous, loading ratepayers with year-long costs in exchange for only month-long benefits and enriching pipeline promoters through public subsidies–feeding industry greed instead of meeting public need.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 29, 2015


Natural gas in New England, New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission, 2015

Thomas Dukes, The expanding role of natural gas imports in meeting increased gas demand in New England, U.S. Department of Energy, 2000

Paul L. Joskow, Natural gas: from shortages to abundance in the U.S., American Economic Review, 103(3):338-343, 2013

Tux Turkel, Deliveries of liquefied natural gas, Portland (ME) Press Herald, February 1, 2015

New England spoils, in Christopher James Castaneda, Regulated Enterprise: Natural Gas Pipelines and Northeastern Markets, 1938-1954, Ohio State University Press, 1993, pp. 144-166

Tennessee Gas Pipeline div., Kinder Morgan, Natural gas delivery capacity, Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, June, 2015

Tom Kiley, Regional gas market update, Northeast Gas Association, April 22, 2015

Order issuing certificate (Spectra AIM project), U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, March 3, 2015

Kinder Morgan confirms anchor shippers for Northeast Energy Direct project, Kinder Morgan (Houston, TX), March 5, 2015

Atlantic Bridge project, Spectra Energy (Houston, TX), 2015

Access Northeast project, Spectra Energy (Houston, TX), 2015

2014 Annual Markets Report, ISO New England, May 20, 2015

Planned pipeline enhancements, Northeast Gas Association, July, 2015

Jon Chesto, Report disputes need for more gas pipelines, Boston Globe, August 23, 2015

Analysis of alternative winter reliability solutions for New England energy markets, Energyzt Advisors (Boston, MA), August, 2015

Winter reliability analysis of New England energy markets, Energyzt Advisors (Boston, MA), October, 2014

Andy Metzger, Attorney General Maura Healey urges caution on building new natural gas pipelines, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 17, 2015

Jay Fitzgerald, Distrigas says fuel deals should prevent future gas shortages, Boston Globe, May 10, 2015

Office to lead regional gas capacity study, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, July 6, 2015

Christina H. Belew to Mark D. Marini, Investigation by the Department of Public Utilities into the means by which new natural gas delivery capacity may be added to the New England market, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, July 6, 2015

Winter 2014-2015 energy market prediction, U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, October 16, 2014

Repsol subsidiary files application to import U.S. gas supplies for export as LNG from Canaport terminal, Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan (Washington, DC), February 13, 2015

U.S. DOE export decision moves Nova Scotia LNG project ahead, Platt’s Oilgram, May 26, 2015

J. Craig Anderson, Maine’s plan to lower energy costs too expensive, says consultant, Portland (ME) Press Herald, July 15, 2015

Craig Altemose, Emerging reality of gas infrastructure: destination export, Huffington Post, July 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Fall town meeting: pipe dreams, Brookline Beacon, December 4, 2014

Craig Bolon, New pipeline across Massachsetts: gas produces hot air, Brookline Beacon, July 11, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash, Brookline Beacon, June 6, 2014

Renewable energy: New England experience

Budding environmentalists in urban New England mostly have yet to meet counterparts in the mountain areas of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. They have related concerns, but they also have far different outlooks. Some urbanites are lathered up over renewable energy, although few have practical experience producing any. Many northerners have come to regard urban energy campaigns as attacks on their living environments.

Costs of energy: For several years, the U.S. Department of Energy has published annual estimates of levelized costs for electricity from new plants of different types. They are independent of state subsidies, and they break out federal subsidies, making it possible to compare full, social costs of electrical energy–whether they are paid by private or public funding. The 2015 U.S. national estimates for unsubsidized wholesale electricity costs from the major types of new generation include:

National electricity source per kWh CF
Land-based wind farms $0.074 36%
Natural gas, combined cycle $0.075 87%
Third-generation nuclear $0.095 90%
Solar photovoltaic farms $0.125 25%
Petroleum peaking plants $0.142 30%
Ocean-based wind farms $0.197 38%

For wind and solar, a critical element that varies with location is capacity factor, CF: the actual average output divided by the peak rated output. National assumptions proved optimistic for wind and solar in New England, where the typical long-term average capacity factors have been documented at about 24% for land-based wind farms (in Maine) and at about 13% for solar farms (by DC ratings). Keep in mind that retail electricity rates add transmission and distribution charges, averaging about $0.12 per kWh for New England residential customers last year.

Major New England sources: Since costs of wind and solar power are dominated by capital, national costs per kWh need adjustment for New England. The region currently benefits from average natural gas prices lower than national averages, and experience with wholesale gas-fired electricity prices across New England has been more favorable than U.S. averages. As adjusted, unsubsidized wholesale electricity costs for the major types of new generation sources in New England become:

New England electricity source per kWh
Natural gas, combined cycle $0.06
Land-based wind farms $0.11
Solar photovoltaic farms $0.24

The full, social cost of wholesale electricity from land-based wind farms in New England, including public subsidies, is about twice the cost of wholesale electricity from the combined-cycle, natural gas-fired plants that produce the largest share of the region’s power. So far, there has been no New England experience with ocean-based wind farms.

Alternatives have not yet proven successful. New England generates much more energy burning wood and waste than it gets from wind and solar, but pollution around wood and waste plants is causing health hazards. The region is unlikely to accept more environmental burdens from wood and waste. Attempts to extract energy from ocean waves and geothermal sources have stalled because of equipment failures and high costs.

When we do commit to spend money in New England for renewable energy in order to provide environmental benefits, for the amount we spend we get about twice the benefits buying energy from land-based wind farms as we get buying energy from solar farms. However, state and federal subsidies have distorted finances, as seen by nearly all the public, tending to promote socially unsound investments.

Obstacles: In Massachusetts, former Gov. Patrick began service in 2007 with enthusiasm for building wind farms. However, most projects were small. During his two terms, 36 wind projects opened, but their total average output is only about 27 MW–about one part in 230 of the state’s average 6,310 MW electricity draw in 2013. Protests gathered over dangers, health hazards and conservation issues. Massachusetts offers few wind turbine locations that are a mile or more from homes and worksites.

Former Gov. Patrick’s second term pulled away from wind and began promoting solar projects with major subsidies. A large but hidden subsidy involves so-called “net metering.” That allows many projects to send electricity into the grid and get full credit at retail prices. The effect is to exempt owners of those projects from paying a fair share of costs to maintain the distribution network. All the other customers wind up paying those costs for them.

Starting in 2011, the Shumlin administration in Vermont soon copied the Patrick administration. After an early courtship of wind power, it backed away and began promoting solar farms. Vermont was left with three fairly large wind projects–Sheffield, Lowell Mountain and Georgia Mountain. Despite a far smaller population, it hosts more installed wind capacity than Massachusetts.

The major wind-power state in New England has long been Maine. It hosts about 52 percent of the region’s installed capacity. However, current Gov. LePage opposes expansion, saying wind is too expensive. Now that he has replaced nearly all appointees of his predecessor, former Gov. Baldacci, disapprovals of wind projects have multiplied. Boston-based First Wind, once the state’s leading developer, gave up and sold out to TerraForm of Maryland.

Comparisons: Contrary to some impressions, New England made a late start and achieved only slow growth in wind generation of electricity. The region’s track record in solar electricity has been even later and slower. Each of the leading wind states–Texas, California and Iowa–vastly outperformed all the New England states combined.

Installed wind capacities of states

StateWindCapacity1999to2014
Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Scaled by measures of state size, discrepancies between high-achieving states and New England states remain large. Measured by state populations, the installed wind capacities in peak watts per person for 2014:
Iowa………. 1831
Texas………. 523
California….. 152
New England….. 58
Installed wind capacity in New England is also well behind the national average of 132 peak watts per person.

New England’s largest untapped source of land-based wind power is among the Longfellow Mountains–as known since 1959–in the far northwest of Maine. Aside from strong winds, key advantages and key limitations are the same: remoteness and very sparse population. There are no major transmission lines. Nearly all the infrastructure would have to be built from scratch. For wind power, that is very costly.

Transmission lines have to be scaled by peak loads they service. A line serving large wind farms, running at only 25 percent capacity factor, costs much more than a line carrying the same average load serving a large gas-fired generator, running at 75 percent capacity factor. So far, no company has been willing to propose a transmission network for the Longfellow Mountains, so of course no wind farms are being built there.

By national standards, New England wind and solar power are rounding errors, only about one part in 50 of the region’s electricity. However, because they are so small they can be carried at nearly negligible costs by current infrastructure: transmission lines and natural gas-fired and nuclear generators. Were they more successful, costs of integration into the power grid would become far more than are currently included in the levelized cost estimates from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Imagination: Every New England state now has a “renewable portfolio” law. For 2015, these require that 8 to 19 percent of electricity be obtained from “renewable” sources. Averaged by electricity use, they set a combined requirement for 2015 of 12 percent “renewable” electricity. So far, the New England laws amount to a political joke. For 2014, New England obtained only 2.1 percent of electricity from wind and solar sources. So-called “requirements” of New England laws are met only through creative relabeling, exceptions, excuses and outright scams.

Some enthusiasts and political operators continue to imagine that people can somehow increase the supply of renewable energy merely by adding to the demand. They promote a variety of top-heavy schemes, including arbitrary escalators on “renewable portfolios” and community power-purchase programs. They ignore markets, which do what they will with supplies and demands. Demand for wind and solar power in New England already outpaces supply by about 6 to 1. When people run up demand without increasing supply, prices rise. Adam Smith told about that.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, August 15, 2015


Levelized cost of new generation, U.S. Energy Information Administration, April, 2015

U.S. wind capacity factors, National Wind Watch, March, 2013

Winter 2014-2015 energy market assessment, U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, October, 2014

Installed wind capacity, U.S. Department of Energy, 2015

Jon Black, Photovoltaic energy forecast update, ISO New England, September, 2014

Marley Jay, Maine governor: wind power is too expensive, Portsmouth (ME) Herald, April 4, 2015

Jon Chesto, Here’s why First Wind’s backers decided to sell, Boston Business Journal, November 19, 2014

State renewable portfolio standards and goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, July, 2015

Donald Bryson and Jeff Glendening, States are unplugging their renewable-energy mandates, Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2015

John Herrick, Electricity supplier won’t buy Vermont renewable energy credits, Vermont Digger, May 19, 2014

Ivy Main, Dominion Power’s wind and solar facade, Washington Post, December 29, 2011

George Taylor and Thomas Tanton, Hidden costs of wind electricity, American Tradition Institute, 2012

Craig Bolon, Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing, Brookline Beacon, July 26, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 4, started at 5:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation and probably won’t meet again in August. This rambling, sometimes cornball board often pushes the biggest problems far out into the night; maybe observers might give up and sign off. The last agenda item on this particular night was a zinger.

$4 million funding gap: The town looks to be around $4 million short of money to rebuild Devotion School. To town administration, that was obviously stale news. The state had sent a funding letter on June 10. The Board of Selectmen did not put the matter on their agenda and let the public know about the problem until almost two months later.

Last May 26, town meeting voted $118.4 million for the project, told by the board and the Advisory Committee to expect $27.8 million in state aid. Six weeks later, the state came back with only $25.9 million. Adding to a $1.9 million problem, the public schools still have no place for kindergarten through fourth grade students during the project. Old Lincoln School will be full with fifth through eighth grade students.

At a morning meeting on August 4, according to board member Nancy Daly, Suffolk Construction of Boston, the general contractor, proposed to install temporary classrooms over the asphalt basketball courts behind the school along Stedman Street. That would cost another, unplanned and unfunded $1.8 million. Where can it all come from? Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, thought it could not come from the debt exclusion approved at the May 5 town election, saying voters had been “promised” some particular amount. He was mistaken.

Mr. Wishinsky apparently forgot that voters approved a project–not an amount of funds. According to state law, that is how debt exclusion questions have to be worded. Up to the times of the town election and town meeting, Brookline had only estimates of total costs and of state funding. It was in no position to make promises to anybody about amounts of funds.

The May town meeting was advised differently by the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The board estimated debt exclusion would apply to $49.6 million in bond funding. [on page 8-25 of the warrant report] The committee estimated debt exclusion would apply to $44.6 million. [on page 8-69 if the warrant report] The town meeting endorsed neither estimate, and it appeared not to have authorized bond funding either.

Instead, the town meeting approved a project total of $118.4 million, by a vote recorded as 222-1. Prior to the vote, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, did not say the motion included bonding, although the margin was more than required by law for bonding. So far, no one knows how much of the approved total might come from current revenue, how much if any from bonding and how much of the latter via debt exclusion. What looks nearly certain is that the total funds approved won’t cover the total costs.

Irish saloon: In another roundabout of the evening, the board approved a large Irish saloon amid lower Beacon Street neighborhoods. Known elsewhere as Waxy O’Connor’s, the Brookline site is to be only a Waxy’s–without beer pitchers and self-serve beer taps. Brookline is getting management from Woburn, at least for a while. In Woburn, according to an online review last month, “The people at the bar were screaming, swearing and running in and out of smoking cigarettes.”

Waxy’s put on a better show than three weeks ago. Frank Spillane, the Foxborough lawyer representing the chain seeking to open at 1032 Beacon St., had reviewed Brookline regulations. Ashok Patel, the Woburn site manager, was slated to manage the Brookline site–no more questions about who the manager would be. Mr. Spillane and Mr. Patel had settled potential problems with some neighborhood representatives.

Board members still proved wary. Although they approved licenses for a restaurant, full liquor service, entertainment and outdoor seating, they limited closing hours to 1 am and attached conditions, including outdoor service to end at 10:30 pm with clean-up completed by 11 pm, limits on noise, deliveries and smoking, little or no paper on the patio and multiple security cameras. Restrictions are still lighter than some at Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue, where no alcoholic beverages can be served outside. As board member Nancy Heller observed, the ban on pitchers did not extend to sangria or margaritas.

Personnel, contracts and finances: In a little over half an hour, the board reviewed and approved hiring for 25 vacant positions, and it approved six miscellaneous contracts ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. It is unclear why, in a community that employs an expensive town administrator with a staff of six, the Board of Selectmen would not delegate such matters, which it always approves.

David Geanakais, the chief procurement officer, presented a contract to lease space on the third floor at 62 Harvard St. for classroom space. The contract distributed by the board was abridged to leave out the amount and cost of the space. Members of the board did not seem to think that important to tell the public about, but afterward Mr. Geanakakis said the first-year cost would be $129,000.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, won approval for two contracts with Susi and Sons of Dorchester for a total of $1.23 million, the main yearly contracts for street and sidewalk repairs. Susi was low bidder on the $0.95 million street repair contract but won the sidewalk contract only when another bidder failed to submit complete documents.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 5, 2015


Annual town meeting, first session, Brookline Interactive Group, May 26, 2015 (video recording, vote on appropriation for Devotion School at about 01:40:10)

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing

Upon lapse of the Patrick administration, the major electric utilities in Massachusetts quickly bailed out of contracts to buy costly offshore wind-power from Cape Wind, citing lack of agreed progress on the project. Barnstable, the largest town on the Cape, had joined with others, suing to quash agreements they said the Patrick administration coerced utilities into signing. That lawsuit may be moot, but only lawyers stood to profit. Last January, Cape Wind became a legal zombie.

Racing the wind: A national race for offshore wind-power is being won by Deepwater Wind in Rhode Island. This spring, Deepwater began building foundations three miles offshore from Mohegan Bluffs, on the south side of Block Island. Next summer, the company aims to install five turbines. Ironically, the state with the least wind-power capacity in New England looks to become the U.S. pioneer of offshore wind-power.

Wind turbines seen from Barlows Point, Block Island, simulated view

BlockIslandSimulatedViewBarlowsPoint
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2013

Writing this spring in the Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson claimed that the apparent success of Deepwater Wind versus Cape Wind had sprung from “thinking smaller,” but he was not looking far beyond the end of his nose. From an initial base of five turbines, Deepwater has plans to install at least five more off Block Island and then to move out into Rhode Island Sound, where it holds federal leases on areas large enough for more than 200 similar turbines. Total power generation could be around three times recent estimates for Cape Wind.

The turbines being manufactured by Alstom of France also mean thinking big. They are nearly twice the size Cape Wind had planned, by peak power ratings, and about three times the size of any land-based turbine in Massachusetts. Rather than use the speed-increasing gearboxes needed with induction generators, they use direct-drive generators, removing a common source of high maintenance costs and turbine disasters. So far, however, offshore wind power has failed to demonstrate any useful economy of scale.

Politics, jobs and prices: Like Cape Wind, Deepwater carefully surveyed wind profiles before bidding on leases and building turbines. Unlike Cape Wind, Deepwater paid good attention to political as well as ocean winds. In contrast to Cape Cod, Block Island lacks a powerful corps of rich people inclined to hire expensive lawyers. Instead, Deepwater was able to appeal to lingering senses of inferiority, promising a leap into high technology.

The appeal that seized former Rhode Island Gov. Carcieri, however, was jobs–good-paying technology jobs in an economy savaged by the 2008 recession. Carcieri helped Deepwater with a land base for operations at Quonset Point, working to haul in over $23 million in federal money for the facility, and he helped to enlist state regulators, ushering Deepwater into the state’s wholesale electricity market.

His successor, former Gov. Chafee, helped to clear a path to permits for Deepwater through state and federal bureaucracies, making it advantageous for the company to build first in state-chartered waters off Block Island and to start the clock running on company operations. Unlike Cape Wind, which never produced any power, by the end of next year Deepwater will be delivering electricity, starting to satisfy contracts.

Deepwater claimed it would employ hundreds of workers from Rhode Island while building the Block Island wind farm. The fine print said something else. According to sworn testimony by a Deepwater representative, after the facility now in progress opened, there would be only six permanent jobs. The price for that employment was huge: nearly four times the average wholesale price for electricity in New England.

Deepwater’s agreement with National Grid calls for an initial wholesale price of $0.244 per kWh. Cape Wind had not been quite so greedy, settling on an initial wholesale price from National Grid of $0.188 per kWh. According to power-pool regulator ISO New England, the region’s average wholesale electricity price, at the busbars of power plants, was $0.0633 per kWh during calendar 2014–considered a fairly high-priced year.

Ripping off customers: Retail customers are paying transmission and distribution charges, too. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that the average total price paid by New England residential customers during calendar 2014 was $0.179 per kWh. Transmission and distribution combined cost them on average $0.116 per kWh.

If New England residential customers had to buy all their wholesale electricity at Deepwater prices, they would have paid a total of $0.36 per kWh on average during 2014, more than twice the actual average total that year. All the New England states are requiring utilities to get increasing amounts of electricity from renewable sources, but so far utilities have been able to find much lower prices from land-based wind farms and hydroelectric generators.

Luckily for Brookline residents, Deepwater never extracted contracts from Eversource or its predecessors, NStar and Northeast Utilities. National Grid serves nearly all of Rhode Island, tending to make that company far more susceptible to political factors there. As Deepwater grows, its dead weight on Rhode Island customers and on other National Grid customers in northeast, central and southeast Massachusetts will grow apace.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 26, 2015


Diane Cardwell, Offshore wind farm raises hopes of U.S. clean-energy backers, New York Times, July 24, 2015

U.S. regional electricity prices, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July, 2015

Beth Winegarner, Cape Wind deadline halted while Massachusetts mulls extension, Law360 (New York, NY), May 28, 2015

New England’s wholesale electricity and capacity markets were competitive in 2014, ISO New England, May 20, 2015

Derrick Jackson, Wind power’s future depends on thinking smaller, Boston Globe, March 28, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Alex Elvin, NStar and National Grid sever contracts with Cape Wind, Vineyard Gazette, January 7, 2015

Deepwater Wind (Block Island Wind Farm) summary, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, 2014

Block Island wind farm permit, Deepwater Wind, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, September 4, 2014

Deepwater Wind project, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council staff report, January 24, 2014

Memorandum for record, Block Island wind farm, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October, 2013

Mark Drajem and Andrew Herndon, Deepwater wins first auction for U.S. offshore wind lease, Bloomberg News, July 31, 2013

Visual impact assessment, Block Island wind farm, Deepwater Wind, submitted to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, May, 2012

RI Supreme Count hears anti-Deepwater Wind arguments, Wind Power, May, 2011

National Grid, Power-purchase agreement with Deepwater Wind, June 30, 2010

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 14, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation for the summer. However, the extra rest and vacations did not seem to help with what is striking some as crabby behavior, at least when dealing in public affairs. Like a chameleon, the board can seem to change colors when dealing with licenses, at least as seen by the general public, if not always as seen by the license applicants.

Discord: Nine Advisory Committee members gathered to witness a protest: vice chair Carla Benka, Janice S. Kahn, chair of the Public Safety subcommittee, Stanley Spiegel, chair of the Planning and Regulation subcommittee, Leonard Weiss, chair of the Administration and Finance subcommittee, Clifford M. Brown, Janet Gelbart, Fred Levitan, Neil R. Gordon and Steve Kanes.

Mr. Weiss spoke about lack of communication shortly before the annual town meeting this May. Not more than a day or two earlier, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had concluded negotiations starting in April for a new recycling collection and processing contract. He had settled a price about $200,000 per year above the budget the Advisory Committee published, which it was about to propose at the town meeting.

Since 1910, the Advisory Committee and its predecessor, the Warrant Committee, appointed by the moderator of town meeting, have served as Brookline’s finance committee. Under Section 16 of Chapter 39 of Massachusetts General Laws, the committee proposes budgets to annual town meetings. In between, it regulates use of the reserve fund. In Brookline, the same committee and its subcommittees also review, hold hearings on and make recommendations about all warrant articles for all town meetings.

Although Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, knew that the budget would go out of balance, he withheld information from the Advisory Committee and might have withheld it from the Board of Selectmen. As a result, the town meeting passed a budget with a major, structural deficit that likely could have been prevented. Mr. Kleckner admitted as much in a later exchange with Sean Lynn-Jones, chair of the Advisory Committee.

According to Mr. Weiss of the committee, that was a breach of trust. The committee, he said, “places great reliance on management representations…Some folks thought withholding information was a good idea…This experience has severely damaged my trust and respect in management.” Fallout included a hotly controversial reserve fund transfer, narrowly approved July 7, when another reserve fund request was denied.

Two members of the Board of Selectmen rushed to defend Mr. Kleckner, and none questioned him, even though all five current board members are Advisory graduates. Nancy Daly, the only board member not serving a first term in office, claimed, “This was not an attempt to hide information…A suggestion that we were trying to sweep something under the rug…was quite offensive.” She did not explain what that referred to.

Neil Wishinsky, chair of the board, made a long statement, concluding, “We try to act in good faith…use our best judgment…There was no bad faith.” In the message exchange, committee chair Lynn-Jones had asked Mr. Kleckner, “…did you consider letting the Advisory Committee know [in April]…budget recommendations might have to be revised?” Mr. Kleckner had responded, “Not at that time….”

Public affairs: Deborah Rivers of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance described to the board proposed changes in the town’s “climate action plan.” However, from her descriptions alone, it was not clear what differed from the previous plan of December, 2012. An interactive form of the 2012 plan has vanished from the municipal Web site, but the conventional document for that plan remains available.

Comparing proposed actions in Appendix F from the 2012 plan with a new Appendix A of proposed changes showed a reduction in actions being considered. Gone, for example, was a 2012 proposal to “develop a program for replacement of…refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers” and a dozen other types of equipment. There are still no comparisons of costs with benefits, and there are no estimates for amounts of efforts involved.

Linda Hamlin and Steve Heikin from the Planning Board and Roger Blood from the Housing Advisory Board asked for authorization to file an application for a $15,000 state grant. Grant applications are routinely filed by town staff without authorization, and approval is sought only to accept grants. It was not clear why any such authorization was needed and why those members of other town boards had become involved.

Their presentation was mostly a replay from a recent meeting of the Housing Advisory Board. Without any explanation, however, the ante had gone up. Instead of less than $35,000–an amount intended to avoid public bidding requirements under state law–Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood were now talking about a total of $50,000 or more–not saying why more money was needed or where a missing $35,000 or more might come from.

Although they used oblique language, the main strategy from Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood was clearly to target Brookline neighborhoods for major development and to invite Chapter 40B developers whom they might prefer into Brookline to take over properties. Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, seemed to catch on partly, saying such an approach would be “difficult”–involving “identifying specific sites” and “public processs.” However, he seemed to think the strategy involved zoning, when the intent of Chapter 40B is to override zoning, along with all other local permits.

Other board members were circumspect. Nancy Daly spoke about “a huge need in town for affordable senior housing.” Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, claimed Brookline could not focus on senior housing, apparently unaware such plans are authorized under federal law and had been recently announced for development at the Kehillath Israel site on Harvard St. With board member Bernard Greene not participating, the other four voted to approve filing a grant application.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, got approval to accept a $0.24 million state energy resources grant, intended to offset costs of energy-efficient lighting. Brookline is in the second year of street lighting improvements. In response to a question, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said changes to street lighting are about 40 percent complete. The new grant, however, is to be used for other public facilities: the high school, the Tappan St. gym, the swimming pool and several parks.

Mr. Ditto got approval to accept $0.144 million in state funds for repairing winter storm damage to streets. He said all the work had been completed by June 30. At his request, the board also approved a $0.024 million contract with Superior Sealcoating of Andover for summer street maintenance.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, sought hiring approval for two lead teacher positions at the Soule Recreation Center. As board member Nancy Daly observed, there has been high turnover among the seven teaching jobs at the center. From participants, there have been some notes of morale issues. Responding to a question from board member Nancy Heller, Ms. Paradis said the average length of employment was 3 to 4 years. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Paradis to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.”

Licenses and permits: After the board turned its attention to license applications, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, left the hall. First up was Richard Nasr of Westwood, who operates the Ontrack Cafe there, seeking a food vendor license at 1633 Beacon St, to be called Square Deli. Such a license for prepared foods does not include restaurant seating or service.

Ms. Daly questioned the application for 2 am closing, calling that “pretty strange” for a sandwich and salad shop. However, as the application noted, the previous business at the site, a 7/11 market, had operated with 2 am closing hours. The board approved the new license with 2 am closing hours.

Adam Barnosky, a member of the law firm headed by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., represented Peet’s, seeking approval for three outside tables and service for nine seats at 1154 Boylston St., formerly Starbuck’s. The board has become quite liberal about outside seating, even allowing it on some sidewalks. At this site, outdoor seating was planned on private space in a narrow strip adjacent to a sidewalk. The board approved, subject to another review of seating area dimensions by the Building Department.

A prime candidate for board attention this evening was a proposal for Waxy’s, a regional chain of restaurants with an Irish theme, to open at 1032 Beacon St. That had most recently been the site of a sometimes troubled Mission Cantina. Waxy’s submitted an ambitious proposal, asking for 122 indoor seats, 48 outdoor seats, up to 60 employees, full liquor service including a bar, 2 am closing hours all 7 days a week and recorded entertainment. It would become one of Brookline’s largest restaurants.

The chain was represented by Frank Spillane, a Foxborough lawyer. There turned out to be disconnects. The people named as managers on papers distributed for the license hearing were not actually expected to be the managers once the restaurant was open. The chain was still looking for someone. A main spokesperson at the hearing was a manager recently hired at another location who mumbled his name, although clearly it was not one of those names appearing on the license papers.

Members of the board had read a Brookline Police Department report calling attention to multiple problems at one of the chain’s current locations, in Foxborough. There had been a sale to a minor, drunken behavior by patrons and repeated license suspensions–at least one while that location was managed by one of the people named on license papers as a Brookline manager.

Lt. Hayes of the Brookline Police Department, who had investigated, recommended 1 am closing hours, security cameras and other license restrictions. Board members Nancy Daly and Ben Franco stated they would vote against the application as it stood. With Bernard Greene not participating, the application could not get a majority vote of approval. Mr. Wishinsky, the chair, called for public comment.

Steve Kanes of Carlton St., an Advisory Committee member, described widespread neighborhood concerns. They included noise, litter and smoking. A license, he said, should not allow outdoor entertainment. He mentioned late-night noise after closing, around the outdoor trash receptacle, asking for restrictions.

Joel Feingold of Beacon St., a next-door neighbor, said the former Mission Cantina had caused much more trouble for nearby residents than other business at the site: “a rude awakening” and “a difficult neighbor.” They ran until 2 am outdoors, he said, although licensed only until 11 pm. Outdoor litter and late-night noise had been chronic problems. He asked for no deliveries before 8 am if a license were granted.

James Franco of Amory St., a Precinct 1 town meeting member, asked for no outdoor service after 10 pm if a license were granted, intending that use of outdoor seating should end before 11 pm. Neil Gordon of Ivy St., also a Precinct 1 town meeting member, had similar concerns. Other neighbors recounted past problems and joined in asking for restrictions on any new license. The board was going nowhere with this application. Mr. Wishinsky announced the hearing would be continued to a future date.

Chickens: Brookline is not always so difficult for applicants. Illustrating the point, two evenings later the Zoning Board of Appeals considered an application at a location not far away, on Amory Street, asking for a permit to install a small chicken coop. There may not have been a similar application north of Route 9 during at least the past half century.

The applicants were the Gurock family, who opened the popular Magic Beans children’s store on Harvard St. in 2003, at the former site of Imaginarium. They now have five other locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The parents are seeking educational experiences for their children, said Sheri Gurock, describing measures the family plans to prevent odors and neighborhood disturbances (no roosters). Neighbors sent in letters of support, and there was no opposition. The board approved.

Located in the Cottage Farm historic district, the proposal also needed Preservation approval, which it had previously received. The district name was an 1850s invention of Amos Adams Lawrence (1814-1886), sponsor of the unusual development. It did not reflect any known historic farm that might also have raised chickens.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 18, 2015


Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015

Climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, December, 2012

Revisions to climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, July, 2015

Planning assistance toward housing (PATH), Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development, Brookline Beacon, July 9, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant, Brookline Beacon, June 25, 2015

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button

Meeting on Tuesday, July 7, at Town Hall, starting at 6:15 pm, the Advisory Committee and its subcommittee on planning and regulation rejected a reserve fund transfer request from the Board of Selectmen and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, voting by 2 to 1 margins and more. Such outright rejections have been rare. This one seemed to surprise Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, and Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, who were on hand to make the case for the reserve fund transfer.

The request was for legal support related to potential taking of Hancock Village buffers in south Brookline as recreation land, proposed for study by a resolution from the annual town meeting this May under Article 18. The Board of Selectmen had been widely expected to set up an independent “blue ribbon panel” to consider the issue, since they are entangled in two lawsuits involving a Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, overriding Brookline zoning, which they strongly oppose.

To nearly everyone’s surprise, Mr. Kleckner and members of the Brookline Board of Selectmen recently seemed to ignore conflicts in those matters, angling toward involvement in the recreation land issues, including their recent request for a transfer from the reserve fund. In effect as well as in words from some of its members, the Advisory Committee called on the Board of Selectmen to reach for the reset button and recast a potentially troubled approach.

Conflicts and bad faith: A land taking under powers of eminent domain can be held valid in Massachusetts when the land is part of a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. However, Brookline would need to be able to show that such a taking was in “good faith”–that is, mainly for a claimed and legitimate public purpose and not mainly to restrict a Chapter 40B development.

Such a case began about 44 years ago in Chelmsford. Its town meeting voted to take a parcel of land for conservation that was also the site of a Chapter 40B project for partly subsidized housing. The Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the case in Chelmsford v. DiBiase [370 Mass. 90, 1976]. It found, in part:

“A taking of land by eminent domain by a town in good faith and for a public purpose was valid notwithstanding a pending application to the board of appeals for a comprehensive permit to build low and moderate income housing on the land pursuant to General Laws Chapter 40B, Sections 20-23….”

According to the opinion in Chelmsford v. DiBiase, there were no material disputes over whether the town had acted in good faith–that is, mainly to take land for conservation purposes and not mainly to restrict a Chapter 40B development. In a later case, Pheasant Ridge v. Burlington [399 Mass. 771, 1987], disputes over “good faith” arose and led to a different outcome.

The Burlington Board of Selectmen apparently concocted a hasty justification for taking land by eminent domain at the site of a proposed Chapter 40B development. Massachusetts courts were not convinced by claims that the public purpose was legitimate but also considered circumstances under which the justification for a taking had been asserted, The Supreme Judicial Court opinion held, in part:

“…a municipal land taking, proper on its face, may be invalid because undertaken in bad faith…the record in this case…required the inference that the town, acting through its town meeting, was concerned only with blocking the plaintiffs’ development….”

Recreation land: The Brookline proposal for recreation land stands in the balance. Two situations are almost never identical. A Chelmsford case showed that a taking for recreation could succeed, while a Burlington case showed that conflicts of purposes might undermine it. Just after the recent town meeting, the town administrator and members of the Board of Selectmen set out in a sensible direction, along lines of past precedents in Brookline, keeping some distance from a study of recreation land.

More recently, ignoring the request of town meeting to act “in good faith,” they swerved toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. Some observers are already tending toward an interpretation of the changes as sabotage. Maybe, they say, the town administrator and members of the Board of Selectmen mean to block the recreation land proposal by linking it with their lawsuits and making it impossible to defend.

Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member and the principal petitioner for Article 18, told the full Advisory Committee, “The goal hasn’t changed…active recreation space in perpetuity.” The petitioners, she said, had been “very mindful to separate the fact the town had two law cases involving the property…the issue of bad faith versus good faith.” At town meeting, she recalled, “selectmen abstained from Article 18 so they would not contaminate the case…They had the power to create a ‘blue ribbon panel.’ After town meeting, they chose not to do that.”

