Category Archives: Environment

environmental issues

Board of Selectmen: anti-discrimination law, auto dealer transfer

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 26, started at 5:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Board member Betsy DeWitt was in contact by telephone. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Alex Coleman, a member of the Human Relations Commission, supported an article for the fall town meeting in November, from town counsel. It follows a resolution Dr. Coleman proposed as Article 31 at this year’s annual town meeting, affirming support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity or gender expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.

When town meeting approved Article 31, it added an amendment proposed by the Advisory Committee and endorsed by the Board of Selectmen, asking Brookline’s legal staff to review the town’s bylaws and propose changes at the next town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of the resolution. That is what the new article is intended to do. Several parts of town bylaws would change, adding “gender identity and gender expression” to categories of prohibited discrimination.

The new article is being proposed to town meeting by the Board of Selectmen. Chair Kenneth Goldstein asked Dr. Coleman if he and other petitioners for the previous article wanted to join as co-sponsors of the new one; they do. Dr. Coleman explained that addressing discrimination in public accommodations will be particularly helpful, because of gaps in state and federal anti-discrimination laws. The article will be filed by joint sponsors.

Audi of Brookline, at 308 Boylston St., is the town’s last remaining dealer in new automobiles, after departure or closure–over the past forty years–of former Cadillac, Ford, Buick, Oldsmobile, AMC/Jeep, Volvo, Saab and Volkswagen operations on Commonwealth Ave., Beacon St., Harvard St., Boylston St. and Hammond St. The Audi dealership was recently bought by the Herb Chambers company, which applied for transfer of a license to sell used vehicles at the site.

Boston’s and Brookline’s former automobile row on Commonwealth Ave., starting at the B.U. Bridge and proceeding west, is entirely gone. From about 1910 through 1990, most U.S. and major foreign automobiles could be found along both sides of this three-quarter mile of street. The only reminders now are Herb Chambers operations up Brighton Ave. and past the bend at Packard Corner on Commonwealth Ave.–selling and servicing over 30 makes.

The Herb Chambers company 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, by Brad Gomes and Steve O’Neill, general managers for Herb Chambers, and by Antonio Bruno, designated manager of the Audi division in Brookline.

The board questioned Capt. Michael Gropman of the Brookline Police Department about incidents on Lawton St., involving vehicles connected with the nearby Herb Chambers operations, parked on the street and dropped off at night by tow trucks. After Brookline police intervened about six months ago, Capt. Gropman said, Herb Chambers managers stopped those problems, and apparently they have not recurred.

Problems have also been reported in the past on East Milton Rd., a short street off Cypress St. that ends at the back of the Brookline Audi property fronting on Boylston St. One resident of the street spoke about recent pickup and dropoff of materials via East Milton Rd. and about continuing use of the street by vehicles being repaired. There is something going on making lots of noise and fumes, he said, maybe work on wheels.

Mr. O’Neill of the Herb Chambers company said the work was wheel refinishing, done within company premises by a contractor who uses state-approved equipment. The neighborhood resident said the Brookline Health Department had found the operation lacked proper filters, allowing fumes to escape. Mr. O’Neill denied that there had been a citation. He also said a vendor comes by about every two weeks to pick up waste motor oil at the East Milton Rd. access, because an oil storage tank had recently been moved there during a renovation.

According to statements, car dealerships have operated at the site since the 1930s. There are many departures from current zoning, but they can continue as long as they are not worsened. Mr. Allen said that under Herb Chambers management there would be no expansions of uses and buildings. He said an “Audi image program will force beautifying the premises.” The board approved the license transfer, subject to several health and safety conditions, including all the current conditions.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 29, 2014

Brookline Place project: convening a design advisory team

Under Brookline’s “design review” zoning begun in 1971–amended several times since–reviews by a design advisory team are required for “major impact” projects, involving 16 or more new residential units or 25,000 square feet or more of new non-residential space. A team consists of one or more Planning Board members, one or more design professionals and one or more neighborhood representatives.

From committee to team: The Planning Board has yet to appoint a design advisory team for Brookline Place, and there has been no public notice about appointing a team, as required in the zoning bylaw. However, a 12-member Brookline Place Advisory Committee was appointed by the Board of Selectmen in October, 2013. The committee submitted Article 15 to the 2014 annual town meeting, proposing zoning changes to support the now ongoing Brookline Place project. Those changes passed by 170 to 9, in an electronically recorded vote on June 2.

Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning, attended the August 26 meeting along with seven members of the selectmen’s committee: Mark Zarrillo and Linda Hamlin, chair and member of the Planning Board, Cynthia Gunadi and Steve Lacker, architects, John Bassett and Edith Brickman, nearby town meeting members, and Arlene Mattison, an environmental advocate who lives about three blocks from the site.

They were joined by Antonia Bellalta of Bellalta3, landscape designers currently on contract with the town for redesign of Hickey Triangle in the heart of Brookline Village. Ms. Bellalta had been named in an August 26 memorandum from Ms. Selkoe to the Planning Board as a candidate for the Brookline Place team.

Mr. Lacker asked, “What is [the design review team] charged with? Ms. Selkoe said it should “report to the Planning Board” on issues found–not including traffic–and “give the board updates as it goes along.” She said there will also be meetings of department heads, unannounced and closed to the public. If a quarter of the design advisory team consists of Planning Board members, the board should get plenty of ongoing information from the team.

Concept plans: Children’s Hospital, the owner and developer, was represented by Charles Weinstein, their architect Elkus Manfredi by Sam Norod and Tim Talun, and their landscape designer Mikyoung Kim by Bill Madden. The Children’s design team also includes civil engineers at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, traffic engineers at Howard/Stein-Hudson and environmental consultants at Sanborn Head. George Cole, a Children’s consultant, coordinated presentations.

An agenda for the August 26 meeting had not been announced to the public, despite Massachusetts open meeting requirements that a meeting notice describe topics. The business consisted of presentations by the Children’s Hospital design team and of committee discussions about concepts: designing building outlines, relating buildings to contexts, organizing open spaces and considering potentials for public, outdoor uses.

The selectmen’s committee had presented a detailed report to town meeting, tailoring zoning around fairly concrete plans for new offices and a new parking garage, so there were not likely to be surprises. The Children’s Hospital design team presented concept plans similar to what the selectmen’s committee reported. However, a sketch exhibited last spring showed new offices in an 8-story rectangular tower.

Elements of the design: At the August 26 meeting, representatives of Children’s distributed copies of concept plans for two new office buildings and a new garage, adding 325 more parking spaces. One of the new buildings was shown sited near the corner of Washington and Pearl Sts., eight stories as expected. The other was shown expanding existing 6-story offices toward the southwest. Both have curved outer walls, together forming a trumpet bell onto Washington St.

View of Brookline Place development looking northwest

A small, landscaped interior plaza, linked by wide walkways to Washington St. on one side and to Pearl St. on the other, opposite the Green Line stop, looks smaller in a perspective rendering than one might have expected. The addition to the existing office buildings seems to crowd the plaza and to create a canyon into the project from Washington St., almost entirely hiding views across the site that might include Station St.

Previous drawings the selectmen’s committee used to illustrate their proposals had suggested there could be a larger interior plaza and less constricted views across the site. A local comparison of sorts–Winchester St. approaching Beacon St.–shows a similar canyon effect, running to the 13-story tower at 1371 Beacon. That was unanticipated by nearby neighborhoods when the tower was allowed, replacing a church under former, much higher density zoning for the Coolidge Corner area.

Design issues: As he had promised, Mr. Cole kept presentations brief, but closer to twenty than to five minutes. Everything mentioned appeared to be contained in a 73-page document he circulated, which becomes a part of the public record. Right away, Mr. Zarrillo, the Planning Board chair, called for “a list of amenities that were to going be provided,” as negotiated with the selectmen’s committee.

About the amenities, Mr. Cole said, “We have not done that yet.” Mr. Zarrillo responded, “I would say that you should do that.” There was a bit of discussion about how the project might integrate with the long planned, so-called “Gateway East” project along Route 9, between the Riverway and the old Brookline Bank. No one knew when any action could be expected from the state’s transportation department, the key agency.

Ms. Brickman complained, “I don’t see any grass. Where’s the grass?” Mr. Cole and Mr. Madden, the landscape designer, ruffled through their cache of computerized slides and came up with a couple showing patches of green. However, those looked hardly sufficient to meet what the zoning changes passed by town meeting in June require, “Hard-surfaced walks and plazas may not exceed 55 percent of the total…open space.”

Landscaped versus paved space took up a good fraction of time at the meeting. Ms. Mattison said “it was really important to protect the triangle of green. The thing that saved Brook House was green around it.” Committee members proved resistant to mere decorations suggesting the project was somehow related to nearby Brookline Village. Ms. Bellalta said, “The development should have its own character.”

A suburban design: Some committee members seemed absorbed in discussions about amounts and locations of landscaped space, but not Mr. Zarrillo. He said that the project “needs a better design. It’s pretty pedestrian…one of those California outdoor malls.” Mr. Lacker seemed to agree, saying, “There’s something that feels corporate suburban right now.”

Mr. Lacker said he “would like to see something where there wasn’t a glass…curvy appearance…What’s urban in this context is really important.” Mr. Bassett sounded skeptical, “You’re suggesting pavement instead of grass in the plaza?” Apparently, not quite. Mr. Lacker said he “never liked Gateway East,” mainly a highway project with a touch of landscaping.

Mr. Bassett wanted to “take advantage of the old buildings on Station St.” At one point, Mr. Cole asked, rhetorically, “How do you make this feel like part of Brookline Village?” It sounded “all hat and no cattle.” None of the views in Mr. Cole’s document showed Station St. in the background, looking outward. Instead, they looked into the project from Washington St. or looked west along Route 9 or looked toward and away from the Brook House.

The group plans to meet about every two weeks, apparently on Tuesdays–the most crowded day of the week for meetings, including the Board of Selectmen and School Committee. The next meeting was tentatively set for 7:30 pm Tuesday, September 16, at Town Hall.

–Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 27, 2014

Board of Selectmen: celebrations, personnel, programs, licenses

A triweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 12, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. Meetings of the board have slipped from weekly to biweekly to triweekly during high summer.

Announcements: There will be no meeting Tuesday, August 19, or probably Tuesday, August 26. The latter might be scheduled if needed. Notices appear on the Calendar page of Brookline’s municipal Web site. There would be a notice by close of business Friday, August 22.

Weekly meetings of the Board of Selectmen resume Tuesday, September 2. A fall, 2014, town meeting is scheduled to begin Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm in the High School Auditorium. The warrant opened Thursday, August 7, and it closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Board member Neil Wishinsky will be Brookline’s representative to the Logan Airport Community Advisory Committee. The board appointed a building committee for renovations and improvements to fire stations 5 on Babcock St. and 6 on Hammond St.: board member Ben Franco, Building Commissioners Janet Fierman, George Cole and Ken Kaplan, Fire Chief Paul Ford and Deputy Chiefs Robert Ward and Mark Jefferson.

Board member Betsy DeWitt announced a neighborhood meeting scheduled for Wednesday, August 20, in the Harrison St., Kent St., Aspinwall Ave. and Kent Sq. area about a proposed 400-seat pavilion for Parson’s field. If interested, call the Brookline Planning Department for information, 617-730-2130.