According to Lee Selwyn, a member of the Advisory subcommittee, “The issues now are mainly factual…a citizen panel to develop a factual record is what the proponents of Article 18 had in mind.” At the recent town meeting, he said, “a clear majority” supported the article about recreation land. “It wasn’t close…a factual record supporting its legitimate use…would help to overcome a ‘bad faith’ claim.”

Len Weiss, an Advisory Committee member, contended, “We should vote against the reserve fund transfer. There’s money to be spent in the budget right now [and] no need to transfer money from the reserve fund.” Committee member Fred Levitan said that “in my tenth year [on the committee], I don’t recall reserve fund transfers in advance,” only seven days into a fiscal year.

In the end, the Advisory Committee denied the request for a reserve fund transfer by a vote of 16 to 7, with Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 abstaining. Ms. Jonas has been described as a participant in a lawsuit brought by a group of south Brookline residents and linked with one of the lawsuits brought by the Board of Selectmen, opposing the Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 8, 2015


Chelmsford v. DiBiase, 370 Mass. 90, 1976

Pheasant Ridge v. Burlington, 399 Mass. 771, 1987

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, acted on May 28, 2015

Craig Bolon, Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well, Brookline Beacon, July 2, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: poisoning the well

On Tuesday, June 30, as recommended by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, the Board of Selectmen voted to ask the Advisory Committee for $15,000 from the reserve fund on July 7, “for expertise in the study of eminent domain,” to be expended by the Office of Town Counsel. The request was prompted by approval at the annual town meeting of a resolution under Article 18, calling for the following main activity:

“…Town Meeting asks the Board of Selectmen to study and consider in good faith the taking under the powers of eminent domain [of] the two buffer zones presently zoned S-7 within the Hancock Village property, abutting Russett and Beverly Roads, for a permanently publicly-accessible active recreational space….”

Entanglements: A key problem with this request has been that members of the Board of Selectmen are plaintiffs in two lawsuits involving the Hancock Village property. They are suing a state agency that authorized the owner to propose a project under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, overriding Brookline zoning and other permits. They are also suing the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals, for approving the project and granting a comprehensive permit.

If that were not enough, Nancy Heller, a newly elected member of the board, submitted Article 17 to the 2015 annual town meeting and argued it. It’s entitled, “Resolution in support of changes to the affordable housing law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 40B.” She and other petitioners explained, “…[We] have worded the resolution in a broad manner. The purpose is to give our legislators as much latitude as they need to work with other legislators to amend 40B….”

Thus members of the Board of Selectmen are entangled in attacks against both a controversial 40B project at Hancock Village and the key Massachusetts law enabling the project. This leaves high risks for any involvement they might have in proposals arising from Article 18, under which Brookline would consider taking currently vacant parts of Hancock Village by eminent domain, to be used as recreation land.

One of the common challenges against eminent domain is acting in “bad faith”–that is, for covert purposes other than those claimed. With the Hancock Village situation, the property owner could be expected to claim that members of the Board of Selectmen considered eminent domain in “bad faith”—mainly to restrict an unwelcome Chapter 40B development rather than mainly to acquire recreation land.

Anticipation and defenses: After the recent town meeting, many participants and observers anticipated the Board of Selectmen would appoint a study committee for Article 18, as they often do for other issues, and would then keep their distance from it.

It would need to become an independent “blue ribbon panel,” with no further involvement by members of the Board of Selectmen. Putting the issues in the hands of an independent panel could provide defenses against acting in “bad faith,” should a recreation land effort proceed and should eminent domain be used to acquire Hancock Village land.

For quite a few years, several iterations of the Board of Selectmen have swung the other way. Coached by ambitious town administrators, they have politicized almost every new board, commission, committee and council by installing one of their members on it, often naming that member as chair. Article 18 presented a situation where such a domineering brand of machine politics cannot work. It could obviously encourage claims of “bad faith” and could well destroy a project to acquire recreation land.

Precedents: After idling on Article 18 for a month and making a false start, Mr. Kleckner, who seems to know very little about Brookline history, tried to claim a committee was unlikely because the town no longer has a redevelopment authority to call on. The former Brookline Redevelopment Authority was indeed active in takings during the Farm Project and Marsh Project, but the Town of Brookline did similar work, too. Disputes focused on policies and costs; mechanics were not thought to be much of a stretch.

Under Article 25, the 1974 annual town meeting authorized taking land off Amory St. by eminent domain for conservation. The relatively new Conservation Commission had proposed the Hall’s Pond project and presented all the key evaluations and arguments to boards, committees and town meeting. Not long afterward, the commission did similar work for the conservation area now known as Amory Woods.

Like the Hancock Village buffers, the Hall’s Pond parcel was seen as threatened by development, yet it was intact and had never been built on. North of Route 9, Brookline had no conservation land then, and very little suitable land remained. At 3-1/2 acres, the site to the east of Amory Playground was about half the size of the Hancock Village buffers combined.

The Conservation Commission obtained advice from local lawyers, contracted for a land survey, commissioned independent appraisals, and prepared and submitted the 1974 town meeting article. Commissioners persuaded only two members of the Board of Selectmen, but they got help from the Planning Board and a unanimous endorsement from the Advisory Committee. Town meeting gave strong support, and a counted vote was not needed.

Poisoning the well: On June 30, Mr. Kleckner led members of the Board of Selectmen in an odd direction–at high risk of poisoning the well, though coupling them into “bad faith” maneuvers. They did not hold matters at arms length by appointing an independent committee. Instead, they voted to submit a reserve fund request for funds to be spent by the town counsel, who reports to them.

They expect to entertain discussions of the issues among the board–potentially some closed to the public, at which they may also be considering “litigation,” as their agendas often call out. According to Mr. Kleckner, they expect to couple investigations pertinent to recreation areas with those pertinent to potential school sites and possibly other town projects.

By failing to maintain a bright line of separation between recreation land proposed at Hancock Village and other town business, including lawsuits against Hancock Village development, recent actions by Mr. Kleckner and members of the Board of Selectmen stand at grave risk of poisoning the well. Ignoring the request of the town meeting to act “in good faith,” they are proceeding headlong toward wrecking the potential for a significant project. At least some will say that is what they meant to do.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2015


Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Article 18, Brookline, MA, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, heard and acted on May 28, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 23, started at 6:50 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Frederick Russell, the director of the Public Works water and sewer division, to present a proposal for revising fees. Unlike practices of years ago, the board did not announce or conduct a hearing.

Public affairs: Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, announced another agreement with a nonprofit organization for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT). It is with Soka Gakkai, a Buddhist organization at 303 Boylston St. Mr. Cirillo noted that it is the twentieth PILOT agreement he has negotiated, starting in 2006. The board approved.

Water and sewer fees: Mr. Russell’s proposal was presented with a computer display that, as of noon the following day, had not been made available to the public on the municipal Web site. According to him, the average bill will increase 4.6 percent, starting in July–far in excess of general inflation. Compared with other eastern Massachusetts communities, Brookline’s water and sewer fees are already high.

It was obvious to many that some of Mr. Russell’s data could not stand scrutiny. Board member Nancy Daly said that a back calculation indicated an average residential bill of over $9,000. The claim for average increase in dollars, divided by the claim for average increase in percent, shown on Mr. Russell’s displays, indicated an average quarterly bill of about $2,200. Mr. Russell could not explain clearly.

A severe problem with Brookline’s water and sewer fees has long been known. It stems from failure to adjust for the number of dwelling units served by a water line and meter. Brookline has mostly multifamily housing. Fewer than 20 percent of households are found in single-family houses.

Brookline has had information about numbers of dwelling units for decades. It has been available from computer databases for over 20 years. Mr. Russell said his division’s failure to bill on a fair and equitable basis was lessened by a scheme of base rates and block rates, but data he displayed showed substantial inequity.

Members of the public led by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, came with information showing that Brookline was practicing unfair billing. Although the Board of Selectmen often accepts comments on public affairs topics at ordinary meetings, not just hearings, Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair and a former Advisory Committee member, pointedly snubbed Mr. Lescohier and his allies. The board approved the proposed fee changes after only brief discussion.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Ray Masak, a building project administrator, asked for approval of a $2.61 million contract with Contractors Network of East Providence, RI. It will rebuild and repair large parts of the 16-year-old municipal service center at 870 Hammond St. Design errors have led to expensive corrections, rivalled only by the Pierce School disasters of the early 1970s. Most members of the board seemed oblivious to Brookline’s costly history of mistakes. They approved the contract.

Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, won approval for two major contracts that begin a project to enlarge and renovate Devotion School. HMFH Architects of Cambridge gets $8.13 million for final plans, specifications and design coordination. Shawmut Design and Construction of Boston gets $10.55 million for its services as general contractor. The entire project has been costed at about $120 million–by far the most expensive in Brookline’s history.

Mr. Guigli also won approval for two much smaller contracts to complete school repairs. GWV of East Boston gets a $0.04 million change order, most of it to replace the main sewer connection at Lawrence School. Lambrian of Westwood gets $0.02 million more to complete work at old Lincoln School. Ms. Daly asked about science room casework removed by mistake. Mr. Guigli said that the change order included an adjustment for damages.

Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, won approval of $1.22 milllion for the first year of a five-year contract with Casella Waste Systems of Peabody, to collect and process recycled materials. A five-year contract with Waste Management of Houston, TX, which began Brookline’s single-stream recycling, is ending. Casella submitted a more favorable bid. The cost is significantly higher than the current contract. Mr. Pappastergion won approval for a $0.2 million reserve fund request, to be heard by Advisory on July 7.

Casella already operates solid waste transfer from the Brookline transfer station off Newton St. It takes town refuse collections, street sweepings and catch basin cleanings to a sanitary landfill in Southbridge that recovers methane and uses it to generate electricity. The company will take recycle collections to a largely automated separation plant in Charlestown. Unlike Waste Management, Casella does not plan to incinerate any materials but will bundle and sell them for reuse.

Licenses and permits: A representative for Teleport Communications applied for a permit to install an in-street conduit on Hammond St. Traffic in the area has been disturbed recently by work on gas mains. Teleport estimated five days for its job, committed to all-hours access for residents and promised to notify residents a week before commencing work. The board approved.

Two liquor license holders were brought in for revocation hearings. Vernissage, a restaurant in Washington Square, and GPS Wines and Spirits, across Boylston St. from the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, have closed. Both were given about five more months to reactivate businesses or transfer licenses.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 24, 2015


Devotion School Building Committee: opting for a community school, Brookline Beacon, September 26, 2014

Climate Action: planning a home invasion

At its meeting Monday, June 22, our sometimes torpid Climate Action Committee started a new, invasive approach that, if carried through, promises to impact every Brookline household, business and institution. The name of the game is “community choice aggregation.” What’s that?

Utility restructuring: During the mid-1990s, ambitious state administrations–mostly run by Republicans–began to promote deregulation, particularly for energy. They were apparently taking cues from the deregulation of airline fares during the Carter administration. The federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 had proven mostly aspirational. State rather than federal government had most sway over utilities.

The United States has a cultural background of enthusiasms for apparently simple solutions to genuinely complex problems–for example, punitive public-school testing claimed as a solution to gaps in educational achievement, a poster child of the Reagan administration. That outlook has strongly influenced so-called “restructuring” of electric power and other utilities.

California conducted the first major experiment, starting in 1994 and descending into chaos in 2001, a year of blackouts and corruption–the Enron price manipulation crimes. Massachusetts started in 1996, during the troubled Cellucci administration. The following year, before the real Big Dig costs had been divulged to the public, the General Court was maneuvered into passing the Utility Restructuring Act of 1997.

Community choice aggregation: The main act of Massachusetts restructuring was to squeeze big electric companies, Boston Edison and New England Power, into selling their generating plants and focusing on local power distribution. A sleeper in the law was a provision for municipal cooperatives: not the traditional sort that own wires, transformers and meters–instead an offspring that engages in financial manipulation.

A widely advertised feature of the Restructuring Act allowed electricity customers to designate generating companies, from whom they would buy wholesale electricity carried to their locations and billed to them by distributing companies. A lengthy section of the act forbids distributing companies from switching customers’ generating companies. Only a voluntary action initiated by a customer can make a switch.

Another sleeper in the schizophrenic Restructuring Act, authorizing so-called “community choice aggregation,” stood those protections on their heads. For ten years, it remained little known and little used. By 2007, there were only five community choice aggregators–all but one a small town. Under the act, a town meeting can approve a program, and a board of selectmen can then contract with a distributing company.

A board of selectmen can also designate a combination of generating sources. Once that is done, local customers are automatically switched–without voluntary actions and without their permissions. They will get notices. They have a month to “opt out”–returning to generating sources of their own choosing. If they fail to act in a timely way, their suppliers are switched without permissions, in whatever way some board of selectmen chose, supposedly on their behalf.

Motives and side effects: For some communities, the main motive has been trying to lower the price of electricity, by combining purchasing and by bargaining for many customers. Success has been spotty at best. Stung by price reverses, in 2012 Ashland and Marlborough suspended their community choice aggregation (CCA), returning local customers either to “standard rate” plans or to generating companies they chose.

A 2013 report by researchers at Tufts University found that “savings reached through a CCA are modest and unpredictable.” In their conclusion, the researchers observe, “A purpose of [state] deregulation was to lower electricity rates through competition, but rates in deregulated states have increased more significantly than rates in regulated states.”

To long-term observers, that comes as no news. In 2006, David Cay Johnson had reported in the New York Times, “A decade after competition was introduced…the market has produced no [overall price] decline. Instead, more rate increase requests are pending now than ever before…Electric customers…are facing rude surprises….”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 23, 2015


Joshua Laufer, Betsy McDonald, Brenda Pike and Mengmeng Zhou, Community choice aggregation: municipal bulk buying of electricity in Massachusetts, Tufts University, May 6, 2013 (36 MB)

Joe O’Connell, Ashland halts electric power program, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), December 27, 2012

David Cay Johnson, Competitive era fails to shrink electric bills, New York Times, October 15, 2006

An act relative to restructuring the electric utility industry in the Commonwealth, regulating the provision of electricity and other services, and promoting enhanced consumer protections therein, Massachusetts General Court, Chapter 164 of the Acts of 1997

Transportation Board: tone deaf

When the Transportation Board held a public review of a recent proposal to rip out all 66 of the public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, on Thursday, June 18, it held back. No action was taken, but the proposal from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, appointed by this board, remains on the books and could still be implemented.

Over 60 Brookline residents came to the meeting, despite the onset of summer vacations and the competing Devotion School “Carnivale”–the former spring fair on steroids–drawing hundreds from the school district plus many others town-wide. About 30 residents spoke at the Transportation meeting, even after board chair Joshua Safer tried to shoo them away–saying the board “got it.”

Threat and insult: So far, the board did not “get it.” Most of its members live in suburban settings. They obviously fail to understand the urban settings of North Brookline and Brookline Center, where nearly half the town’s population lives, and some apparently don’t care. They said nothing.

The board’s Bicycle Advisory Committee threatened and insulted the Babcock Street neighborhoods. On June 1, without consulting any neighborhood people or visiting the neighborhoods, they proposed a plan to remove all 66 public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, plus 16 potential spaces currently marked “no parking,” to install a bicycle lane.

One committee member, Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, dissented. Dr. Vitolo argued against disruption of the Babcock Street neighborhoods. However, he was unable to persuade any other member of this neighborhood-hostile committee. The other members opted to invade Babcock Street neighborhoods with bulldozers, ordering people around and destroying key parts of the Babcock Street social and physical environments.

Remedies: Well in advance of the Transportation Board Meeting, Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, agreed with Precinct 8 town meeting members to defer work on Babcock Street to next summer. However, no public participation is guaranteed, and so far none has been arranged. A Precinct 8 town meeting member has asked the Board of Selectmen to appoint a project review and monitoring committee.

The only long-term remedy likely to prevent a recurrence of this abuse is to dissolve the narrowly focused and irresponsible Bicycle Advisory Committee. Instead of a single-interest group, the community needs a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee. It would represent the main, human-powered transportation alternatives that need protection from operators of motor vehicles.

On June 18, it was not clear that Transportation Board members heard the cadence or the melody. Instead, they appointed a person who came across as yet another bicycle “groupie” to the Bicycle Advisory Committee. The neighborhoods have been patient. They will wait months but not years. They are looking for clear and positive, decisive action. If that does not happen, people will likely say other adjustments are needed.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 19, 2015


Craig Bolon, Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member, Brookline Beacon, June 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 9, started at 7:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, to present plans for a trash metering system, replacing Brookline’s partly unstructured, fixed-fee approach to collecting solid waste from households and businesses.

Some board members had attended a “visioning” session conducted at Town Hall the previous evening for the Economic Development Advisory Committee. According to Neil Wishinsky, the chair, it focused on “medium-scale commercial parcels.” Board member Nancy Daly commented that “most projects would require rezoning.” Zoning changes take two-thirds votes at town meetings and have become difficult to achieve. Ms. Daly said there would need to be “neighborhood involvement and dialog.” So far there has been none of either.

Public affairs: Andy Martineau, an economic development planner, reported on the Brookline Village Street Fair, a new event to occur on Harvard St. from noon to 4 pm Sunday, June 14 (not June 15 as in the meeting agenda). Best known among similar events nearby may be the annual Allston Village Street Fair, usually held on a September Sunday. Mr. Martineau’s plans sounded somewhat more commercial, with about 40 merchants involved. Performances are planned by Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, a favorite of young children, Ten Tumbao, Afro-Latin-Caribbean music, and the Muddy River Ramblers, bluegrass.

Richard Segan, from the Brookline Sister City Project, asked the board to approve a proclamation for Brookline Sister City Week, to be October 18-24. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, and Peter Moyer, a Brookline resident, had visited Quezalguaque, Nicaragua, the third week in May. Drs. van der Ziel and Moyer described their visit and future plans. The board approved the proclamation.

The two Brookline physicians have mainly been concerned with atypical chronic kidney disease, a longstanding and severe problem in Quezalguaque–also common in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Unlike similar maladies in the United States, mainly found in older people, in Central America the disease strikes people as early as their twenties. Every year thousands die. Although environmental and occupational factors are suspected, no cause is known. Those working with the Sister City Project plan to extend epidemiological efforts, hoping to associate the disease with locations, occupations, water supplies, agricultural chemicals and other potential influences.

Trash metering: Andrew Pappastergion, Brookline’s commissioner of public works, presented the first detailed plans for trash metering. Programs known by that trademarked term–coined by WasteZero of Raleigh, NC, a contractor for Brookline–aim to improve on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts through automation, public education and convenience.

The City of Gloucester achieved a 30 percent reduction in waste disposal costs during the first full year of such a program, according to the Gloucester Times of March 7, 2010. However, Gloucester previously had a poor recycling record, while Brookline began curbside recycling in 1973 and has operated an increasingly advanced program since 1990.

Six Massachusetts towns with populations above 30,000 have some form of solid waste limit: Plymouth, Taunton, Amherst, Shrewsbury, Dartmouth and Natick. None of them are among the more urbanized and sophisticated towns Brookline typically regards as peer communities–including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester. There is strong evidence that in urbanized and sophisticated communities public education has been more effective than trash metering at reducing solid waste. Although Brookline has a Solid Waste Advisory Committee, so far its members have been passive, performing no public outreach. Those are hurdles for Mr. Pappastergion’s plans.

Mr. Pappastergion presented a slide show to the board. It included a review of Massachusetts information organized by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. State officials remain focused on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts, so far found mostly in smaller rural or suburban towns.

Mr. Pappastergion presented data unavailable to the public: recycling rates for communities using municipally supplied bins. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has collected recycling rate data since 1997, but after 2008 state officials stopped releasing them to the public. It appeared that no Massachusetts town with a population above 30,000 operates a program comparable to the one Mr. Pappastergion proposes.

Mr. Pappastergion proposes that Brookline supply to each of about 13,000 customers now using municipal refuse services a 35-gallon bin with wheels, similar in construction to the 64-gallon bins already supplied for recycling. Brookline would reduce the number of collection trucks from six to four and equip those trucks with automated bin-handlers like the ones now used for recycling bins.

Households would continue to pay the current $200 per year fee to have one 35-gallon refuse bin and one 64-gallon recycling bin collected each week. Extra refuse bags would be available at stores and town offices. They would have 30-gallon capacity and cost $2.00 each. For fees yet to be stated, Brookline would supply extra bins collected each week. Mr. Pappastergion estimated that 35-gallon bins would hold, on average, 40 lb of refuse, while 30-gallon bags would hold 25 lb.

Based on his estimates, Mr. Pappastergion might be proposing that Brookline violate state law by charging more than the cost of service for refuse bags. He estimated a cost of container and disposal at $1.15, as compared with a $2.00 fee. However, he did not include costs of collection and transfer. He provided no estimates for likely quantities of bags or extra bins.

In the proposed program, current practices for collecting bulky items, yard waste and metals would not change. Combining personnel, supplies, contractual services and capital equipment, Mr. Pappastergion estimated savings of about $0.1 million for fiscal 2017, the first full operating year, rising to about $0.4 million per year for fiscal 2022 and later years–including allowances for inflation.

Members of the board reacted with a diffuse scatter of comments. Mr. Wishinsky said the refuse bin on display looked “awful small” and asked about 48-gallon bins. Mr. Pappastergion said 35-gallon bins were important “to achieve goals of this program.” Board member Bernard Greene, in contrast, said he was “surprised at how large” the 35-gallon bin was. “We’d have room to rent out space.” Ms. Daly asked whether people would use compactors to overstuff the bins. Mr. Pappastergion doubted that would occur.

There were several questions about storage space and handling, to which Mr. Pappastergion responded by citing four years’ experience with the larger, single-stream recycling bins. The introduction of those elements led to increasing Brookline’s recycling rate from 30 to 37 percent, he said, but during the past two years progress has stalled. The department has yet to stimulate recycling through public outreach. It is not clear whether the department has the talent or the willingness to try.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Sara Slymon, the library director, won approval to hire three librarians, turning current interim positions into permanent ones, thanks in part to the tax override passed by voters in May. Mr. Greene and board member Ben Franco asked how the positions would be advertised. Ms. Slymon replied that union contracts restricted the library to internal posting unless a qualified candidate could not be found. She said all the current employees were well qualified for their positions.

Linda Golburgh, the assistant town clerk, asked for approval to hire an administrative assistant. The position is becoming vacant because of a retirement. It marks the third recent change in personnel at a small agency. Ms. Daly remembered that the current employee previously worked in the office of the Board of Selectmen. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Golburgh to seek help from Lloyd Gellineau, the chief diversity officer, and Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, to insure a diverse candidate pool.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, asked for approval of a $0.07 million increase in the contract to renovate Warren Field. The contractor is New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Carver, MA. The board asked whether the project was staying within budget limits. Mr. Ditto said that it was and that the project was about to conclude. The board approved the change order.

Mr. Ditto also asked for approval of a $1.07 million contract with Newport Construction of Nashua, NH, to reconstruct Fisher Ave. It is this year’s largest street project. The other bidder, Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester, which is working on other Brookline projects, proposed a substantially higher price. The board approved the contract.

The board also approved several smaller financial transactions. Among them was accepting a $0.06 million state grant, using federal funds, to hire a transportation coordinator based at the Senior Center on Winchester St. Ruthann Dobek, director for the Council on Aging, described an innovative program aimed at helping older people adjust to living without automobiles. Board members asked how the program would operate in future years.

Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and a member of the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, responded that such a program had already begun with volunteers and would continue that way if necessary. However, Dr. Caro said, the program needed planning and coordination. Even a year of staffing, he contended, would move the program to better levels of service.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2015


Celebrate Brookline Village, The Village Fair, 2015

Cause of CKD epidemic in Sister City remains a mystery, Brookline Sister City Project, 2010

Miguel Almaguer, Raúl Herrera and Carlos M. Orantes, Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in agricultural communities, MEDICC Review 16(2):9-15, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, 2014

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Trash metering, WasteZero (Raleigh, NC), 2010

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

2015 annual town meeting: budgets, bylaws and resolutions

Unlike last year, Brookline’s 2015 annual town meeting rolled along at a brisk pace and needed only two sessions–Tuesday, May 26, and Thursday, May 28–both starting at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The generally progressive tones of Brookline civic engagement remained clear, and some of the musical theatre of years past returned for an encore. This is the one-hundredth year for Brookline’s elected town meeting.

Budgets: Disputes over budgets that roiled the winter workups to town meeting had evaporated after voter approval of a major tax override at the Tuesday, May 5, town election. Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator of town meeting, mentioned “controversy” over a three-word amendment to one special appropriation. The Advisory Committee proposed two changes to the “override” financial plan as proposed by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator.

In the traditional presentation of an annual budget, Sean Lynn-Jones, newly elected as chair of the Advisory Committee last winter, called 2015 “an interesting year.” He noted that new revenues were going to be involved in maintaining a stable budget, singling out parking meter and refuse fees. Mr. Lynn-Jones said he expects “fiscal challenges…another general override in three to five years…possibly a ninth elementary school…high school [expansion] at over $100 million, not $35 million,” as most recently estimated.

In the traditional response from the Board of Selectmen, Neil Wishinshy, recently elected as the new chair, said strongly contested elections, like those this year, “make our town and democracy stronger.” He spoke of new efficiencies contributing to a stable budget, singling out trash metering, which has been mentioned at official meetings but so far not detailed. Mr. Wishinsky called on town meeting members to “put aside narrow self-interest,” saying, “We live in the real world.”

Staff for preservation planning will increase from 1.8 to 2.0 full-time-equivalent positions, a budget hike of $14,119. It is expected to provide a full-time position for preservationist Greer Hardwicke. The Public Works budget for pavement markings got $2,673 more, to cope with after-effects from a harsh winter. Those had been wrapped into Advisory Committee motions. A $264 million spending plan sailed through, mostly on voice votes.

A three-word amendment to a $100,000 special appropriation had been proposed by Craig Bolon, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who edits the Brookline Beacon. Offered on behalf of Brookline PAX, it asked that a study of Coolidge Corner parking be done “with neighborhood input.” Town meeting agreed in a unanimous voice vote.

Instead of parochial concerns with Public Works, this year’s town meeting focused more on the Police budget. Lynda Roseman, a Precinct 14 town meeting member, asked about progress coping with mental health issues. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, compared last year–when three members of the force were involved–to this year, when two grant-funded programs are underway. By the end of the year, he said, about a quarter of the force will have completed 40 hours of training.

A large municipal solar-power array, in effect a budget item, was approved out-of-line under Articles 15 and 16. Brookline is contracting with Blue Wave Capital, a company endorsed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which is to build and operate it, using part of the former landfill site near the waste transfer station off Newton St. Rated capacity is to be 1.4 MW, peak. Expected income is about $0.08 million per year.

Bylaw, Living Wage: Under Article 10, the Recreation Department proposed to gut much of the Living Wage bylaw enacted several years ago, by exempting from coverage several employee groups and by eliminating the Brookline minimum wage: a one-dollar premium over the state minimum. Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who was the chief sponsor of the bylaw, had resisted the effort strongly.

Scott Gladstone, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, was entirely opposed to Article 10. “The bylaw is already a compromise,” he claimed. “Junior lifeguards,” whom it would remove from coverage, “are lifeguards…with the same Red Cross certifications as anybody else…What we’re trying to teach here…is work values…Should we teach them that they should not be demanding a living wage?”

Ms. Connors was supported by Brookline PAX. Co-chair Frank Farlow, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, stated, “PAX supports working people and fair wages.” Board member Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, called Article 10 “an assault on working people,” saying, “I wonder how many [town-funded] cars it would take to cover the wages of students with first-time jobs.”

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Precinct 16 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, tried to deflect those arguments. saying that when the now-disbanded Living Wage Committee proposed the bylaw, “We were way out front.” He favored some compromises being sponsored by the Advisory Committee. Pamela Lodish, a Precinct 14 town meeting member who lost this year when running for the Board of Selectmen, agreed with Mr. Allen. “If we pass the [Connors] amendment,” she said, “we’ll be hiring college students instead of high-school students.”

Ms. Connors was proposing to maintain the current bylaw’s definitions of seasonal and temporary employment. It was not certain whether Mr. Allen or Ms. Lodish understood, but Merelice, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, clearly did. The current bylaw’s approach is not supported by the HR module of Munis, recently adopted for maintaining employment records by the Human Resources (HR) office. According to Merelice, the attitude of HR is “an example of being concerned about the dirt when we hold the broom.” She contended, “We can certainly find the technology.”

Town meeting members sided strongly with Ms. Connors, Merelice and Brookline PAX. In an electronically recorded vote, the Connors amendment passed 141 to 48, with 10 abstentions. The amended main motion on Article 10 passed 144 to 42, with 5 abstentions. Although the Brookline minimum wage premium is maintained, so-called “junior” employees in the Recreation Department will no longer be covered by the Living Wage, reverting to the Brookline minimum wage–currently $10.00 versus $13.19 per hour. Recreation claims to be able to support more positions.

Bylaw, snow clearance from sidewalks: Town meeting grappled with the latest edition of a snow-clearance bylaw under Article 12. For about 30 years a bylaw initially proposed by Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, has required property owners to clear adjacent sidewalks of snow. However, until a push last year from Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member who filed a resolution article, and from the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, enforcement proved erratic.

During the 1970s and before, Brookline plowed most of the sidewalks, but after budget trims in the aftermath of Proposition 2-1/2 it cut back to only a few, including ones near schools. Article 12 was proposed by a Sidewalk Snow Removal Task Force, appointed in the summer of 2014 by the Board of Selectmen to strengthen the town’s law and its enforcement. The group–including staff from Public Works, Health, Building and Police–acknowledged that a complaint-driven approach had worked poorly.

Last winter, the four departments contributing to the task force divided Brookline’s streets into four sectors and began proactive enforcement during weekdays, with Police assuming most duties at other times. Despite the unusually harsh winter, enforcement generally improved, as described to town meeting by Nancy Daly, speaking for the Board of Selectmen. However, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, pointed out the lack of coordination in the current form of enforcement.

In its town-meeting article, the task force proposed to discontinue automatic warnings for first violations at residential properties, to raise fines and to institute a $250 fine for placing snow into a street–forbidden by Brookline’s general bylaws since the nineteenth century.

Compromises made as outcomes of several reviews had gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, offered two amendments intended to address some compromises. One would have limited a period of enforcement delay, at discretion of the public works commissioner, to no more than 30 hours after the end of a snowfall.

Amy Hummel of Precinct 12, speaking for the Advisory Committee, objected to an arbitrary time limit for the commissioner’s discretion. During the Blizzard of 1978, many streets remained impassible for several days, because Brookline then lacked much equipment capable of clearing them. That amendment was rejected through an electronically recorded vote, 78 to 108, with 6 abstentions.

Dr. Vitolo’s other amendment sought to restore the schedule of fines that the task force had proposed. Those called for a $50 fine on a first violation at a residential property, rather than an automatic warning, and a $100 fine for subsequent violations.

Dennis Doughty, a Precinct 3 town meeting member who served on the task force, supported the amendment on fines. He compared hazards of sidewalk snow with other hazards now sanctioned by $50 fines and no warnings, including putting refuse out for collection earlier than 4 pm the previous day. Town meeting members approved the amendment on fines through an electronically recorded vote, 135 to 52, with 5 abstentions.

Unfortunately, Dr. Vitolo’s amendment on fines for failure to clear sidewalk snow seems to leave the Brookline bylaws inconsistent. According to the main motion before town meeting, proposed by the Advisory committee on p. 5 of its supplemental report section and amended per Dr. Vitolo, the snow clearance bylaw was changed by town meeting to read, in part:

“The violation of any part of Section 7.7.3 [that is, the requirement to clear sidewalk snow at residential properties]…shall be noted with a $50 fine for the first violation and subject to a fine of $100.00 for the second and subsequent violations….”

However, according to the main motion, revised penalties are stated again in Article 10.3 of the bylaws, Table of Specific Penalties. What Dr. Vitolo’s amendment did was to revise penalties stated in the bylaw on snow clearance but not those stated in the Table of Specific Penalties. There will likely be no more snow before a fall town meeting, which might make the Brookline bylaws consistent.

Bylaws, tap water and bottled water: Articles 13 and 14, the two “water articles,” had been filed by Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, and several other petitioners. Both were “watered down” during reviews before the town meeting, yet significant parts of each survived and won approval.

Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond are co-chairs of the “green caucus” in town meeting, which counts over fifty town meeting members as participants and has been effective at marshaling votes for some recent, environmentally oriented initiatives. Brookline PAX, with a somewhat overlapping base of support, was recommending voting for motions offered by the Board of Selectmen in favor of parts of the two articles.

Article 13 sought a bylaw requiring Brookline restaurants to offer tap water. They already do, said Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, speaking for the Advisory Committee. She called the proposed bylaw “unnecessary and ineffective.” However, the petitioners had found some sinners. An Indian restaurant in Washington Square did not offer tap water on its take-out menu, and one pizza place did not seem to offer it at all.

Differing from the Advisory position, the Board of Selectmen saw little objection to such a law but added a phrase, “upon request,” and removed a sentence: “Establishments may charge for this service item.” That might give an impression, they wrote, that charging for water “was a requirement.”

Diana Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, said the topic could be handled by conditions on restaurant licenses and moved to refer the article to the Board of Selectmen. In an electronically recorded vote, the referral motion failed 78 to 103, with 5 abstentions. The motion for a bylaw drafted by the Board of Selectmen passed 124 to 56, with 7 abstentions.

Article 14, seeking to ban sale and distribution of bottled water at town events and on town property, encountered stiffer headwinds at reviews before town meeting and quickly lost altitude. According to Mr. Richmond, the purpose was not banning water but banning the plastic bottles usually supplied. Hundreds of billions a year are sold. While they might be recycled, at least in part, they are mostly thrown away.

By town meeting, motions under the article had been trimmed back to a proposed ban on spending town funds to buy water in plastic bottles of one liter or less for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen proposed to refer the rest of the article to a study committee, to be appointed by the board. The Advisory Committee stuck with its original approach, recommending no action.

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a past participant in the “green caucus,” was not in line this time. The bylaw favored by the Board of Selectmen would have negligible impact, he claimed, and if widely emulated elsewhere, then companies selling bottled water would easily subvert it. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly disagreed, saying the debates over Article 14 had “succeeded at least in educating me.”

The Advisory Committee remained unmoved. Robert Liao of Precinct 15 recommended voting for the Harris motion to refer, consistent with the Advisory position. There will be “adverse unintended consequences” from a bylaw, he claimed, saying, “Reusable bottles require planning and changes in behavior.”

Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether the town was spending money on either bottled water or bottled soda. The answers were yes as to both, according to Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. Echoing a topic heard often during reviews, Jonathan Davis, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, asked whether vending machines on town property would be affected. Mr. Richmond conceded they would not be, since “the machines are put out to bid” and do not involve spending town funds.

Mr. Gadsby, the moderator, took a motion for the question–that is, a motion to terminate debate. Not enough town meeting members were ready to do that. On an electronically recorded vote the motion failed 129 to 71, with 2 abstentions. Such a motion takes a two-thirds margin but got only 65 percent.

Susan Helms Daley of Chatham Circle and her son Jackson, a fourth-grader at Lawrence School, told town meeting members about an alternative that is catching on. For the past few years, the school has had a “green team” and tried “to discourage use of bottled water.” Ms. Daley asserted, “Bottled water is the same as cigarettes.” Jackson Daley said after the school installed “water bottle refill stations”–a PTO project–”more people brought water bottles” to school. So far, he said, “We have saved 10,129 plastic bottles. How cool is that?”

After hearing similar opinions from a junior at Brookline High School, Mr. Gadsby again accepted a motion for the question. He declared it had passed, on a show of hands. The motion from Mr. Harris to refer all of Article 14 failed on an electronically recorded vote, 97 to 102, with 2 abstentions. The motion from the Board of Selectmen for a bylaw banning some uses of town funds passed by a substantial majority, on a show of hands.

Resolution, recreation land: Article 18 proposed a resolution seeking a study of acquiring land in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline for park and recreation uses–specifically, so-called “buffer” areas of Hancock Village near Beverly and Russett Rds. Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, prepared the article. Although not an abutter to Hancock Village, Ms. Frawley has lived nearby since 1968.

While it is possible that the current landowner, Chestnut Hill Realty, might agree to sell the land, a series of development plans, currently tapping powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws, have left the company at loggerheads with the Board of Selectmen. A purchase-and-sale agreement now looks unlikely, so that Ms. Frawley suggested the land would probably have to be taken by eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley showed, there is little public open space. She described the current open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be suitable. The only sizable public spaces now are around Baker School. They are laid out for specialized uses and are unavailable to the public during school days. For over 70 years, neighborhood residents have often used the buffer areas for recreation instead, as tolerated by a succession of landowners.

Moderator Gadsby immediately took comments from Rebecca Plaut Mautner, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, ahead of normal order and before hearing from the Advisory Committee and town boards. He did not explain the unusual conduct. Ms. Mautner operates RPM Consulting, according to the Web site of Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association in Boston–providing “affordable housing development services” in New England.

Ms. Mautner delivered a broadside against Article 18, saying it “will be perceived by the outside world as an effort to undermine creation of affordable housing…a message that Brookline will stop at nothing to prevent affordable housing.” That did not seem to resonate well, broached in the first town in Massachusetts to build public housing, where inclusionary zoning has been active for over 20 years.

Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13, speaking for the Advisory Committee, recalled that the proposed “Hancock Village project did not start out as 40B…there was no affordable housing in the original plan.” The owner, he said, is “using 40B as a means to pressure the town.” He said Article 18 proposed “a reasonable public use” of land, and he noted that a parcel adjacent to Hancock Village had been “taken by the state by eminent domain to prevent an inappropriate development.” The Hancock Woods area was taken as conservation land about 20 years ago.

Janice Kahn of Precinct 15, also an Advisory Committee member, supported the study. She said it could teach the town about using eminent domain. There has been no substantial taking since the Hall’s Pond and Amory Woods conservation projects in the 1970s. Given the ongoing disputes with Chestnut Hill Realty, the Board of Selectmen had declined to take a position on Article 18. Members had said they would abstain from voting on it.

Mr. Mattison of Precinct 5, a suppporter, said the buffer “space has served as informal recreation space.” Some 1940s correspondence with the town, he said, describes “how the commitment would be binding” to maintain it as open space. However, that was not part of an agreement presented to a 1946 town meeting, when the bulk of Hancock Village was rezoned to allow apartments.

Lauren Bernard, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, asked whether a “prescriptive easement” would be possible, given the long history of public use, and whether that would be “mutually exclusive with eminent domain.” Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, said easement issues were “not considered yet,” but easement and eminent domain would probably “be mutually exclusive.”

Even though the hour was getting late, at 10:30 pm, town meeting was willing to hear more arguments. A motion for the question failed on an electronically recorded vote, 88 to 78, with 17 abstentions. Julie Jette of Payson Rd. spoke. She said she had been “very surprised” when moving there “that really the only fully accessible playground is in West Roxbury.”

Crossing the rotary and the VFW Parkway with young children seemed too dangerous, Ms. Jette said, and she had never tried. However, she said, “yards are not a substitute for social and community opportunities. It’s time to create a true neighborhood park in south Brookline…Time is of the essence, given Chestnut Hill Realty development plans.” After a few other comments, town meeting approved Article 18 on a show of hands, looking like a ten-to-one majority at least.

Resolution, Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposed a resolution, objecting to plans for holding the Olympic Games in Boston during 2024. The plans never gained traction in Brookline, where many people see heavy costs and slender benefits. The Board of Selectmen had nevertheless postponed making a recommendation, reaching out to the pressure group pushing for the Olympics, but no one from that group responded.

At the town meeting, Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, led off–speaking for Brookline PAX, of which he is co-chair. Unlike his fellow co-chair, Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, Mr. Rosenthal said he is a sports fan and “was excited at first.” However, he had realized “there might be some issues here…it was more for the benefit of non-Brookline people.” PAX opposes plans for 2024 Olympic Games in Boston.

Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, was giving no quarter. He has co-founded a volunteer group, No Boston Olympics, and was on the warpath, armed with PowerPoint slides. The pressure group behind the Olympics plans, he said, is aiming to raid public funds. A long article published the previous day in the Boston Business Journal revealed much of that story to the public.

According to Business Journal staff, previously secret sections of the Olympics “bid book” said public money would be sought to “fund land acquisition and infrastructure costs.” The plans were also “relying on an expanded Boston Convention and Exhibition Center”–a deluxe Patrick administration venture that the Baker administration has canned.

Mr. Dempsey was having a field day, saying, “Boston 2024 is not going to fix the T…In London and Vancouver the Olympics Village financing was from public funds…Olympics budgets are guaranteed by taxpayers…The more you learn about 2024 Olympics, the less you like it.” Ben Franco spoke for the Board of Selectmen, simply stating that the board “urges favorable action” on Article 19.

Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Amy Hummel of Precinct 12 said that “the money and resources spent would benefit the Olympics shadow.” The current plans have “no real public accountability,” she contended, and “Brookline will be heavily impacted…The biggest concern [of the Advisory Committee] is the taxpayer guarantee…Lack of public process is unacceptable.”

Olympics boosters did have some friends. Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, advised caution, saying, “Who knows what will happen in Boston? We don’t have to make this decision now.” Susan Granoff of Precinct 7, attending her first town meeting, said, “Let’s give Boston 2024 more time.” The Olympics, she contended, “would create thousands of jobs and bring billions of dollars…It’s private money being donated.”

Most town meeting members were not convinced by such claims. They approved the resolution in an electronically recorded vote, 111 to 46, with 7 abstentions. Katherine Seelye’s story in the New York Times on Saturday, May 30, may have deep-sixed the Olympics plans. She included the Business Journal disclosures and cited the Brookline town-meeting resolution.

Other actions: Under Article 9, town meeting voted no action on a proposal to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. After encountering opposition, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, offered a “no action” motion on the article that he and other petitioners had submitted.

Article 17 proposed a resolution seeking changes to Sections 20-23 of Chapter 40B, the Comprehensive Permit Act of 1969 that was encouraged by the late Cardinal Cushing. Nancy Heller, the principal petitioner, now a member of the Board of Selectmen, had not seemed to recognize the complexity of the issues and soon agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and Housing Advisory Board. That was the course taken by town meeting.

Under Article 11, town meeting voted to create a Crowninshield local historic district, on petition from the owners of about 85 percent of the houses on Crowninshield Rd., Adams St., Elba St. and Copley St. Speaking in favor were David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, Robert Miller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, John Sherman and Katherine Poverman, both residents of Adams St., Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5 for the Advisory Committee and Nancy Daly for the Board of Selectmen.

Dr. White recalled that the neighborhood had been home to well-known writers and artists. He mentioned novelist and short-story writer Edith Pearlman, an Elba St. resident for many years, and after a little prompting the novelist Saul Bellow, winner of a Nobel Prize in literature, who lived on Crowninshield Rd. in his later years. Only Clifford Ananian, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, took exception. He said preserving “single-family homes is a waste of a valuable resource,” although he lives in one of those homes. Despite the objection, the town meeting vote to create the district proved unanimous.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 30, 2015


Katherine Q. Seelye, Details uncovered in Boston’s 2024 Olympic bid may put it in jeopardy, New York Times, May 30, 2015

BBJ staff, Boston 2024 report highlights need for public funding, expanded BCEC, Boston Business Journal, May 28, 2015

Matt Stout, Gov. Baker puts brakes on $1 billion convention center plan, Boston Herald, April 29, 2015

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Age-Friendly Cities: health fair, outreach, snow and parks, Brookline Beacon, May 25, 2015

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage, Brookline Beacon, May 4, 2015

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy, Brookline Beacon, April 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures, Brookline Beacon, April 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points, Brookline Beacon, June 7, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Board of Selectmen: police awards, paying for snow

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 19, started at 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Members of the police force came with families and friends for the annual presentation of awards. The board approved plans to cover large budget overruns for snow clearance from last winter.

Several board members had visited Public Works exhibits earlier in the day, at what has become the department’s annual “open house” mounted at the Municipal Service Center, 870 Hammond St. Among the more popular items was a giant “snow eater” machine that had marched around some of the most clogged streets last winter, tossing tall heaps of snow into dump trucks.

Police awards: Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, presented awards to several members of the force and introduced them to the board and the public. As he explained, those honored by Brookline had been nominated by fellow members of the department, following an approach Mr. O’Leary introduced several years ago.

Police Officer of the Year is David Wagner of the Detective Division. According to Mr. O’Leary, he has been a source of morale in the department–mentoring younger members of the force and taking on special patrol duties while maintaining the evidence archives as his main job. Detective Wagner and Sergeant Russell O’Neill received commendations for exceptional service, the fifth for each of them.

Andrew Lipson, recently promoted a deputy superintendent heading the Patrol Division, was awarded a medal of valor. According to the chief, while investigating a complaint he had been attacked by a suspect armed with a knife. He disabled the suspect with a shot from his service pistol–a rare instance of the use of arms in the Brookline department. The suspect was given first aid and was taken into custody. Mr. Lipson also received a commendation for another incident, his twentieth. According to the chief, that is the most received by a member of the force.

Mr. O’Leary introduced Julie McDonnell of the Detective Division. She had been honored on May 15 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Massachusetts. After starting an investigation in 2013, she broke a sex-trafficking racket based in the Boston area and in Rhode Island, freeing two juveniles who were being advertised for prostitution by a Boston street gang.

Personnel, contracts and finances: The board appointed Nathan Peck a member of the Building Commission and appointed David Pollack, Mary Ellen Dunn, Roberta Winitzer and Arden Reamer to the Devotion School Building Committee, filling vacancies. Mr. Pollack is a member of the School Committee and former member of the Building Commission. Ms. Dunn is the incoming Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance at Public Schools of Brookline. Ms. Winizer is a former member of the Board of Library Trustees.

Patrick Dober, director of the Brookline Housing Authority, asked for waivers of inspection fees. He said the authority expects to complete a new development at 86 Dummer St. by the end of the year. The authority wants to free up funds to support its service programs. The board agreed.

Stephen Cirillo, the town’s finance director, asked for approval of an agreement for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the Dummer St. project, which is partly owned by a private party. He said payments would start at about $0.012 million and rise to about $0.025 million in the second year. Mr. Cirillo also asked for approval of a PILOT agreement with Children’s Hospital for a house at 132 Carlton St., formerly owned by B.U., that is to become a family inn for patients. The board approved both agreements. Mr. Cirillo also got hiring approval to replace an office assistant who is retiring.

Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, presented a plan to pay large budget overruns for snow clearance from last winter. The board approved transfers totaling $0.34 million among Public Works accounts and requested a $1.4 million reserve fund transfer, approved by the Advisory Committee the same evening. Other funds are proposed under an article to be heard by the annual town meeting starting May 26.

Management and town meeting issues: The board had held open its position on Article 7, budget amendments, pending Ms. Goff’s reviews. They voted to recommend applying $1.1 million from overlay surplus against the snow removal deficit, leaving about $0.4 million to be made up. Ms. Goff anticipates that a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will cover that difference.

For the fourth time, board members again considered a recommendation on the Article 9, filed by Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, and other petitioners. It asked to make holders of state and federal offices living in Brookline automatic town meeting members. Mr. Frey has encountered widespread opposition and asked the board to join the opposition and recommend no action on his article. Board members agreed.

Board members also reconsidered a recommendation on Article 12, changes to the snow removal bylaw, which had been filed in their names. Again they backed away, supporting an Advisory Committee position that gutted most of the original proposal, leaving relatively weak enforcement, modest fines and no administrative appeals.

On Article 14, proposing bans on bottled water, petitioners Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, and Clinton Richmond, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked for support of a bylaw much reduced in scope. Now it would ban only spending town funds on water in one liter or smaller plastic bottles for use in offices. The Board of Selectmen agreed to recommend that approach.

Licenses and permits: Owners of Trader Joe’s in Coolidge Corner got approval for a change in the alcoholic beverage manager, now to be Micah O’Malley. Three restaurants were allowed new outdoor seating: Giggling Rice at 1009A Beacon St., Starbucks at 473 Harvard St. and Sunny Boy at 1632 Beacon St. The Starbucks location and Lee’s Burger of 1331 Beacon St. were allowed increases in indoor seating.

A new restaurant license was approved for Steve Liu of Malden, to be called WOW Barbecue at 320 Washington St., across from Town Hall. Mr. Liu, originally from Beijing, has run a Malden restaurant under the same name since June, 2014, and runs a food truck under that name around Chinatown in Boston, B.U. and Northeastern. The best known dish is traditional Chinese lamb skewers with cumin.

At the hearing, Mr. Liu did not hire a lawyer but represented himself along with Yi Peng, to be an alternate manager. In an unusually generous grant, the board approved a full liquor license for a new restaurant, along with live entertainment and closing hours of midnight weekdays and 1 am weekends. There was resistance from board member Ben Franco, who said that the “history of late closings has led to some problems,” but in the end Mr. Liu’s applications won unanimous approvals.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2015


Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Board of Selectmen: farmers’ market, promotions, golf and town meeting, Brookline Beacon, April 29, 2015

Craig Bolon, Public Works: snow removal, Brookline Beacon, March 9, 2015

Planning Department: a grand plan for Village Square on a diet

Grand plans of 2005 for a “boulevard” along the foot of Washington St. near Brookline Village faded. More recently, instead of Goody, Clancy–the high-prestige Boston architecture and planning firm–Brookline hired Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown–engineers and highway designers. Working at a very slow and mostly quiet pace, they planned a highway renovation for part of Route 9. The project has been coordinated by Public Works and Planning staff, particularly Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning.

Last Wednesday, May 13, Mr. Viola organized a public presentation and hearing on a highway renovation plan, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Neil Wishinsky, recently chosen as chair of the Board of Selectmen, presided over the hearing. No committee of Brookline residents has a role in this project. A committee for the so-called “Gateway East” boulevard project has been inactive since 2006. A committee for a so-called “Walnut St. and Juniper St. Relocation” project has been inactive since 2010.

Background: The foot of Washington St., bending toward Mission Hill in Boston, became the commercial heart of Brookline during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Worcester Turnpike, opened to Natick in 1810, started westward at the bend of Washington St. That road is now Boylston St., part of Massachusetts Route 9, which continues along the foot of Washington St. across the Jamaicaway to Huntington Ave. in Boston.

The Punch Bowl Tavern was Brookline’s best known landmark during the 1700s. It was located across the foot of Washington St. from today’s site of the Village Square fire station, built of brick and limestone in early twentieth century. The area nearby was often called Punch Bowl Village. The 1830s street connecting to Beacon St. through what is now Kenmore Square was originally Punch Bowl Rd. Now it is Brookline Ave.

A railroad courses beside the Village Square area, begun in 1853 as the Charles River Branch Railroad, later the Brookline Branch of the Boston & Albany and now the Riverside (D) branch of the MBTA Green Line. During the 1920s, the bustle of Village Square attracted the Brookline Savings Bank’s handsome new headquarters to the bend of Washington St. Aside from the fire station, that is the only historic building left on the square.

Village Square was almost totally lost to redevelopment, starting in the late 1950s. Patterning its efforts on destruction of the West End in Boston by the Hynes administration, the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority took property by eminent domain for the so-called “Farm Project,” evicted all the former residents and businesses, ripped out the streets and tore down everything south of Route 9 but the fire station.

On the north side of Route 9, the so-called “Marsh Project” ran at a slower pace, but it was about as ruthless. Now there can be no genuine Village Square “boulevard,” because there is no longer a genuine Village Square–an extinct neighborhood–to lend it character. Although Village Square doesn’t yet house a suburban strip mall, like Chestnut Hill, the swath of destruction left a bleak highway junction, being filled in by large-scale new development.

Village Square, from the former site of Brookline Savings Bank

VillageSquareFromBrooklineBank
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

Bicycle bonanza: The first public presentation Mr. Viola scheduled, last December 3, attracted around 50 bicycle promoters from Brookline and Boston. They were nearly all seeking protected bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.” If Brookline’s commercial areas were to be prioritized by amounts of bicycle traffic, Village Square would probably rank low. Today it has little business and only a modest population density nearby. For all but a few Brookline residents, it is neither a destination nor a waypoint.

Instead, what Village Square has is money, thanks to persistent efforts currying state support for highway renovation. It also holds some future promise from the expected 2 Brookline Place development, but bicycle promoters were likely drawn to the project by the scent of money. State money was squandered when renovating Beacon St. a few years ago, installing lots of new paving but little else of community value. Because of neglectful design, a majority of Beacon St. remains unsuitable for even painted bicycle lanes.

The cost of protected bicycle lanes in built-out urban areas runs to as much as $5 million a mile. When installed during roadway renovation, parts of the work will be common to the renovation, and the incremental cost can be less. At the May 13 presentation, a representative of the Massachusetts transportation agency estimated a 7 percent increase in costs for the Village Square project.

Plans: As described by Beth Eisler, an engineer from Toole Design Group in Boston, plans for protected bicycle lanes at Village Square are limited to the foot of Washington St. between the intersection with High St. on the south side and the intersection with Brookline Ave. on the north side. Anything more will await some future project and funding.

The main roadway change is to move the end of Walnut St. eastward, aligning the intersection of Walnut St. on the south side of Washington St. with the intersection of Pearl St. on the north side. Protected bicycle lanes on both sides of the foot of Washington St. extend just two blocks, about one-seventh of a mile.

Design for protected bicycle lanes at Village Square

VillageSquareCycleTracks
Source: Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development

The proposed designs place bicycle lanes at sidewalk level toward the curbs–the approach used on Vassar St. in Cambridge. At the bus stop near Pearl St., the bicycle lane is to curve away from the street, skirting an island for people entering and leaving a bus. Bicycle lanes are to have a color, texture or both that differs from walkways. No bicycle lane materials, signs or signals were described.

Desires: The May 13 presentation and hearing drew an audience of about 35. Most speakers supported plans but asked for changes in designs. Eric from Jamaica Plain described himself as riding through Village Square frequently. He doubted the proposed designs would draw riders to the area, because of hazardous intersections. Placing a painted bicycle lane in the middle of Washington St., descending from the overpass above the Green Line, would be “terrifying to many,” he said. “People will ride on the sidewalk.”

Mark from Roslindale, speaking for the Boston Cyclists Union, had similar observations. Stacy Thompson, representing the Livable Streets Alliance in Cambridge, had “concerns about a two-stage Washington St. crossing” for pedestrians. The long delays, she said, would provoke jaywalking. Crossing “seven lanes is really intimidating across lower Washington St.”

Scott Englander, a Transportation Board member who co-chairs the Complete Streets Study Committee, said the designs had been “hamstrung by the 2006 planning effort…an obsolete planning philosophy.” They have “weak links at several points,” he said, some of which he described. Much more obvious barriers were created by the 1950s philosophy, turning Village Square into part of a highway complex rather than part of a village network. That is how the foot of Washington St. became seven traffic lanes instead of four.

George Cole, a member of the Building Commission who has also been a spokesperson for Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer of 2 Brookline Place, said the hospital “supports bicycles” and asked about the schedule. Tracy Wu, the project manager at the state transportation agency, said the schedule currently calls for completing designs in September, 2016, and performing construction between the spring and fall of 2017.

According to Jane Gilman, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, “we are a multi-modal society,” turning to “sustainable practices.” She asked about bicycle lane signals, pervious pavement and trees. For each item, Ms. Eisler of Toole Design Group said nothing had yet been planned. Laura Costella of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin stated there will be “a significant landscape component to this project…replacing existing elements at least six to one.”

Several speakers sought to extend the designs for protected bicycle lanes to other parts of the streets. Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, argued for extending them along Walnut St. to High St. That should not be very costly, he argued, saying, “It’s all new anyway.” Like other Brookline speakers, however, Dr. Vitolo seemed to have little knowledge of actual costs for protected bicycle lanes.

Mr. Viola said the next step for the plans would be to present them to the Transportation Board. Todd Kirrane, the transportation director, indicated that might occur at a June meeting. Given the many responses from Toole Design Group and Vanasse Hangen Brustlin that elements were “not planned yet” or “we’ll look into it,” it was not at all clear that plans were ready for prime time.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 16, 2015


Toole Design Group (Boston, MA), Gateway East bicycle facilities, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, May 13, 2015

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, Costs for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements, U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2015

Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment, Brookline Beacon, January 23, 2015

Craig Bolon, Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone, Brookline Beacon, October 17, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline bicycle crashes: patterns and factors, Brookline Beacon, August 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash, Brookline Beacon, June 6, 2014

Complete Streets: seeking better sidewalks and bicycle paths

A meeting of Brookline’s Complete Streets Study Committee on Monday, May 11, started at 7:10 pm in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall. All the current members except Thomas Vitolo were on hand for the first full review of a policy statement.

Background: The somewhat vague phrase “complete streets” was adopted in 2005 by an eponymous coalition–mostly planners and architects–promoting facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit riders as effective as those for motorists. The national coalition since found some institutional housing inside a group called Smart Growth America based in Washington, DC.

Smart Growth America does not disclose its form of organization, finances or commercial sources of support. It offers consulting services for “policy development,” for “coalition building” and for organizing “specific populations: older adults, children, low-income, people with disabilities.” In Massachusetts, it lists as apparently dues-paying members the Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance and Metropolitan Area Planning Council but not any individuals, businesses or trade groups.

Legislation:For the 2013 and 2014 sessions of the General Court, state Sen. Harriette L. Chandler of Worcester, a member of rules, ethics and housing committees recently named majority leader, sponsored S.68, “An act relative to active streets and healthy communities.” It sought to create a “complete streets program” in Massachusetts. Then-Rep. Jason M. Lewis of Winchester sponsored H.3091, a companion bill.

The Massachusetts Public Health Association took a lead role in promoting the bills. Health research had shown for years that people who regularly walk or bicycle enjoy significant health benefits. It was joined by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and by advocacy groups representing bicyclists and pedestrians.

Sen. Chandler’s bill defined “complete streets” to mean “streets that provide accommodations for users of all transportation modes, including but not limited to walking, cycling, public transportation, automobiles and freight.” S.68 died in the Ways and Means Committee, but Sen. Chandler prevailed on March 6, 2014, with a floor amendment to the transportation finance bill, then S.2023.

The S.2023 bill was carried into H.4046 and enacted April 18 as C. 79 of the Acts of 2014. That created Chapter 90I of the General Laws, “Complete streets program.” Its definitions are the same as those in Sen. Chandler’s original bill. The April 18, 2014, law provided $5.5 million in earmarked funds and $50 million in competitive grant funds.

Progress: On May 8, 2014, Mayor Curtatone and the Somerville Board of Aldermen enacted the first municipal Complete Streets program in the state. Other communities–including Framingham, Hudson and Newburyport–had adopted executive policies earlier. Since 2011, the Massachusetts Municipal Association has offered a model policy for such uses to its member communities, which include Brookline.

At least 20 Massachusetts communities have now enacted Complete Streets programs, following Somerville’s lead, and many others have adopted executive policies. A policy need not be complex. For example, last September the Transportation Commission for the City of Waltham adopted a policy consisting of only 207 words that fits on half a sheet of paper.

Brookline activity: In Brookline, a Complete Streets effort has been led by Scott Englander, a mechanical and energy engineer and a member of the Transportation Board. The approach he developed was to set up a committee to consider and propose a Complete Streets policy to a future town meeting. Implementation of the policy would be carried out mainly by the Transportation Board and Department.

The Board of Selectmen approved a charge to a new Complete Streets Study Committee on September 30, 2014, and appointed members of the committee on December 17. Board member Neil Wishinsky became liaison to the committee, and he and Mr. Englander serve as co-chairs.

In a few places, the committee has been called a “task force,” but unlike a typical task force it includes no members of town staff, and it has duties that continue beyond developing a policy. Those include confirming a baseline inventory of pedestrian and bicycle facilities, developing procedures for town projects involving streets and reviewing town standards for private development.

Policy proposal: At the Monday meeting, members reviewed a draft apparently prepared by Mr. Englander along with at least committee members Mitch Heineman and John Bowman. Several other members were said to have made changes through comments. The draft had been conveyed to the Board of Selectmen on March 31. Paper copies were available at the Monday meeting, but the document has not yet appeared on the municipal Web site.

In contrast to the 207-word Waltham policy, the Brookline draft was, as of Monday, five pages of single-spaced fine print, probably around 3,000 words. Committee members went through its six sections, one by one. The flavor might be suggested by one of the nine proposed “design guidance” elements from Section 4 (as numbered on May 11).

“B. Pedestrian requirements must be fully considered in the design of intersections, including taking into consideration the following concerns: crossings and pedestrian curb-cut ramp locations, minimizing curb radius at corners (or equivalent design to slow turning vehicles at intersections), walking speed, pedestrian flow capacity, crossing wait times, vehicle speeds, traffic control and yielding.”

Along with several other ideas, Waltham includes that idea in a short sentence: “All project proposals [must] make the existing street network safer and better for all motorists, transit users, bicyclists and pedestrians, regardless of age or abilities.”

The strongest dispute heard at the meeting concerned whether Brookline’s policy should include more specifics for implementation. Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke said it should. “If we don’t lay out a vision of how it can be implemented,” she said, there’s “no motivation to put it into practice.” Member Seth Rubin said, while he wanted “to have some stronger statements…the more specific stuff you put in, the more targets [there are for town meeting members] to shoot down.”

Mr. Wishinsky, representing the Board of Selectmen, observed, “My political thinking is to stay away from parking.” As to the many directives and prescriptions in the draft, he said that the “document needs to recognize some realities…each one of those things is quite an involved task.” The committee is to send comments to Mr. Englander and meet again in a week.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2015


Technical assistance for communities putting prevention to work, National Complete Streets Coalition, 2014

Advance health equity through transportation policy, Massachusetts Public Health Association, 2014

Fact sheet: An act relative to active streets and healthy communities, Massachusetts Public Health Association, 2013

Acts of 2014, C. 79, An act financing improvements to the Commonwealth’s transportation systems: in S. 2A $50,000,000 for grants under the C. 90I complete streets program

First Complete Streets ordinance in Massachusetts, City of Somerville, May 19, 2014

Complete Streets Policy, City of Waltham Transportation Commission, September 18, 2014

Field of dreams: a Coolidge Corner parking garage

At least half a dozen times since World War II, Coolidge Corner merchants and property owners pestered the town to build them some free parking–free to them, that is. So far, they landed two bonanzas: the Beacon St. median spaces in the 1940s and off-street, open-air parking lots in the 1960s. Brookline took properties by eminent domain and demolished houses to create and enlarge open-air parking. Recently, merchants and owners have been maneuvering again for a free parking garage–free to them, of course.

There are five off-street, open-air public parking lots close to Coolidge Corner: Centre St. east with 143 public spaces, Babcock St. with 65 spaces, Centre St. west with 56 spaces, John St. with 14 spaces and Webster St. with 13 spaces. A professional analysis in 2007 found 1,141 metered public spaces serving the Coolidge Corner business area. There are hundreds more unmetered public spaces on the smaller nearby streets.

Envelope: The only large and obvious location for a parking garage is the Centre St. east lot, behind the S.S. Pierce building, the Coolidge Corner Theatre, the Arcade building and 1-story buildings along Harvard St. It has a trapezoidal shape with wide connections to Centre St. and one-way connections to Harvard St. at each end. There are five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled spaces each. It is Brookline block 82, lot 14, with 81,912 sq ft, shown on page 16 of the 2010 Brookline Atlas.

S.S. Pierce block, Coolidge Corner

SsPierceBlockCoolidgeCorner
Source: Brookline Assessor’s Atlas

The Centre St. east parking lot is currently zoned G-1.75 (CC), a designation used only in the Coolidge Corner business area. The envelope for parking is set by Table 5.01 and Sections 5.06.4b, 5.21 and 6.02 of Brookline’s zoning bylaw. Stretched to the maximum, these appear to allow a 4-story garage measuring about 395 by 105 ft, positioned over the current, outer parking rows and leaving an open corridor about 50 ft wide at the narrowest, running between the garage and the existing Harvard St. buildings.

This approach uses the approximately triangular area at the end near Beacon St. as open space, counted as such for zoning purposes. The corridor would be eligible for use as open-air parking. At an efficiency of 320 sq ft per stall, typical of medium-size garages, the Centre St. east garage could house about 520 spaces. At 12-foot average intervals, the corridor could house about 30 more spaces, handicapped-accessible. That could provide about 550 public parking spaces in all, compared with the current 143.

One likely construction technique would use long-span girders and decks. At a spacing of about 11 ft per deck, even with a full roof the total height should be less than the 45 ft allowed under zoning. Such a plan would probably not need a zoning variance and might need only a special permit for design review–common at the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals. At costs per stall for recent projects in dense, urban areas with union wages, construction might be priced somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million.

4-story parking garage in Boston, Post Office Square, 950 cars, 1954-1988

BostonParkingGarage1955
Source: Boston Redevelopment Authority

Urban blight: Parking garages have become icons of urban blight. The former 4-story garage in Post Office Square endured such a fate. Built by the Hynes administration–which also demolished the entire West End and buried the Muddy River in culverts under Park Drive–the ugly, concrete garage in Post Office Square was razed after less than 35 years and replaced by Leventhal Park.

There is no way to hide such a monster above ground. Make it only two stories or three stories, and it becomes more costly per space and merely a smaller monster. Put it underground, and the cost goes up 40 to 100 percent, depending on ground conditions. The successful sponsor of an urban parking garage is bidding to become a public enemy, loathed and vilified for generations.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 4, 2015


Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner, Brookline Beacon, April 19, 2015

Zoning Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June, 2014

Assessor’s Atlas, Town of Brookline, MA, 2010, page 16

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Coolidge Corner Transportation Analysis, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2007

Gary Cudney, P.E., Parking structure cost outlook for 2014, Carl Walker, Inc. (Pittsburgh, PA)

Jeffrey Spivak, From eyesore to icon: new parking garages, Planning 30(5):18-22, 2013

Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 21, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board heard from applicants for permits and from petitioners for town meeting articles. It began with the several-years tradition of “announcements” from departing board member Betsy DeWitt. Key among them this week was celebration of a new landmark.

Landmarks: Ms. DeWitt, who has a longstanding interest in Brookline history, announced that a Brookline site had recently been named a national historic landmark, the town’s fourth. It is the Brookline Reservoir–located along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Boylston St. and MA Route 9, between Lee and Warren Sts.–along with the 14-mile Cochituate Aqueduct, connecting it with man-made Lake Cochituate in Natick.

The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct were the first major expansion of the Boston-area water works, which later came to include the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the Fisher Hill Reservoir. The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct are the earliest intact example of a reliable, metropolitan water system for a major U.S. city. They operated in full service from 1848 through 1951.

In mid-nineteenth century, when the aqueduct and reservoir were built, Boston-to-be was a conglomerate of a growing small city and nearby towns–including Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, which included Jamaica Plain after 1850. Between 1868 and 1873, these towns agreed to merge with Boston. An 1873 Brookline town meeting refused to join, putting an end to Boston expansion except for Hyde Park in 1912. The aqueduct and reservoir remained key elements of the city’s water supply until the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, during the Great Depression, and of the Hultman Aqueduct, in the 1940s.