Ken Goldstein, the chair, responded to a Boston Globe story saying that Kevin Fisher, the applicant for a medical marijuana dispensary in the Brookline Bank building at the corner of Washington and Boylston Sts., had falsely claimed on a state permit application to be a graduate of Youngstown State University in Ohio. Mr. Goldstein read a statement and said Brookline would conduct a thorough review of the local applications.

Celebrations and donations: The board celebrated the hundredth birthdays of Brookline resident Ethel Weiss of Harvard St. and former Brookline resident Roslyn London. Apparently the board did not know that Mrs. London had died just a day earlier.

Ethel Weiss has operated Irving’s Toy and Card Shop since 1938. She continues to tend the shop every weekday. She came to the meeting with Nancy Heller, one of her Precinct 8 town meeting members. Ms. Weiss thanked the board for good wishes. She said, “I’ve always found the people in this town to be helpful and kind.”

Ruthann Dobek, director of the Senior Center, said the number of centarians in Brookline is growing. In 2002 there were 26, she said, but the number is “now much larger.” The board accepted a donation of $500 from HC Studio of Station St. to support the Brookline Commission for the Arts.

Stephen Cirillo, the finance director, proposed a use for the Penny Savings Fund, created in 1948 by a former school principal and recently holding around $7,000, but inactive for many years. The purpose of the fund, he said, was to help poor people. Mr. Cirillo said he learned the background from former assistant treasurer and current Precinct 4 town meeting member John Mulhane. He proposed the fund be closed out and its proceeds donated to the safety net fund maintained by the Brookline Community Foundation, for similar purposes. The board agreed.

Personnel: Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, won approval to promote Michael Raskin to sergeant. Mr. Raskin joined the force in 1986, he said, and was formerly a sergeant in the patrol division. He lost the rank when he left in 2009 to join the National Emergency Management Association. He returned after about a year and a half to join the detective division, where he will now serve as a sergeant.

Anne Reed, the assistant library director for administration, got hiring approval to replace a reference librarian who recently died. Mr. Goldstein revived his typical request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates,” saying the library should “work with town personnel staff” on diversity. Mr. Cirillo received hiring approval to replace an office assistant who had taken a position in another town office. Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, got approval to hire a replacement for a recreation teacher who left for a job elsewhere.

Programs and contracts: Ms. Dobek and Gary McCabe, Brookline’s chief assessor, asked to raise the income limit on Brookline’s tax relief program for older property owners from $40.0 to $47.5 thousand. Participants can get up to $1,000 per year in tax reductions in return for up to 125 hours per year of work in town offices. The board agreed. A new program, funded by a $5,000 grant from Hamilton Realty, is to offer similar temporary employment to older residents who rent. The board approved.

Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, received final authorization to process agreements for this year’s federal Community Development Block Grant, the federal FY2014 and the local FY2015 program. Brookline receives about $1.3 million as a legacy from the activities of the former Brookline Redevelopment Authority between 1958 and 1985.

Using block grant funds, the board also approved agreements for $0.05 million in Senior Center and $0.35 million in Housing Authority programs. The biggest elements in those are the Elder Taxi program and health and safety projects for public housing. Owing to sharp cutbacks in federal housing support, Brookline’s federal block grant has become a mainstay of Housing Authority maintenance.

The largest of several contracts up for review was $3.11 million with GVW of East Boston, to add classrooms at Lawrence School. The board approved the contract. According to the attorney general’s office, in 2009 George V. Wattendorf, the owner of GVW, was sentenced to fines, restitutions and probation for violating prevailing wage laws during school and public safety projects in Haverhill, Reading, Lunenberg, Lynn, Amesbury and Natick. GVW was barred for one year from working on public construction in the state.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase contracts with Touloukian of Boston and Edith Netter of Waltham related to reviews of the proposed Hancock Village 40B housing development. Little of what Ms. Netter did is on the public record, but so far it cost about $40,000. Ms. Steinfeld said it was “helpful,” and the board approved a request for $26,000 from the Reserve Fund, sent to the Advisory Committee. A budget showed $0.25 million allocated for outside services so far, with $0.026 million reimbursed by the developer.

Chief O’Leary received approval to accept a state grant of $0.02 million for computer storage upgrades. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, got approval of $0.14 million for contract road repairs and for $0.12 million in reimbursement requests to the state. Anthony Guigli, a building project administrator, got approval for $0.013 million to correct concealed drainage defects as part of the Town Hall garage renovation. The board approved an agreement with Patrick Farmer, a Shady Hill School teacher and Meredith Ruhl, a Simmons instructor, to occupy the historic Widow Harris house on Newton St. in return for rent, housekeeping and educational programs.

With little comment and no apparent consultation with the Climate Action Committee, the board approved agreements with Cadmus Group of Waltham and BlueWave Capital of Boston, related to potential solar electricity projects. Those firms had been promoted to Brookline town departments by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, which previously promoted the now-shuttered Broadway Electric solar division. Luckily, Brookline did not try to do business with Broadway.

Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, proposed warrant articles for the fall town meeting to discontinue easements for long unused sewer connections that run through the site. The board voted to file one of these. As at a program review in July, Ms. Gilbert apparently sent documents late the same day, and copies of the article in the form being filed were not distributed to the public at the meeting.

Appointments: The board interviewed Anthony Schlaff for reappointment to the Advisory Council on Public Health. Responding to a question from board member Ben Franco, Dr. Schlaff said substance abuse remains a significant problem in Brookline and a concern of the council.

Nancy O’Connor, vice chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, was also interviewed for reappointment. She started saying by she didn’t “have anything exciting to talk about,” but the board became engaged. Ms. DeWitt asked about the recent design for the Ward Playground on Brook St. Ms. O’Connor described it as a “creative use of a very small space,” where the commission had to “hold back” on what to install. Mr. Wishinsky complimented the commission on “spectacular success” with the recently renovated Clark Playground on Cypress St. Ms. O’Connor said a key ingredient was balance, “It’s a dance.”

Permits and licenses: Haim Cohen applied for a common victualler (restaurant) license to open The Place Next Door on Harvard St. His family has run Rami’s, where he works now, for over 24 years, and the vacant, former Beauty Supply is what they called the place next door. He said he plans a kosher dairy restaurant–a rare bird outside New York City–where the menu is vegetarian. Mysteriously, he said it will be “glatt kosher.” As far as we’ve heard, ordinary vegetables don’t have glands. The project will take new construction and equipment. The board approved.

Rafael Pieretti of Newton applied for license transfers to operate Olea Cafe on Washington St. He plans modern Italian fare, with several varieties of bruschetta, panini and pasta plus wines and beers. There will be quite a bit of renovation. The board was skeptical that the proposed liquor manager had no previous experience, but she described the training she had taken and readily answered questions about procedures. The board approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 13, 2014

Board of Selectmen: vacation, town meeting, personnel, contracts, licenses and trash metering

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 22, started at 6:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: There will be no meetings of the Board of Selectmen Tuesday, July 29, or Tuesday, August 5. The next meeting scheduled is Tuesday, August 12, but that might be cancelled. Weekly meetings resume Tuesday, September 2.

A fall, 2014, town meeting is scheduled to begin Tuesday, November 18, at 7 pm in the High School auditorium. The warrant for the fall town meeting opens at the start of business Thursday, August 7, and closes at noon Thursday, September 4.

Town meeting articles require signatures of ten registered Brookline voters and must be submitted with written explanations, for the explanations to be published in the warrant report. Originals of articles with signatures are to be filed and time-stamped at the office of the Board of Selectmen, from which they will be forwarded to the town clerk to check signatures. Hearings on articles will be held by the Board of Selectmen, by subcommittees of the Advisory Committee and potentially by other town organizations.

Public comment: During the public comment period, Ernest Frey, a Precinct 7 town meeting member and a Human Relations commissioner, asked the board to appoint members to that commission, replacing ones who have resigned, so it can assemble a quorum for meetings. He sought an expedited process for current commissioners to join a new Diversity Commission that is expected to replace the Human Relations Commission in the fall. He asked Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, when telling department heads to seek a “diverse pool of candidates” for new hires, also to say they should consult the human relations and human services administrator about practices to promote diversity.

The new commission will be set up when approval is received from the attorney general for actions of the 2014 annual town meeting. Neither Town Administrator Mel Kleckner nor any member of the board seemed to know that a letter from the attorney general, on file with the town clerk, says reviews will be completed September 28. Board member Nancy Daly observed that nine commissioners had been interviewed this year, and they might not need another interview. Current commissioners who want to join the new commission should indicate interest, she said, by filing the usual applications to join a board, commission or committee.

Personnel: The board interviewed Sara Slymon, recently hired as library director to replace Charles Flaherty. Ms. Slymon described a background of innovation but also said, “Our bread and butter is still books.” Asked about potential future projects, she declined to speculate. Over the past 25 years, Ms. Slymon has held ten positions in library services for durations of one to four years, most recently as library director in Randolph.

Paul Ford, the fire chief, got approval to hire for four vacant firefighter positions. Andrew Pappastergion, the public works director, got approval to hire another assistant engineer, in addition to one authorized June 24, because of a resignation. Mr. Goldstein omitted what had become his usual request to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.” Despite Mr. Frey’s plea, he said nothing on consulting the human relations and human services administrator about practices to promote diversity.

Contracts: Jennifer Gilbert, former town counsel and a special counsel for Cleveland Circle Cinema redevelopment, presented an amendment to Brookline’s agreement with First General Realty, the proposed developer. Copies were not supplied to the public in information packets distributed at board meetings but are supposed to be available later. Ms. Gilbert said First General needs a utility easement, expected to be sought at the fall, 2014, town meeting. The project will be described in a forthcoming Beacon article.

Mr. Ford, the fire chief, won approval to accept a federal grant of about $0.10 million to train staff as fire instructors. Once certified, they will train other staff of Brookline’s department in advanced techniques and may train staff from other communities. Brookline will have to come up with about $0.01 million in matching funds. Mr. Ford said he expects to find that within his department’s current budget.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval to increase a contract with Beta Group of Norwood to review traffic and stormwater plans for a proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village. Costs are being reimbursed by the developer.

Mr. Pappastergion, the public works director, got approval for a series of contract changes to complete the long-running sewer-separation project on lower Beacon St, between St. Mary’s St. and Pleasant St. Most costs of the $25 million project are being reimbursed by the state Water Resources Authority. However, about $0.1 million of ineligible costs was incurred because of failure to observe MWRA limits for engineering services. Mr. Pappastergion said he expects to cover those costs within his department’s current budget.

Erin Gallentine, director of parks and open space, got approval to reduce by about $0.06 million a contract with Quirk Construction of Georgetown to reconstruct Waldstein Playground, off Dean Rd. Town staff will do more of the project, including fencing, and it may take longer than planned to finish. Peter Ditto, director of engineering, got approval for an increase of about $0.01 million in a contract to repair the 55-year-old floor at Brookline’s transfer station. He said the original survey missed areas covered by refuse during the winter.

Ms. Gallentine also got approval for a contract with Touloukian & Touloukian of Boston, about $0.02 million to develop specifications to renovate doors and windows of the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse. So far, the town has allocated $0.58 million for the project and has received a state grant of $0.04 million. Kenneth Goldstein, the chair, expressed reservation about the costly project, saying no use for the building has been identified, but he voted for the contract with the Touloukian firm.