Two of Brookline’s three older national landmarks are well known: the birthplace of former Pres. Kennedy, at 83 Beals St., and the former home of Frederick Olmsted, Sr., the pioneering landscape architect, at 99 Warren St. For some obscure reason, Ms. DeWitt would not describe the other landmark site.

The third older landmark is the former residence of George R. Minot (1885-1950) of Harvard Medical School, for whom the Minot Rose Garden on St. Paul St. was named. Anyone with Internet access can easily locate the site at 71 Sears Rd., now occupied by unrelated private owners. Prof. Minot became the first winner of a Nobel prize to live in Brookline.

In the mid-1920s, Prof. Minot, George H. Whipple of the University of California Medical School and William P. Murphy of Harvard Medical School found that Addison’s disease, a fatal condition then called pernicious anemia, was associated with a dietary factor. They discovered it could often be controlled by adding a water-soluble extract from liver to the diet. The three were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for 1934. In the late 1940s, the active dietary substance was isolated; it is cobalamin, also known as vitamin B-12.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board approved $0.08 million in contract additions for storm-sewer repairs with Beta Group of Norwood, also the town’s consultant for storm-water issues during review of a proposed Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village. The contract is part of a continuing program to reduce infiltration and leakage. This year’s repairs affect Addington Rd., Summit Ave. and Winchester St. Peter Ditto, the director of engineering, said he expects the state to reimburse about 45 percent of the cost.

Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to hire an associate town counsel. The position became available after promotion of Patricia Correa to first assistant town counsel. Members of the board expressed appreciation for Ms. Correa, one of the few Brookline senior municipal staff fluent in Spanish. Ms. Murphy said she would be searching for expertise in construction and school law. Ken Goldstein, the board’s outgoing chair, omitted the usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, presented a plan for improving the Olmsted park system shared with Boston, also called the “emerald necklace.” It is partly based on a survey of over 7,000 trees in about 1,000 acres of park land. Board member Nancy Daly asked what the plan would cost to implement. Ms. Gallentine estimated about $7.5 million for the total plan and $0.5 million for the Brookline portion, spread over several years.

Ms. Gallentine expects private fund-raising to cover a substantial part of costs. The board voted to approve an agreement with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy of Boston to begin work. The board has not published a statement of the work to be performed, which is supposed to become Exhibit A of the agreement, or evidence of insurance from the conservancy, which is supposed to become Exhibit B.

Permits and licenses: Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and proposed as manager of Genki Ya restaurant, at 398 Harvard St., asked to transfer licenses held by the current manager. This had been continued from February 17, when Mr. Chen was not able to answer some of the board’s questions. Since then, he also applied for outdoor seating. This time he appeared well prepared. The board approved all five licenses requested. Board records continue to contain misspellings of names.

Andrew Gordon of Boston applied for a permit to operate an open-air parking lot at 295 Rawson Rd. The parking lot for 20 cars was created in 1977 under a special zoning permit. Located below Claflin Path and behind houses on Rawson Rd, it has access to Rawson Rd. through an easement between two houses. Mr. Gordon has agreed to buy it from the current owner.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, had sent a memorandum saying the department “was not aware of any problems,” but neighbors and abutters said that they certainly were. About 20 of them came to the hearing, and several spoke. They described problems with access and snow clearance. This past winter, they said, problems became extreme, with access to the lot dangerous or blocked for weeks.

The current license, through June 30, requires the operator to “keep the entrance and parking spaces passable and clear of excess snow at all times.” Neighbors also objected to parkers using Claflin Path, a private way, for access to the lot. Board member Neil Wishinsky said that might constitute trespassing and said owners of Claflin Path might consider a fence. It was not clear whether a “doctrine of adverse possession” might apply.

Others described the lot as currently “striped for 30 cars.” Communications from the building and planning departments did not reflect knowledge of conditions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Gordon agreed to observe the 20-car capacity. With uncertainty over conditions, the board decided to continue the hearing on April 28.

Town meeting controversy: The board reviewed several articles for the annual town meeting starting May 26 and voted recommendations on some, including Article 9, which would make elected federal and state officials living in Brookline automatic members of town meeting. The Advisory Committee considered the article April 14 and voted unanimously to oppose it.

Town meetings are the legislative bodies of towns. In larger towns with representative town meetings, town meeting members are elected to represent voters, mostly on local issues. Holders of elected federal and state offices represent voters on different issues. U.S. senators and representatives–as well as the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and so on–are mostly elected by voters living somewhere other than in one particular town.

None of that seemed to matter to members of the Board of Selectmen, who spoke in terms of social relations and potential influence with officials who might qualify as Brookline town meeting members. They voted to support the article. Such thinking has long been common among members of the board, but over the years town meeting members have seen things differently, voting to trim back the number of automatic town meeting members.

Board members voted to support Article 10, excluding from living wage coverage some seasonal jobs in the recreation department but keeping a one-dollar premium over minimum wages. Disagreement with the Advisory Committee remains over which jobs would continue to be covered by Brookline’s living wage bylaw. As nearly everyone expected, board members voted to support Article 11, proposing a Crowninshield local historic district.

After a skeptical review by an Advisory subcommittee, petitioners for Article 17, a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects, agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board. An approach of further review now has support from both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, which takes up the article again April 23.

Article 18 proposes a resolution seeking a study of acquiring Hancock Village buffers, mostly behind houses on Beverly and Russett Rds., for park and recreation purposes. Members of the board expressed concern over involvement in lawsuits against Hancock Village owners over a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. Voting on a motion to support Article 18, Ken Goldstein, the chair, and board members Nancy Daly and Neil Wishinsky abstained. The motion failed for lack of a voting majority, leaving the Board of Selectmen taking no position on this article.

No Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposes a resolution against Olympic games in Boston. urging officials who represent Brookline to reject the proposal for 2024 Olympics. Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, spoke for the article. He is co-chair of a group called No Boston Olympics working to defeat the proposal. The City Council of Cambridge has already passed a resolution similar to Article 19.

In his efforts, Mr. Dempsey has associated with Liam Kerr, a leader in an educationally extremist campaign known as Democrats for Education Reform–nationally typified by performances of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Demonstrating the durability of gross ignorance, that group maintains, “Standardized tests have shined a light on the real quality of education.”

Olympics opponents point to $50 billion for the Olympics in Japan–largely at government expense. They argue that a Boston Olympics would bleed state and local governments and usurp public roads and property for weeks to years. Some members of the Board of Selectmen appeared uninformed and wary of the issue, but Nancy Daly said, “I’m against the Olympics.” No representatives of the pressure group pushing for the Olympics showed up, and the board decided to reach out to them and defer voting a recommendation on the article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 22, 2015


Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline Reservoir and gatehouse named national historic landmark, Boston Globe, April 16, 2015

William P. Marchione, Brookline’s 1873 rejection of Boston, Brighton-Allston Historical Society, c. 2000

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Adam Vaccaro, They just don’t want the Olympics, Boston Globe, April 2, 2015. A rambling, chatty account bloated with gossip.

Zeninjor Enwemeka, After WBUR poll, Boston 2024 says it won’t move forward without majority public support, WBUR (Boston, MA), March 23, 2015

Dan Primack, Chris Dempsey leaves Bain & Co., as Boston Olympics battle rages on, Fortune, March 20, 2015

Gintautas Dumcius, Deval Patrick will get $7,500 per day for Boston 2024 Olympics work, Springfield (MA) Republican, March 9, 2015

Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner

The North Brookline Neighborhood Association (NBNA) held a public meeting starting at 7 pm Wednesday, April 15, in the Sussman House community room at 50 Pleasant St., focused on improvements for the Coolidge Corner area. Founded in 1972, NBNA is now one of Brookline’s older neighborhood associations. By population it is the largest, serving an area between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and between Winchester and Amory Sts.

The NBNA meeting drew an audience of near 30, more than half of them town meeting members from Precincts 2, 3 and 7-11. After an introduction by Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, Kara Brewton, the economic development director in Brookline’s planning department, made a presentation and led discussion.

Waldo St.: Ms. Brewton described elements of what she called a “5-year plan” for Coolidge Corner improvements, mentioning a customer survey, gardening projects and interest in the future of the Waldo St. area. Waldo St. is a short, dead-end private way extending from Pleasant St. opposite Pelham Hall, the 8-story, 1920s, red brick apartment building at the corner of Beacon and Pleasant Sts.

Not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this particular meeting was the controversy several years ago when a would-be developer proposed to replace the now disused Waldo St. garage with a high-rise hotel. While a hotel might become a good neighbor and a significant source of town revenue, the garage property did not provide a safe site. Street access is constricted, and emergency vehicles might be blocked. Permits were not granted.

Also not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this meeting was current Waldo St. ownership, with the garage at the corner of Pleasant and John Sts. now in the hands of the owners of Hancock Village. They are involved in a protracted dispute with the Brookline Board of Selectmen, after applying to build a large, partly subsidized housing development, trying to override Brookline zoning using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws.

These matters were well known to nearly all present. By skirting them, Ms. Brewton signaled that she preferred to avoid frank discussion of local conflicts. Her presentation was being observed by a member of the Economic Development Advisory Board, for whom she provides staff support. That left a constrained but still sizable clear space for group discussion.

Survey: Ms. Brewton described a 2014 consumer survey in Coolidge Corner, coordinated by the Department of Planning and Community Development. She said the survey had tallied “a few thousand responses,” that it showed who visits the area for what purposes, that a little over half of the respondents lived in Brookline and that their most frequent activity was buying food.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, asked whether the survey had investigated lack of parking. Ms. Brewton said, “Customers find it hard to find parking.” She said the survey found about a third of respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and those who did tended to spend more money in the shops.

Ms. Brewton said that current priorities for her division, informed by the customer survey, were focused on three concerns: (1) the mix of business, (2) the public spaces and (3) parking. Asked what she meant by “the mix of business,” she mentioned that there was currently no “ordinary clothing store.” It was not obvious what that meant either, since The Gap has a Coolidge Corner location and several other shops also sell clothing.

Coolidge Corner has lacked a full-service clothing store since the former, 3-story Brown’s, at the corner of Harvard and Green Sts., burned in the 1960s. McDonald’s took over the property, building a one-story shop with distinctive arch windows that became a prototype for the company’s urban expansion. With McDonald’s gone since 2007, the shop with arch windows has been subdivided into spaces occupied by a pizza parlor and a branch bank.

A report from the survey contractor, FinePoint Associates of Brookline, is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site. According to that report, the survey tallied 1,740 responses. Data in the report indicate 29 percent of all respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and 62 percent of all respondents rated parking “average” or better. The report says, “Customers who walked or biked to Coolidge Corner were more likely to be very frequent customers (coming twice per week or more) than [other] customers.” [p. 10]

Parking: Ms. Brewton described plans underway to “improve” Coolidge Corner parking. The two lots on Centre St., she said, “are in bad shape,” with no major maintenance since 1965. That was when Brookline took property by eminent domain and tore down structures to build and enlarge current parking lots located off Centre, Babcock, John and Fuller Sts. David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, mentioned efforts to develop solar power canopies for the Centre St lots.

Her department, Ms. Brewton said, is “trying to get $100,000 for planning” parking improvements. However, alternatives for Centre St. parking lots have already been planned. A comprehensive study was performed for the planning department in 2007 by Traffic Solutions of Boston. An illustrated report is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site.

While she left an impression of some future fund-raising, what Ms. Brewton was talking about turned out to be Item 6 in Article 8 on the warrant for the 2015 annual town meeting, starting May 26. She showed a drawing of what she called a “parking deck” over the northwesterly three-quarters of the large Centre St. parking lot. That currently has five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled parking spaces each.

In the town meeting warrant, the department’s intents are vague, but they are detailed in the FY2016 Financial Plan, where item 10 under the capital improvements section says the $100,000 may be used to design a “decked parking structure” with one to three levels. A “3-level parking deck” is what most people would typically call a “4-story garage.”

A 4-story parking garage would probably become the largest building in the block and the tallest except for the S.S. Pierce clock tower. It would likely be constructed as a wall of masonry along Centre St., a half block from the house at the corner of Shailer St. where Mr. Swartz and his wife live. It could swell public parking off Centre St. from a current total of about 200 spaces to 500 or more spaces.

It is not clear how the Centre St. parking project Ms. Brewton described reconciles with a “5-year plan” dated March 5, 2012, currently available from the Brookline municipal Web site. That plan does not call for any new or expanded parking facilities, nor does it call for a “planning” effort focused on parking. The only parking improvements it anticipates are described as “signage for cultural institutions & parking lots,” a $46,000 estimated cost.

Gardening: Participants at the NBNA meeting were eager to hear about plans for landscaping and gardening. Many felt the area had been neglected in recent years. Unfavorable comparisons were noted with some commercial areas in Boston and Somerville. Ms. Brewton plans to coordinate a “gardening event” from 8 to 10 am on Saturday, May 16. She can be contacted at 617-730-2468.

Some of the town’s attempts at improvements didn’t impress. Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, referred to structures in the small triangle at the intersection of Pleasant and Beacon Sts. as “the volcano,” saying it was easy to trip over masonry edging. Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, was concerned about maintenance of plantings.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, noted some shop or property owners had already set out flowers. She recalled daffodils near the Brookline Bank. Ms. Brewton said there were more near Pelham Hall. Mr. Swartz said lack of water faucets along the street could be a barrier to maintenance. There was mention of a water truck the town has sometimes provided.

Dr. Caro said results by neighbors with landscaping near the Coolidge Corner library were much improved after Public Works installed sprinklers. Carol Caro, also a Precinct 10 town meeting member, said she hoped for improvements to tree wells, mentioning a recently introduced protective material. Linda Olson Pehlke, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, expressed interest in working on the small park spaces along John St.

NBNA activists decided to focus on a small triangle at the northwest end of the large Centre St. parking lot. Currently, it is eroded and mostly barren. Ms. Brewton said she would see if Public Works could harrow and level the ground. Mr. Swartz agreed to coordinate NBNA efforts. Participants began making plans for mulching and planting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 19, 2015


FinePoint Associates (Brookline, MA), Coolidge Corner Consumer Survey, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2014 (3 MB)

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Transportation Analysis for Coolidge Corner, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, March 22, 2007 (9 MB)

Item 6, Article 8, 2015 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, Town of Brookline, MA

Item 10, FY2016-2021 CIP Project Descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Irene Sege, In Brookline, McDonald’s was their kind of place, Boston Globe, February 3, 2007

Linda Olson Pehlke, Coolidge Corner’s future, Brookline Perspective, January 22, 2007

Advisory Committee: budgets, bylaws and lectures

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, April 7, Thursday, April 9, and Monday, April 13, starting at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. Review season for this year’s annual town meeting is underway, with many committee members attending four or more meetings a week. According to the chair, Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member, the committee has begun to address a backlog of missing meeting records.

At these sessions, the committee reviewed budgets, to be proposed under Article 8 at the annual town meeting starting May 26, for Library, Town Clerk, Information Technology, Finance, Board of Selectmen, Advisory Committee, reserve accounts and miscellaneous. It heard lectures on fiscal policy from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator and from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director. The committee also voted recommendations on three warrant articles:
• Article 12. snow bylaw amendments, from the Board of Selectmen
• Article 13. bylaw requiring tap water service in restaurants, by petition
• Article 14. bylaw banning bottled water on town property, by petition

Human services: The most recent Advisory session, on Monday, was human services night, reviewing the Library budget and the two “water” articles. With subcommittee chair Sytske Humphrey absent, subcommittee member David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, reviewed the library budget with Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, chair of the Library Trustees.

Lea Cohen of Beacon St., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 13, about water service in Brookline restaurants. Robert Liao of Meadowbrook Rd., not a town meeting member, reviewed Article 14, seeking to ban bottled water on town property and in the town budget. Jane Gilman and Clinton Richmond, town meeting members from Precincts 3 and 6, responded for the petitioners who submitted those articles.

Water aerobics: The subcommittee on human services had reviewed the “water” articles the previous week and was recommending no action on both. With Mr. Lynn-Jones out-of-town, Carla Benka, vice chair of the committee, led the meeting. She allowed Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond another bite of the apple, rehashing most of their arguments and taking up nearly two hours.

After heavy weather the previous week, at the Board of Selectmen as well as the subcommittee, Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond tried a tactical retreat on Article 14. That would have removed about three-fourths of the proposed bylaw, including its key feature: generally banning the sale and distribution of bottled water on town property. What remained would have forbidden spending for bottled water and stocking it in vending machines, under most circumstances.

Alan Balsam, the public health director, opposed restricting water from vending machines. As at the Board of Selectmen, he called commercial plastic beverage bottles “nasty,” saying most of what they contained was also “nasty.” In his view, though, water is much less “nasty” than sugared beverages, and trying to keep it out of vending machines would likely encourage substitution–worsening risks of obesity and diabetes. “Why not get rid of vending machines?” asked Dr. Balsam. “That’s what I did at the Health Department.”

Committee members wrestled with alternatives, offering motions to chop still more out of the proposed bylaw and to refer it to a committee appointed by the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Benka struggled in parliamentary muddle. A motion for bylaw surgery from Alisa Jonas of Precinct 16 failed: 2 in favor, 15 opposed and 1 abstaining. A motion to refer from Michael Sandman of Sewall Ave., not a town meeting member, also failed: 4-13-1. A motion on behalf of the subcommittee for no action passed: 16-2-0. That became the Advisory Committee recommendation to town meeting.

Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 suggested the committee consider use of funds for bottled water when it reviews conditions of appropriations for town budgets. The committee had less trouble with Article 13, a proposed bylaw change requiring tap water to be available in Brookline restaurants. Ms. Gilman and Mr. Richmond still could not cite a Brookline restaurant that did not offer it. By a unanimous vote, the Advisory Committee is recommending no action on Article 13.

Lecture series: At its April 7 and 9 meetings, the committee heard lectures on fiscal rectitude from Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, from Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, and from Mel Kleckner, the town administrator. They were probably inspired by an unusual generous committee approach this year, boosting rather than cutting budgets.

The program budget presented by Mr. Kleckner and his staff last February showed $682,000 in cuts to municipal services within the base budget, without an override. School budgets would benefit from a corresponding boost, while observing “Proposition 2-1/2″ tax limits. School staff and the School Committee are hardly celebrating. Their base budget, without an override, involves cuts totaling $1.16 million from current school programs, despite a $0.68 million transfer from municipal accounts.

Some long-time observers say Advisory budget turbulence stems from a confluence of weather systems: traditional town liberalism mixing into traditional town conservatism that sees unwarranted trimming of municipal resources in order to enlarge school accounts. Practicing freedom of speech, some Advisory Committee members have taken to sporting campaign buttons advertising their factions on the budget override that the Board of Selectmen has proposed to voters at May 5 town elections.

At the April 9 meeting, Mr. Kleckner let a cat out of the bag. It was “very distressing,” he said, “to hear some of this disagreement.” The “elected officials” have a right “to make those judgments.” In the context, Mr. Kleckner was clearly referring to members of the Board of Selectmen, who hire and fire town administrators. He might know something about perils of town administrators, through past service to the fairly conservative Town of Winchester and Town of Belmont.

Somehow, Mr. Kleckner didn’t seem to appreciate at the moment that elected members of town meetings–and not members of boards of selectmen–appropriate all town funds. For the Advisory Committee of Brookline, charged by law with proposing annual appropriations to our elected representative town meeting, that is just Politics 101. Committee members welcomed Mr. Kleckner to Brookline with some choice remarks.

During the lecture series, the need advertised for fiscal probity was to protect the town’s credit rating, but at the April 7 meeting Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, had undercut some of those arguments. He revealed that about $1.1 million stands to be available from overlay accounts for 2009 and prior years. So far, the Advisory Committee’s budget votes would restore about $0.3 million of municipal base-budget cuts, well within amounts Mr. McCabe described as available, outside usual credit-rating factors.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 14, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water, Brookline Beacon, April 12, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Support for the May 5 override, Yes for Brookline, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Opposition to the May 5 override, Campaign for a Better Override, Brookline, MA, April, 2015

Advisory: a night at the opera, Brookline Beacon, March 27, 2015

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

School Committee: budget bounties and woes, Brookline Beacon, March 13, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Board of Selectmen: $7.665 million tax override, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2015

Board of Selectmen: larger tax override, Brookline Beacon, January 14, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on human services: tap water and bottled water

The Advisory subcommittee on human services met at 5:30 pm Tuesday, April 7, in the third-floor employees’ room at Town Hall. The agenda was two articles for the spring town meeting intended to promote the use of tap water over bottled water, submitted by Jane Gilman and Clinton Richmond, town meeting members from Precincts 3 and 6. They have been active in the “green caucus” within Brookline town meeting and are currently co-chairs.

The hearings on these articles drew a large group for an Advisory subcommittee: six senior town staff and at least 15 town residents. All the subcommittee members were on hand: Sytske Humphrey of Precinct 6, the chair, Lea Cohen of Beacon St., not a town meeting member, David-Marc Goldstein of Precinct 8 and Robert Liao of Meadowbrook Rd., not a town meeting member.

Water service at restaurants: Article 13 for the 2015 annual town meeting, scheduled to start May 26, proposes to amend a Brookline bylaw by requiring tap water to be available to customers at restaurants located in the town. However, as the explanation for Article 13 says, “Tap water is already available….” Subcommittee members were puzzled why petitioners thought a bylaw change was needed.

Mr. Richmond mentioned a restaurant located in another community that offers only bottled water, but he could not cite any one in Brookline. Ms. Cohen asked how many Brookline businesses the petitioners had approached. “None,” said Ms. Gilman, adding that she did not “see a hardship.” Mr. Goldstein described the warrant article as “a solution looking for a non-existent problem.”

Alan Balsam, the public health director, called tap water service in Brookline restaurants “not much of a problem.” Owners of one restaurant, he said, “think they can charge for water.” Ms. Humphrey asked whether petitioners might be interested in substituting a resolution for the proposed bylaw change, in support of an “educational” effort to encourage use of tap water. Mr. Richmond said, “No.” Committee members were not persuaded of a need for a bylaw change and voted unanimously to recommend no action on Article 13.

Selling or distributing bottled water: Article 14 for the spring town meeting proposes a new bylaw making it illegal to “sell or distribute” bottled water at an “event” held on “town property,” including a street. If you were to take along a bottle of water to Brookline Day at Larz Anderson, for example, and you distributed some of it to friends, under this law you would apparently be liable for a fine of $50 to $100.

The proposed bylaw would also forbid spending town funds on bottled water, forbid vending machines located on town property from offering bottled water and forbid Brookline-licensed food trucks from selling bottled water. Exemptions would be allowed where the public health director finds them “necessary.” Dr. Balsam said, “The article is quite complicated.”

Petitioners defended their article, estimating waste generated in Brookline at around a million plastic bottles a year. Mr. Richmond ridiculed the brand Fiji Water, in particular–denouncing abuse of natural resources in “hauling water 8,000 miles” to Brookline. Although the water bottles, made of polyethylene terpthalate, can be recycled as Type 1 plastic, Mr. Richmond claimed less than 20 percent went into blue recycling bins. He may not have known that, because of low industrial materials prices, most or all of those have reportedly been burned in incinerators recently rather than recycled.

Potential problems: As an example of potential problems, Dr. Balsam brought up outdoor restaurant seating during warm weather. Some such seating is on privately owned property and would be exempt. Other seating is on town sidewalks and would be restricted. There may be no visible marks showing which is which. Dr. Balsam also warned about adverse consequences, including substitution of sugared beverages, which have been associated with increasing trends of obesity and diabetes.

Fred Russell, director of the Water Division in Public Works, said that while he supports use of public water rather than commercially bottled water, less than 20 percent of Brookline’s public park sites now have water fountains. David Geanakakis, the chief procurement officer, said it would not be difficult to exclude water from vending machines. Subcommittee member Lea Cohen asked whether the petitioners had approached Brookline agencies and businesses who would be affected. Ms. Gilman said, “No.”

John Harris, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, observed that bottled water sales now comprised about 15 percent of U.S. retail beverage sales. Saying he has been “working in special education for most of my career,” Mr. Harris claimed bottled water has helped students with learning disabilities, who he said tended to treat sugared beverages as “liquid candy.”

Donald Leka, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, said the growth in bottled water sales has been driven by aggressive advertising. He suggested an educational effort rather than a bylaw, to combat abuse of resources. Mr. Richmond had said he was “not a public health expert.” As he described it, the petitioners were putting forth ideas and would rely on town boards and staff to find and solve problems.

Ms. Humphrey, the subcommittee chair, read a letter from Mariah Nobrega, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, expressing concerns over conflicts with athletic events bringing teams from other communities to Brookline. She recommended referring Article 14 to a task force, in order to sort through problems and develop solutions, but Mr. Richmond and Ms. Gilman said they did not want a referral.

A troubled love affair: Recent town meetings eagerly endorsed some “green caucus” proposals. In this case, discussion found the subcommittee members concerned about the environmental issues advanced by the Article 14 petitioners but unconvinced that the proposed bylaw offered a workable solution. The subcommittee members voted unanimously to recommend no action on the article.

With back-to-back rejections from a subcommittee usually inclined to support its goals, the “green caucus” in town meeting looks to have tried “a bridge too far.” The strategy it used in previous efforts to ban plastic products may have reached a limit, with town boards and committees starting to expect proponents to do their homework and develop practical solutions, rather than simply write up ideas and look to others for the heavy lifting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 12, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Craig Bolon, Paper or plastic? The Devil’s work, Brookline Beacon, May 28, 2014

Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far, Simon & Schuster, 1974

Billy Baker, Brookline finds plastic bottle ban a thorny issue, Boston Globe, April 12, 2015. A grammatically and politically challenged Boston writer visits next door.

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods

The Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation met at 6:00 pm on Thursday, April 9, in the third-floor employees’ room at Town Hall. All the current subcommittee members were on hand: Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2, the chair, Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Steven Kanes of Carlton St., not a town meeting member, and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. The agenda was resolution articles about changing Chapter 40B standards for housing projects [Article 17 in the spring warrant] and about a study of acquiring land for park and recreation uses in the Putterham neighborhoods of south Brookline [Article 18].

The subcommittee was unable to complete a review of Article 17 and will convene again after petitioners–led by Nancy Heller of Precinct 8, a former School Committee member and a candidate for Board of Selectmen–meet with members of the Housing Advisory Board about strategy for the topic. Article 18 was explored at length with its petitioners–led by Regina Frawley, a Precinct 16 town meeting member–and with town staff.

Article 18: Ms. Frawley and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, made the case for Article 18. Responding to questions were Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, Gary McCabe, the chief assessor, and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director. The hearing attracted an audience of about ten, including Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Rebecca Plaut Mautner of Precinct 11, Fred Levitan of Precinct 14, Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, Stephen Chiumenti of Precinct 16, and Brookline residents Barbara Sherman, Perry Stoll and Jim Salverson.

Article 18 proposes a resolution asking the Board of Selectmen to conduct a study about acquiring so-called “buffer” parts of Hancock Village, in south Brookline, by eminent domain for park and recreation uses. Those are strips of land about 30 to 80 ft wide, bordering single-family houses mostly along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. They were configured when Hancock Village was rezoned and designed in the mid-1940s.

As Ms. Frawley described, Brookline has previously acquired park land by eminent domain, starting in 1871 with Cypress Playground, as it is known today. More recently, in the 1970s, Brookline acquired Hall’s Pond and an adjacent parcel off Amory St. by eminent domain, for conservation purposes. In between, there were other additions to the town’s open space–by bequest, agreement, purchase and eminent domain.

In the Putterham neighborhoods, Ms. Frawley argued, there is little public open space. During the years of the Great Depression, when much development in those neighborhoods was underway, Brookline did not acquire park and playground land, as it had done earlier in other parts of town. She reviewed the current public open spaces and showed that the Hancock Village buffers look to be the largest undeveloped areas likely to be eligible.

Hancock Village buffer in winter

HancockVillageBufferInWinter
Source: Brookline Advisory subcommittee on planning & regulation

Hancock Village buffers: The buffers can be identified from a Brookline atlas or zoning map as located in a single-family rather than a multiple-apartment zone. Brookline’s town meeting, following a 1946 zoning agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the Town of Brookline, rezoned adjacent areas toward the southwest, now built as garden-village style housing, to multifamily 4C and left the buffers zoned as single-family 7D, the same as the adjacent house lots along Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd.

Ms. Frawley argued that buffer zoning became nominal with the development of Hancock Village, because the buffers were not designed to be built on. She cited an article from the Brookline Chronicle-Citizen of August 29, 1946, saying that the Planning Board had approved a plan providing for the buffers to contain “a natural screen of small trees and other shrubbery.”

In 1962, Brookline changed from its classic to its modern zoning identifiers, making 7D into S-7 and making 4C at Hancock Village into M-0.5, with about the same restrictions. Before then and since, there have been actual and attempted incursions into Hancock Village buffers. The Russett-side buffer is penetrated by Thornton Rd., connecting with Grassmere Rd. Its northern tip skirts three houses addressed on Independence Dr., reducing the minimum width there to about 30 ft.

In the 1950s the John Hancock Co. applied to build parking lots on the buffers, and in the 1960s a subsequent owner, the Niles Co., applied similarly. Those would have been variance uses, not allowed under single-family zoning, and both were denied by Brookline’s Board of Zoning Appeals on grounds that a hardship to the owners had not been shown, as required by state law. Records of decision for those cases do not mention the 1946 zoning agreement, and that agreement does not mention the buffers.

Town-meeting proposal: Putting on their finance hats, subcommittee members asked about the potential cost to acquire the Hancock Village buffers. Mr. McCabe, the chief assessor, described a process for determining value, but the only number he could cite was the average land value currently assessed for all of Hancock Village, about $1.15 million per acre.

The 1946 agreement specified that Hancock Village is restricted to “high-grade garden village type” housing. How much more of such housing could be built on the buffers, if there were no other restrictions, is not known. That might provide an upper limit on their land value. Garden-village apartments at Hancock Village are arranged in spacious chains, with views of landscaping.

It is not clear whether any such housing could be situated in the relatively narrow buffers. Their land value could be minimal. Perhaps the town might do the owners of the land a favor by taking it off their hands, since they would not have to mow the grass any more. The subcommittee was favorably inclined to a study of the issues and voted unanimously to recommend approval of Article 18.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 10, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks, Brookline Beacon, April 2, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Brookline Assessor’s Atlas, page 108 (Russett-side buffer), 2010

Brookline Assessor’s Atlas, page 109 (Beverly-side buffer), 2010

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 17, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board began reviews of budgets and warrant articles for the 2015 annual town meeting in May. They will continue at least through April.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval for a $0.01 million contract with Public Archaeology Laboratory of Pawtucket, RI, to complete a National Historic Register application for Hancock Village in south Brookline. If approved, Hancock Village would become the largest National Register site in Brookline.

A National Register application for Hancock Village has been under discussion for several years. Last summer, board member Betsy DeWitt said it should become an urgent priority, at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals about a proposed housing development under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, which can override zoning.

Lara Curtis Hayes, from the Department of Planning and Community Development, got authorization to apply for $0.25 million in state “green community” funding for energy-saving improvements. Most projects eligible are for town-owned buildings. Solar photovoltaic facilities and new vehicles are not eligible. Grant planning sounded murky at best. No description of Brookline’s projects had been released, yet the application deadline was only three days away.

In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, Ms. Steinfeld said that Brookline’s ongoing program of installing LED street lighting could be an eligible activity. Board members Neil Wishinsky and Betsy DeWitt did not seem to gave read information distributed in advance and asked about solar photovoltaics and new vehicles.

Licenses and permits: Frank Shear of Framingham, former operator of Benny’s Crepes in Boston and Cambridge, applied for restaurant and entertainment licenses to operate Brick Wall Kitchen at 224 Cypress St., formerly Rita’s Cafe. Mr. Shear had operated the crepe cafe from a food truck. He said there were no plans to resume such a business and said that Brick Wall Kitchen will provide take-out service but not delivery. The board granted the licenses.

Owners of Holiday Inn at 1200 Beacon St. got board approval for a change in manager under their alcoholic beverage license. Stephen Bowman, operator of Fairsted Kitchen at 1704 Beacon St., spoke on behalf of an application for longer operating hours, closing at 2 am instead of 1 am Mondays through Thursdays. Board member Nancy Daly asked about outdoor service. Mr. Bowman said there would be no late-night service outdoors. The board allowed the extensions of hours.

Lisa and Daniel Wisel of Brookline, operators of Vine Ripe Grill at the Putterham Meadows public golf course, had applied for a seasonal license to serve alcoholic beverages, but neither was present at the meeting to support the application. Nevertheless, after waiting about 20 minutes, followed by cursory discussion, the board approved a license for the 2015 season.

Warrant articles: The board voted to approve and publish a warrant with 20 articles for the annual town meeting to start Tuesday, May 26. About half are routine each year. Others have been submitted by boards or through petitions, which require signatures of ten or more registered voters. The board also began reviewing the warrant articles and the budget appropriations for fiscal 2016, under Article 8.

Submitters usually include explanations for articles, published separately. At least two weeks before a town meeting, the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee will distribute a combined report with the text and explanations of articles plus their recommendations to the town meeting. Warrant article reviews, including budget reviews, are docketed as public hearings; members of the public are invited to comment.