Permits and licenses: A representative of Nstar sought permits for street work on Copley and Pleasant Streets to replace underground circuits. Mark Zarrillo of Copley St., chair of the Planning Board, asked the selectmen to delay the project so as to allow neighborhood review of plans. The area has a mix of underground and above-ground circuits, the latter recently upgraded from 4 to 14 kV. Mr. Zarrillo said that with the large amount of work in prospect, Nstar should be able to put all the circuits underground. The board agreed to a delay and will reconsider the project at a future meeting.

Michael Maynard asked for an exception to rules so that Coolidge Corner Theatre could serve more than one drink to a customer, including beer and wine. He said that a recent rule caused disruption in the theatre environment. According to Mr. Maynard, since the theatre started serving beer and wine four years ago, there have been only two incidents with “inebriated patrons,” both resolved without needing to call police. The board agreed that recent rules had been designed for a restaurant environment and allowed the exception.

Approval to transfer the common victualler (restaurant), liquor and entertainment licenses for Chef Chow’s at 230 Harvard St. was sought because of a change in management. Health, Building and Police reports were positive. There had been no citations for violations, and there was no opposition. The board approved. Colleen Suhanosky asked to add Sunday hours, 9 am to 4 pm, for Rifrullo Cafe at 149 Cypress St. There was no opposition, and the board approved.

David Iknaian sought a new common victualler license for Panelli’s Pizza, to be located at 415 Harvard St. Health, Building and Police reports were positive, and there was no opposition. The board approved, subject to conditions recommended by the Health Department.

Jenny Yu, a Winchester St. resident, sought new common victualler, wine and malt beverage, and entertainment licenses for Shanghai Jade, to be located at 1374 Beacon St. Health, Building and Police reports were positive, and there was no opposition. The board approved, subject to review of outside seating by the Department of Public Works.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Climate Action and two for Solid Waste Advisory. Greg O’Brien, a recent law graduate, said he wants to work through Climate Action on solar power for condominiums and apartments. John Dempsey, chair of Solid Waste Advisory, said the town is currently “stuck” at about 9,000 tons of refuse a year, down from about 12,500 tons in 2007. Amie Lindenboim, also seeking reappointment to Solid Waste Advisory, said she agreed with Mr. Dempsey’s concerns.

Trash metering: On June 10, a plan to increase recycling through trash metering had been described to the board by Mr. Pappastergion, the public works director. He also described the plan at the annual public works “question time” on May 14. It involves town-issued 35-gallon refuse bins, one per household, collected under the current program of fees, plus added fees for extra refuse collection. At this meeting, board member Neil Wishinsky said changes needed to be publicized.

Mr. Dempsey said his committee’s role is “educational” and calls trash metering “pay as you throw.” The name as well as the concepts are hung over from rural and far suburban towns, where residents still take trash to town dumps and throw it into piles. That does not seem likely to educate or help Brookline, where public dumps closed and municipal refuse collection began more than a century ago.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 23, 2014


Brookline Town Counsel, General guidelines to drafting warrant articles, August, 2006

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?

A regular meeting of the Conservation Commission on Tuesday, July 15, started at 7:00 pm, held in the fifth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. All commissioners plus staff Thomas Brady and Heather Lis were present. With chair Katherine “Kate” Bowditch leaving for a job in Europe, the commission elected as new leadership Marcus Quigley chair, Matthew Garvey vice chair and Deborah Michener clerk.

During reviews of projects, it became clear that long-running efforts at Muddy River flood control and environmental restoration continue to be threatened by limits in project goals and funds. The first part of this long-promised project is underway, but the scope of the next part has become uncertain.

In 1958, the Hynes administration, which had destroyed the “New York streets” section of the South End and was busy destroying Boston’s entire West End, paused to destroy part of the Back Bay Fens–burying about 700 feet of the Muddy River in grossly undersized culverts and presenting Sears, Roebuck with land above them to use for a parking lot. Sears threatened to move its Boston store and offices, located near the intersection of Boylston St. with Brookline Ave., out of the city if it did not get space for parking.

The Fens of today is a man-made object: a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., preserving some features of former marshland near the mouth of the Muddy River as it entered former Back Bay tidal mudflats, just east of that modern intersection. The 1950s Muddy River flow was channeled through two 6-foot-diameter culverts under the Sears parking lot, extending into parkland southeast of Brookline Ave.

Mr. Olmsted’s Muddy River channel through the Fens was a partly dredged, narrowed version of the historic Muddy River mouth. In the 1860s and before, the river bent southeast near the modern intersection of Park Drive with the Riverway, split into two weaving channels, joined Stony Brook flowing in from Jamaica Plain near the modern intersection of the Fenway with Ruggles St. and bent northeast in a broad channel, crossing modern Boylston St. as wide as the widest span between Park Drive and the Fenway.

The Hynes administration constricted the river flow, providing a conduit adequate for normal times but much too small for storms that occur about once every 50 years or more. In 1959, the former MTA invited disaster by buying the former Charles River Branch Railroad, then part of the Boston & Albany, digging a ramp for it into the Kenmore Square subway station, electrifying the line and renaming it the Riverside branch of what the MBTA was later to call the Green Line.

Only a few years later, in 1962, nature gave a warning: a rainstorm that made the river overflow just before the Sears parking lot, run down the ramp and enter the subway station. Nature’s warning was mostly ignored. The several-foot-deep flood led to floodgates installed along the ramp, but no other efforts were made to reduce or prevent future floods.

Luck ran out in October, 1996, when 8 to 12 inches of rain fell over three days. By then, the 1962 floodgates had been forgotten, and river water ran unobstructed into Kenmore Station. Water flooded higher than the ceiling of the platform and ran eastward toward the Back Bay stations. Much of the subway was shut down for a week, and it remained impaired for months beyond, as water-damaged equipment was serviced and replaced. Dozens of Boston and Brookline buildings and homes were flooded.

A project for flood control and environmental restoration is moving at the pace of glaciers. Its outlines were clear within a year. The Hynes disaster has to be ripped out, restoring surface flow of the Muddy River through the Fens. Wide but short culverts are needed under the Riverway, at the Park Drive intersection, and under Brookline Ave., between the Fenway and Park Drive. River channels that have silted up and that have been invaded by phragmite reeds over more than 100 years need to be dredged and cleared.

As promised many times over 17 years, apparently sustained work on culvert removal and replacement finally started this April. A so-called “groundbreaking” was held a year and a half before, but then work stopped without explanation after installing half the large new culvert under Brookline Ave. This part of the project was supposed to take about two years but is already nearing that length of time. So far, lots of fences are up, and Brookline Ave. is one-way toward Kenmore Square. No part of the Hynes disaster has been excavated yet. The torpid pace suggests 10 years might be realistic.

A typically insular Corps of Engineers has outdone itself on this project. Recently it has been advertising an asinine goal “to protect against a flood with a return frequency of 20 years.” To meet no more than that goal, no project may be needed at all. Cleaned of silt, the culverts under the Sears parking lot would probably do. A project that has already taken over 17 years–just to get started–should aim at protecting against at least a 200-year flood, The Corps of Engineers goal seems designed to shrink and, if possible, to avoid the next part of the project: dredging the river channels and removing the invasive plants.

Muddy River, except for the Charles the largest remaining open stream in the Boston environment, drains a watershed of about six square miles. Stony Brook, which joins the lower Muddy River in the modern Fens, drains about twice as large an area; it is now almost entirely enclosed in culverts. A large storm, about once a century or two, that deposits a foot of rain in a few days, loads about 1-1/2 and 3 billion gallons onto those two watersheds. The likelihood of such a storm was ignored by the Hynes administration in the 1950s and is being slighted by the Corps of Engineers.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 16, 2014


U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Muddy River flood risk management and environmental restoration project, June 13, 2014

Eric Moskowitz, Boston transit flood history, Boston Globe, November 19, 2012

Johanna Kaiser, Muddy River restoration is officially launched, Boston Globe, October 15, 2012

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

Peter K. Weiskel, Lora K. Barlow and Tomas W. Smieszek, Water Resources and the Urban Environment, Lower Charles River Watershed, Massachusetts, 1630–2005, Circular 1280, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, October, 2005

Robert F. Breault, Peter K. Weiskel and Timothy D. McCobb, Channel morphology and streambed-sediment quality in the Muddy River, Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts, Report 98-4027, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, October, 1997

Thomas H. O’Connor, Building a New Boston, Northeastern, 1993, p. 64 on the Sears parking lot

Walling & Gray, Boston street map, 1871

Brookline’s solar power: slow progress and a stalled program

So far, Brookline ranks as a small player in the Massachusetts solar panel derby. Over the past four years, the state’s “carve-out” program of state solar power credits shows only 58 installations in Brookline–all but one residential and all but one rated at a modest 0.002 to 0.01 MW, peak. Total capacity shown for the town in this 4-year program is 0.36 MW, peak–an average of about 6 peak watts per Brookline resident. By comparison, the whole state of Massachusetts shows installed solar capacity of 660 MW, peak–an average of about 100 peak watts per state resident.

Brookline has two municipal installations: an array of 120 panels installed in 2007 on the roof of the Health Department building and an array of about 40 panels installed in 2010 on the roof of the Putterham branch library. Both were funded by government grants and private donations. So far, the town of Brookline has made no substantial investments. Charles “Charlie” Simmons, Brookline’s director of public buildings, did not know the rated electrical capacity of two facilities, but from the number of panels it is likely to be around 0.04 MW, peak.

Unlike large wind turbines, solar power is relatively friendly. It does not generate noise or flicker and does not tower over a landscape. Several other towns in the state have authorized or sponsored large solar installations. There are now 27 operating solar farms rated at 4 to 6 MW, peak, in Massachusetts. Most are commercial, but Barnstable, Bolton, Dartmouth and Lancaster have municipal facilities in this power range.

A town meeting action in the fall of 2012 tried to stimulate progress. Article 15, filed by Precinct 6 town meeting member Tommy Vitolo and passed unanimously, advocated “solar ready” roofs on Brookline’s buildings. The Board of Selectmen organized a Solar Roof Study Committee, which met three times from April through June of last year. Broadway Electric of Boston submitted proposals for six projects, ranging from 0.06 MW, peak, for the roof of the municipal swimming pool to 0.2 MW, peak, for the roof of the main High School complex.

Fortunately, in this case, Brookline was slow to act. According to news reports, Broadway Electric is being shuttered. Several Cape and Vineyard towns and towns in western Massachusetts were stuck with unfinished projects and may have missed deadlines to get state energy credits. Broadway Electric had been promoted to Brookline by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. Although it is not clear that MAPC has any engineering or financial expertise with solar energy, Mr. Simmons said town staff are meeting again today with an MAPC representative, hoping to revive a stalled program.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2014


Clarence Fanto, Broadway Electric’s struggles may leave Lenox, Lee solar plans in the dark, Berkshire Eagle, February 3, 2014

Metropolitan Area Planning Council, MAPC selects regional solar developer, February 26, 2013

New pipeline across Massachusetts: gas produces hot air

Not likely marked much in Brookline, over the past year a proposed new natural-gas pipeline for the Northeast has been stirring up protests in upstate New York and the northern tier of Massachusetts towns. In those venues, you might think “The British are coming” again. Today the New York Times took notice, in its patronizing way, documenting the proposal and political struggles.

As any seasoned observer of energy issues would know, over the past 20 years natural gas became a quiet hero of a revolution in New England energy practices–as contrasted with contributions from “energy policy” and other hot air castles. The outcome of the revolution has been drastic declines in New England air pollution and “greenhouse gas” emissions.