Budget reviews: The board began reviewing so-called “base budgets” for fiscal 2016, starting in July. Prepared by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and his staff, those budgets apply if voters do not approve a tax override proposed at the May 5 town election. They include cuts to be restored if the override passes.

The board reviewed a budget for the Fire Department as described by Paul Ford, the fire chief. Mr. Kleckner has proposed to defund one firefighter position, currently vacant. Ms. Daly asked how the department would cope. Mr. Ford said minimum manning requirements would lead to increased overtime, probably costing around a quarter of what would be spent on a full-time firefighter position.

In his few years as fire chief, Mr. Ford has led an initiative in training, increasing the number of fire personnel certifications from around ten to nearly a hundred. In addition to the familiar emergency medical technician certificates, those include firefighting specialties such as rescue and chemical fires. Ten members of the department have also qualified as instructors, allowing them to train others without outside expenses.

Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, who chairs the Board of Library Trustees, described a budget for town libraries. In that budget, Mr. Kleckner proposed to defund a part-time librarian. Ms. Slymon said there were no vacant positions, so that someone would have to be dismissed. She described library services as “dangerously understaffed,” down from 50 positions several years ago to 40 now, spread among the main library and the branch libraries at Coolidge Corner and Putterham Circle.

Planning and Community Development: Ms. Steinfeld described a budget for the Department of Planning and Community Development. It now serves many standing boards, including the Planning Board, Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Zoning Bylaw Committee, Economic Development Advisory Board, Housing Advisory Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee and Climate Action Committee. Fifty years ago, it served only the Planning Board, established in 1922.

Mr. Kleckner had not proposed any reduction in the Planning budget. Board member Betsy DeWitt spoke up for an increase, saying responsibilities for preservation planning have escalated in recent years, overloading current staff. She proposed to raise funding from 1.8 to 2.0 positions. James Batchelor, who chaired the Preservation Commission for six years, spoke in support, saying, “People in Brookline care about preservation…We have to stand up and give it more support.”

Bruce Genest of the Department of Planning and Community Development, who is president of AFSCME Local 1358, spoke about what he called a “staffing issue,” saying that in 2011 the department “eliminated a financial position.” Mr. Kleckner said the issue was “being litigated.” Mr. Genest said the town “took union work [and] distributed [it] to management people.” Otherwise, the background of the dispute was not clear.

The board did not vote recommendations on any of the budgets. Included on its agenda was an application from Christopher Hussey, an architect, for reappointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board did not act on it. The Board of Selectmen is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn a comprehensive permit the latter recently granted for a partially subsidized, Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 20, 2015


Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood

Years ago, long-time Advisory Committee member Harry Marks would tour the tables at the opening session of budget reviews. He would present men chairing subcommittees with tie clips and women with pins, in the shapes of scissors, reminding each one, “The purpose of the Advisory Committee…is to cut.” Mr. Marks imported scissors.

Starting off this year, Advisory looks engaged in a role reversal. Increases have been proposed over budgets received from the town administrator and Board of Selectmen. On traditional St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, the full committee voted to add a firefighter position in the Fire budget. The next evening, its planning and regulation subcommittee voted to add 1.2 professional positions in the Planning budget.

Submitting budgets: Budgets remain a committee responsibility that is not simply “advisory.” By law, the Advisory Committee submits a town budget to an annual town meeting. Oddly, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner appears to treat the committee as a functionary, sending Melissa Goff, the new deputy administrator, while he attends mainly meetings of the Board of Selectmen. This year, that might prove shortsighted.

In a free-form discussion at the end of its Tuesday session, members of the committee considered how to “pay for the increases” through other budget maneuvers. Several members, sophisticated in municipal finance, offered a variety of options. Sean Lynn-Jones, the new committee chair elected that evening, and Carla Benka, the vice chair, said the committee would tackle the topic at its “omnibus” wrap-up session, once the individual budgets of agencies, departments and offices have been addressed.

Preservation planning: The most volatile budget issue to emerge so far concerns preservation planning. Over more than 40 years, Brookline has grown and expanded several functions in this area, starting in nineteenth century with a voluntary, still vital Brookline Historical Society. It developed a Preservation Commission, regulating local historic districts and also serving as a state historical commission, a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, and related functions of a Conservation Commission, a Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Planning Board.

A table of numbers, distributed at the Wednesday subcommittee session, measured preservation planning workload against professional staff:

Preservation planning workload

Year LHD Dem. NCD Staff
2001 50 28 0 1.33
2002 46 35 0 1.33
2003 46 10 0 1.53
2004 47 25 0 1.53
2005 53 34 0 1.53
2006 86 28 0 1.53
2007 88 25 0 1.53
2008 82 38 0 1.53
2009 109 31 0 1.53
2010 98 30 0 1.53
2011 103 45 0 1.53
2012 100 42 0 1.59
2013 102 40 0 1.80
2014 123 43 1 1.80

Source: Advisory planning and regulation subcommittee

In the table, “LHD” counts the number of property improvement cases in local historic districts, “Dem.” counts the number of demolition-delay cases and “NCD” counts neighborhood conservation district cases, which began last year. Since 2001, the workload appears to have more than doubled, while staff positions grew 35 percent.

Advocacy: When the Board of Selectmen held a public hearing for the Planning budget on Tuesday, board member Betsy DeWitt and former Preservation chair Jim Batchelor, an architect, made an appeal for more preservation staff. Advocates appeared in force at the subcommittee hearing the next evening, with over 20 people from several parts of town.

On Wednesday at the subcommittee, David King, current Preservation chair, argued that preservation cases have tended to become more complex over the years, needing more staff time per case. More of the demolition-delay cases involve historically significant structures. “The staff is overworked and exhausted,” he said. Many were aware that Dr. Hardwicke has been out recently with an illness and that Ms. Innamorati has resigned, coming in on special assignment about half-time.

Judith Selwyn, a long-time Preservation Commission member, described lack of coordination between zoning and preservation planning. It has become a particularly acute problem, she said, with new neighborhood conservation districts, contributing to delays in a recent case on Perry St.

Kate Poverman of Adams St. cited the pressures of Chapter 40B projects, threatening to override zoning, as a “catalyst for local historic districts.” Her neighborhood has organized to form a local historic district and performed volunteer efforts toward surveys and document preparation. Peggy Hogan of Toxteth St. recounted how her neighborhood worked to prepare a definition for a neighborhood conservation district. A new district, she said, involves town staff in “more communication, more meetings.”

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member and neighbor of Ms. Poverman, argued for three full-time preservation planners instead of the 1.8 positions proposed by the town administrator. She was joined by Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian and member of the Preservation Commission, who recounted the types of work performed by the planners, and by Mr. King, Mr. Batchelor, Ms. Selwyn, Ms. Hogan and several others. On motions from Lee Selwyn and Angela Hyatt, the subcommittee agreed and is making that recommendation to the full committee.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 19, 2015


Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits, Brookline Beacon, February 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress

With the initial release of federal energy data for 2014, we can see a year of gradual progress. Total U.S. energy use rose slightly, but without signs of resuming the long-term growth that appears to have peaked around 2005. The sharp drop in coal burning and sharp rise in gas burning during 2012 evened out. Coal use remained in long-term decline, an average reduction of 3.4 percent per year between 2008 and 2014. Natural gas use remained in long-term growth, an average increase of 4.5 percent per year over the same span of years. Renewable energy production remained stable, a plateau that began during 2011.

Net U.S. energy imports continued to fall rapidly, reaching the lowest levels since the mid-1990s, mainly because new domestic oil and gas from shale formations continued to displace imports. If the trend since 2005 were to continue, The United States would become energy-sufficient during 2018. However, averaged over the year, U.S. retail gasoline prices remained at inflation-adjusted highs, near peaks of the early 1980s–leading to rapid price declines in the last few months of the year as reactions to excess production.

Electricity generation: In recent years, electricity generation has become a dynamic U.S. energy sector with changes in energy sources, including the growth of renewables. Although promises during the late 1990s of nuclear power at much lower cost proved wildly optimistic, nuclear power remained a stable subsector. Capacity lost from five U.S. plant closures announced during 2014 will be replaced by four new plants to open during 2017 through 2019. The third-generation AP-1000 reactor design from Westinghouse and Toshiba is becoming a world standard. All four U.S. and all four Chinese third-generation nuclear units now under construction use that design.

UsElectricityBySource2004to2014

The major trends since 2005 have continued through 2014: replacement of coal-fired electricity with natural gas-fired electricity and electricity from renewable sources. Among the latter, federal agencies track wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. They count burning municipal waste for energy among many “other” sources of electricity generation.

Nuclear power, hydropower and petroleum-fired power remained fairly stable at about 19, 6 and 1 percent of generation, respectively. Between 2004 and 2014, natural gas-fired power grew from 18 to 27 percent of U.S. electricity, and all that EIA counts as renewable generation combined grew from 2 to 7 percent.

New England has often been ahead of most of the U.S. in adopting new energy sources for electricity. Recently, however, New England has been falling in electricity generation using natural gas and resorting to electricity imports from Canada and New York instead of generating its own power.

Domestic electricity generation

2014 data United States New England
Coal 39% 5%
Natural gas 27% 43%
Nuclear 19% 33%
Renewable 7% 9%
Hydro 6% 6%
Petroleum 1% 2%
Other (waste) 1% 2%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, February, 2015

Renewable generation: Compared with the rest of the U.S., New England developed a peculiar approach to renewable generation. A majority of U.S. renewable generation, about 7 percent of the electricity supply, now comes from wind turbines, and most of the rest comes from solar. According to EIA, New England got only 1.6 percent of its 2014 electricity generation from wind and 0.4 percent from solar. It outperformed the U.S. in renewable generation by burning wood and municipal waste.

The big wood-fired New England power plants are in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The big municipal waste plants are in Massachusetts and Connecticut. For 2014, EIA reported, Maine produced 27 percent of its electricity generation through burning wood. Massachusetts produced 3 percent of its larger electricity generation through burning municipal waste. Those plants released much larger than average amounts of air pollution for the amounts of electricity they generated, and they are probably not what most people identify with “renewable energy.”

Natural gas in New England: Over the last 20 years, New England has replaced nearly all its coal-fired generation capacity with high-efficiency, combined-cycle natural gas-fired plants. Natural gas use for electricity generation has been crimped since 2013 by pipeline transmission limits. The new, low-pollution plants have often been idled for lack of gas supplies.

Only two major domestic gas transmission pipelines–the 1949 Algonquin and the 1992 Iroquois–cross the Hudson River. Lack of transmission pipeline capacity has cut off New England from plentiful, low-cost domestic gas supplies. During 2014, about 2 GW of New England’s gas-fired generating capacity was outfitted to burn fuel oil, even though oil costs more and pollutes more than gas.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 10, 2015


Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Agency, February, 2015 (18 MB)

Electric Power Monthly, U.S. Energy Information Agency, February, 2015 (7 MB)

Board of Selectmen: bumper year for solar electricity, Brookline Beacon, January 22, 2015

Craig Bolon, New pipeline across Massachusetts: gas produces hot air, Brookline Beacon, July 11, 2014

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits

The Zoning Board of Appeals held hearings on Thursday, February 26, for two complex property improvement cases involving off-street parking. Assigned to the hearings were board members Mark Zuroff, a lawyer serving as chair, Christopher Hussey, an architect, and Avi Liss, a lawyer.

Alley conflict: A proposed 4-car garage behind 1471 Beacon St. had wound through two Planning Board hearings and a previous Appeals hearing. The apartment building suffered a major fire a few years ago and has now been largely rebuilt. Previously it had only informal parking on an alley in the back. The developer, who is selling units as condominiums, wanted to create deeded parking in a small garage, adjacent to the alley.

He had originally proposed five spaces, but tight spacing and access led to criticism at Planning and Appeals, and he returned with a proposal for four spaces. Neighbors along Beacon St. seemed satisfied with the changes. Neighbors behind on Griggs Terrace–a private way–were definitely not happy, and they spoke in opposition.

The legal alley access is from the narrow, sloping Intervale Crosscut, connecting Beacon St. with Griggs Rd. about a tenth of a mile toward the west. Neighbors claimed the alley will often be blocked, and vehicles will trespass on drives connecting to Griggs Terrace.

Land adjacent to the row of apartments near 1471 Beacon forms a steep slope in back, descending around ten feet to about the elevation of Griggs Park. The terrain was created in late-nineteenth century as a part of historic Beacon St. apartment development. Dense vegetation, including large trees, has helped to control storm run-off and restrain the slope from erosion.

The developer proposed to excavate a wedge-shaped segment of the steep slope and install a concrete garage structure with thick supporting and retaining walls and a buried drywell to manage storm water. On top, he proposed to create a landscaped terrace, to compensate for removing trees. The floor of the garage was to be level with the alley.

The developer needed special permits for smaller setbacks than standard zoning and for design review of a structure along Beacon St. With four rather than five cars, the dimensions did not need a variance–usually much harder to justify. That such a complex and costly plan appeared practical indicates the high prices being paid for parking in urban areas of Brookline.

Neighbors said they had been alienated by the developer’s conduct during about three years of construction. The alley is a composite of small parcels, with mutual rights-of-way deeded to and used by many of the owners of adjacent property. During construction, they said, equipment and materials had been stationed in the alley, trespassing on their property and that of others and interfering with access.

Neighbors asked for an enforceable permit condition specifying that the alley would not be blocked again. After about an hour and a half of testimony and wrangling among board members, the Appeals panel voted to grant the permits needed for the garage, attaching several conditions, including provisions intended to help neighbors stop potential obstruction of the alley in the future.

Neighborhood conservation: Renovation and expansion of a house at 66 Perry St. has involved a wide range of issues, including parking. This has been the first Brookline property improvement proposed in a neighborhood conservation district, and the Appeals board is not the last stop on the line. By the time the case is finished, reviews will probably total almost a year.

After a six-year study, Brookline created its first neighborhood conservation district in the fall of 2011, for Hancock Village in south Brookline. So far, that has not generated any cases. In spring, 2014, another district was approved at town meeting, involving parts of Toxteth St., Perry St. and Aspinwall Ave. These districts are intended to extend property regulation beyond traditional zoning to help maintain neighborhood characteristics more complex than property uses and dimensions.

Boston enacted an “architectural conservation district” in 1975. Cambridge created its first “neighborhood conservation district” in 1984 and now has five districts. Other Massachusetts communities with similar regulation include North Andover, Amesbury, Lexington, Lincoln and Wellesley. There is no Massachusetts enabling law for this type of regulation. Each community using it has created its own ordinances or bylaws, justified under the general “police power” of cities and towns. Brookline’s approach creates a separate bylaw for each district.

Without an enabling law and an accumulation of case law, communities have to develop their own standards and procedures. One reason reviews of the proposed property improvements at 66 Perry St. have taken so long is that the boards involved have been working out the process–more or less on-the-fly. It looks likely to be a typical case in that both zoning and neighborhood conservation regulations apply.

The Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, established in the 1920s, review the zoning issues, while a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission reviews issues for which it is named. There is considerable potential for overlap; that occurred with 66 Perry St. So far, the commission held two hearings, the Planning Board two and Zoning Board of Appeals one.

First commission case: After the property owner had settled on a design, following commission review, the Planning Board urged changes. The owner made those changes in plans and went to the Appeals board, seeking special permits for setbacks smaller than standard zoning. The need for the permits had been driven partly by trying to keep expansions from intruding into the front yard, in order to satisfy Neighborhood Conservation.

The Appeals board voted to approve the special permits, but now the owner must return to the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission. The plans approved by Planning and Appeals differ from those previously approved by the commission. With luck, that will be the last stop. Thanks to a cooperative owner, this project looks likely to reach a successful outcome.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 27, 2015


Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

Transportation Board: Brookline Place parking and permit moratorium

A regular meeting of the Transportation Board on Tuesday, January 20, started at 7:00 pm in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall, with all board members except Ali Tali present. The board reviewed plans for taxi stands and for parking on Pearl St. and River Rd, near the forthcoming Brookline Place redevelopment, and it affirmed town-wide restrictions on special parking permits.

At this fairly well attended meeting were Todd Kirrane, the transportation administrator, chair Linda Hamlin and member Mark Zarrillo of the Planning Board, chair Cynthia Snow and member John Dempsey of the Bicycle Advisory Committee, John Bassett, Antonia Bellavista, Edith Brickman and Arlene Mattison, members of the Brookline Place design advisory team, Capt. Michael Gropman of the Police Department, and several residents and business owners near the Brookline Place area.

Parking near Brookline Place: George Cole of Stantec Consulting presented parking proposals for the Brookline Place Redevelopment on behalf of Boston Children’s Hospital, the developer. He was assisted by Robert “Robbie” Burgess of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown, transportation consultants, by Timothy “Tim” Talun of Elkus Manfredi Architects and by Brian Chou of Mikyoung Kim Design, landscape designers.

The project developers have proposed a parking reconfiguration that moves a taxi stand near the bend of Pearl St., opposite the Brookline Village Green Line stop, across the street and adjacent to the stop, leaving the part of the street that will be adjacent to a lawn unobstructed. To compensate for loss of spaces, they propose so-called “reverse angle parking” along part of Pearl St.–an unusual approach, backing in to park. They cited a few examples, the closest on Bow St. near Union Sq. in Somerville.

Some board members had not kept up with the development and were surprised at the proposal. Gustaaf Driessen asked, “We don’t get taxi space back as parking?” Yes, that’s right. However, Mr. Cole conceded, “The reaction to angle parking has not been wholly positive.” Mr. Burgess explained the “reverse angle parking” scheme, and board members asked whether Pearl St. would need to become one-way, like Bow St. in Somerville. The consensus seemed to be that Pearl St. should remain two-way.

The discussion veered into bicycle facilities. Some in the audience, including Ann Lusk of Hart St., called for a “cycle track” through the area–meaning a pair of fully separated bicycle paths. No cost was cited, but those can run more than a million dollars per roadway mile. Mr. Burgess said Pearl St. was not wide enough. One board member doubted the contribution to a transportation network, since Pearl St. is a loop that does not form part of a thoroughfare.

Capt. Gropman said the proposed plan for Pearl St. amounted to reducing on-street parking from 55 to 41 spaces and was likely to create problems. He asked about moving the taxi stand to Station St., on the other side of the MBTA stop. Mr. Kirrane objected that much of the demand for taxis would be coming from the new development. Ms. Hamlin said the Planning Board and its design advisory team favored the developer’s plan for the taxi stand, noting that the development’s new parking garage would offer short-term spaces to the public.

There was extended discussion about locations of stops for the three MBTA bus routes–Nos. 60, 65 and 66–that pass through the intersection of Route 9-Washington St. with Pearl St. Passengers of buses westbound on Route 9 have good access to the area from the bus stop just west of Pearl St. next to 10 Brookline Place, formerly Hearthstone Plaza. Passengers going the other direction encounter problems, especially for the No. 66 bus continuing onto Huntington Ave. The other two buses travel on Brookline Ave. There were no resolutions to the issues; the board took no votes.

River Road, bicycles and parking: Running about 40 minutes late, the board took up the topic of a bicycle path parallel to the Riverway Bridge across Route 9 at the Boston and Brookline border. Mr. Kirrane and Ms. Snow described the plan. It would connect paths in Riverway Park to the north, along the Muddy River, and in Olmsted Park to the south, toward Leverett Pond. Bicyclists must now cross at intersections with poor visibility and signage and with heavy traffic.

Board chair Joshua Safer noted that the plan was “rejiggering our priorities,” apparently meaning in favor of parkway bicycle paths instead of street-oriented bicycle lanes. Mr. Kirrane described a target of opportunity, saying that Erin Gallentine, Brookline’s director of parks and open space, “got a $1 million grant from DCR (the state Department of Conservation and Recreation) that includes the project this year, to construct it this summer.” Left unsaid: with a change from the Patrick to the Baker administration, the grant might be withdrawn if it were not promptly applied.

As submitted to DCR, the plan reconfigures some existing bicycle paths and some Riverway access ramps, adding colored bands marking bicycle crossings. A point of contention is that a bicycle path needs to be built along the southeast side of River Rd., where there is not enough space near the intersection with the Riverway access ramps. Mr. Kirrane said part of the River Road right-of-way was needed, removing up to ten parking spaces.

Neighbors and nearby business operators objected. Ms. Lusk of Hart St. was “bothered by the ‘fast track’ process, omitting public comment” and by “dangerous crossings across…ramps.” The owner of Brookline Foreign Motors said, “Our customers need the spaces.” Ashley Goodwin, the owner of Shambala Center on River Rd., said, “Parking is a struggle for all of us on that little island.”

Ms. Mattison of the Brookline Place design advisory team supported the plan, saying it was “reclaiming the area to the Emerald Necklace“–referring to a phrase from landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, Sr., for the 1,100-acre Boston park system bordering the Charles River and Muddy River. After extended discussion, the board voted to create a five-space no-parking zone on River Rd. to accommodate the proposed new bicycle path.

Parking permit moratorium: Revisiting special parking permits for School Department employees and programs, the Transportation Board affirmed a moratorium. Long-simmering controversies over the impacts on neighborhoods reignited after a recent application for about 50 new permits to be used near Temples Ohabei Shalom and Emeth by pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and support staff.

The board voted to approve letters to be sent by the chair, Dr. Safer, to the chairs of the School Committee, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, advising them of Transportation Board policy. Permits now in effect will continue through the current school year.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 1, 2015


Sustainable parking and permit moratorium, Brookline Transportation Board, January 30, 2015

Planning Board: Brookline Place redevelopment, Brookline Beacon, January 23, 2015

Pre-kindergarten: parking disputes, Brookline Beacon, December 31, 2014

Reverse angle parking on Bow St., City of Somerville, MA, 2012

Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot, Map, Park System from Common to Franklin Park, City of Boston, MA, 1894

Board of Selectmen: bumper year for solar electricity

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 20, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Before it, the board met behind closed doors with the School Committee about a proposed property lease. Renting space for classrooms in a commercial building near Pierce School has been mentioned at recent public meetings.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced that she will not be running for another term this spring. She has served on the board since 2006 and was chair from 2010 to 2014. Before that, she was a Precinct 5 town meeting member for 22 years and an Advisory Committee member for ten years, chairing the committee from 1994 to 1996, and she served as executive director of the Brookline Community Foundation.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board accepted a donation from the Korean Church to benefit the Fire Department. The church has made several donations in past years to public safety services. Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, received approval to hire a planner, replacing one who recently left. The board interviewed a candidate for the Planning Board.

Kara Brewton, the director of economic development, provided an update on Cleveland Circle development at and near the site of the former Circle Cinema. She introduced Theodore Tye of National Development in Newton, which recently took the role of lead developer. Mr. Tye indicated that National would honor the agreements with Brookline, including tax arrangements, previously negotiated with Boston Development Group.

Plans for the Cleveland Circle site have changed only a little. The Brookline portion will still have a hotel with 162 rooms, the same as before, and the Boston portion will have housing. Plans for housing now focus on elderly but mobile tenants; there will be a ground-floor restaurant.

Solar electricity: Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, Michael Berger, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, and David Pantelone provided an update on Brookline’s solar electricity installations. The Climate Action Committee is planning a Climate Week event for February 2-10, 2015. It will feature TinySol, a small solar-powered house boat, to be exhibited in the Town Hall parking lot, 333 Washington St., on Saturday, February 7, between 9:00 am and 3:30 pm.

Calendar 2014 developed as a bumper year for solar electricity in Brookline, doubling the town’s total rated capacity. The Winchester St. condominium where Mr. Lescohier lives installed a rooftop unit rated at 47 peak DC kilowatts, becoming the town’s largest. There were 41 new systems installed, about three-quarters of them by SolarFlair of Ashland, which began an active marketing effort during the second half of 2013.

Brookline has had a fairly sleepy solar program, as shown in a database distributed by the state Department of Energy Resources. The rated capacity of Brookline solar installations is now about 9 peak DC watts per person. The state average is 130. In this measure, Brookline now ranks 328th of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns.

Some of the nearby communities are similar: Somerville: 7 peak DC watts per person, Watertown 9, Malden 11, Belmont 12, Cambridge 15. Four communities in the state have no solar systems. The town of Tolland ranks first–and energy-sufficient–at over 9,000 peak DC watts per person.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 22, 2015


Brookline solar electricity installations, 2008-2014, compiled from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and U.S. Census Bureau data

Summary of Massachusetts solar electricity installations, 2008-2014, compiled from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and U.S. Census Bureau data

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy, Brookline Beacon, May 20, 2014

Planning Board: review of Devotion School plans

The Planning Board convened a special meeting Wednesday, January 14, starting at 8:15 am in the first-floor north meeting room at Town Hall, to review preliminary plans for Devotion School expansion and renovation. Present for HMFH Architects of Cambridge were Philip “Pip” Lewis, architect for the project, and Deborah Kahn.

The previous evening, the Building Commission had reviewed the plans in a meeting starting at 6:00 pm in the fourth-floor conference room at Town Hall, with Mr. Lewis and George Metzger of HMFH. Attendance was slim, with four members of the public and three members of town staff at Planning and with two members of the School Committee and three members of town staff at Building. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, was at both.

Site plans: Preliminary plans for Devotion School are being developed from Option 1 of concept plans, presented at a public hearing in September and subsequently chosen by the Devotion School Building Committee. The historic center building, opened in 1915, is to be preserved. The south wing toward Babcock St. and the gymnasium areas, opened in 1955, and the north wing along Stedman St. and the library areas, opened in 1976, are both to be replaced.

As compared with last September’s concept plans, the new north and south wings are narrower and longer. They remain mostly two stories, with a ground floor of accessory space along Stedman St. away from Harvard St. and an underground parking structure along Stedman St. toward Harvard St. While there are greater setbacks than shown in September from Stedman St. and from adjacent properties along Babcock St., the new wings now extend farther into the front and rear of the schoolyard.

Site plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSitePlan2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

Plans for the school site do not affect the Town of Brookline tennis courts adjoining at the rear, nestled between properties on Babcock St., Devotion St. and Stedman St. They do reduce the hardtop basketball area in the back, along Stedman St., from three full courts to two, and they replace the junior-size baseball field, between the current building and the basketball area, with a full-size soccer field. Both the new soccer field and the new basketball courts are next to landscaped areas along Stedman St. that could include seating.

As compared with the current site, the preliminary plans move most children’s play areas behind the building, away from Harvard St. The wings of the new building extend about 50 ft toward Harvard St. beyond the historic Devotion House–dating from 1686–on both sides. By comparison, the Harvard St. face of the current north wing is set back from the front of the Devotion House about 60 ft, with a concrete plaza over underground parking, and the Harvard St. face of the current south wing extends about 20 ft past the Devotion House.

Landscape plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolLandscape2015
Source: Carol Johnson Landscape Architects for Town of Brookline

A children’s play area, intended for community use, remains near Harvard St. on the south side, but it is only about half the size of the current one. A sitting area, also intended for community use, remains near Harvard St. on the north side, at the corner of Stedman St. It is about the same size as the one installed during the 1990s. The front lawn between the Devotion House and Harvard St. remains unchanged.

Entrances and interiors: On the site plan, one sees fewer building entrances. It shows no equivalent to the current, community-friendly front entrance from the plaza on the north side and no equivalent to the current, child-friendly entrance at the Harvard St. end of the current south wing. A rear entrance from the play fields is maintained. An oddly located new entrance appears on Stedman St., at the ground level below the main interior levels, where now there is just a brick wall.

The formal front stairs entering the historic 1915 center building are to remain, but the building stands at risk of being disfigured through adding ramps. The current plaza entrance, at the corner between the center building and the current north wing, has provided front handicapped access in a way more respectful of nearby neighborhoods and of community history than the new plans. A so-called “urban room” near the historic front entrance proved a non-starter with members of the Planning Board and the Building Commission. No one stood up for it.

First floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolFirstFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

The preliminary plan for the first floor shows kindergarten through second grade in the new north wing, along Stedman St., moved from the historic site in the south wing. That had replaced the original Devotion Primary School, opened in 1892. The new rooms are the ones closest to the new entrance planned along Stedman St. Rooms for third through fifth grade appear in the new south wing, toward Babcock St., which lacks an entrance.

A central corridor is shown extending from the front of the first floor of the historic central building, to be double-height between the new library and main gymnasium spaces, reaching a stairwell at the rear to the ground floor and to an entrance off the rear play fields. Rooms for pre-kindergarten, a cafeteria and gymnasium spaces are located on the ground floor.

Like the current library, gymnasium and cafeteria spaces, those for new ones are behind the central building. The new library extends from the first floor, while new gymnasium and cafeteria spaces extend from the ground floor. Those areas are to be double-height with large windows, facing mostly toward the geographic northeast.

Second floor plan, new Devotion School

DevotionSchoolSecondFloor2015
Source: HMFH Architects for Town of Brookline

The preliminary plan for the second floor shows sixth, seventh and eighth grade classrooms in the new south wing, toward Babcock St.–displaced out of their historic sites in the original Devotion Grammar School, opened in 1898, extending down Stedman St. from the corner of Harvard and Stedman Sts. Atop new gymnasium space are extra-height spaces for a “multipurpose room” with a raised stage. (Under state protocols, politically incorrect to call them an “auditorium,” gratis ex-Gov. Patrick.)

Above the rooms for kindergarten through second grade in the new north wing are to be special-purpose rooms for science, languages, art and music. Many former, special-purpose areas for these activities have recently been lost in a cascade of compression to provide classrooms for increased enrollment.

Unlike the current north wing, opened in 1976, the new one shows no provisions for woodshop or home economics. Those longstanding parts of the elementary school curriculum vanished during the 1980s, after enactment of Proposition 2-1/2 led to major budget cuts. There are, however, plans for “technology classrooms” adjacent to the new library on both the first and second floors–having no counterparts in the former curriculum.

Exterior: Plans for the building exterior remain in flux. Three options have been presented to the Planning Board, the Building Commission and the Devotion School Building Committee. Members of the Planning Board and the Building Commission called for changes. Linda Hamlin, an architect who chairs the Planning Board, found none of the options satisfactory. George Cole, a member of the Building Commission, questioned the fairly narrow entrance from Stedman St.–expected to become the most popular access route for students, staff and parents.

At both Planning and Building reviews, there were repeated calls from several participants to simplify the exterior designs and reduce or eliminate costly accessories, including large roof “monitors” above the art rooms and movable sunshades along Stedman St. Sergio Modigliani, an architect and a member of the Planning Board, said all options presented lacked a consistent “architectural vocabulary” for the exterior, instead showing a hodge-podge of materials and patterns.

The side and rear entrances are not well delineated in some options. Mr. Modigliani said HMFH ought to “celebrate” the rear entrance onto the play fields rather than hide it. When plans are marked up for public reviews, Planning Board members said they needed to be simplified–calling out administrative and support spaces, for example, rather than about 30 categories as they did at this week’s reviews.

Corners joining the historic central building with the new wings were criticized. Plans show ostentatious glass towers in the front, labeled as “outdoor classrooms.” No evidence was cited showing that substantial extra costs of those features have been justified by comparable educational values. Plans also show a rear “outdoor classroom,” essentially a deck over the roof of the cafeteria space and two kindergartens. Ms. Hamlin reacted to its appearance in one of the options, saying it could suggest a prison exercise yard.

Unlike the costly and trouble-prone designs for the third Pierce School in 1970, plans for the third Devotion School in 2015 do not call for air conditioning. As Mr. Lewis of HMFH put it at the Planning review, “We don’t want another Newton North.” He described “displacement ventilation with dehumidification” that he said would provide an economical and satisfactory building. Plans show penthouses toward the rear of the north and south wing roofs but leave large areas of roof space unobstructed for solar panels.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 18, 2015


Devotion School Building Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

HMFH Architects, Preliminary plans for Devotion School, January 16, 2015, Town of Brookline, MA

Craig Bolon, School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies, Brookline Beacon, September 11, 2014

HMFH Architects, Concept plans for Devotion School, September 10, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

New England energy: wobbly progress

New England continues to outpace the U.S. in generating electricity from low-emissions energy. However, it is losing margins it held ten years ago, is falling behind in wind energy and is starting to regrow its uses of coal and fuel oil. Not well known: wood and waste burning remain steady energy sources.

Energy for electricity, 2013

Energy source U.S. N.E.
Coal 40% 6%
Natural gas 26% 44%
Nuclear 21% 34%
Hydro 7% 7%
Wind 4% 2%
Fuel oil 1% 1%
Wood 1% 3%
Waste 0% 2%
Solar 0% 0%
Other 0% 1%

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Energy sources and obstacles: Development of New England energy over the past 20 years has largely replaced coal and fuel oil with natural gas. The region has hardly any fossil fuel deposits but has substantial resources in wind and wood. Sources of energy providing its electricity are shown in a chart.

NewEnglandElectricity2001to2014

Sources: U.S. Energy Information Administration, ISO New England for 2014

People informed from newspapers and pop media might think wind and solar have become large energy sources. They remain small–as the chart shows–ninth and tenth out of ten sources on the chart, until last year. In 2014, for the first time, New England wind turbines provided more energy than New England waste burners–each a little under two percent of total electricity. There has been more growth in electricity from hydro–mostly imported from Canada–than from wind, wood, waste, waves, solar, landfill gas and geothermal combined.

Cold winters in 2013 and 2014 saw drops in the use of natural gas for electricity. Distributors were obliged to supply heating customers. They could meet less than 90 percent of yearly average demands. New England now has generating plants that can replace all use of coal and fuel oil, but they lack reliable access to natural gas.

Blockage of natural gas supply to New England–from lack of pipeline capacity–is leading to higher prices and emissions. Blockages of high-voltage transmission lines and wind farm installations are aggravating the price and pollution problems. Political maneuvers and local factions are responsible. None of the problems come from limits of technology or finances.

Closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant at the end of December, 2014, removed about five percent of New England’s average generation and cut the share of nuclear electricity in New England from about 34 to about 29 percent. As the chart shows, natural gas-fired generation squeezed out fuel oil, then coal; financial stress was building on nuclear. The former Vernon, VT, plant was the smallest nuclear plant operating in the region. Lacking access to ocean water for cooling, it became the most costly to run for the size.

Coping with obstacles: Until a new gas pipeline is completed, much of the deficit from closing Vermont Yankee will be filled by using coal and fuel oil. They can be transported by train, barge or truck, although at higher cost than moving gas by pipeline. The few remaining coal-fired plants are set for a brief bonanza and might provide 10 percent of the region’s electricity.

Last year, subsidized by all customers of the New England Power Pool, around 2,000 MW of the generating capacity was outfitted for “dual fuel”–meaning oil burners and oil tanks. During the winter of 2015, it might be enough to dampen the huge electricity price spikes from fuel hoarding and gouging that happened in 2014. However, it also means New England power producers have institutionalized a shift from natural gas and nuclear back to more costly and polluting coal and fuel oil: a reversal toward the 1950s.

New, renewable energy sources are starting to contribute: mainly land-based wind farms in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. However, after strong growth during 2009 through 2013, New England wind energy faltered last year. Local factions have blocked new sites, and transmission capacity has saturated. Collapse of the proposed Cape Wind project, offshore Nantucket, helps electricity customers and could stimulate land-based wind energy.

Cape Wind’s lapsed contracts with Northeast Utilities and National Grid featured average wholesale prices of about 24 cents per kWh over the lives of the contracts. That was more than four times the average wholesale price of electricity in New England, estimated at 5.6 cents per kWh for 2013. Effective prices to retail customers for Cape Wind electricity–including transmission and distribution–could have risen to over 40 cents per kWh, more than double today’s average retail price. Cape Wind was hardly a generous neighbor.

– Craig Bolon, January 12, 2015


New England electricity, amounts by energy sources, 2001-2014, U.S. Energy Information Administration and ISO New England (for 2014), January, 2015

Electricity data browser, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015

Daily generation by fuel type, Operations Reports, ISO New England, 2015

New England generation by fuel type, Natural Gas Weekly Update, U.S. Energy Information Administration, January 8, 2015

New England power grid forced to deploy oil units, Argus Energy News, January 8, 2015

High prices show stresses in New England natural gas delivery system, Natural Gas Issues and Trends, U.S. Energy Information Administration, February 7, 2014

2013 Wholesale electricity prices in New England rose on higher natural-gas prices, ISO New England, March 18, 2014

Eileen O’Grady, Entergy to shut controversial Vermont nuclear plant, Reuters, August 27, 2013

Shirley Leung, Northeast Utilities happy to get out of Cape Wind, Boston Globe, January 8, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Perspective: the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge

From an engineering perspective, the Longfellow Bridge was structurally deficient the day it opened. That’s what usually happens with public works designed by architects rather than engineers. To make matters worse, state agencies routinely underestimate the cost and time to renovate urban bridges, as they recently did with the BU Bridge and the Alford Street Bridge. As of mid-2013, they estimated about $250 million and 3-1/2 years to renovate the Longfellow, but their track record suggests at least $400 million and 5 years.

The Longfellow’s pretentious ten granite piers and eleven steel-arch spans, extending for 1,800 feet, were designed around 1897 to carry trains as well as horse-drawn vehicles and the emerging motor vehicles. The four cigar-stub towers were never anything but decorations. At the time, the lower Charles River was tidal mudflats. Shortly after the bridge opened in 1907, what is now known as the Science Park dam turned this part of the river into a catch basin for raw municipal sewage and industrial waste.

The former Union Railway had begun operating horse-drawn streetcars across the previous West Boston Bridge in 1856. Its successor, the West End Street Railway, began operating electrically powered streetcars across the previous bridge in 1889. The name Longfellow was merely a sentimental afterthought, attached about 30 years after the current bridge opened. By that time, the Charles River basin had already accumulated a bed of sewage and toxins up to a foot thick. They are now up to five feet thick.

From the beginning, the Longfellow and the Charles River basin were engineering disasters that never needed to happen. Just upriver, for example, is the Harvard Bridge–a longer bridge, about 15 years older. Unlike the Longfellow, it was built on-time and on-budget, even though originally it too had streetcar tracks and had a swing-section to accommodate barges traveling the Charles River. In the 1980s, major renovation cost about $16 million, again on-time and on-budget. The difference, well over tenfold, was sound engineering and reliable construction of the Harvard Bridge, both when built and when renovated.

The greatest misfortune of the Longfellow Bridge was that the complex, badly engineered structure came under custody of the former Metropolitan District Commission, an even worse steward than the Port Authority became of the Tobin Bridge. Unlike the Harvard Bridge, the Longfellow had not been designed to withstand careless management. In 1959, the Longfellow got a first overhaul under the MDC, by then a rotten, patronage-ridden agency in decline. The job was botched, failing to address complex features of the bridge, and after several years the Longfellow again fell into severe disrepair.

The Longfellow went to an unprepared Department of Conservation and Recreation in 2003. The state highway department planned an immediate overhaul, at an estimated cost of $125 million. Haggling over design with DCR added ten years of delay to a project only starting in 2013. Through 2013, the highway department had contracted for over $20 million in emergency repairs, to shore up the bridge against the nearly disastrous lack of maintenance under a former, corrupt MDC and a current, quarrelsome DCR.

The DCR has been taken over by antiquarians, determined to preserve not only the shape of the Longfellow but also its structurally deficient, badly corroded original materials. The Longfellow Bridge was an obvious candidate for demolition and replacement. By trying to overhaul rather than replace it, the cost of its bridge service, per lane-mile per year, could rise much higher than even the prodigal spending on a new Fore River Bridge between Quincy and Weymouth, and the bridge’s probable lifetime before another round of major maintenance is needed will not likely prove longer than 30 to 40 years.

(previously published in another venue)

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, January 4, 2015

Pre-kindergarten: parking disputes

Brookline has provided pre-kindergarten classes in much the current forms since the school year starting in 2001, on a voluntary basis. Although administered by Public Schools of Brookline, those classes are mainly paid for by parents through tuitions. Enrollment grew in stages from school and fiscal years 2002 through 2006. During school and fiscal years 2007 through 2015, enrollment has remained in a range of 250 to 280 students aged about 3 and 4.

BrooklinePreSchoolCensus2001to2015

Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Ordinary enrollment in Brookline public schools is far larger. The current total for kindergarten through third grade is 2,635, as reported to the state last October 1. On average, only about 20 percent of those students could have attended Brookline’s pre-kindergarten classes for two years. The Brookline Early Education Program (sometimes abbreviated as BEEP) publishes no reference information online about student populations, such as proportions of students attending for one year or for two years.

Sites and trends: Pre-kindergarten has operated at twelve sites in Brookline, of which seven are currently active. There were never more than ten sites active during any one year. Of the twelve, eight are Brookline’s elementary schools, two are other public buildings and two are synagogues. During the Walsh administration, in 2001, the current era of Brookline pre-kindergarten began at eight elementary schools.

Small student populations at each school made 2001-2002 operations inefficient and hard to manage. For the next year, classes were consolidated into four elementary schools. Subsequently, other sites were gradually opened or reopened. Rooms at Brookline High School and at the Lynch Recreation Center–the historic Winthrop School–began to be used in 2003 and continue in use today. By 2006-2007, pre-kindergarten grew to about its current number of students and operated from ten sites, including eight elementary schools.

Brookline pre-kindergarten census, October 1, by fiscal years and sites

Site 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total 36 210 207 208 242 253 260 249 255 262 277 276 259 264
Baker 7 45 17 15 17 16 16 14 16 15 16 16 0 0
Devotion 2 0 0 0 16 16 16 16 14 16 17 0 0 0
Driscoll 9 60 34 38 32 41 37 37 40 39 42 37 35 16
Heath 4 0 15 16 18 14 15 15 17 16 17 30 32 31
Lawrence 2 0 0 14 33 29 31 30 29 16 15 0 0 0
Lincoln 5 53 38 32 31 31 33 33 33 31 31 18 0 0
Pierce 2 0 0 0 0 15 16 13 14 16 17 17 0 0
Runkle 5 52 22 20 16 17 16 16 14 13 13 15 16 14
High School 0 0 15 11 15 15 16 17 16 34 31 34 30 14
Lynch 0 0 66 62 64 59 64 58 62 66 78 68 66 63
Beacon 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 41 52 62
Putterham 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 28 64

Source: Massachusetts Department of Education

Responding to the need for school space, because of steadily growing student populations, starting in 2012 Public Schools of Brookline began to move pre-kindergarten classes out of elementary schools and into leased space–first at Temple Ohabei Shalom on Beacon St. (the “Beacon” site) and then in 2013 at Temple Emeth on Grove St. (the “Putterham” site). Pre-kindergarten classes no longer operate at Baker, Devotion, Lawrence, Lincoln and Pierce Schools.

Parking permits: At its December 22 meeting, the Transportation Board considered a request from Brookline Early Education Program for about 50 special parking permits to be used near Temples Ohabei Shalom and Emeth by pre-kindergarten teachers, administrators and support staff. Two-thirds of those were for the Putterham site, where BEEP administrators and support staff have been relocated. That proved controversial.

Led by precinct 16 town meeting member Regina Frawley, residents living near Putterham Circle (also called Ryan Circle) protested the heavy daytime concentration of parking around the site. It emerged that seven permits had already been issued by Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, without public notice or board approval. There had been no notice to town meeting members and no neighborhood review meetings.

Despite widely touted commitments to public transportation and to so-called “transportation demand management,” neither the Transportation Board nor Public Schools of Brookline had prepared plans to reduce parking demand through uses of public transportation, ride-sharing or shuttle services. Residents near the Beacon St. and Kent St. intersection were also incensed. There is an MBTA Green Line stop adjacent to Temple Ohabei Shalom.

By a majority vote, Transportation Board members approved permits on what they called a “trial” basis, to be reviewed when the permits expire next July. Board members Scott Englander and Pamela Zelnick were opposed.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 31, 2014


School enrollment: no room in the inn, Brookline Beacon, December 26, 2014

Brookline school census reports for fiscal years 1994 through 2015, Massachusetts Department of Education, 2014

Logan Airport: aircraft noise over Brookline

Recently, use of airspace over metropolitan Boston has been changing once again. Previous changes introduced over the past 25 years have directed flight paths over the ocean as much as possible. To the north of Logan Airport, those shifts also tended to move nearest parts of paths over Lynn and Revere. To the south, nearest parts of paths moved over Milton and Quincy.

LoganAircraftNoiseLevels2009

Source: Massachusetts Port Authority, 2009

Brookline is fortunate. Angles of Logan Airport runways and locations of long-distance flight paths combined to create a “noise shadow” around the town. Some communities farther from the airport–including Lynn, Winchester, Belmont, Roslindale and Milton–have been exposed to louder aircraft noise.

Runway 33L: When west and northwest winds strengthen, as they typically do in colder months, for departing flights there may be no satisfactory alternative to runway 33L, pointing from East Boston toward Chelsea and Everett. Reducing noise from that departure path proved a challenge and took longer. In 2013, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) completed a 5-year review of environmental impacts.

At medium distances, around 50 miles, there are three flight corridors out of Logan to the west and southwest (PATSS, BLZZR and REVSS), one to the northwest (HYLND), one to the northeast (LBSTA), one to the east (CELTK) and two to the south and southeast (BRUWN and SSOXS). In May of 2013, FAA specified standard flight paths from runway 33L to each of those corridors.

Based on four years of measurements at over 30 locations, FAA estimated numbers of residents exposed to 45 dBA or more of aircraft noise from runway 33L departures. As compared with previous, partly unregulated paths, FAA found that its standard flight paths would reduce the number of residents so exposed by about 68,000. There are, however, some aircraft noise increases in Arlington, Belmont, Malden, Waltham, Watertown and Winchester.

LoganRunway33DeparturePaths2013

Source: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 2013

Near the airport, the new standard flight paths pass over partly industrial areas along the Mystic River for about four miles, then begin to diverge. The branch going closest to Brookline is routed over Fresh Pond in Cambridge, then near the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and over West Roxbury and Canton. Flights using this path will often be headed for southern Europe, New York City, Philadelphia and the Atlantic coast of Florida.

Patterns: Currently, about half of Logan operations use the nearly north/south runway pair 4/22 R and L, with the nearly east/west runway 9/27 often in simultaneous use for departures over the ocean. A majority of these operations keep aircraft over the ocean while below 10,000 ft. Those flight patterns have reduced the operations using the southeast/northwest runway 15R/33L to below 20 percent.

LoganAirportDiagram2013

Source: U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, 2013

Departures via runway 27, headed toward downtown Boston over the Inner Harbor, have become fewer, averaging about two an hour, and they usually turn and follow the Southeast Expressway rather than pass over downtown Boston and Brookline. Arrivals that would formerly have approached runway 22L from the north at low altitudes, over Revere and East Boston, are now often directed over the Outer Harbor and Squantum southward; then they circle back northward to runway 4R.

The loudest noises from the changes in patterns are heard in South Boston, the Ashmont sector of Dorchester, Milton, and communities to the south as far as Brockton. They receive many arrivals via runway 4R and departures via runway 22R, flying below 5,000 ft. Despite recent Watertown and Belmont complaints, those communities and nearby Hull and Quincy hear the loudest chronic aircraft noise south and west of Boston. By far the worst noise problems for the region continue in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere Beach and Winthrop.

The once controversial runway 14/32 along the Inner Harbor edge of Logan Airport, opened in 2006, turned out low in value for major airlines. A little over one percent of Logan jet arrivals use it–all landing from southeast to northwest. This year no Logan jet departures have used it. More than $100 million was spent on the project during the Romney and Walker Bush administrations. The runway “stub” 15L/33R, only a half mile long–intended during the 1960s glory years of former Massport chairman Ed King to become part of a second, major runway pair–has been nearly abandoned.

Rogues: Although the new standard flight paths tend to spare Brookline from aircraft noise, they do not prevent it. At least a few pilots a day behave like rogues, taking liberties with the rules. Alitalia pilots seem particularly prone, angling south as soon as they pass the Tobin Bridge and flying over North Brookline around JFK Crossing at 4,000 ft or less. It might save a minute on a flight to Rome.

Massport has adapted to PublicVue for live tracking instead of the now-antiquated WebTrak used at LAX, JFK and other very large airports. The Massport version of PublicVue tracks incoming flights out to about 500 miles and outgoing flights and overflights out to about 150 miles. It runs about 10 minutes behind the clock.

Rogue air traffic controllers at Logan could be detected early in the morning with help from PublicVue. United 236 from San Francisco was over Winchester and would normally have been sent over Revere, the Outer Harbor and Quincy to circle back and land on runway 4R. Instead, it headed south over Everett into Somerville and over B.U., passing over old Lincoln School around 5:30 am at about 4,000 ft. The shortcut may have saved two minutes.

If you hear an offensive overhead noise, you have 10 minutes to launch PublicVue and watch flights of the aircraft around Logan when you heard the noise. PublicVue provides an integrated tool to report noise complaints. FlightAware or another single-flight tracker will provide long-distance, equipment, schedule and fare information.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 20, 2014


Logan Airport live flight monitor, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2014

Logan Airport statistics, Massachusetts Port Authority, 2014

Jaclyn Reiss, No quick fix for jet noise just west of Boston, Boston Globe, December 7, 2014

Noise and NextGen: Case study of Boston Logan runway 33L, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, May, 2013 (2 MB)

Record of decision, Logan Airport runway 33L area navigation, standard instrument departure, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, May, 2013 (19 MB)

Health-care spending: under control

Once in a while we continue to read that the U.S. economy is being strangled by costs of health care. Recently, David Leonhardt wrote an opinion in the New York Times: a different view. “We’re in the midst of…historic slowdown in the growth of medical costs,” he claimed. Unfortunately, Mr. Leonhardt devoted most of his article to a political sideshow.

The springboard for Mr. Leonhardt was this year’s edition of National Health Expenditures, a survey begun during the Eisenhower administration and published annually–now by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Most people younger than around 70 won’t remember or perhaps never knew about scandalous spending increases for health care that took off in the 1950s, as the country experienced post-war prosperity.

HealthCareSpendingLinear

The chart shows national health-care spending measured in 2013 dollars per person per year, from 1960 through 2013, as adjusted by the Consumer Price Index. In its economic index, the federal government measures total spending on health care, regardless of who pays for it. As Mr. Leonhardt points out, total spending has remained at about 17-1/2 percent of all U.S. output during the last five years of reports. Health care is no longer a growing sector.

Peculiar behavior: This economic index has peculiar behavior. The long-term trend is a nearly steady climb in absolute amounts–yearly increases averaging about $152, as expressed in 2013 dollars. There are wiggles: growth flattening during the recession of 1973 and the hyperinflation of 1979, receding in the 2007 recession and surging during the early, badly managed years of the Walker Bush administration.

The previous chart has a linear scale–more useful for documenting behaviors than for understanding them. A semi-logarithmic chart provides a different view, emphasizing relative changes over a time span. These charts are often used when describing epidemics, because the slope of a semi-logarithmic trend curve measures an exponential growth.

HealthCareSpendingLogarithmicNotes

In the semi-logarithmic trend curve, one can see several distinct intervals of spending behaviors. There are four periods of fairly uniform but exponential growth and two periods of turbulence. The percentage growth rates for those fairly uniform periods fall with time. The earliest period, 1961 to 1972, shows an aggregate increase of about 6.5 percent per year in real-dollar spending on health care. The most recent period, 2009 to 2013, shows an aggregate increase of about 1.0 percent per year.

1961 to 1972      6.5%     initial spending surge, early years of Medicare
1973 to 1980      ——-     turbulence, Arab oil embargo, hyperinflation in late 1970s
1981 to 1992      4.8%     second-generation cost-control efforts
1993 to 2000     2.3%     third-generation cost-control efforts
2001 to 2008     ——-     turbulence, collapse of cost controls, 2007 great recession
2009 to 2013     1.0%     developing equilibrium, slower spending growth

Annual percentage growth, from 2009 to 2013
During the past five years, the growth rate has become comparable to growth in the national economy.

1.01%     per-capita U.S. gross domestic product, in 2013 dollars
1.02%     per-capita U.S. health-care spending, in 2013 dollars

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 10, 2014


David Leonhardt, The battle over Douglas Elmendorf, and the inability to see good news, New York Times, December 9, 2014

National Health Expenditure Accounts, U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, December, 2014

GDP per capita, World Bank, December, 2014

Alain Moren, et al., Graphs, charts and diagrams, in Field Epidemiology Manual, European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Stockholm, Sweden), December, 2014

Fall town meeting: pipe dreams

Article 19 at the November town meeting took a journey to northern Massachusetts and eastern New York, in the Albany area, where landowners and environmental interests are contesting a new pipeline proposed by Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., a branch of Kinder Morgan of Houston, TX. Another “pipe dream” might imagine that sounds of town meetings resolving would carry on to Washington, DC.

The pipeline proposed in northern Massachusetts has seen three versions, most recently called Northeast Energy Direct (NED). It starts near Susquehanna in northeast Pennsylvania, goes to a Tennessee Gas hub in Wright, NY, runs beside an existing Tennessee Gas line and under the Hudson River to Richmond, MA, then sets out across northern Massachusetts to a hub in Dracut–about 300 miles of large diameter, high pressure pipe.

Regulation: The key agency for new pipelines and power lines is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which acquired added powers in 2005, during the Walker Bush administration, to supersede state and local agencies in projects that cross state boundaries. Armed with a FERC certificate, a pipeline company can seize land for a project using powers of “eminent domain.” It must meet environmental standards, but FERC rather than the Environmental Protection Agency reviews those issues.

Ferc2014ConstitutionPipeline2

Source: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Despite a variety of protests, such as Article 19, FERC continues to approve new natural gas pipelines. This week, FERC approved a pipeline from northeast Pennsylvania to the hub in Wright, NY. Proposed by Williams Co. of Tulsa, OK, it has been called Constitution Pipeline. On the map, the route of Constitution is shown in red, existing Tennessee Gas lines are amber and the proposed NED segment in Massachusetts is dark blue. The map also shows routes of other large gas pipelines serving the region.

New England energy: The Algonquin line, now owned by Spectra of Houston, was built between 1949 and 1952–the first major supply of natural gas to New England. Algonquin remains a backbone of supply, but it and other lines now lack capacity to serve peak demands. Over the past 20 years, coal-fired and oil-fired generators that once provided most of the region’s electricity have been shut down.

The main replacements for coal and oil have been high-efficiency, “combined-cycle” gas-fired generators. In these, heat first powers a gas turbine, then powers a steam turbine. They usually cost less to operate, often replace imported with domestic fuel, drastically reduce pollution from sulfur and nitrogen oxides and from fine particles, and emit less than two-thirds the carbon dioxide, compared with the former mix of coal and oil.

With the approval of Constitution, FERC docket CP13-499, Tennessee Gas is less likely to gain approval for a similar segment of NED, docket PF14-22. Not shown on the map above, NED also includes a segment parallel to an existing Tennessee Gas line extending southeast from Wright, NY, and another extending southwest from Wright into Pennsylvania, nearly parallel to the recently approved Constitution line.

While the westernmost segment of NED may have become redundant, Tennessee Gas is likely to continue seeking the remainder. Until NED is in service, now expected for 2018, New England is likely to experience problems in peak periods. Those drive up prices and cause older generators to be reactivated with coal and oil, emitting more pollution.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2014


Katie Colaneri, Feds approve pipeline to bring Marcellus gas to New York, New England, National Public Radio, December 4, 2014

Long wait for natural gas seen over, New London (CT) Evening Day, July 17, 1953. p. 6

An interstate natural gas facility on my land?, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, August, 2013

Certificate, Constitution Pipeline, CP13-499, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, December 2, 2014

Northeast Energy Direct pre-filing, PF14-22, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, September 15, 2014 (97 MB)

Tennessee Gas Pipeline project log, Town of Berlin, MA, 2014

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby, Brookline Beacon, November 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, December 1, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Like most previous sessions, it took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. At this session, the board did not invite or hear comments from the public.

Ready to approve: After negotiating about a ten percent reduction from a previously proposed amount of parking, the three regular Appeals board members–Jesse Geller, Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book–indicated they were ready to approve the project. Alternate member Mark Zuroff continued to oppose it. Another session scheduled for 7 pm at Town Hall on Monday, December 8, could become the final one.

Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin, by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, again reviewed fire safety, repeating some of his previous concerns. He said Brookline could not provide “full first alarm” service to the project within eight minutes, as specified by national standards. At this session, he also focused on time needed to disengage equipment, in order to answer other calls. He said he still hoped to see a connection to VFW Parkway.

According to Mr. Ford, access to the proposed large building at an extension of Asheville Rd. is marginal but acceptable. However, without further changes, he said, it would still be difficult to disengage equipment from parts of the so-called “east side” of Hancock Village, between Independence Drive and VFW Parkway. Fire trucks would have to be backed out of blind locations near the proposed large building and some of the smaller new buildings. With access to VFW Parkway, Mr. Ford said, his concerns would be reduced.

The developer’s representatives agreed to improve access near an extension of Grassmere Rd. onto Thornton Rd., now interrupted by curbing. They will connect the roads, add a service gate and add a lane connecting with one of the new parking lots to the west of Russett Rd. Brookline firefighters will be able to open the service gate. They also committed to “work with the town” to obtain vehicle access to VFW Parkway west of Russett Rd.

According to Mr. Ford, commitments by the developer to install sprinklers in all the new buildings will help. Asked about safety in existing Hancock Village buildings, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said Brookline could not require changes unless those buildings were directly involved in a major construction or renovation project. Simply being adjacent to a major development would not trigger reviews.

Parking: Board members Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book continued to object to 323 new parking spaces, proposed at the previous session, as “excessive.” Mr. Hussey continued to favor an average of 1.5 new parking spaces per new apartment in the area to be accessed via Asheville Rd. He said that would reduce new parking by 21 spaces.

Mr. Book sought to apply the 1.5 ratio to the entire project. He said that would reduce new parking by 57 spaces. Speaking for the developer, Mr. Geller of Stantec objected that reducing on-site parking would impact nearby neighborhoods, saying, “Cars will find other places to go.” Mr. Levin continued to object that providing less new parking than anticipated new demand could compromise the project. He said board members did not seem to have considered about 25 spaces to be reserved for visitors and about 15 spaces for disability access.

Mr. Levin said parking appropriate in urban Brookline, with its Green Line rapid transit, did not suit the suburban areas around Hancock Village. Mr. Schwartz said the proposed amount of new parking was in line with Brookline’s zoning requirements. (It was actually somewhat less.) He recalled that a town meeting last year had considered reducing zoning standards for parking but rejected the proposal.

Negotiations ensued among Appeals board members and between them and the developer’s representatives. During the discussion, Mr. Hussey again voiced resistance to retaining any of the fourth floor of apartments in the proposed large building, but then he backed away, saying, “My brothers have squeezed me in.” Mr. Book continued to press for reduction of new parking by more than 21 spaces.

Making a deal: After about an hour and a half of discussion, Mr. Book proposed a further reduction of 10 more spaces, beyond the 21 sought by Mr. Hussey, with a condition that those spaces could be included in the project if the developer obtained full access to VFW Parkway. After a few minutes more discussion, the developer’s representatives agreed to that change.

Mr. Schwartz said Chestnut Hill Realty would return to the next session with a full plan for 12 new buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 292 new parking spaces. This session of the Appeals hearing gave no consideration to numbers of new residents or potential impacts on town services–particularly 200 or more added students atttending Brookline schools.

With a recently reported 824 students, the nearby Baker School now has the largest population of Brookline’s elementary schools and is well beyond rated capacity. Brookline has no plan to cope with 200 or more added students coming from Hancock Village. Among its few obvious options might be a major addition to Baker School or some use of the former Baldwin School or its ten unrestricted acres of grounds on Heath St. at Woodland Rd.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 2, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, November 24, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. An audience of around 20 came to this session, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Best and final plan: The developer presented what appeared to be a best and final plan. As compared to the plan of November 12, it removes three units from the fourth floor of apartments of the proposed large apartment building, making it look like a somewhat bulky 3-story building when viewed from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. As revised, the large building would have 99 apartments.

The total proposed development becomes one large and eleven smaller buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 323 new parking spaces. There are no longer any lofts. Board member Christopher Hussey, an architect, repeated his previous objections to the amount of new parking. Grouping the large building with two smaller ones at the southeast extreme of the development, Mr. Hussey counted 209 parking spaces and 125 apartments to be reached via Asheville Rd.

Too much development: Mr. Hussey said that the amount of new development was too much to be accessed by Asheville Rd., but he did not compare it with the current site. Around 65 of the Hancock Village apartments built in the 1940s are now usually reached via Asheville Rd. The plan presented at the Monday session would nearly triple that number of dwellings and would more than triple the number of parking spaces serving them.

Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, cited an informal study presented to a 2010 town meeting, estimating that Hancock Village has about 1.1 parking spaces per apartment. [Article explanations, November 16, 2010, town meeting, p. 20] He called the proposed ratio of 2.0 for new development excessive, saying it will increase costs and reduce open space. The Appeals board, he said, should set a maximum on parking spaces as a permit condition.

Street and fire safety: Ben Franco, a member of the Board of Selectmen, recalled testimony at the previous session by Paul Ford, the fire chief, saying the development will “exacerbate emergency response problems.” According to Maria Morelli, the Planning Department’s consultant for the project, Mr. Ford will be sending in a written evaluation. Deborah Kilday, an Ogden Rd. resident, said current traffic on the streets crossed by Asheville Rd. was already a major hazard. She said children “can’t walk to school safely on a normal day.”

Precinct 16 town meeting member Scott Gladstone, a neighbor of the proposed development who lives on Russett Rd., contended that adequate traffic and fire safety for the dense, southeast part of the project will need street access from VFW Parkway, which runs along the south side of Hancock Village. Several nearby Brookline streets laid out in the 1930s intersect VFW Parkway, including South St. and Bonad and Russett Rds.

Only South St. has two-way access. The others connect with westbound lanes of the parkway, going toward Dedham, which would be favorable for Brookline fire trucks. The developer would likely encounter resistance trying to get approval for a street connection. VFW Parkway was formerly a segment of U.S. Route 1, although the highway designation was discontinued toward the end of the last Dukakis administration. The parkway is now under supervision of the highway-hostile Department of Conservation and Recreation. The incoming Baker administration might make some changes to this insular agency.

With no one else wanting to comment after about a half hour, the board engaged in discussion for the next hour and a half. Much discussion this time concerned parking and traffic. Their legal counsel, Ms. Netter and Ms. Murphy, advised the board that school crowding and loads on other public services were not eligible concerns with a 40B project but safety issues were. A discussion about street and fire safety ensued.

Parking standards: Board chair Jesse Geller objected to “arbitrary” standards for parking. Board members had trouble recalling the development of Brookline’s zoning requirements but were aware that minimum parking had been increased since residential parking was first required in 1949, with 1.0 spaces per apartment in 1964.

By 1980, Brookline parking requirements varied according to type of zone, with 1.3 spaces per apartment for the M-0.5 zone of Hancock Village. In 2000, town meeting made parking requirements nearly uniform across types of zones, raising them to 2.0 spaces per dwelling unit in most cases. In multiple-apartment zones, like Hancock Village, 2.3 spaces per apartment were required for 3-bedroom and larger apartments. Recent town meetings rejected reducing the parking standards (Article 10 at the November 16, 2010, town meeting, referred to a study committee, and Article 10 at the November 19, 2013, town meeting, defeated).

Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty claimed that the current project plan follows Brookline zoning requirements for parking, but it clearly does not. The plan includes about 45 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom units. Zoning would require about 15 more parking spaces than the plan presented November 24, calling for 369 spaces. Mr. Hussey’s interest in less parking is not supported by access to rapid transit, like recent projects around Brookline Village and recent proposals along Beacon St.

Shrinking a project: The latest plan, at 161 apartments, is significantly smaller than the original proposal for 192 apartments about a year ago. That, in turn, was far smaller than a plan for 466 units described in 2010 but never taken through the 40B permitting process. Since 2010, Edward Zuker, head of Chestnut Hill Realty, has kept a distance, sending Mr. Levin to represent the firm’s interests in the current project.

Additional hearing sessions were scheduled for December 1, 8 and 15–also starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. Mr. Levin committed to supply a set of detailed plans and descriptions by December 8. Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said his department could review the plans for departures from zoning in a few days. The Appeals board is inviting the fire chief to return on December 1. The board is expected to settle its decision at the December 15 session.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 25, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Perry Stoll, Portable modular classrooms at Baker School, Driscoll Action, November 24, 2014

Brock Parker, Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline, Boston Globe, October 18, 2013

Andreae Downs, Housing plan would get major review, Boston Globe, October 6, 2010

Fall town meeting: tobacco controls, resolution derby

Brookline’s 2014 fall town meeting held its second and final session Wednesday, November 19, working through the 8 remaining of 20 articles. A summary of actions at the November 19 session, by article number, follows:

11. tobacco controls–amended and approved
13. zoning case notifications–no action needed
15. legislation, taxi medallions–resolution adopted
16. resolution, taxi medallions–amended and adopted
17. resolution, health effects of town lighting–adopted
18. resolution, domestic workers–amended and adopted
19. resolution, natural gas projects–adopted
20. reports–Taxi Medallions Committee report presented

Taxi medallions were challenged at the 2014 annual town meeting this spring by an article calling for repeal of the state legislation authorizing Brookline to issue them. The 2014 fall town meeting returned to those issues in Articles 15 and 16. Much activity at the second session focused on resolutions, including two resolutions that were adopted about taxi medallions.

Tobacco controls: Under Article 11, Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and other petitioners sought to strengthen Brookline’s tobacco controls [Article 8.23 of town bylaws]–adding controls on so-called “e-cigarettes” in the same ways as ordinary cigarettes, forbidding self-service displays of tobacco products, forbidding smoking in all hotel and lodging rooms, rewording some definitions and increasing fines for bylaw violations. Petitioners also proposed to remove the qualification “knowingly” on tobacco violations.

The article received favorable reviews from the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee, with the board amending the prohibition on self-service displays to make it slightly clearer. The Advisory Committee found that hotels and motels in Brookline already operate with entirely smoke-free rooms. Town meeting approved.

Taxi medallions: Articles 15 and 16 were presented to town meeting together, because they concerned the same topics. At Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting in the spring, Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris and other petitioners submitted Article 26, proposing home-rule legislation to repeal the previous home-rule legislation from 2010 and 2012 that permits the Board of Selectmen to sell and issue so-called “taxi medallions”–meaning permanent, transferrable taxi licenses. Article 26 was referred to a special committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby.

At the 2014 fall town meeting, Mr. Harris and other petitioners returned with the same repeal proposal, under Article 15. Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier and other petitioners filed a proposed resolution on taxi medallions as Article 16. It called for review of taxi licensing, adding another objective to those Brookline must consider. That was summarized by the Advisory Committee: “Provide drivers with improved working conditions, a more secure future and an opportunity to own a stake in the taxicab business.”

The Advisory Committee opposed Article 15 as filed–that is, as calling for repeal. It supported Article 16, with amendments that removed some potentially vague and redundant phrases. The Board of Selectmen decided to agree with the Advisory Committee rather than attempt more surgery.