In a sidebar, the recent NY Times article shows that 14 years ago New England electricity was 18 percent coal, 22 percent petroleum, 15 percent natural gas and 31 percent nuclear–balance hydro and “renewables.” Two years ago–the latest in federal data tables–generation had shifted to 3 percent coal, 1 percent petroleum, 52 percent natural gas and still 31 percent nuclear.

The former 40-percent coal and petroleum shrank to only 4 percent, almost entirely replaced by natural gas. Plants running on natural gas emit very little air pollution and less than two-thirds the “greenhouse gases.” If the U.S. had followed energy practices of New England, it would have greatly exceeded goals of the Kyoto treaty, and it would lead the world in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.

Should they notice at all, local environmentalists will probably chant a politically correct “party line” against any expansion of fossil fuels–whatever the costs and whatever the benefits. However, their favored wind and solar sources have yet to generate more than about a percent of New England electricity. The obvious problems remain unsolved: high cost and low reliability–little improved despite decades of development.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 11, 2014


Tom Zeller, Jr., Natural gas pipeline plan creates rift in Massachusetts, New York Times, July 11, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Massachusetts pipeline plan stirs hope and alarm, Boston Globe, June 9, 2014

Erin Ailworth, Utilities seek boost in region’s natural gas, Boston Globe, November 5, 2013

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

Board of Selectmen: contracts, personnel and appointments

A biweekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 8, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: A design advisory team will start meeting soon for Brookline Place. It was not clear whether that meant the Brookline Place Advisory Committee. The first meeting is to be Wednesday, July 16, 7:00 pm, at the Latvian Lutheran Church, 58 Irving St.

Contracts and personnel: The board reviewed a proposed 2-year extension of the agreement for emergency services with Fallon. Brookline houses two ambulances full-time and links Fallon with emergency communications. Fallon staffs the ambulances full-time and gives priority to services in Brookline. No money is exchanged. Paul Ford, the fire chief, made a strong pitch for extending the agreement, saying that services have been satisfactory and that Fallon has provided emergency medicine training for Brookline firefighters. The board agreed to extend the agreement.

Several public works contracts were presented, briefly reviewed and approved. The largest amounts were three contracts totaling $1.53 million for street and traffic signal repairs, a $0.58 million contract to repair the historic Fisher Hill Reservoir gatehouse, $0.25 million for grounds maintenance, $0.14 million for repairs to the historic Burial Ground and $0.03 million to complete sewer and drain projects.

Costs of the gatehouse project, adjacent to the new Fisher Hill Park, are partly offset by a grant of $0.04 million from the state’s Historic Commission. Costs for sewer and drain projects are reimbursed by MWRA. A check for $0.14 million was accepted from Claremont Companies, building a hotel at the former Red Cab site on Boylston St., to fund public improvements in the vicinity.

Proceeding at a rapid pace, the board approved budget transfers already allowed by Advisory the previous evening, and it approved hirings to fill vacancies–a sergeant in the Police Department, a recreation leader and a health inspector–all created by retirements. Kenneth Goldstein, the chairman, made his usual requests to seek a “diverse pool of candidates.” However, no town organization currently monitors the effectiveness of such efforts.

Appointments: As often happens, the board slowed its pace when interviewing candidates for boards and committees: one for Martin Luther King, one for Norfolk County Advisory, one for Transportation and one for Zoning Appeals.

Elizabeth Childs, a new candidate for the Norfolk County board, is a former School Committee member and a former Massachusetts commissioner of mental health. Her strongest concern, she said, was whether Brookline was “getting a fair return on our tax contributions” to the county. The assessment for the current fiscal year is $0.79 million. There are no visible county services.

Board member Betsy DeWitt asked about abolishing country government, as has already happened in eight of the 14 counties. She did not seem to know that county abolition in western Massachusetts was a pre-emptive strike by legislators who wanted to derail competition for their offices. Mr. Goldstein said he knew of three current efforts in the General Court, but he said “none have traction now.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 10, 2014

Board of Selectmen: cell-phone antennas, personnel and appointments

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 24, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations.

Announcements: Groundbreaking for 32 new public housing units was held in the morning at 86 Dummer St., near the B.U. West segment of Commonwealth Ave. and adjacent to Trustman Apartments. There will be no board meeting Tuesday, July 1. There are to be biweekly meetings during July and August.

Cell-phone antennas: In an item of new business not detailed on the agenda, Kenneth Goldstein, the board’s chair, proposed sending letters to members of the General Court representing Brookline, urging them to oppose S. 2183 and Sections 74 and 75 in H. 4181. He had found out about these bills from messages sent by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, to which Brookline belongs. The board agreed.

The bills would have undercut local regulation of cell-phone antennas. Section 1 of S. 2183 proposed to add the following to Chapter 40A of the General Laws: “No zoning ordinance or by-law shall prohibit, regulate or restrict collocation of wireless facilities on existing structures….” Cities and towns would be unable to regulate placement of antennas on buildings.

S. 2183 came from the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee and was sent to Senate Ways and Means. No hearing appears to have been held. More recently, H. 4165 has been replaced with the text of S. 2231, which came from Senate Ways and Means. That is an omnibus economic development bill and does not contain the obnoxious “wireless facilities” provisions. It appears on the July 1 calendar for the House.

Contracts and personnel: Alison Steinfeld, the town’s planning director, got approval to hire Tod McGrath of the MIT Center for Real Estate as a financial consultant to review the recently revised 40B housing proposal at Hancock Village. Patrick Ward, the town clerk, got approval to fill two senior clerk vacancies, one replacing a 20-year employee who was recently discharged.

Kevin Stokes, the director of information technology, got approval to hire a network engineer, replacing services formerly outsourced. Andrew Pappastergion, the DPW director, got approval to fill eight vacant positions. Because of unfavorable bids for solid waste collection in February, the service will not be outsourced.

Complete Streets: Scott Englander, a member of the Transportation Board, sought and received the board’s support for a resolution endorsing “Complete Streets”–promoted since 2005 by an eponymous private organization. The Massachusetts Municipal Association became a promoter in 2011, but the state Department of Transportation has yet to sign up.

Appointments: As it did the previous week, the board took a relaxed pace interviewing applicants for boards, commissions and committees: one for Assessors, one for Conservation, one for Zoning Appeals, one for Women, one for Martin Luther King and two for Naming. Carla Benka, seeking reappointment to the Naming Committee, described it as “a quiet committee…reactive rather than proactive.” She said she expects that an article for this fall’s town meeting will seek to rename Cypress Playground as Henessey Field.

Christine Fitzgerald of Fuller St., a new candidate for the Commission on Women, described her background growing up in difficult circumstances when her father died while she was in high school. She became the first in her family to earn a college degree and went on to law school, becoming a law firm partner and litigator working mostly with technology and financial firms. Now, she said, “I don’t have to prove things any more.” Board members Nancy Daly and Betsy DeWitt seemed won over. Ms. Daly commented, “It’s a great story.”

Permits: An open-air parking lot near the intersection of Washington St. with Bartlett Crescent, northwest of Washington Square and just before Corey Rd., became an object of controversy the previous week and had been held over. After further review, its permit was approved.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 2014

Massachusetts redux: best available control technology

As readers of the Beacon will likely know, yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mostly in favor of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, deciding a case challenging EPA authority to regulate “greenhouse gas” emissions. [Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 12-1146, June 23, 2014]

The decision was an outcome of a pathbreaking lawsuit brought about a decade ago by Massachusetts, leading several other states in opposing the Walker Bush administration’s refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. [Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 05–1120, 549 U.S. 497, April 2, 2007] In the earlier case, the court wrote, “EPA has offered no reasoned explanation…Its action was therefore ‘arbitrary, capricious…’…The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.”

In its Utility Air decision, the court found EPA exceeded statutory authority by proposing to regulate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from all stationary sources that exceed as little as 50,000 tons per year in carbon-dioxide equivalents. However, the weird decision allows such regulation if some other air pollutant is also being regulated. The latter circumstances are estimated by EPA to account for more than 80 percent of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.

Consequences for Brookline and for other large communities in Massachusetts are substantial. With 14 major structures and many smaller ones, the town might have become subject to carbon dioxide emission regulations. Although Brookline’s buildings use natural gas as the main or only heating fuel, if regulated as a single facility they might reach a threshold of 50,000 tons per year. Brookline’s cost of compliance could easily top $10 million a year.

The current revision of the Clean Air Act requires facilities subject to emission controls to implement so-called “best available control technology” (BACT) when making a major change. If Brookline were regulated, that might include upgrading or replacing an elementary school. A problem which would bedevil a regulated facility is that currently there is only one main choice for BACT: carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Today, CCS is theoretical. There is no proven, industrial-scale example anywhere. It is not yet known whether it will work reliably or what it might really cost. Twice over the past fifteen years, the U.S. government began and then stopped an industrial-scale test project. In 2009, the Energy Department approved five test projects, but all were far too small to provide a reliable base of reference.

The only large-scale CCS project underway is the Kemper plant near Mobile, AL, from Southern Company and industrial partners. Plans are to extract about two-thirds of the carbon dioxide from coal-fired flue gases at the 580 MW power-plant and send that through a special-purpose pipeline to east Texas, to be injected into wells for tertiary oil recovery.

Often regarded as voodoo when begun in the mid-1950s, today carbon-dioxide injection has become standard practice with some types of oil formations. However, the Kemper project is wildly out-of-control, recently projected to cost twice as much as initial estimates. Potentials to use large amounts of carbon dioxide in that way are geographically limited–found mostly in the Southwest and parts of the Mountain West.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 24, 2014


Peter Folger, Carbon capture and sequestration, Congressional Research Service, February 10, 2014

2014 annual town meeting recap: fine points

Town meetings seem to behave, in part, like musical theatre. If you can’t carry a tune, you probably won’t carry an argument. Alas, some of today’s would-be performers come across–politically speaking–as tone deaf. However, there still remain quite a few sparks of life.

May 27: Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6 flagged conditions the Advisory Committee had tried to attach to special appropriations item 41 under Article 8: $50,000 to study Beacon Street traffic signals, aiding MBTA Green Line trains. Dr. Vitolo said the proposed conditions amounted to an invalid attempt to bind actions of a future town meeting and moved to delete them. No Advisory Committee member stood up to respond. Town meeting members agreed by a show of hands, with only two people counted as opposed.

Joyce Jozwicki of Precinct 9 sounded more than a little cross about special appropriations item 40 in Article 8: $30,000 for “bicycle access improvement.” She contended it “should be preceded by enforcement of the rules for bicyclists.” Over the fan noise, no response could be heard from the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Driscoll School: In the debate over a Driscoll School feasibility study, School Committee chair Susan Wolf Ditkoff admitted what had long been clear to close observers: despite nearly religious objections, the School Department has already increased class sizes, “on average 1-1/2 students per class,” she said.

That almost cancels Brookline costs to support METCO and “materials fees” students. If standards for class size rise from about 25 to about 27 students, then the current students from outside Brookline will all have been absorbed by the current staff within the current buildings–responding to historic promises that those students occupy “available seats.”

Concerning special appropriations item 51 under Article 8, George White of Precinct 9 asked: Where’s the plan for light-emitting-diode (LED) street lights? For once the moderator, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, sounded flustered, saying that should be in the warrant report. It is not. He brushed off Mr. White, telling him to go ask the Department of Public Works–whose commissioner was standing on town-meeting floor, looking ready to answer the question. After all, LED street lights are Mr. Pappastergion’s signature project of the year.