Late in the day, the Article 15 petitioners–finding their repeal proposal disfavored–decided to abandon what they had proposed and to substitute a resolution of their own. It asked the Board of Selectmen and the Transportation Board not to “require taxi medallions as a condition of any taxicab owner doing business in Brookline.” Town meeting had problems sorting through apparently competing resolutions, finally voting to adopt both of them.

Other resolutions: The Department of Public Works is now in the second year of a 4-year program to replace high-pressure sodium streetlamps with LED streetlamps. Under Article 17, Precinct 5 town meeting member Claire Stampfer and other petitioners proposed a resolution asking Brookline departments to select “appropriate lighting,” taking into account “public health effects of light.”

DPW has already considered potential health effects, rejecting so-called “daylight white” (about 5,500 K color temperature) in favor of so-called “neutral white” (4,000 K) LED streetlamps. Compact fluorescent lamps now common inside Brookline buildings are mostly so-called “warm white” (2,700 K). The Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee both supported Article 17, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as proposed.

Under Article 18, Stephen Vogel of Walnut St. and other petitioners proposed a resolution described as seeking “respect and dignity” for household workers. As submitted it also called for Brookline to “collaborate with domestic worker-led committees.” The Advisory Committee amended the resolution, dropping that phrase and saying that the town “supports efforts to inform Brookline’s domestic workers and their employers of…rights and responsibilities” under the state’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights law, enacted this year. [St. 2014, C. 148] The Board of Selectmen agreed, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as amended.

Under Article 19, Precinct 8 town meeting member Edward Loechler and other petitioners proposed a resolution “opposing the expansion of natural gas through pipelines and hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts.” There is no hydraulic fracturing in Massachusetts, nor are there known natural gas-bearing formations. There are five pipeline projects now proposed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for New England, all serving parts of Massachusetts, although the petitioners appeared to know about only one of them. The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee raised no objections, and town meeting voted to adopt the resolution as proposed.

– Beacon Staff, Brookline, MA, November 20, 2014


Warrant report, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Annual town meeting: Brookline Place, taxi medallions and resolutions, Brookline Beacon, June 3, 2014

Craig Bolon, New pipeline across Massachusetts: gas produces hot air, Brookline Beacon, July 11, 2014

Craig Bolon, Household workers: not just respect, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2014

Advisory subcommittee on taxi medallions: another turn of the churn, Brookline Beacon, October 15, 2014

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 16, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 29, 2014

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries

Brookline’s 2014 fall town meeting held its first session Tuesday, November 18, working through 12 of 20 articles. A second session looks likely to complete the agenda. It starts at 7:00 pm Wednesday, November 19, in the High School auditorium, reached via the side entrance at 91 Tappan St. A summary of actions at the November 18 session, by article number, follows:

  1. unpaid bills–none, no action
  2. collective bargaining–two contracts approved
  3. budget amendments–$0.04 million allocated
  4. Cleveland Circle sewer abandonment–approved
  5. Cleveland Circle sewer rights releases–approved
  6. Cleveland Circle authorizations–approved
  7. gender identity and expression–bylaw amendments approved
  8. disorderly conduct–bylaw amendments approved
  9. noise control–referral rejected–no action
10. commercial recycling–bylaw amendments approved
12. marijuana dispensary zoning–referral rejected–article defeated
14. naming for Hennessey Field–approved through a substitute article

The high point of the evening was rejection of all three motions on Article 12, after a long and vigorous debate about new limits on locations for medical marijuana dispensaries. Sponsors failed to get even one-third support for their zoning amendment, which needed two-thirds to pass. Because of the defeat, they will be unable to take the issue back to town meeting for two years.

Medical marijuana: Under Article 12, Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave. and other petitioners proposed more limits on locations of licensed dispensaries for medical marijuana–adding 500-foot exclusion zones around day-care centers and places where “children commonly congregate.” The Planning Department had analyzed the proposal and prepared a map for the effects of Article 12. [Supplement No. 1, pp. 8 ff.]

In November of last year, after voter approval the previous year of a state law to allow marijuana distribution for medical use, Brookline adopted zoning to allow state-regulated dispensaries in general business, office and industrial zones. They require a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The boundary of a site must be at least 500 feet from the boundary of any school property. A building proposed for a dispensary may not contain a day-care center.

Mainly because of the large number and wide dispersal of day-care centers, the Planning Department found no eligible location left in Brookline with Article 12. Currently there are four: along Commonwealth Ave. near Pleasant St., in the Coolidge Corner area on and near Beacon St., in Brookline Village near the intersection of Washington and Boylston Sts. and in the Chestnut Hill area near the intersection of Boylston and Hammond Sts.

Starting with the Zoning Bylaw Committee, six boards and committees reviewed Article 12, all coming out in opposition. Seeing that, some supporters of further limits, led by Precinct 11 town meeting member Jennifer Goldsmith, proposed to refer the article to a special committee to be appointed by the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby. That would have prevented defeat, keeping the issues in play for future actions.

Led by Precinct 5 town meeting member Angela Hyatt, other supporters of Article 12 moved to add to the referral motion a moratorium on dispensary licensing, for about six months. That was fairly clearly outside the scope of the article, which concerns itself only with zoning. However, Mr. Gadsby allowed it to be debated and voted on, saying only that it was of “doubtful legality.”

Arguments at town meeting largely repeated those at nine full-dress reviews held by boards and committees. One new element came from Mr. Bennett, who revealed that his mother had benefitted from treatment with medical marijuana during a long illness–supplied by “a friend.” Town meeting was not persuaded. After an hour and a half of debate, Ms. Hyatt’s amendment was defeated by a large majority in a show of hands. The referral motion went down by 65-138 and the main motion on the article by 60-146, both using electronically recorded votes.

Noise control: Under Article 9, former town meeting member Fred Lebow tried to weaken Brookline’s noise control bylaw. It was exactly the same article that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event. Nevertheless, the Board of Selectmen proposed to refer Article 9 to a new Noise Control Bylaw Committee. They had previously appointed Mr. Lebow to the Naming Committee, which he chaired this year.

Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, has wanted to make life easier for fellow engineers by exempting them from night-time work–instead, estimating night-time noise by adjusting the amount of noise measured during the day. Mr. Lebow’s article would also have completely exempted any leafblower from noise regulation that is not handheld or carried in a backpack. It would have legitimized use of European noise meters, which are calibrated to different standards from the meters that are now authorized and in common use in the U.S. Previously, Mr. Lebow had disclosed that he owns a European meter.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo, whose air-strikes sank Mr. Lebow’s article last spring, returned to the fray: “The article still stinks.” A referral proposal, said Dr. Vitolo, “won’t solve a problem.” Real problems with noise control, he said, don’t need “tinkering with language…Are there sightings of landscapers thumbing through town bylaws? I doubt it.”

Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer seemed equally incensed. Article 9, he said, was an attempt to narrow the meaning of “leafblowers,” exempting some from regulation. Precinct 3 town meeting member Jane Gilman objected to both the article and the motion to refer it, saying, “This article is not worthy of our time…It is simply going to delay other business.” The motion to refer failed by a big majority, on a show of hands. No other motion was offered, leaving “no action” as the disposition of Article 9.

Hennessey Fields: Under Article 14, the town meeting was asked to designate the playing fields at Cypress Playground as Hennessey Fields. Because of objections to a 10-year duration specified in Article 14, the Board of Selectmen proposed a substitute article in a synchronous special town meeting warrant, making the designation permanent.

Precinct 2 town meeting member Stanley Spiegel and Precinct 6 town meeting member Robert Sperber reviewed the contributions to Brookline by the late Thomas P. Hennessey, the only person to have chaired both the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee–serving between 1969 and 1995. He had been a star athlete at Brookline High School. Both his father and his mother had also served on the School Committee.

Betsy DeWitt of the Board of Selectmen recalled chairing the Advisory Committee in 1994–while Mr. Hennessey chaired the Board of Selectmen–and working with him to organize Brookline’s first tax override. He was particularly effective, she said, handling conflicts and building coalitions. The naming article from the synchronous town meeting was approved 208-1, with only Precinct 12 town meeting member Harry Friedman opposed.

Union contracts: Under Article 2, town meeting reviewed union contracts with police officers and emergency dispatchers. Those involved over two years of negotiations, making significant changes but providing salary adjustments generally comparable to the ones for other employees. According to Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, Brookline is replacing the former state “Quinn” program for education incentives with a program that recognizes a much wider range of achievements.

Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, described the long negotiations, exchanging a 5-percent “senior step” in pay after 20 years service in return for “changing management.” The unionized, civil-service jobs of police captains are being abolished, as the four current captains retire. They are being replaced by management positions called “deputy superintendents.” Town meeting approved, in unanimous votes.

Cleveland Circle: Under Articles 4, 5 and 6, town meeting approved legal abandonment of long unused sewer connections through the development site at the former Circle Cinema in Cleveland Circle, and it authorized the Board of Selectmen to enter into tax and development agreements–all by unanimous votes.

Kara Brewton, the town’s economic development director, mentioned a partnership for this project that had been announced in business journals Monday, November 17. National Development of Newton Lower Falls will work on senior housing, while Boston Development Group will pursue hotel, office and retail at Cleveland Circle. Only the latter are planned on the part of the development in Brookline.

Other business: Sponsor Alex Coleman of Tappan St. described the topics of Article 7, adding gender identity and gender expression to Brookline’s protected classes. Responding to a question from Precinct 6 town meeting member John Bassett, Dr. Coleman said gender identity means “one’s sense of who one is,” and gender expression means “how you show the world what your identity is.” Town meeting unanimously approved the bylaw changes.

Under Article 8, town meeting approved changes to Brookline’s disorderly conduct bylaw proposed by Mr. O’Leary, the police chief, and Patricia Correa, an associate town counsel. They say the changes are needed to comply with state and federal court rulings. Their revisions seem to expect any would-be offenders will be experts in Constitutional law, saying “disorderly” will “only relate to activities that involve no lawful exercise of a First Amendment right.”

Under Article 10, Precinct 4 town meeting member Alan Christ had convinced the Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee to honor longstanding promises of commercial recycling. Mr. Christ came in next-to-last in the 2014 town election but got in for the year by caucus when another town meeting member resigned. Moving on swiftly, Mr. Christ salvaged his article from referral limbo. [Supplement No. 1, pp. 1 ff.]

In last-minute prestidigitation, the Board of Selectmen tweaked Mr. Christ’s proposal, providing a one-year delay, putting the onus on property owners rather than business operators and allowing “temporary waiver” of recycling “for cause”–whatever that might mean. Town meeting gave the amended article unanimous approval.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 18, 2014


Warrant report, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 16, 2014

Zoning Bylaw Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 28, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles, Brookline Beacon, October 29, 2014

Advisory Committee: no new restrictions on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, October 31, 2014

Happiness index: the gasoline factor

The myth is that the U.S. is a nation of gasoline addicts. The fact is that people went on a diet about 35 years ago and have mostly stayed on the diet. From 1945 to 1978, gasoline use per person nearly tripled, from about 0.5 to about 1.4 gallons per day. Since 1980, use per person stayed in a range of 1.16 to 1.31 gallons per day. For 2013, the most recent year tallied, it was near the bottom of the range: 1.17 gallons per day.


UsGasolinePersonalUse1945to2013
Sources: U.S Energy Information Agency and Census Bureau

Nevertheless, trends in gasoline use seem to factor in a kind of national happiness index. Falling trends forecast changing politics: getting rid of Democrats in 1980, getting rid of Republicans in 1992. We look to be in another reversal, with vengeance already taken on Congress.

The happy-go-lucky years are long gone and not likely to return. If you happened to come along in the 1930s or 1940s, it was a wild ride; maybe you can tell your grandchildren.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, November 9, 2014

Board of Selectmen: Muddy River project, school construction and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 28, started at 6:25 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. In an earlier session, closed to the public, the board had agreed on a contract with the Teamsters local representing the police and fire dispatchers. There were two major reports about ongoing issues. There were public comments, reviews and recommendations for ten of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18. An ambitious agenda produced a session lasting nearly until midnight.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 29, November 9 and December 4 at Baker and Devotion schools and at the Health Center. The first day for a winter farmers market in the Arcade Building at 318 Harvard St. is Sunday, November 2, starting at 2 pm.

On Wednesday, November 12, the Brookline Neighborhood Association and League of Women Voters host a forum for the November 18 town meeting. It begins at 7 pm in community television studios on the third floor at 46 Tappan St., the Unified Arts Building of Brookline High School. Topics are for Articles 8, 12, 13, 15 and 16: revising the disorderly conduct bylaw, restricting locations for medical marijuana dispensaries, sending zoning appeals notices to town meeting members and managing taxi medallions (that is, permanent licenses).

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the duration of a contract with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown for design of a road improvement project for lower Washington St. Planning began about nine years ago as part of a so-called “Gateway East” effort. Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to add $0.015 million to a masonry repair project at the Old Burying Ground on Walnut St., using funds already appropriated.

The board interviewed candidates for appointments: one for Tree Planting, one for Economic Development and one for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission. Twelve commissioners are authorized but none appointed yet, with some positions still awaiting applicants according to board member Nancy Daly. The board also decided to appoint a Noise Control Bylaw Committee, to be charged with proposing revisions to related town laws.

Projects, licenses and permits At the request of Ms. Gallentine and the Dukakis Recognition Committee, established in 2011 through a town meeting resolution, the board approved a plaque dedicating the Riverway Park to Brookline residents Michael and Kitty Dukakis, the former 3-term governor and his wife. It will be stationed near the Longwood stop on the D branch of the Green Line, where Mr. Dukakis often boards.

Hsiu-Lan Chang, who operates Fast Frame on Beacon St. in Washington Square, asked for permission to install a plaque on the Washington Sq. clock–a donation to the town about 20 years ago from Washington Sq. merchants–in honor of William T. Bonomi, a key supporter of efforts to install and maintain the clock. The board approved. A major maintenance effort is expected before year’s end by Electric Time of Medford, funded by area merchants.

The board reviewed and approved alternate managers for alcoholic beverage sales at two locations, temporary licenses for two events and a 10 am Sunday starting hour for alcoholic beverage sales at six locations. The last, according to board member Betsy DeWitt, is an obligation under a recent state law when a license-holder requests it.

Chen-Hui Chi of Chelmsford appeared to apply for a food vendor (take-out) license to continue operations for Hong Kong Cafe at 1391 Beacon St., which currently has a different owner. He was represented by a bilingual lawyer who translated the board’s questions to Chinese. The board wanted to make sure the applicant understood that the license did not authorize table service. Board members were satisfied and approved.

Managers of Herb Chambers appeared for continued review of an inflammables permit for the Audi dealership at 308 Boylston St. A review on August 29 had left several matters to be settled. As before, the organization was represented by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen.

Mr. Allen told the board that the waste oil storage tank had been moved to a different location and would no longer be serviced via East Milton Rd., a previous source of neighborhood opposition. He said former underground tanks have been removed. KPA Environmental and Safety of Colorado is now overseeing environmental compliance. Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of the Fire Department, confirmed the progress but said the new tank installation was not finished. This time, despite some neighborhood objections, the board was satisfied that Herb Chambers was on track for a safe workplace and granted an annually renewed permit.

Representatives of the VFW and American Legion post on Washington St. appeared again, seeking a club license for alcoholic beverages. They were represented by Roger Lipson, a Brookline-based lawyer and Precinct 14 town meeting member. The post held such a license from 1977 through 2010 but let it lapse by mistake, when a manager became ill. About two years ago, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, took over as post manager.

Mr. Hendrickson has been successful in building a clientele who use the post for events, including weddings and other celebrations, but this has caused friction with neighbors–evident at a previous hearing October 2 on the license application. This time, both Mr. Hendrickson and the board were more prepared. The board wanted some firm conditions on the license, to which Mr. Hendrickson agreed.

There will be police details for events with over 50 participants, and there will be four post members on hand for events: two for service and two for security. The club will not operate past 11 pm. Video cameras and sound meters have been installed and will be monitored during events. Doors near abutters will be used during events only for emergencies. The parking lot will be used only by caterers. With these and other conditions, the board approved a new club license for the post, to be reviewed annually.

Muddy River project: The board heard a report on the Muddy River Restoration Project from Thomas Brady, the conservation director, and Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director. The project began after a major storm in October, 1996, flooded the Kenmore Sq. transit station and many houses and buildings in Brookline and Boston. A disastrous 1958 decision by the Hynes administration in Boston to divert the river into relatively small culverts is now being reversed by excavation and by construction of large channels under Park Drive and Brookline Avenue crossings, near the former Sears now called Landmark Center.

As Mr. Brady and Mr. Pappastergion explained, the current effort will correct only one blockage to river flow, although it is probably the worst one. A century-long buildup of silt and invasive plants obstructs many other parts of the riverway, from Ward’s Pond through the Fenway area. They said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, manager of the current project, is now willing to extend the project–provided it receives a Presidential order and Congressional funding.

Board member Ben Franco said the Muddy River project was what got him involved in town government. Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, urged pressure on Congress for funding. “If we don’t maintain this river,” she said, “it will continue to be a significant threat.” The board agreed to participate in a campaign of letters from Boston, Brookline and several organizations. They will send a letter to the President.

School construction: The board entertained a long report from Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani on the need for school construction. Mr. Modigliani felt that the needs were overstated, and he brought along a spreadsheet report trying to show why. According to his report, for kindergarten through eighth grade, the Brookline schools have, by different criteria, between about 600 and 850 unfilled seats. Class sizes this year range from 17 to 26 (Baker seventh grade).

As has become well known, while school enrollments rose over the past several years, so did class sizes. William Lupini, the school superintendent, made similar points in a presentation to the board on October 7. However, Dr. Lupini’s view appears to be that maintaining high-quality schools is going to take more space, perhaps another elementary school plus some kind of high-school expansion.

Mr. Modigliani, an architect, sought to discourage the board from supporting that approach, claiming that the unfilled seats in elementary schools will make more space unnecessary for at least several more years. However, he could not explain how to make use of the capacity, which is scattered through all eight schools and across all nine elementary grades, except by ordering students to transfer abruptly from one school to another.

Board members seemed skeptical. Betsy DeWitt pointed out that several current classrooms have been squeezed into small spaces, labeled “suboptimal.” Mr. Modigliani agreed that was possible but said he had not been able to inspect any of them. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, challenged Mr. Modigliani’s approach, saying it would force schools to split siblings between schools.

Board member Nancy Daly recalled events of years ago, saying, “My son was in a first grade of 27 kids. He didn’t learn how to read. That’s what catapulted me into town politics.” Mr. Modigliani seemed to focus on counting noses. The value of a seat in a classroom, he claimed, was about $100,000, but it turned out that he meant only costs of construction. He did not seem to have given much attention to the effects of increasing class sizes on the quality of teaching and learning.

Warrant articles: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 1, unpaid bills, since there are none. For Article 2, collective bargaining, the board voted to recommend approval of the collective bargaining agreements reached with police officers earlier and with dispatchers the same evening. For Article 3, budget amendments, the board voted to recommend the Advisory Committee’s plan to use about 60 percent of an additional $0.04 million in state aid for the new diversity department, as proposed by Advisory member Stanley Spiegel and agreed to by the School Committee.

The board voted to recommend approval of Article 7, bylaw amendments prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education. The board had worked through these topics last August 29 with the participation of citizen petitioners for the article.

As negotiated with the petitioner for Article 9, noise control bylaw amendments, the board voted to recommend referral to the Noise Control Bylaw Committee it will be appointing. For Article 10, commercial recycling, the board expressed support. However, board member Nancy Daly observed, “The business community is pretty unaware of this.” She asked petitioner Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, “Have you reached out to them?” Apparently unsatisfied with the answers, the board decided to wait for an analysis by the town administrator, Mel Kleckner, and did not vote a recommendation.

The board gave the petitioners for Article 12, restrictions on locating marijuana dispensaries, another big bite of the apple, after spending almost two hours on the topic at a previous meeting. Not much was new. The issues had been hashed over the previous evening, at a meeting of the Zoning Bylaw Committee. Once again, George Vien of Davis Ave. tried to scare board members with vague threats of federal prosecution.

Mr. Goldstein wasn’t buying any of that, saying, “I don’t think the federal government is going to hold the Board of Selectmen liable for voting no-action on a warrant article.” He then moved to recommend no action on Article 12. Board member Neil Wishinsky agreed, saying, “We can handle the concerns that people have through the licensing and appeals process.” The board voted unanimously to oppose Article 12.

For Article 13, zoning appeals notices to town meeting members, the board also voted to recommend no action, after the Planning Department instituted changes that satisfied the petitioners. For resolution articles 18 and 19, support for domestic workers and opposition to a gas pipeline, the board voted to recommend approval, with amendments proposed by the Advisory Committee.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 29, 2014


Jana Kasperkevic, Medical marijuana in New York: barriers high for small businesses, Manchester Guardian (UK), October 29, 2014

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Gateway East: an idea whose time has gone

Springtime came in 2005. Today, a once ambitious “Gateway East” project has an odor of stale cabbage. The idle, pie-in-the-sky program aimed to turn traffic-ridden Route 9, near the Brookline border with a poverty-stricken Mission Hill area of Boston, into a so-called “gateway.”

Nearly forgotten dreams called for the foot of Washington St. to become a “boulevard.” A launch plan compared it with Commonwealth Ave. in the Back Bay and with Brattle St. in Cambridge. Imagine. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 3]

Route9BrooklineGasStation

Source: Town of Brookline, MA

Actually, the area looks like a highway. It sounds like a highway, and it smells like a highway. It is a 6-lane state highway. The businesses actually located on the foot of Washington St.–then and now–consist of a Gulf station and a vacant restaurant, formerly Skipjack’s.

Even the name of the project begged a question: to what might the industrial foot of Washington St. be a gateway? To a gas station? To a Boston ghetto? Not to a fish restaurant. Skipjack’s sagged with the dot-com boom, and the once lively Brookline site closed, soon followed by nearby, former Village Fish.

Scarce goods: Ingredients for success went missing from the start and were never found: the “why” and the “what.” The launch plan merely outlined an area–centered on the segment of Route 9 along the foot of Washington St. It connects with a dilapidated stretch of Huntington Ave. in Boston, past the Riverway.

In April of 2005, a citizen committee was assembled by a former town administrator, Richard Kelliher, and a former all-male Board of Selectmen–Robert Allen, Jr., Joseph Geller, Gilbert Hoy, Michael Merrill and Michael Sher. According to Brookline’s municipal Web site, the committee is still on the books, but it has no spot on the Agendas and Minutes page, covering meetings during 2010 through 2014.

If wishes were horses: The committee set up for the project always looked somewhat like an advertisement, because the launch plan vested all actions in government employees: Jeff Levine and Catherine Cagle in the Planning Department–no longer with the town–plus administrators and staff in Public Works. [Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 15]

Lacking a “why” and a “what,” the launch plan focused on “how”–that is, on meeting after meeting:
• Initial meeting
• Follow-up meeting
• Interdepartmental meeting
• Meetings with regional stakeholders
• Public meetings
• Committee meetings
• and more meetings
[Creating Gateway East, April, 2005, p. 14]

Time rolls on: With miracles in short supply, a practical Engineering division of Public Works eventually reverted the project to core elements: repaving a quarter mile of Route 9 and intersections, adding a touch of landscaping, building concrete traffic islands and modernizing signals and controls with pedestrian buttons, vehicle detection and emergency pre-emption. It’s a road plan, with no bicycles currently in view.

As prepared by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown and submitted to the state highway department January 18, 2012, project 605110 is strictly highway-issue. Travel lanes are mostly 11 feet, sidewalks are 6 feet, There is granite curbing and a little brick edging. An “existing pedestrian bridge” is called out, to be “removed by others.” Site-edge improvements in the Pearl St. vicinity are called out, to be “redevelopment by others.” Other than a couple of benches perhaps, there is no “boulevard” currently in view.

Declare victory: Owing nothing to “gateway” dreams, Planning staff soldiered on with practical aims too, and fortune was with them. Children’s Hospital had bought out the 1990s Pearl St. development put up by Harvard Pilgrim and was interested in building offices next door.

Brookline had sought developers since the 1960s, but the area to the north of the foot of Washington St. did not gel. Hearthstone Plaza went up in the early 1970s, then 1 Brookline Place in the middle 1990s, leaving a gap between, in Brookline’s former industrial zone. Learning of Children’s interest, the Board of Selectmen set up a Brookline Place Advisory Committee in October, 2013, and this time pieces began to fall into place.

After the Brookline Place committee negotiated a scale of development and helped enact zoning at this year’s annual town meeting, the Planning Board recruited committee members for a design advisory team, following Brookline’s zoning process for design review. The team started work with the developers in August.

Developers for 2 Brookline Place / Children’s Hospital have been making steady progress. Several objectives sought with the now-antiquated “gateway” plan will be achieved by the combination of the office development at 2 Brookline Place and the highway plan for Route 9:
• Completion of the 1960s Marsh Project with 2 Brookline Place
• Removal of a hazardous Route 9 pedestrian overpass, closed since 1978
• Improvements to the Pearl St. public infrastructure
• A public pathway across the new Brookline Place development
• Improved traffic management for Route 9 and its intersections
• A demand-cycled pedestrian crossing on Route 9 near Pearl St.
Beautification, bicycles and a “boulevard” will have to wait.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 17, 2014


Craig Bolon, Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash, Brookline Beacon, June 6, 2014

Robert Duffy, Jeff Levine, Catherine Cagle and Donald Giard, Creating Gateway East, Goody Clancy, April, 2005

Gateway East Committee, Brookline Gateway East Final Plan, Von Grossman, October, 2006

Massachusetts Highway Division, Project 605110, Intersection improvement project for Washington St. (Route 9) and Walnut St. in the town of Brookline, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, January, 2012 (13 MB)

Planning Board: offices and parking at Brookline Place, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Brookline Place project: three concept plans, Brookline Beacon, September 16, 2014

Board of Selectmen: interviews and warrant articles

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, October 14, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. There were reviews, public hearings and recommendations for 10 of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements, contracts and interviews: The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center. Public Works and Planning administrators got approvals for a total of $0.05 million in contracts, the largest of them with Robicheau of Roslindale for work at Waldstein Park.

The board interviewed several candidates for appointments: two for Arts, one for Public Health Advisory, one for Naming and three for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations–created at this year’s annual town meeting to replace the former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission and recently approved by the state’s attorney general. Twelve commissioners are authorized, none appointed yet.

Warrant article, disorderly conduct: Article 8 for the November 18 town meeting, submitted by Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, seeks to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly conduct. An earlier review September 30 left unanswered questions from members of the board. This time Mr. O’Leary was assisted by Patricia Correa, an associate town counsel, and by town meeting members long interested in the issues.

Ms. Correa had distributed a 6-page memorandum outlining state and federal court decisions from 1967 to the present that indicated revisions to town bylaws were needed. One clarification would remove the term “quiet enjoyment” but retain and define “disturbing the peace” in line with the decision in Commonwealth v. Orlando. [373 Mass 732, 1977]

Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and former member of the Board of Selectmen, represented defendant David Orlando of Norfolk County in the 1977 case, which he lost at the state supreme court. The court found the statute being challenged constitutional, holding that it provided reasonable notice about forbidden conduct. The 1977 decision refers to “activities which…most people would find to be unreasonably disruptive and…did…infringe someone’s right to be undisturbed.”

Mr. Rosenthal recalled the circumstances of the 1977 case and recommended to the board that the proposed bylaw would be effective and defensible. He was supported by Nancy Heller, a Precinct 8 town meeting member who had raised issues during a 2013 town meeting debate over the bylaw. This time the board seemed satisfied that lingering issues had been addressed and voted unanimously to recommend Article 8.

Warrant article, noise control: The board heard from Fred Lebow, a former town meeting member, about Article 9, in which he proposes revisions to Brookline’s noise control bylaw. It is the same proposal that was rejected at this year’s annual town meeting in a unanimous vote of No on a main motion–a very rare event.

Mr. Lebow, an acoustic engineer, still wants to make life easier for fellow engineers by exempting them from night-time work–instead, estimating night-time noise by adjusting the amount of noise measured during the day. Mr. Lebow tried to convince the board about his approach by showing that the bylaw already uses a similar approach when measuring noise from “fixed equipment,” but it sounded like a tough sell.

Mr. Lebow’s article would completely exempt any leafblower from regulation that is not handheld or carried in a backpack. Board member Betsy DeWitt did not seem to favor weakening standards. She said, “My neighbors come to me with complaints: leafblowers used out-of-season…The torture moves around during the day…Two operating together is pretty painful.”

Mr. Lebow also wants to allow noise meters that are calibrated to European (IEC) standards rather than to U.S. (ANSI) standards. He claimed they are “the same,” but they are not. According to Pulsar Instruments, a dealer in precision sound equipment, “USA standards…are usually VERY different…[from] IEC standards and are often incompatible.” It came out that one of Mr. Lebow’s problems is that he happens to own a European meter.

For whatever reasons, Mr. Lebow’s proposals appear likely to weaken or undermine Brookline’s noise standards and make them difficult to apply accurately. Andrew Fischer, a Precinct 13 town meeting member, objected to the proposed changes, saying, “We don’t want loud leafblowers…We want effective noise enforcement…This pokes holes through the ability to enforce.”

Warrant article, commercial recycling: Alan Christ, a Precinct 4 town meeting member, came to argue for support of Article 10. It proposes that businesses in Brookline be required to recycle in the same ways as residences. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, objected that most businesses are tenants and that requirements should apply to property owners, saying, “You should be talking about the landlords.”

Mr. Christ did not seem to understand the distinction, but Andrew Pappastergion, the Public Works director, clearly did. Most commercial properties, he explained, are being served by private waste haulers, who do not provide recycling now. “We do offer it,” he said, “but we offer only one pickup per week.” He maintained that the issues were complicated. “DPW supports the intent of the article, [but]…just adding the word ‘commercial’ [to a Brookline bylaw] does not provide proper enforcement.”

Celinda Shannon, who became executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce about a year ago, spoke in support of commercial recycling. However, she said she was “concerned with practical and financial issues.” Board member Betsy DeWitt recalled, at the time of the “plastic bag ban…[last year], discussions about implementation plans.” “That’s right,” responded Ms. Shannon.

Mr. Pappastergion said he was wary of trying to take on too many solid-waste issues in short order. As he put it, “We’re going to be requiring a very large culture-change in the community.” Last May 14, at the complaint session DPW holds before an annual town meeting, Mr. Pappastergion had announced a trash metering proposal, which he also described at a June 10 meeting of the Board of Selectmen.

Warrant article, Zoning Appeals notices: Bobbie Knable, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, spoke for Article 13, on Zoning Appeals notifications, which she and Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, had filed. She recounted a case in her neighborhood when abutters could not learn of continuances for a case or learn about an applicant’s withdrawal. Her article would require notices sent to town meeting members,

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, said some problems had already been addressed. If an Appeals panel now grants a continuance, it is to a “date certain” announced at the hearing where the continuance is granted. She said “minutes” of Appeals sessions were being made available online. When board member Betsy DeWitt looked up a recent case on the spot, using a portable computer, she found no such thing.

Ms. Steinfeld seemed to back away, saying there was “a summary of the prior night’s meeting on the Web site.” There are no minutes online now. The online records just say, in general, what type of development was being proposed–such as “basement expansion” or “house addition”–and whether an appeal was granted or denied.

The online records do not say who sat on an Appeals panel, who spoke at a hearing or what they said. They do not even describe special permit and variance requests–such as 3 feet less rear setback than required under Table 5.01 for an accessory structure in an S-7 zone. If conditions are imposed, they do not tell what the conditions are. Ms. Steinfeld promised improvements.

Warrant articles, naming and resolutions: The board voted to recommend no action on Article 14, naming part of Cypress Playground as Hennessey Fields, and instead to recommend an alternative filed for a “special-special” town meeting, also scheduled for November 18. The board voted to support Article 17, a resolution asking the town to select health-conscious LED lamps for its lighting programs. It had heard arguments at a public hearing October 7.

Stephen Vogel of Walnut St. spoke for Article 18, proposing a resolution in support of the rights of domestic workers. He previously described it at length to an Advisory subcommittee. Edward Loechler, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, and Carol Oldham, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, spoke for Article 19, proposing a resolution against natural gas pipelines and explorations in Massachusetts.

Article 19 has oddities. Natural gas, it claims, “is a non-renewable fossil fuel which generates significant carbon emissions.” The proponents cited no renewable fossil fuels nor any ordinary substance that does not produce carbon [dioxide] emissions when burned. They appeared unfamiliar with recent research showing the U.S. distribution of atmospheric methane spiking in the Southwest but very low in New England.

UsMethaneEmissionPhoto2006

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Board member Ben Franco seemed skeptical. Without natural gas, he asked, “Can renewable energy fill the gap?” Dr. Loechner maintained there was unused capacity in existing gas pipelines but did not distinguish between average and peak demands. Ms. Oldman mentioned transport of liquefied natural gas on ocean-going ships but did not explain that much energy has to be spent on liquefaction. The article sounded in need of study.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 16, 2014


Warrant for Special Town Meeting, November 18, 2014, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant explanations, November 18, 2014, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Craig Bolon, Household workers: not just respect, Brookline Beacon, October 1, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Eric Holthaus, Desert Southwest is burping methane, VNV Advisory (Slate), October 10, 2014

Fluorescent lighting: the household market

Fluorescent lamps were introduced to U.S. industrial markets by GE in 1938 to provide efficient lighting. They used about a third the electricity used by incandescent bulbs providing the same amounts of light and could last several times as long. At first, reliability was marginal, but improvements during the World War II years led to rapid expansion of use afterward. In 1950, fluorescents provided about half of U.S. commercial lighting.