School funding: In the debate over school funding, Jonathan Davis of Precinct 10 asked about costs of “carts” for computers: “Is that much money really needed?” He never got a clear answer. School superintendent William Lupini launched his “so” “right” dialect–a local curiosity at School Committee meetings–as in, “So…they’re for the computers we’re purchasing…Right?” Yes, indeed. “Exactly what it says on the tin.”

More items from Ms. Ditkoff of the School Committee: “The cost per student has been absolutely flat for the last five years…We’ve added more than 50 classrooms out of our current spaces.” Without explanation, the latter sounded like “space magic.” Apparently a School Committee insider violated current town-meeting protocol–a Gadsby invention–distributing rogue handouts on town-meeting floor. It caught Mr. Gadsby’s attention and drew a reproach, but then he relented, saying it “has my retroactive approval.” Humph! Issues of free speech went unmentioned–even with Martin “Marty” Rosenthal, Karen Wenc and Harry Friedman on hand.

Somebody might have asked but didn’t: since Public Schools of Brookline already spends around $17,000 per year per student, if computers are so important and the ones PSB prefers cost only $330 each, why not get a computer for every student and forego the fancy carts and projectors PSB wouldn’t need?

Police Department topics: Harry Friedman of Precinct 12 objected to investigating criminal backgrounds of construction workers, during debate about the police budget. Joslin Murphy, recently appointed as town counsel, said Massachusetts law now requires checking national Criminal Offender Record Information if workers have unsupervised contact with school children. That might be an issue, for example, in the upcoming Lawrence School project. Mr. Friedman was dissatisfied, saying, “People in these jobs often have criminal records” but need employment to regain a place in society. He called the practice “heartless and vindictive.” However, workers on town jobs are usually going to be union members–unlikely to get those particular jobs fresh out of prison.

Mr. Friedman also objected to police seeking out a “Groton man”–apparently not a graduate of Groton School–who answered a fake “personal” ad Brookline police placed online. Outside a putative “hands off” stance, Moderator Gadsby asked Daniel O’Leary, the chief of police, about the “purpose of entrapment policies.” Not satisfied at Mr. O’Leary’s responses, Mr. Friedman said, “From a moral or ethical point of view [the incident] really…crosses over the line…. If the Brookline police want to be the protectors of eastern Massachusetts…they can go into Boston and patrol the streets there.”

Advisory chair Harry Bohrs confirmed the once touted Galaxy WiFi services are dead and gone, although many antennas still hang from street-light brackets. He said Brookline is equipping some employees with wireless Internet, to the tune of $50 per device per month.

May 29, human relations: Article 10 proposed to replace the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, dating from 1970, with a new Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. It also designates a new “chief diversity officer” reporting to Town Administrator Mel Klecker and reduces the new commission’s duties and powers, compared with the 1970 commission. Nancy Daly led the effort to write Article 10 and spoke for the Board of Selectmen. She said it would “not give the [new] commission the quasi-judicial authority to hear and act on…complaints.”

Precinct 15 town meeting member Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, spoke for the current commission and against Article 10. She said it “will take away any direct role or oversight on complaints brought to the [chief diversity officer] by employees…[and] take away the commission’s authority for developing…equal opportunity and affirmative action. It will give the commission about eighteen tasks…but appropriates no money for them.”

Speaking about a chief diversity officer, Ms. Ames said, “What good does that do if we’re going to ask this person to do precisely what was wrong by his predecessor? Only this time, we put it in writing: that is, handle complaints privately, have sole discretion whether to share information with the commission, have no oversight and no accountability…in essence, get paid hundreds of thousands to do…what exactly? Keep the lid on?”

Stature as a department head: It must have been a troubling moment for Ms. Daly and other members of the “diversity committee.” However, one of them, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9, had joined with Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 in proposing an amendment to this year’s Article 10: designating a new chief diversity officer as a “senior administrator/department head”–the same language used in Brookline bylaws for the head of the Human Resources office, which was created by town meeting in 2000.

A motion to close debate after nearly an hour proved premature; it failed to get a two-thirds vote. Arguments continued. While Mr. Rosenthal and Dr. Spiegel had offered spirited sallies for their amendment, it was likely Joanna Baker of Precinct 13 who sailed it over the net.

Ms. Baker recounted experiences as a recruiter, helping to employ and advance people of color. “People hate change,” she said. “Change makes people uncomfortable.” According to Ms. Baker, the stature of being a department head will matter. In order to be effective, she said, a chief diversity officer will have to be “shrewd, discerning, sophisticated, gutsy.” In a recorded vote, town meeting adopted the Rosenthal-Spiegel amendment by a margin of 107 to 95. The main motion also got a recorded vote: approved 185 to 16.

Noise control: In Article 12, changes to Brookline’s noise-control bylaw were proposed by Fred Lebow, an acoustic engineer and a former Precinct 1 town meeting member–to provide what he claimed would be better standards for regulating noise. He proposed a new standard for estimating background noise at night: make measurements during the day and subtract 10 decibels. That’s not helpful if your neighborhood tends to be fairly noisy by day but quiet at night. Selectmen missed the problem, but they managed to flag a provision to regulate some of the leafblowers while exempting others–large ones mounted on wheeled carts.

Tommy Vitolo of Precinct 6–a recent B.U. Systems Engineering grad and transplant from Precinct 1–challenged the proposed standard for night-time noise at town meeting. Dr. Vitolo carved away pseudoscience from the proposal, saying, “This warrant article is bad news. The most sensible way to measure ambient noise at night is to measure ambient noise at night…Legislating night-time ambient noise is a bit like legislating that the earth is flat.”

For the supporters of the article, including a majority on the Board of Selectmen and a unanimous Advisory Committee, there was no recovery. In a show of hands, Moderator Gadsby found zero raised in support and declared unanimous rejection of the article–an extremely rare event. He asked officials gathered at tables just past the auditorium’s stage, “Have we no courage in the front of town meeting?”

Mavens of precinct politics–towns don’t have wards–may recall that Mr. Lebow was among a wave of Precinct 1 conservatives who infiltrated, years ago, a moderate delegation. Dr. Vitolo was involved with a second, progressive wave, who eclipsed the first wave a few years later. The waves more often involve galleries of mostly incumbents, promoting themselves as friendly “neighbors.” Controversies at the time roiled over whether or not to support renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge. Was that really a convenience to the neighborhoods, or would it instead become a crossway for criminals, slinking in from Boston? We shall see.

Down-zoning: Two quietly successful articles carried on a trend: adapting Brookline’s land use regulations to neighborhoods. It had taken root at a heated, 4-night town meeting held in December, 1973. Like that previous effort, both recent ones were organized by neighborhood residents. Unlike that previous effort, both got help and support from town boards and agencies, and both aroused little controversy.

Article 11 proposed a neighborhood conservation district for Toxteth St. between Aspinwall Ave. and Francis St., plus adjacent parts of Perry St., Harrison Ave., Aspinwall Ave and Francis St. It was built out starting in the late nineteenth century–before Brookline adopted zoning–on a more spacious scale than the current T-5 two-family zoning requires. Ann Turner of Precinct 3 said the recent effort was prompted by an obnoxious project built to the maximum under zoning limits and requiring no special town review.

Article 21 proposed a new S-4 type of single-family zone for parts of Buttonwood, near Meadowbrook Rd., also currently zoned T-5 two-family. Neighborhood resident Diane Gold told town meeting she and her neighbors were motivated by a developer who took advantage of current zoning to replace one modest, single-family house with a pair of “huge, 4-story, 2-family luxury condos…Green space was paved over to create ten parking spaces.” She recalled, “We were told they can do this by right…If you don’t like it, change the zoning.” With help from Polly Selkoe of the Planning Department and with town meeting’s approval, that is what residents did.

Zoning changes rejected: The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all took it on the chin with two other zoning changes proposed by the Planning Board. Article 22 revived the long-running disputes over self-service gasoline stations–proposing to allow them in business districts when combined with so-called “convenience stores.” As proposed, those stores could be up to 3,000 square feet–far larger than many current retail stores.

Judith Vanderkay of Precinct 9 recalled, “Twenty years ago…my neighborhood rallied to prevent a giant, highway rest-stop-type gas station.” She said Article 22 looked “like something from ALEC being proposed in the guise of an innocuous regulation”–referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a far-right group that has been promoting pro-business, anti-labor laws, mostly in state legislatures. The proposal failed on a recorded vote of 109 to 62, below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

In S-40 single-family districts–Brookline’s lowest zoning density–Article 23 proposed to disallow new, detached accessory dwellings to be occupied by employees or their family members. Last November, town meeting disallowed them in single-family districts with smaller lot sizes. Steve Heikin spoke for the Planning Board, saying that accessory dwellings are a “loophole” allowing permanent construction for a temporary use.

Town meeting members Anita Johnson of Precinct 8, Rebecca Mautner of Precinct 11 and Jane Gilman of Precinct 3 denounced the Planning Board proposal–partly as an attack on “affordable housing.” Ms. Johnson cited an approach used by Portland, OR. “They put a size limit on accessory units…825 square feet.” She said Portland’s regulation “has been totally successful, and everyone agrees with it.” Article 23 failed on a recorded vote of 106 to 56, again below the two-thirds margin required for a zoning change.

Renovation of the Carlton St. footbridge, strongly controversial a decade ago, returned to town meeting in Article 24. The now-dilapidated bridge was built in the 1890s to serve a whistle-stop on the former Boston and Albany commuter rail service between Needham and Boston. It has been closed since fall, 1975. Article 24 proposed accepting a grant in easement from MBTA to accommodate wheelchair ramps. Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt said Brookline would “apply for a state [Transportation Improvement Program] grant, up to 90 percent” of funds already set aside. In a quiet surprise, town meeting voted unanimous approval.

Retirement Board pay: Stipends for Retirement Board members–a perennial–returned to town meeting in Article 25. As on previous occasions, board member James C. “Chet” Riley asked for town meeting’s support. “We have the ability right now to invest your $245 million,” he said. “We are the deciding body.” According to Mr. Riley, the board’s work has become “a lot more daunting, a lot more challenging.” That did not sway Advisory. Committee member Karen Wenc of Precinct 11 said, “The substance of this article [came] before town meeting in the May, 2012, session–with no demonstration that the Retirement Board’s efforts are [now] measurably greater” than they were then. “There is no compelling reason for change.”

The Board of Selectmen reversed former opposition–by a margin of 3 to 2. Speaking as one of the three in favor, Nancy Daly said the “vast majority [of neighboring communities] do provide a stipend…Boston, Newton, Cambridge….” Town meeting members would likely notice that the few communities Ms. Daly named–unlike Brookline–are all cities. In a personal appeal, Martin “Marty” Rosenthal of Precinct 9 stated, “Nobody’s done more for the town of Brookline than Chet Riley.” Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 took a financial approach, saying, “This is one of the few boards that actually has the final say over large quantities of money. They’re volunteers, but they deserve the sort of minimal compensation that this article proposes.” Article 25 proposed a stipend of $3,000 per year for each of the five board members.

Regina Frawley of Precinct 16 did not agree. “[This is] at least the fourth time in fourteen years” with the proposal, she said. “They’ve been waiting for the right town meeting, the right Board of Selectmen…It’s a town. This is a volunteer [effort], and if they don’t want to do it they shouldn’t volunteer.” Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice said, “I’ve been in the financial services industry,” and asked, “Do [board members] get the advice and counsel of licensed [financial] planners?” Mr. Riley of the Retirement Board responded, saying, “We hire and fire consultants and money managers.” What may have sounded like posturing did not sit well with town meeting members, who rejected Article 25 in a recorded vote, 47 to 100.

June 2, Brookline Place: The final session of the 2014 annual town meeting began with the postponed Articles 15 through 19, concerning proposed redevelopment for Brookline Place. Moderator Gadsby’s stagework in positioning those articles to begin a session provided a showplace for Children’s Hospital–the landowner and developer–and for the town officials, boards and committees who became sponsors and supporters of the project. The block bounded by Washington St., Brookline Ave. and Pearl St. is part of the former Marsh Project–involved in redevelopment efforts for nearly 50 years.

Town meeting members who declared partial opposition had proposed alternative zoning in Article 16. As compared with Article 15, the official zoning proposal, Article 16 would have restricted new on-site parking for over 180,000 square feet of added office space. Supporters of Article 16 claimed that the adjacent MBTA Green Line trolley stop and the nearby bus stops for MBTA routes 60, 65 and 66, traveling via Route 9, should make any added parking unnecessary. Management of Children’s Hospital have contended that more parking is needed for financially viable development and that costs of removing contaminated soil would make it too expensive to place that parking underground, as normally required by Brookline’s zoning.

In an apparent response, the Planning Board and their Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to reduce added parking from about 465 to about 325 spaces–negotiated with the management of Children’s Hospital. The change apparently undercut support for Article 16. Submitters of that article opted not to offer a motion for it. Town meeting passed over the article without a vote. Fifty years ago and earlier, weak opposition would have been squelched: maybe allowed a speaker and then switched off. Brookline’s traditions have changed. The debate over the Brookline Place articles included many speakers and took about an hour and twenty minutes.

Precinct 6 town meeting member Merelice spoke forthrightly. “Let’s start with admitting the reality that Children’s Hospital has us over a barrel,” she said. Children’s had acquired 6-story offices the former Harvard Community Health Plan built on the eastern part of the Brookline Place block during the 1990s. More recently, Children’s bought the western part of the block, occupied by two low-rise buildings dating from early twentieth century. The literal “Brookline Place” is a narrow, little used way running north from Washington St. between the larger low-rise building and the 6-story offices.

Referring to a former attempt at redeveloping Brookline Place, Merelice commented, “Town meeting members ten years ago lost sight of the fact that they were voting for zoning.” The controversial project–never carried out–anticipated biotechnology laboratories. A key problem with the site has been soil that is badly contaminated from nearly a century of use by a former gas works. Merelice continued, “When Children’s bought, they knew full well the soil was contaminated. Nevertheless, they proceeded to buy up all the adjacent parcels. Now they’re asking the town to feel sorry for them, because it would be ‘too expensive’ to remove the soil. Their answer is a huge garage with no underground parking.”

Treating Article 16 as though it posed a real threat to the Brookline Place project, Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2 recalled, “Fifty years ago…[with the] Chestnut Hill shopping center, [which] straddles the line between Brookline and Newton, Brookline did not want any retail development because of concerns about congestion and traffic…All the retail establishments were built on the Newton side of the line; Brookline got the parking lot. Newton got the abundance of taxes; Brookline lost millions in tax revenue.”

Dr. Spiegel described an unsuccessful attempt in the early 1980s to build a hotel replacing the former Boston Cadillac, located opposite the B.U. Bridge. Brookline Place, he said, offers the town “$2 million in taxes…[That] means more classroom teachers…support for METCO…[and] the Coolidge Corner Library…With all the good that it has, will it be built?”

Moderator Gadsby held a recorded vote on Article 15 for zoning changes. Town meeting approved 170 to 9, he announced, with 20 abstaining. Mr. Gadsby then passed over Article 16 without a vote. Articles 17 and 18 were approved by voice votes. Article 19 was approved by a show of hands, declared unanimous.

Taxi medallions: Town meeting member John Harris of Precinct 8 filed Article 26, proposing that Brookline ask the General Court to repeal laws it had passed, at town meeting’s request, authorizing Brookline to sell taxi medallions. The Transportation Board and Board of Selectmen, both committed to the medallions since they were proposed in 2007, proved much exercised over the attack from Mr. Harris. Robert Volk of Precinct 4 proposed referring Article 26 to a special committee to be appointed by Moderator Gadsby.

Mr. Harris said his “intention [was] to begin the debate…the town should have had in 2008.” He asserted that “medallions establish an artificial quota on the number of taxis allowed to operate,” leading to evil consequences. Jonathan Karon of Precinct 12 agreed, describing his experience representing a person who had been injured during an incident involving a taxi in Boston, which uses medallions. If you are injured in such a way, Mr. Karon said, you will find the “medallion is mortgaged…insurance [is] at the legal minimum…[and the] medallion owner will disclaim responsibility,” saying the taxi driver is an “independent contractor.”

Advisory Committee member Michael Sandman, a former Transportation Board chair, responded for the committee, saying “nearly every premise that Mr. Harris spoke of is wrong.” He showed three pages of items. About a claim that “medallions establish an artificial quota,” Mr. Sandman said Brookline has actually “had a closed system for decades, with a fixed number of licenses.” Joshua Safer of Precinct 16, the current Transportation Board chair, agreed. He said, “The current system is a closed system…There is scarcity by design…We have no logical way to bring newcomers into the industry.”

Charles “Chuck” Swartz of Precinct 9 asked, “How would a Brookline [medallion] system be different from Boston? He got a fairly opaque answer from Richard La Capra, who has been employed by the Transportation Department as a consultant on taxi regulation since 2010. Mr. La Capra stated that a “Brookline [taxi medallion] system will be different [from Boston]…because it is handled at the regulatory level in a…different fashion.”

Chad Ellis of Precinct 12 said he had prepared a financial model, checked out with Mr. La Capra, finding that a 10 percent fall in taxi fare revenues would produce at least a 50 percent contraction in medallion values. He supported the article filed by Mr. Harris.

Moderator Gadsby called for a vote on Mr. Volk’s motion to refer the article rather than approve or reject it. Unable to decide from a show of hands, Mr. Gadsby held an electronic vote. Town meeting approved referral, he announced, 96 to 91. Mr. Gadsby asked for volunteers to serve on a moderator’s committee and said he plans to appoint a committee within three weeks.

Resolutions: Article 27 was filed by Neil Gordon of Precinct 1, who described himself at town meeting as a veteran of the Vietnam War. It asked for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved in a unanimous voice vote.

Article 28, filed by Frank Caro of Precinct 10, did not get such a swift hearing. It proposed a resolution saying that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen, supported by the Advisory Committee, proposed referring Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner–to address it using a “task force.”

However, the same problem had been taken to at least three previous town meetings. Each referred an article to a moderator’s committee, yet the problem remained unsolved. Dennis Doughty of Precinct 3 presented some graphics showing snow-removal complaints logged since December, 2011, by the Brookonline Web page. They indicated several chronic problem spots, targets of repeated complaints.

Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., of Precinct 16, a lawyer with quite a few local business clients, had already voiced a related argument, saying there were a few chronic problems but that nevertheless “the goal should not be to fine and to warn” business owners. Lea Cohen, an Advisory Committee member at large, spoke as the outgoing chair of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. She objected that “the existing bylaw has some very tight time-frames.” She asked town meeting not to “make another gesture that singles out our merchants with uneven enforcement policies.”

Joshua Safer, of Precinct 16, disagreed with trying a “partnership” tactic again. He noted that “the last moderator’s committee on sidewalk snow removal suggested exactly [what Article 28 proposed], across the entire town.” Mr. Safer stated, “The police force seems comfortable that they would have the resources to undertake this particular effort.” Saralynn Allaire of Precinct 16, a member of the Commission for the Disabled, turned adamant, “It’s time,” Dr. Allaire said, “to take serious action on this problem, instead of just kicking it down the road yet again.” By a show of hands, a large majority of town meeting rejected referral of Article 28 to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner. Nearly all approved the resolution.

Local First: Article 29, a resolution urging support for local business, was submitted on behalf of an organization called Brookline Local First. Issues developed at town meeting and in several earlier reviews over what “local” might mean in that context. The Board of Selectmen proposed that town meeting refer the article to the Economic Development Advisory Board, which they appoint, rather than accept or reject it.

Abram “Abe” Faber, co-owner with his wife Christina “Christy” Timon of Clear Flour Bread on Thorndike St., made the arguments for Article 29. The two have run Clear Flour since 1982, live in Brookline and brought up a family here, he said. “Vibrancy of Brookline’s economy,” Mr. Faber stated, “stems from its independent businesses.” Comparing them with what he called “formula businesses”–franchises and chain stores–he said, “Independent businesses hire a greater proportion of local employees [and] pay them higher wages…Cities and towns benefit most…from…independent…rather than formula businesses.”

The arguments rang false to Hsiu-Lan Chang, also a Brookline resident. She introduced herself to town meeting as owner of Fast Frame, a franchise located on Beacon St. in Washington Square. She described her background as a trustee of the Brookline Community Foundation, a founder of the Washington Square Association and a supporter of several local civic and charitable groups. Her sons David and Leo, she said, are graduates of Brookline public schools. “Article 29,” she stated, “left…[an] impression that I’m not a part of this community.” She urged town meeting to reject the article, saying, “The imposition of an arbitrary definition on the word ‘local’…is exclusionary, divisive and simply wrong.”

Speaking for the Board of Selectmen, Betsy DeWitt suggested proponents of the article might be seeking more than the town could do. She mentioned requirements of “state procurement law to solicit broadly, without discrimination among suppliers in purchasing practices.” Ms. DeWitt stated, “While well intentioned, this resolution is flawed. We must have a fair, broad and inclusive definition of local business.”

Speaking for the Economic Development Advisory Board, Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 said EDAB would give the article careful consideration if it were referred to them but cautioned, “Brookline businesses should focus outward and on expanding the local economy.” A show of hands on the motion to refer proved too close to call for Moderator Gadsby. He conducted an electronic count. Town meeting approved referral 99 to 76, he announced, with 3 abstentions.

Article 31 proposed a resolution affirming “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, lending and public education.” Alex Coleman, a clinical psychologist and a member of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, submitted the article and made the main arguments for it. He said he had lived in Brookline more than 30 years, bringing up a son who is a Brookline High graduate, and described his recollections of making public a trans-sexual identity, over 20 years ago, as being a “horrific experience.”

Dr. Coleman said that attitudes have begun to change: “There are now students in the Brookline schools who identify as being gender-nonconforming,…[However], people…[with] a different gender identity…or expression…don’t have the same protections as everybody else.” Frequent problems he noted are “harassment in places of public accommodation…[and being] denied equal treatment by a government agency or official.”

Leonard “Len” Weiss spoke for the Advisory Committee, supported by the Board of Selectmen. The committee proposed an amendment asking Brookline’s legal staff to review Brookline’s bylaws and propose changes at next fall’s town meeting to make them “consistent with [the] purpose” of Article 31. Town meeting approved the resolution as amended.