At four and eight feet long, with 1-1/2 inch diameter, early fluorescents were too big for household uses, and green-tinged light proved unacceptable. Shorter and thinner tubes, circular tubes and better-balanced light won some household use in the 1950s–including kitchen, laundry, garage and undercounter lighting. However, the lamps could not be used in common household fixtures.

Slow growth: High-efficiency household lighting grew slowly for about 50 years. After the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, at a time of rapidly rising electricity prices, small fluorescent lamps became available. They had thin, U-shaped “biax” tubes about 7 to 10 inches long with contact pins, required separate transformers, could be found only at electrical supply houses and cost about $30 in current value. With expensive electricity, however, they could save at least twice their prices over average lifetimes, earning some uses for stairs and hallways.

Starting in 1980, what we now call “compact fluorescent” lamps became available from Sylvania in the U.S., Philips in the Netherlands and Osram in Germany. These had two or three shorter U-shaped tubes protruding from a base containing a transformer and providing a screw contact matching conventional lamp sockets. They would fit some fixtures made for incandescent lamps, provided there was enough room. Lengths of tubes and diameters of bases were too much for others.

Innovations: By the mid-1990s, three innovations had transformed the market. Integrated electronics provided rapid starting, low-temperature operation and little flicker. Improved phosphors provided “warm white” light. Small bases and spiral tubes allowed low-power units, up to about 15 W, to fit most fixtures designed for incandescent bulbs. The lighting efficiencies of low-power units grew to over four times those of the incandescent bulbs replaced, and the typical rated lifetimes reached about ten times those of the incandescents.

Financial value from small and compact fluorescents had always been satisfactory, but most people resisted prices ten to forty times those of incandescent bulbs, ignoring the long-term savings. Through the 1980s, few grocery and hardware stores sold compact fluorescents. The growth of home improvement chains during the 1990s made a difference. Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards and others stocked the lamps in depth and offered them at discount prices, often no more than five times incandescent prices.

Maturity and acceptance: In the late 1990s, grocery and hardware stores also began to stock compact fluorescents near their displays of incandescent bulbs, reinforcing awareness of and confidence in the products. Two decades after they had been introduced, sales of compact fluorescents accelerated. In its most recent report, the U.S. Department of Energy found a sales ratio of one compact fluorescent lamp to about five incandescents. Since compact fluorescents last about ten times as long, they may be producing about two-thirds of household lighting in the U.S.

Excitement about newer light-emitting diode (LED) lamps trimmed interest in compact fluorescents. However, current LED lamps are around 20 years behind in product maturity. Premature failure remains a problem. Shapes, light quality and power ratings have yet to be standardized for LED lamps. Most units are too large to fit in common fixtures. Prices remain high. Vendors and enthusiasts try to compare LED lamps with incandescents, but that game is over. Fluorescent lamps are now the U.S. standard household lighting.

Competition: Comparisons with compact fluorescents showed previous LED lamps as marginal or inferior, except where high costs of lamp replacement provided an advantage to long lifetimes–notably roads, bridges and high ceilings. Despite claims, LED lamps did not offer any clear environmental advantage. Instead of hazardous mercury, they contain hazardous arsenic and gallium. Both lamp types include electronic circuits, and they need controlled disposal.

In 2014, comparisons changed with the introduction of a new generation of low-cost, high-efficiency LED lamps, comparable in many ways to compact fluorescents. Lamps most common in households have outputs of about 900 lumens and color temperatures of about 2,700 K, similar to 60 W incandescents. Home Depot began to offer an 800-lumen LED lamp from Cree at about $10.00 each, competing with its Ecosmart 900-lumen compact fluorescent at about $1.50 each.

Better mousetrap: The compact fluorescent cited has a rated efficiency of about 64 lumens per watt and rated lifetime of 10,000 hours, while the LED lamp cited has a rated efficiency of about 84 lumens per watt and rated lifetime of 25,000 hours. Relatively high Massachusetts electricity rates lead to the recovery of the cost difference from electricity savings over about 4 years, when lamps are used about 3 hours a day. Savings will continue to build over a lifetime of about 25 years for the LED lamp.

Factoring in historical trends of Massachusetts electricity prices over the most recent 23 years, from federal data, a set of 9 LED lamps, equal in rated output to a set of 8 compact fluorescent lamps, would save about one dollar per year per LED lamp over 25 years of rated life at 1,000 hours per year–combining lamp and electricity costs and adjusting to present values by a 6 percent per year discount factor.

If favorable efficiencies and pricing can be maintained with high quality, replacement of compact fluorescent by LED lamps now looks likely. A remaining disadvantage of many current household LED lamps is unsatisfactory guarantees. Guarantees on compact fluorescents began at a year or less, but the one cited currently has a 9-year guarantee.

Growing pains: The LED lamp cited currently has a guarantee from the manufacturer of only 3 years–approximately its rated life when turned on all the time. Many early failures were reported on-line this spring–suggesting quality-control problems. It might be best to wait a year or two until issues with this generation of LED lamps are resolved and similarly efficient lamps are available from several manufacturers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, October 10, 2014


Energy Star compact fluorescent market profile, U.S. Department of Energy, 2010

Compact fluorescent lamp market effects, California Public Utilities Commission, 2009

L.J. Sandahl, et al., Compact fluorescent lighting in America, U.S. Department of Energy, 2006

New generation of compact fluorescent lamps, Environmental Building News, 1994

Ashok J. Gadgil and Arthur H. Rosenfeld, Conserving energy with compact fluorescent lamps, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, 1990

Eric A. Taub, Industry looks to LED bulbs for the home, New York Times, May 12, 2009

Solid-state lighting, U.S. Department of Energy, 2014

Craig Bolon, Full operating cost comparison: compact fluorescent versus LED lamps, October, 2014

Economic Development Advisory: skeptical about proposals

Two proposals for commercial development drew some skepticism from the Economic Development Advisory Board on Monday, October 6. An audience of over 30 gathered in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. Local business operator and real estate investor Raj Dhanda described the projects, each with its own set of architects and advisors.

Offices in Chestnut Hill: The more developed of the projects aims to place a four-story office building at 1180 Boylston, on the southeast corner where Hammond St. intersects Route 9. For many years, the site housed a large Exxon service station, now gone, diagonally opposite the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center. The proposed development would provide retail space on the first floor.

As described by Haril A. Pandya of CBT Architects, Boston, the structure would have about 36,000 sf of gross floor area for office space and 12,000 sf for retail space, with two levels of underground parking and around 50 spaces. Located on a plot of about 14,600 sf, that yields a floor area ratio of 3.3. For over 50 years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.0, general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.0.

Nearby commercial property is low-rise, mixed among a few older 3-decker houses. The proposed development would be far more dense. Brookline has only two types of zoning that could allow it: G-1.75(LSH), designed for the Marriott hotel site at 40 Webster St. in Coolidge Corner, and GMR-2.0, designed for the 2 Brookline Place site now under development by Children’s Hospital, near the intersection of Washington St. with Route 9. Economic Development Advisory was involved in both projects, whose planning and rezoning each took several years.

Unanswered questions: Board member Robert Sperber, who organized Economic Development Advisory over 20 years ago, asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, always the board’s prime concern. Astoundingly, Mr. Dhanda and his advisors said they had none. “It would be a lot,” one claimed. Board members asked about the prospective retail and office tenants and about traffic and environmental studies. Again, there were no clear answers. As to financial potential, Mr. Dhanda simply said, “It’s good.”

Board members Kenneth Lewis and Donald Warner questioned plans to site vehicle access on the heavily congested Hammond St. side. Mr. Lewis called the parking ratio “extreme,” only about one space per 1,000 sf. The offices might house more than 300 people but provide parking for fewer than 50. Mr. Panya of CBT said the area was “well served” by public transportation. MBTA bus 60, between Kenmore Sq. and Newton, stops about twice an hour on average. A station for the D branch of the Green Line is about four blocks away, with about 100 parking spaces. Pedestrian facilities are spartan. It is a suburban location, dominated by cars.

A 10-story hotel at Coolidge Corner: Mr. Dhanda next proposed to build a 10-story hotel at 1299 Beacon St., currently occupied by his lamp store, Neena’s. To the east is the one-story Brookline post office. To the west is the 1986, three-story Center Place office building, with Trader Joe’s on the ground floor. The proposed development would be self-contained, providing no retail, office or public spaces and no landscaping.

As described by Harold F. Wheeler of Group One Partners, architects in South Boston, the structure would house about 160 hotel rooms, 60 parking spaces on two underground levels, a lobby, a food service, meeting rooms, a small swimming pool and an exercise room. The plot has less than 60 ft of Beacon St. frontage, making the proposed building narrow, stretching over a current, small parking lot to Sewall Ave. in back.

Neighboring commercial buildings all have one, two or three stories. The 1924 Pelham Hall, across Beacon Street, has eight stories, and the wider area within several blocks has other residential buildings up to 13 stories. A crude outline of a looming, narrow tower suggested window walls facing east and west, looking up and down Beacon St. The proposed building was described as 140,000 sf gross floor area for hotel uses, plus parking.

Located on a plot of about 18,600 sf, the proposed hotel space yields a floor area ratio of 7.5. Numbers do not seem to be a strong suit for Mr. Dhanda and his advisers, who claimed that the floor area ratio would be about 6. For many years, the parcel has been zoned G-1.75(CC), general business with a maximum floor area ratio of 1.75. Developers of large lots in the zone who support community facilities are eligible for up to a 15 percent bonus in floor area, but the lot at 1299 Beacon St. is too small to qualify.

Brookline has no current type of zoning that would allow the proposed development. Window walls on the sides of a building in a G zone sound unwise and might not be allowed. Properties in those zones can be built to the lot lines. In the future, one or more of Mr. Dhanda’s commercial neighbors might also build to the lot lines, wiping out window views.

More unanswered questions: Dr. Sperber again asked for the projections of Brookline tax revenue from the development, including local taxes on hotel rooms. All Mr. Dhanda offered was that Brookline would receive more than the current property taxes of about $60,000 a year. Several members of the board and the audience questioned traffic plans. Mr. Wheeler said parking would operate with valet service, using large elevators. He did not address frequent, heavy congestion on Sewall Ave.

As with Mr. Dhanda’s other proposal, there had been no traffic or environmental study. Board member Donald Warner said that while economics for a hotel were likely to be strong, “the key is making the numbers work. That [10-story] height isn’t going to happen.” David-Marc Goldstein, a Precinct 8 town meeting member, recalled that the height and density allowed for Coolidge Corner commercial properties had been reduced. To carry out the proposal, he said, “you would have to change the zoning in town meeting, which you won’t have the votes for.”

Variances: Unlike developers of Brookline Place and of hotels on Webster St. and at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., Mr. Dhanda and his architects and advisors turned confrontational. Rather than negotiate and work cooperatively with Brookline on zoning, economics and environment, they said they planned to seek variances, under Chapter 40A of Massachusetts General Laws.

Variances can be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but requirements are difficult to satisfy, and they have become increasingly rare. Instead, Brookline has developed an extensive system of special permits in its zoning, through which additional building height and density can be approved when developers agree to provide specific public benefits. Mr. Dhanda did not seem familiar with town’s approach to planning and development.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 7, 2014


Zoning Bylaw, Town of Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Board of Selectmen: bicycles, warrant articles, neighborhood issues

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 30, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations, but the unusually busy meeting ran almost five hours. There were reviews and hearings for five of the 20 articles coming before the town meeting that starts November 18.

Announcements: This coming Sunday, October 5, the National Park Service is guiding a “Walk along the Emerald Necklace,” visiting sites of Brookline and Boston parks developed in the late 1800s by Brookline resident Frederick Olmsted, Sr. If interested, call 617-566-1689 ext 221. The Health Department provides flu clinics this season on October 28 and 29, November 9 and December 4 at the Senior Center, Baker and Devotion schools, and the Health Center.

Contracts and programs: Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.1 million for geotechnical analysis at Lawrence School, a $3.1 million project to add four classrooms. That is likely to be about a quarter of the contingency budget, although Mr. Guigli did not say. He said levels of contamination, mainly ash, proved low enough that most of the problem soil could be reused on-site.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got contract approval for the fifth major round of bicycle markings on Brookline streets, totaling $0.06 million. This round will install new markings on Cypress and School Sts. near Town Hall and replace or install markings along all of Beacon St. Mr. Ditto was not able to describe the standards that will govern the formats of these markings. In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, he said Brookline was not planning any fully separated bicycle lanes, sometimes called “cycle tracks.”

Joe Viola, the assistant director for community planning, got approval to extend the current contract with the state transportation department for a bicycle sharing program known as Hubway. About 60 percent of $0.11 million in state funding has been spent, mostly on equipment and installation. The program operator is apparently still losing money. The board approved a 3-year sponsorship agreement with New Balance of Boston to brand bicycles stationed in Brookline, in return for $0.03 million to support program expansion to more locations.

Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, got approval to accept three state and federal grants totaling $0.06 million. The smallest of them, $0.01 million for a program to combat underage drinking and drunk driving, started a long discussion that recalled public disturbances earlier this year–a topic revisited later in the evening, when the board heard a liquor license application for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St.

Personnel and diversity: Candidates for the Conservation Commission and Commission on Women appeared for interviews. The Board approved three Climate Action appointments: Precinct 15 town meeting member Michael Berger of Wolcott Rd., Crystal Johnson of Harvard Ave. and Precinct 11 town meeting member David Lescohier of Winchester St.

Several hirings were approved to replace former employees at the library and in the Public Works Department. Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office.

In an item not on the original agenda, the board questioned Sandra DeBow, director of the Human Resources Office, and Lloyd Gellineau, human relations and human services director, about efforts to increase diversity of the work force. Ms. DeBow said that, when posting job openings, her office had begun to employ a variety of social media popular among minority groups. Dr. Gellineau described what he called a “blueprint” for outreach. The two said they expected to report survey results next summer.

Warrant articles: During review of Article 2 for the fall town meeting, about collective bargaining agreements, Ms. DeBow announced a long-awaited, multi-year agreement with police officers. She and Mr. O’Leary said the agreement would replace police captains with deputy superintendents who will be non-union and exempt from civil service. That will evidently reduce the department’s roster of sworn officers. Mr. O’Leary said the new agreement will couple educational requirements with senior ranks. The board supported the agreement.

Although the board had announced hearings on warrant articles, only three members of the public spoke, fairly briefly–all town meeting members. The board’s review of Articles 4, 5 and 6, related to development of the former Cleveland Circle Cinema site, turned up no controversy. However, the board questioned Mr. O’Leary at length over Article 8, which he had submitted, seeking to revise Brookline’s bylaw on disorderly behavior.

The disorderly behavior law is an inheritance from colonial times. The version enacted in 1922 and effective until a change last year said, “No person shall behave in a rude, disorderly, insolent or insulting manner, or…shall use any indecent, profane, insolent or insulting language…in any public way” or near any dwelling. Civil liberties challenges to such laws began to accumulate in the 1960s. Mr. O’Leary has been trying to reconcile the law with court rulings. A key problem is distinguishing between free speech and abusive speech.

Mr. Goldstein, a lawyer, recalled the citation about “shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theater” that paraphrases an historic opinion of former Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in 1919, holding that speaking in opposition to the draft during World War I was not constitutionally protected. While memorable, it addresses few of the disturbances to which police are called.

Town meeting member Rita McNally of Precinct 2 objected to proposed deletion of provisions against threats and offensive language in public places. Town meeting member Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 noted that abuse of women and of older people included intimidation–not covered by either the current or the proposed law. Mr. O’Leary argued that under case law, police need a witness. “Our word is not good enough,” he said. Members of the board turned wary. They decided to continue the hearing and ask town counsel to advise them.

Licenses and permits: Most common victualler (restaurant), alcoholic beverage service and package-store licenses turned up little controversy. However, a proposed restaurant called Society of Grownups at 1653 Beacon St. drew sharp questions. That was the site of B&D Deli from 1927 to 2005 and then, for short times, of Jimmy’s Italian and Starbucks. Board member Betsy DeWitt noted that Society was a subsidiary of Mass Mutual. She asked about the relationship between a restaurant and a financial services organization.

Nondini Naqui, the manager for Society, accompanied by a lawyer for Mass Mutual, said the purpose of Society was “financial literacy and education” for young adults; food service was ancillary. Ms. DeWitt said she was concerned about potential for deception and asked “how much of Mass Mutual’s services” will be sold at the location. Douglas Moran, the chief financial officer of Mass Mutual, responded, “We won’t sell financial products at that location.” He said Mass Mutual “will not try to hide the relationship.” The board approved a restaurant license for Society.

Neighborhood issues: An application to replace a lapsed liquor service license for the American Legion and VFW post on Washington St. was clouded by controversies. According to neighbors, last spring saw problems with noise from events at the post and apparently drunken participants nearby. Board member Nancy Daly recalled “inebriated people outside the hall.” About 15 interested residents came to the hearing.

John Tynan, post commander and a former Brookline fire lieutenant, spoke for the post, saying there had been a “disconcerting” delay of nine months since submitting an application. “We’re trying to get this place up and running.” Ms. DeWitt noted that under the club type of application pending, service can only be provided to club members.

The post manager, Elmon Hendrickson, a Brookline resident, responded, “Every time we have an event, we apply for a one-day license.” The club license is intended for the post’s routine operation to serve members and not for events. Problems noted by neighbors had occurred during events. Mr. Hendrickson said the post has installed surveillance cameras and begun monitoring events.

A neighbor on School St. described “concerns with noise in front of the building.” She said, “We need a direct number to the manager…a schedule of events. We don’t want to call the police.” Another neighbor said there had been “problems with commercial exploitation…two disturbances in last six months: loud music, screaming, marijuana, urinating in public, cigarette butts.”

Ms. Daly noted that Mr. O’Leary, the chief of police, advised “that you do call the police, let them work on this for you.” Mr. Goldstein said the post “may need police details for events.” He said there also needed to be “standards for the size of events.” The neighbor who described disturbances asked the board to limit club license operations to 11 pm Fridays and Saturdays and 10 pm other nights. The board decided to hold the application for further investigation.

An application for a permit to store flammables at the Audi dealership on Boylston St, recently taken over by Herb Chambers, also brought controversies. Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., a Brookline-based lawyer, Precinct 16 town meeting member and former chair of the Board of Selectmen, represented the dealership. He said it had a permit issued in 1948, which it proposed to replace with a conventional, annually renewed permit.

As at the review last month of the dealership’s transfer of ownership, neighbors raised concerns. A resident of East Milton Rd. objected to the dealership’s using it, when hauling used motor oil, for about the past year and said that some employees have been parking on the private way. Another neighbor, who said he had lived on East Milton Rd. for 60 years, made similar objections.

For Marcus Quigley, chair of the Conservation Commission, who lives nearby on Walnut St., fire protection was a major issue. He said used motor oil was being stored close to neighboring properties and asked for a setback of 20 feet to reduce hazards. Responding to a question from Mr. Goldstein, he said he did not know whether used motor oil was a worse hazard than fuel oil.

Mr. Allen contended that “other properties have similar licenses without big controversies.” However, the need to hire a hazardous waste handler indicates used motor oil is not a benign substance. Board members considered whether to require conditions on a flammables permit but concluded they did not have enough information. They decided to continue the hearing to a future date.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, October 2, 2014

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, September 16, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Hancock Village Chapter 40B: Kenneth Goldstein, who chairs the board, announced that Brookline lost in its Norfolk Superior Court case opposing a Chapter 40B housing project proposed for Hancock Village. He did not say whether the board intends to pursue appeals. All board members said they continue to oppose the project. At this meeting, they endorsed and signed a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Under Chapter 40B, developers can obtain a “comprehensive permit” to build housing, in lieu of all other town permits, if one in five housing units is subsidized to benefit low-income and moderate-income residents, following state regulations. The Zoning Board of Appeals is the only local board directly involved in such a permit. Within about a month, it is expected to make a decision on the Hancock Village proposal.

Hancock Village is situated in the southernmost corner of Brookline, toward West Roxbury. It was one of three Brookline projects organized after World War II to provide housing for war veterans, along with public housing on High St., toward Jamaica Plain, and on Egmont St., toward Allston. A 1946 contract between John Hancock Insurance Company, the developer, and Brookline specified objectives and restrictions for Hancock Village.

Now the Board of Selectmen is concerned that Chestnut Hill Realty, holder in due course, is seeking to nullify obligations under the 1946 contract in proposing to put up a five- to seven-story building with 140 apartments and nine three-story buildings with 44 apartments. Its letter to the Board of Appeals cites several objections, including invasion of protected green space, massing of the large building, sprawling parking lots and traffic.

Projects, hirings and interviews: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval to seek reimbursement for $0.019 million in road repairs, under the state’s “rapid recovery” program. Brookline is now eligible for up to about $0.1 million. Michael DiPietro, the comptroller, got approval to hire an accountant to replace an employee who has left.

The board interviewed a candidate for Economic Development Advisory and a candidate for Solid Waste Advisory. Questions during the latter interview revealed that Brookline does not know what is happening to recycling collections after they leave town premises and does not know how much solid waste is being incinerated. A new contract, under development, may divert solid waste to a landfill in Southbridge.

Tax override: Starting at 8 pm, the Board heard a report from Susan Ditkoff and Richard Benka, co-chairs of the Override Study Committee appointed last year. They mostly repeated information from a written report of August 14. As in that report, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka took an exceptionalist approach. They did not compare Brookline with the 350 other Massachusetts cities and towns.

Surprisingly, Mr. Benka devoted much of his time to the METCO and the “materials fee” programs run by Public Schools of Brookline. For more than 40 years, they have allowed minority students from Boston and children of town employees to attend Brookline schools. Together, he claimed, they cost Brookline about $7 million a year. If they were abolished, his figures suggested, there would be little need for a tax override to maintain school operations.

Mr. Benka presented no evidence to sustain his cost claims, and he may not have any. To the contrary, Public Schools of Brookline says students in these programs do not get their choices of schools but are instead assigned to schools where there are available seats. Operating in that way, the programs do not add significant costs. It came out that there are currently about 800 more available seats, mostly from observing policies on maximum class sizes. Board members were skeptical of Mr. Benka’s claims about METCO and “materials fees.” According to Betsy DeWitt, they “need a pragmatic filter.”

In discussions about a tax override for debt exclusion, Ms. Ditkoff and Mr. Benka said that the proposed project to expand Devotion School was expected to add only five classrooms. That project is currently budgeted for over $100 million. In contrast, construction underway at Lawrence School will add four classrooms for less than $5 million. It sounded as though the Override Study Committee had entertained some strange priorities for economies.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 17, 2014

Ebola: health-care crisis in west Africa

Ebola is a viral hemorrhagic fever, with sudden onset, high fever, prostration and often severe internal and membrane bleeding. It was confused with yellow fever for many years and later with Lassa fever. Ebola was distinguished from related diseases by severity, sudden onset and high mortality–reaching 90 percent in some outbreaks. Victims die after an average of about a week. Those who survive two weeks are likely to recover.

Working in 1976 at the Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium, Peter Piot, Rene Delgadillo and Guido van der Groen cultured the virus from samples brought from Zaire and obtained electron photomicrographs. The shape and size appeared different from other viruses known at the time.

Antibody tests developed in the 1970s provided the first biochemical diagnosis. Shortly afterward, molecular biology made it possible to distinguish viruses reliably, using genetic tags and sequences. Ebola and related viruses persist in wild animals–some capable of infecting people and others not–including bats, rats, monkeys and primates. These RNA viruses mutate rapidly. About 400 distinct Ebola mutations are now known.

New viral strain: The recent west African outbreaks of Ebola have been attributed to a new strain. As of mid-September, 2014, full gene sequences have been obtained for over 100 samples. Deep sequencing, up to 2,000 sequences per sample, showed that an infection is often a mosaic of multiple sub-strains. Adaptation to evade treatments has already been documented.

In Guinea, the first positively identified case from the recent outbreak occurred in December, 2013. By mid-April, 2014, about 200 cases and 120 deaths were known. The outbreak soon spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone and has rapidly grown worse. As of mid-September, about 5,000 cases and 2,500 deaths had been reported in the three countries combined. The worst prior outbreaks have been in Zaire–1976, 318 cases and 280 deaths–and in Uganda–2000, 425 cases and 224 deaths.

Data provided September 12 by the Columbia Predictions of Infectious Diseases for July and August showed a doubling time for mortality of about five weeks. If that rate were maintained, in a year the death count would grow to about 2-1/2 million. In another year, the entire human population of tropical Africa would be gone.

Very large outbreak: The number of Ebola cases reported in west Africa so far is more than ten times the number from any previous outbreak. The types of resources that halted previous outbreaks have been exhausted, so that large numbers of victims are not being isolated from the population and get no care.

Writing in the Washington Post, Lena Sun reported that so far this year the United States has contributed $100 million to efforts. The Obama administration has sent requests to Congress, she wrote, for about $650 million more. These amounts are comparable to $600 million in emergency aid requested by the World Health Organization.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 15, 2014


Stefaan R. Pattyn, Ed., Ebola virus haemorrhagic fever, Leopold Institute of Tropical Medicine (Antwerp, Belgium), 1977

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Devotion School: Option 0, a plan for a community

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium. There was little enthusiasm for any of the three design options that the architects showed, and there was outrage from some quarters.

Options 1-2-3: Option 1 enlarges current building outlines, replacing the north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St. taking over a quadrant of the field in back of the school and making it impossible to maintain a baseball diamond.

Option 2 demolishes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to Option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building, taking over almost the entire school field in back.

Those three options are all unsatisfactory. Options 2 and 3 make hardly any sense, costing large sums of money to get only a little new educational value, while destroying open space. Option 1 is now misconfigured, failing to make productive use of existing buildings and failing to conserve key outdoor spaces. We can do better.

DevotionSchoolWithThreeAdditions

Option 0: The survey of existing conditions indicates that the current south wing, opened in 1955, and the current north wing, opened in 1976, are reasonable candidates for renovation. All segments of the community are vehement about conserving outdoor spaces, currently outlined by those buildings.

An obvious way to expand classroom space, conserve outdoor space and get effective reuse is to renovate and extend rather than to demolish and replace buildings. That is what we are doing now at Lawrence School and what has been planned at Driscoll School.

Option 0” has zero impact on key outdoor areas, full provision for new classroom space and effective reuse of building space. It is clearly possible to add around 37,000 square feet of gross floor area, more than the current design goal for capacity expansion.

Option 0” would renovate all current buildings and (1) extend the ground, first and second floors of the north wing west over the front plaza, (2) extend the first and second floors of the north wing east over the rear walk and (3) extend the first and second floors of the south wing east over the rear blacktop area.

Addition (1) 21,000 sf
Addition (2)  4,000 sf
Addition (3) 12,000 sf
————————————
Total added 37,000 sf

There need be no intrusions into fields in back of the school or into playground and community green spaces in front of the school. The Devotion House and the fronts of the altered north and south wings of Devotion School would all be set back around 80 ft from the Harvard St. sidewalk, maintaining the streetscape.

The best alternative at this point is to take Option 1, as advertised, and adjust it during “schematic design” by renovating and extending rather than demolishing and replacing the north and south wings of the school.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 14, 2014


Option 0, Devotion School with three additions (aerial photo), September 14, 2014

Options 1-2-3, Devotion School Building Committee (drawings), September 10, 2014

Survey of existing conditions, Devotion School Preliminary Design Program, Vol. 1 (12 MB), March, 2014, see pp. 112-128

Devotion School Building Committee: designs and controversies

On Wednesday, September 10, the Devotion School Building Committee presented options to renovate and expand the school at a public hearing held in the Devotion School auditorium, starting at 7 pm. At least 12 of the 20 committee members were present. The audience numbered around 150 and included four of the five members of the Board of Selectmen and several School Committee members.

Town bylaws require building committees for construction, alteration or repair projects going beyond routine maintenance. The state’s School Building Authority (SBA) also requires such a committee to include specified school and municipal officials. The Board of Selectmen assembled the largest building committee ever, including representatives of Devotion School parents, preservationists and the business community.

Background: After the Devotion School project appeared for at least ten years in Brookline’s capital improvement program, active planning began in the summer of 2012, with appointment of the committee. Devotion School was last renovated between 1974 and 1976, when the current north wing along Stedman St. replaced a handsome but dilapidated building opened in 1899.

Local architect Robert Kaplan moved the north wing eastward from the 1899 site, away from Harvard St., opening up community space and providing a more respectful setting for the Edward Devotion House. The house was begun around 1680, when the then-unincorporated town was known as the Muddy River hamlet of Boston. It was built out to its current form around 1745. The town bought the property in 1891 for school uses.

When the current school opened in 1976, it was rated for 650 students, although during the 1950s the student population had reached around 900. In a conservative interpretation of “open schools,” then in vogue, Mr. Kaplan provided flexible partitions in the 1976 north wing and generous spaces for woodworking, home economics, music, art, science, assembly, library and community uses. A stately auditorium in the central building, opened in 1915, was divided into a large library below and a low-rise auditorium above.

The woodworking and home economics programs were disbanded in the 1980s, as Brookline reacted to Proposition 2-1/2 with many cutbacks in both municipal and school services. With Devotion’s student population increasing steadily since about 2005, the School Department used the north wing’s flexible partitions to create more classrooms, then added sub-partitions and cubicles.

The former community room, special program rooms, open areas and almost every other usable indoor space have now been taken for classrooms. This fall’s student count is about 815. The 2012 fall town meeting appropriated $1.75 million for a feasibility study and preliminary plans. Brookline hired HMFH Architects of Cambridge for the work. In 2013, the SBA authorized expansion of school capacity to 1,010 students.

Plan options: The main design options are explained in a document from HMFH, available for several weeks on Brookline’s municipal Web site. At the public hearing, committee chair Betsy DeWitt, a member of the Board of Selectmen, summarized the background of the project, some of the objectives and the ongoing process. Objectives, she said, are “driven by educational programs…grade clustering, access to common space.”

Guiding criteria that Ms. DeWitt showed on a projection screen include preserving the central building opened in 1915 and the historic Edward Devotion House. These and the other exhibits are supposed to be available from the municipal Web site but were not found the following morning. Ms. DeWitt described a schedule.

The committee plans to meet September 26 and designate a preference for one of three options, to be sent to the SBA by October 2. Review by the SBA is expected at a November 15 meeting. If favorable, Brookline will prepare preliminary plans, aiming for SBA approval in March of 2015. Ms. DeWitt said members of the Board of Selectmen expect to propose a tax override next January, to be submitted to voters the following May.

George Metzger from HMFH. assisted by Deborah Collins and Andrea Yoder, presented the three design options now before the committee. Option 1 retains the site layout, replacing the current north and south wings with larger structures of the same heights. A new north wing would extend about 100 feet eastward down Stedman St., compared with the current one. A new south wing would be wider, shrinking the outdoor area near Babcock St.

Option 2 removes the current north and south wings and builds a large structure behind but connected to the current central building, three stories toward Babcock St. and four stories toward Stedman St. Option 3 is similar to option 2, but the new building becomes five stories toward Stedman St. It moves back and disconnects from the central building–no longer to be part of the school–taking up most of the current field area. With any option, current underground parking would increase from about 45 to about 65 spaces.

Ken Liss, for the Brookline Historical Society, and Sara Patton, for the National Park Service, described the historical significance of the Devotion School site. Mr. Liss said it had become the community’s unofficial “town green.” He named other historical buildings demolished from the 1940s through the 1960s, saying that the town now “values its past by building for the future.”

Sara Patton, lead park ranger at the Kennedy birthplace site less than two blocks away, recalled that four of the Kennedy family began their educations at Devotion School, including former President John F. Kennedy, shortly after the central building opened in 1915. She said the National Park Service coordinates educational programs every year at Devotion School, focused on the neighborhood history.

Questions and comments: When Ms. DeWitt invited questions and comments, an audience member asked to see the options superimposed, but HMFH architects had not thought to compare their designs graphically and could not respond. Some in the audience appeared to dismiss options 2 and 3, focusing on option 1. They wanted to know how much of the field area in back of the school would be taken. Again, HMFH architects were unprepared.

George White, a Precinct 9 town meeting member, asked about enclosing open spaces in front of the school along Harvard St, as done now with the south portions. He said it “could be like the Public Garden” in Boston. Once more, there was no clear response from the architects. Mr. Metzger was straightforward, however, about going above five stories, saying that would “make it impossible to meet the educational plan.”

Devotion School is just 2-1/2 blocks from the Coolidge Corner transit station, a candidate for the selectmen’s recently announced town-wide transportation demand management. William Lupini, the superintendent of schools, did not seem to think it applied to his department. “Teachers need to park. They don’t always come from places with public transportation.” It sounded as though the fifth and sixth floors at Town Hall aren’t connected.

Toward the end of the hearing, parents of Devotion students began to speak up. Some were angry over the guidelines’ emphasis on maintaining historical structures. In particular, they seemed to see the 1915 central building as an obstacle. Mr. White sounded irritated, saying, “There are some people who don’t think we knock everything down in Brookline and build a Howard Johnson’s.”

Ms. DeWitt reminded the audience that a tax override was going to be needed. Many voters who have no children in the schools will have to support it, in order to win approval. A narrow focus on school needs alone won’t help. “It is the most expensive project the town has considered,” she said. “I will campaign for it very hard, and everybody here should be prepared to do the same.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 11, 2014