Article 32, submitted by Frank Farlow of Precinct 4, proposed a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. That calls for state pension funds to divest from “fossil fuel companies” but does not specify what the term means. Speaking for the Advisory Committee, Harry Bohrs, the chairman, cited that issue, claiming the “bill does not support its own goals in a meaningfully effective way.” Karen Wenc of Precinct 11, an Advisory member, said as an energy consumer she “would feel hypocritical and insincere in voting for this resolution.”

Arguing in favor of the resolution, Edward “Ed” Loechler of Precinct 8 acknowledged, “When you hear the word ‘divestment’ you think, ‘well, we’ll lose too much money’.” Dr. Loechler said, “Profits are not the same as returns on investment.” It is the latter, he contended, that matters for pension-fund portfolios. He cited an independent review of returns on investment for around 3,000 U.S. public stocks over many years, claiming that the difference between performance with and without including about 200 “fossil fuel companies” proved “statistically insignificant.” However, Dr. Loechler argued, even if that were not so, “It’s time to stop talking about climate change and start doing something about it…Making money from the destruction of the planet is wrong…as wrong as making money from slavery was in the 1850s.”

For the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly spoke of a “very tangible financial hazard to not addressing climate change.” Town meeting members asked for a recorded vote on the article. They approved the resolution 126 to 20, with 7 abstaining–the last action during a long and complicated town meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 7, 2014


Correction, June 8, 2014. In the discussion of Article 23, the phrase “family members or employees” was corrected to read “employees or their family members.” Thanks to Stanley Spiegel for spotting the mistake.


John Hilliard, Brookline taxi consultant contract signed, Brookline TAB, December 3, 2010

City of Boston, Taxi Consultant Report, Nelson Nygaard, October, 2013

Brookline legacies: Olmsted and coal ash

At the third session of Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting, Betsy Shure Gross, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, raised her wonderfully endowed voice in a peroration over the tragedy of Brookline Place. During the 1860s, she recounted, former Brookline resident Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr.–the founder of modern landscape architecture–began the Brookline segment of Riverway Park, a key element of the Boston area’s Emerald Necklace. During debate over this year’s Article 15, she implied that an enlarged parking garage at the proposed Brookline Place development would dishonor the Olmsted legacy.

It does indeed sound like a grand theme. However, it fails to reflect accurately what was happening during the nineteenth century. Before there was electricity, there was gas. It was not the “natural gas” we now use but instead “coal gas” and later “water gas.” Before there was gas, there was steam: notable in the steam locomotives that carried coal to gas works. Brookline had a strong historical role in all of these.

Steam locomotives entered Brookline around 1855, riding the Charles River Branch Railroad between Needham and Boston. It was built to haul gravel, filling most of Boston’s former Back Bay salt marsh–the largest urban landfill project ever conducted in North America. From the start, the railroad served other commercial uses. Another purpose was to deliver coal from Appalachian mines to the Brookline Gas Light Company.

Brookline Gas Light, founded in the 1820s, built a large gas works in the middle 1850s at what are now sites of Hearthstone Plaza and of Beacon Place, in Brookline Village, and it had a storage tank up Washington St. toward Washington Square. During the Boston “gas wars” between about 1890 and 1910, Brookline Gas Light was absorbed by Standard Oil. Then it became an arm of Boston Gas, but it still operated under its founding name through at least 1904.

Almost forgotten today, commercial quantities of natural gas did not reach the Brookline area until the early 1950s. Before then, first “coal gas” and later “water gas” circulated in buried pipelines to provide street lighting and later domestic lighting, cooking and–more rarely–heating. Those products were generated by high-temperature decomposition of coal or of water mixed with coal, using coal-fired retorts.

Plentiful waste from “coal gas” and “water gas” was huge heaps of coal ash. We now recognize that coal ash contains large amounts of arsenic, mercury, cadmium, vanadium and other hazardous “heavy metals.” During the nineteenth century, those hazards were either unknown or ignored. Rainfall leached hazardous byproducts from coal ash deep into soils under Hearthstone Plaza and Brookline Place, creating what might be, but so far has not become, a Superfund pollution site in Brookline.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 6, 2014


John William Denehy, A History of Brookline, Massachusetts, Brookline Press, 1906

George W. Anderson, Esq., Consolidation of gas companies in Boston, Legislative Committee on Lighting, from Public Franchise League, 1905

Annual town meeting: Brookline Place, taxi medallions and resolutions

Brookline’s 2014 annual town meeting held its third session Monday, June 2. Although running a little late, town meeting members worked their way through the remaining articles and will not need another session. A summary of actions on articles:

15. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place–approved
16. Zoning amendments, Brookline Place (alternative)–rejected
17. Grant of easement, Brookline Place–approved
18. Restrictive covenant, Brookline Place–approved
19, Release of documents, Brookline Place–approved
26. Legislation, repealing authority to sell taxi medallions–referred
27. Resolution, urging memory of Brookline veterans–approved
28. Resolution, urging snow clearance in business districts–approved
29. Resolution, supporting Brookline businesses–referred
30. Resolution, supporting legislation on obstetric fistula–approved
31. Resolution, opposing discrimination by gender identity–approved
32. Resolution, supporting legislation on fossil-fuel divestment–approved
33. Reports, town officers and committees
(1) Police department, complaint process–presented

The contentious issues were expected to be Articles 15 and 16, two versions of zoning for Brookline Place, and Article 26, legislation to repeal the state authorization to sell taxi medallions. Article 16, submitted by petition, called for less parking than official Article 15. Debates proved fairly compact. There were four more electronic votes after the seven of May 27 and 29, but only records for two of those appeared on the town’s Web site later in the week.

Brookline Place: The Planning Board and its Brookline Place Advisory Committee proposed to complete nearly a half century of redevelopment in the Brookline Village block bounded by Washington Street, Brookline Avenue and Pearl Street, adjacent to the Village’s Green Line stop. Except for the T stop and the former Water Department building at the eastern extreme, the commercially zoned area now called Brookline Place–which includes 6-story offices built in the 1990s–is owned by Children’s Hospital.

Management of Children’s Hospital proposed to replace low-rise buildings near the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets with business and medical offices in an 8-story tower–as reviewed over an extended period with the Board of Selectmen, Planning Board, Brookline Place Advisory Committee, Planning Department and other committees and agencies. Because the development should not add to the school population, substantial net tax revenue is expected. Parking has been the main controversy.

Brookline’s usual zoning requires underground parking. However, Children’s Hospital management claimed that underground parking would make the project uneconomic. Brookline boards and agencies agreed to propose zoning with above-ground parking. However, controversy continued around the amount of parking. Because the site of the development includes a rapid-transit stop, Brookline’s representatives took an unusual stance, advocating less parking than standard zoning. Children’s Hospital management also took an unusual stance, calling for more parking than the town’s representatives.

Article 15 presented a negotiated compromise. That calls for replacing a current 3-story parking garage, with 355 spaces for 105,000 square feet in the existing 6-story offices. A new 6-story garage would be built on the site of the present garage, providing 683 spaces for a new total of 287,500 square feet in the 6-story and new 8-story offices combined. It represents a substantial cutback from 820 spaces that had been under discussion earlier.

Town meeting members led by Andrew Fischer of Precinct 13 submitted an alternative proposal under Article 16. Although complex, it would allow little above-ground parking beyond the current parking garage. More spaces could be built underground. Petitioners argued that transportation via the Green Line and the three MBTA bus routes serving the site should make additional parking unnecessary.

Proponents of Article 15, supported by the Advisory Committee, said that Article 16 would not allow enough on-site parking at costs that make the project economic. Without substantially more parking than the current garage, they said, new offices could become unmarketable at premium rents and could expose the surrounding neighborhood to predatory “impacts from cars circling and taking on-street parking.” Town meeting agreed with those arguments, approving Article 15 and rejecting Article 16.

Article 17 proposed Brookline accept a grant of easement from Children’s Hospital, allowing a public path 45 feet wide between Washington Street and the Village T stop. It will pass between the new 8-story office tower and the older 6-story offices and parking garage. Article 18 proposed Brookline enter into a restrictive covenant with property owners involved in the new development, such that future uses maintain tax income. Article 19 proposed authorizing the Board of Selectmen to release documents concerning a 2007 project for Brookline Place, also involving Children’s Hospital, that was never completed. Articles 17, 18 and 19 attracted little controversy, and town meeting approved them.

Taxi medallions: Article 26, submitted by Precinct 8 town meeting member John Harris, proposed asking the General Court to repeal sections of state laws allowing Brookline to sell taxi medallions: in Chapter 51 of the Acts of 2010 and in Chapter 52 of the Acts of 2012. Sale of taxi medallions had originally been requested by a special town meeting held in November, 2008. In his arguments to town meeting, Mr. Harris cited a 2013 Boston Globe article alleging that contract taxi drivers were being abused by medallion owners and singling out Edward J. Tutunjian, the owner of Boston Cab. The Globe article is replete with political sleaze and official corruption.

Mr. Harris sought to revive basic controversy over ownership of taxi medallions, calling it a “social justice issue.” He cited a 1986 New York City brief calling the medallion system there “an engraved invitation to corruption” and recalled the 1930 resignation of former New York City mayor Jimmy Walker, “after being accused of accepting bribes from the Checker Cab Company.”

The Board of Selectmen has called the recent Boston scandal, instead, “the fault of regulators” and argued, in effect, that Boston is Boston. Since 2003, they said, the Brookline “Transportation Board has suspended or revoked the license to operate for several companies and many drivers” when they did not follow regulations.

The Advisory Committee took a less partisan approach, calling Mr. Harris’s “concerns…legitimate for some forms of taxi medallion systems” but arguing that Boston’s medallions–at around $600,000–probably sell for around ten times as much as Brookline’s should–because of a monopoly for serving Logan Airport. Advisory has estimated $10 to $15 million in one-time revenue. Town meeting approved a motion to refer Article 26 to a moderator’s committee, to report in time for a fall town meeting.

Resolutions: Precinct 1 town meeting member Neil Gordon submitted Article 27, asking for a “modest but meaningful memorial to Brookline’s veterans,” flying flags in their honor. Town meeting approved the resolution.

Precinct 10 town meeting member Frank Caro submitted Article 28, resolving that Brookline should “proactively deploy enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls,” to enforce Brookline’s snow clearance bylaw. The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee both proposed to refer the matter to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner, but town meeting supported Mr. Caro and approved the resolution.

Article 29, submitted by a local-business group calling itself “Brookline Local First” got quite a different response. The group sought a resolution calling for a “task force,” jointly appointed by Brookline boards and committees, to “support the growth and development of locally owned and independent businesses” and calling for declaration of a “Brookline local economy week.” The Board of Selectmen questioned a narrow focus, apparently excluding franchise holders, and moved referral to the Economic Development Advisory Board. The Advisory Committee found only about 70 businesses involved with “Brookline Local First” versus about 2,000 businesses in Brookline, recommending no action. Town meeting took up the question of referral first and approved referral by a vote of 99 to 76.

Sarah Gladstone, a student at Brookline High School, submitted Article 30, a resolution in favor of H.R. 2888 of the 113th Congress, proposing the Obstetric Fistula Prevention, Treatment, Hope and Dignity Restoration Act of 2013–which did not pass last year. The complication of labor is now rare in the United States but remains common in poor countries. Surgical treatment usually works but is often too expensive for victims, The House bill seeks assistance to international organizations. Town meeting approved the resolution.

Alex Coleman, a Human Relations Youth Resources commissioner, submitted Article 31, a resolution to express “support for the prohibition of discrimination or harassment on the basis of gender identity and expression.” The Advisory Committee moved to amend that, by also asking Brookline’s “legal services department”–apparently meaning the Office of Town Counsel—to review Brookline bylaws and propose changes “consistent with [the] purpose” for a fall town meeting. The Board of Selectmen supported the Advisory Committee, and town meeting approved the amended resolution.

Precinct 4 town meeting member Frank Farlow and Brookline resident Byron Hinebaugh submitted Article 32, a resolution urging the General Court to enact S. 1225 of the current session, proposing An Act Relative to Public Investment in Fossil Fuels. The bill, filed by Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield, who chairs the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, seeks for the state to divest all pension fund holdings in “fossil fuel companies”–not defined in S. 1225. The Board of Selectmen recommended approval of the Article 32 resolution, after amending a “whereas” clause.

By a substantial majority, the Advisory Committee recommended no action, calling S. 1225 a “blunt instrument” and citing vagueness about the meaning of “fossil fuel companies.” General Electric, the committee report noted, operates a wind turbine business and other “clean energy” divisions but also owns GE Oil & Gas. The hour was getting late, and town meeting members may not have been troubled by such distinctions–voting to approve the resolution as amended by the selectmen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2014


Correction, June 6, 2014. Faulty information found on the Brookline Web site the morning after the June 2 session led to two mistakes. Article 26 on taxi medallions was not rejected but instead referred–to a moderator’s committee, to report before a fall town meeting. Four electronic votes were held. They include one on that referral, approved 96 to 91, and another on a referral under article 29, a proposed resolution in support of “Brookline local first,” approved 99 to 76. Votes of individual town meeting members were not available from town meeting records for those two matters. The other two electronic votes are recorded in town meeting computer files: on Article 15, zoning for Brookline Place, approved 185 to 18, and on Article 32, a resolution supporting divestment of state pension funds from fossil fuel companies, approved 126 to 20.


Bob Hohler, Marcella Bombardieri, Jonathan Saltzman and Thomas Farragher, For Boston cabbies, a losing battle against the numbers, Boston Globe, March 30, 2013

Environment: be careful what you ask for

Brookline’s incautious foray into environmental regulation has produced a small-scale disaster–a reminder to “be careful what you ask for.” One thesis held containers made from closed-cell, expanded polystyrene foam to be the Devil’s work. They were banned from local foodservice businesses. These common, lightweight products are sometimes misidentified as Styrofoam, a Dow Chemical trademark for slabs of extruded polystyrene foam.

Here is what happened at our neighborhood favorite: Dok Bua–a popular, highly regarded Thai restaurant on Harvard St. that does a busy trade in take-out as well as table service. Before the disaster, a take-out usually included five containers: a Dart 80HT3 hinged-lid polystyrene foam box for the main dish, a soup cup and three portion containers. The last four were unaffected by Brookline’s hasty ban and are still provided.

Dart is a well known U.S. manufacturer of foodservice packaging, with headquarters in Michigan and several U.S. plants. An 80HT3 container provides lightweight, disposable packaging with good thermal insulation. It measures 8 x 7-1/2 x 2-1/4 in and weighs 14 g, equal to 0.5 oz. Because Brookline has never provided any practical recycling for such containers, we take them once or twice a year to a privately run recycling program, when we can combine the errand with another trip nearby.

For take-out, Dok Bua now provides a Pactiv VERSAtainer NC723 round container and lid, 7-1/4 in diameter x 2-1/4 in high. It weighs 40-1/2 g, equal to 1.4 oz, and is made of virgin, solid polypropylene. These sturdy containers are easy to clean, dishwasher-proof and handy for leftovers. We’re not recycling them; we reuse them. However, we have seen plenty of the previous as well as the current Dok Bua take-out containers tossed in both refuse and recycling bins. Either way, their most likely fates are to be burned at an incinerator in Rochester. Recycling symbols on the Pactiv items are so small they are almost sure to be missed.

The small-scale disaster that Brookline’s hasty and foolish ban produced is wasting about an extra 0.9 oz of virgin polymer resin for each take-out serving from Dok Bua. We don’t see any evidence that many of our neighbors are taking up an opportunity for reuse. The container cost for Dok Bua has at least tripled. Any competent analysis would very likely find the overall effect of Brookline’s ban on polystyrene foam, as worked through by Dok Bua, to be substantially more–not less–environmental damage. Hundreds of pounds a year in extra plastics are being used for no benefit whatever–instead, for overall harm. It turned out to be a lose-lose proposition.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 2, 2014

Paper or plastic? The Devil’s work

For some environmental activists, plastic disposables are the Devil’s work. Paper or biopolymer disposables and reusable items are “obviously” better for the environment, they may say. However, it can be “devilishly” difficult to make reliable comparisons.

A typical controversy is whether to replace, with different products, the cups and trays made of expanded, closed-cell polystyrene foam–sometimes mistakenly called Styrofoam, a Dow Chemical trademark for slabs of extruded foam. The main alternatives are reusable cups and trays made of glass, solid plastics, metals and ceramics, and disposable cups and trays made of paper, biopolymers and composites.

Reliable comparisons will weigh several environmental impacts. Those include at least energy consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions, water and air pollution of many types, human, animal and plant toxic exposures, soil erosion, mineral extraction residues and side-effects, stratospheric ozone depletion, and eutrophication of water bodies. They need to examine product life-cycle and cost factors for raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, cleansing for reuse, recycling and disposal.

For some factors, there will be more than one option. Options that reduce impacts may increase costs. The more costly options are less likely to appear in common practice, making it hard or impossible to know their real prices. There will sometimes be big uncertainties, such as total cycles for a reusable item. There will typically be more than one type of environmental impact. Factors that cut some impacts may boost others.

Preferences among products involve relative values for multiple impacts. A theory to evaluate such situations began to appear in the 1970s, expressed through the mathematics of linear algebra and multivariate calculus. So far, however, textbooks on so-called “eco-efficiency” avoid the ugly foundations: large uncertainties that sometimes turn elegant theory into practical rubble. Impact studies often try to elide these problems.

Even comparisons limited to a single type of impact can substantially disagree. For example, van der Harst and Potting (2013) reviewed ten life-cycle studies comparing disposable cups for greenhouse-gas emissions. The studies produced conflicting estimates for the same types of cup. Van der Harst and Potting were unable to identify “a best or worst cup material.” They traced conflicting results to differing inputs, including “weight, production processes, waste processes, allocation options and data.”

Among the comparisons van der Harst and Potting reviewed was Ligthart and Ansems (2007), a sophisticated work that considered ten types of environmental impact. Those were consolidated into a single impact-measure by adding the so-called “shadow costs” of impacts, which multiply estimated market prices to mitigate impacts by amounts of materials needing mitigation.

A key weakness of such an approach is information that may be unknown or unknowable. For example, mitigation of farm fertilizer as a eutrophication impact may require changes in practices and technologies that have never been tried on a large scale. Unless there are widely applied mitigations–such as scrubbers for power-plant smokestacks–”shadow cost” estimates will lack a reliable base of knowledge, turning elegant theory into practical rubble.

Such problems likely influence conflicts among life-cycle studies of disposable cups that van der Harst and Potting documented. With care, one might be able to estimate individual impacts, but knowledge may be lacking to understand impact relations or assign weightings and combine them–for example, to predict fair and effective prices that might be charged, rather than arbitrarily banning some types of cups but not others.

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 28, 2014


Eugenie van der Harst and José Potting, A critical comparison of ten disposable-cup life-cycle analyses, Environmental Impact Assessment Review 43:86-96, 2013

T.N. Ligthart and A.M.M. Ansems, Single-use cups or reusable drinking systems: an environmental comparison, Netherlands Organization for Applied Research (TNO), 2007

PWC France, Life-cycle assessment: three approaches to commercial fish boxes, Price-Waterhouse Coopers, 2011

Shunrong Qi, Lan Xu and Jay Coggins, Deriving shadow prices of environmental externalities, Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota, 2004

Rolf Färe, Shawna Grosskopf, C.A. Knox Lovell and Suthahip Yaisawarng, Derivation of shadow prices for undesirable outputs, Review of Economics and Statistics 75(2):374-380, 1993

Gjalt Huppes and Masanobu Ishikawa, ed., Quantified Eco-Efficiency: An Introduction with Applications, Springer, 2010

Jukka Hoffrén, Strengths and weaknesses of eco-efficiency, Statistics Finland and Ministry of the Environment, 2012

Nuclear news: a “cat-litter mystery”

Followers of nuclear issues likely recall reports in February about a significant discharge of radioactive contamination at the U.S. Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located about 25 miles east of Carlsbad, NM. WIPP is the only government-licensed facility for long-term storage of radioactive waste. Producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, between 1943 and 2002, generated the waste being stored at WIPP.

Brookline–about 2,000 miles from the New Mexico site–is not as isolated as one might think. Contamination from WIPP apparently became airborne and, if it did so, can travel long distances. It resembles long-lived components of radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons explosions–starting in the U.S. with the Trinity site explosion of 1945 and lasting until the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Nuclear waste storage: WIPP is the earlier of two U.S. nuclear-waste repositories authorized between the late 1970s and late 1980s. Construction of WIPP took from 1980 to 1988. It was designated to hold relatively low-level but long-lived radioactive waste from military programs. The other repository is Yucca Mountain, in southern Nevada. It was designated for high-level waste from nuclear power-plants. Construction began in 1992, during the Herbert Bush administration, but was halted in 2010, before completion, by the Obama administration.

WIPP construction started before the site’s geology was known in much detail. By the time construction ended, geologists had found buried faults and fractures, boreholes and aquifers above and around the salt deposits tunneled into to build WIPP. Years of disputes and further studies followed. In 1998 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved WIPP as safe to use, during the Clinton administration, and in 1999 waste storage began.

Radioactive discharge event: WIPP was evacuated after sensors warned of a major radioactive discharge in underground work areas late at night last February 14. Three months later, the discharge had been traced to a drum of waste shipped to WIPP from Los Alamos National Laboratory, where plutonium processing and testing began in 1943. The Department of Energy, which runs both WIPP and Los Alamos, originally said radioactivity had been trapped in filters.

More recently, WIPP managers disclosed that 22 above-ground workers had “ingested or inhaled” radioactive contamination. At a February 23 public meeting organized by the mayor of Carlsbad, NM, a Department of Energy spokesperson estimated about 10 nCi of plutonium and other alpha-emitting elements had been released into the open atmosphere around WIPP.

The main isotope, plutonium-239, has a half-life of about 24,000 years. Reducing it to trace amounts–a billionth of current amounts–takes about 40 half-lives, or a million years. Some of the main products of nuclear fission persist much longer: technetium-99 half-life about 220,000 years, iodine-129 half-life about 17,000,000 years.

The 1980s designers and 1990s certifiers of WIPP looked only 10,000 years ahead–just an instant in time, compared to long-lived radioactivity and to geology. In at least the million years they should have considered, geologic history has seen about eight full glacial cycles. The most recent of those left the Great Lakes and the Grand Canyon.

Hazards from the atmospheric release of radioactivity estimated by the Department of Energy last February 23 would be small for people miles from the plant, as department personnel say, but they are hardly zero, since alpha emitters are powerful inducers of tumors. Far more radiation has evidently spread through underground tunnels. The Department of Energy has not allowed workers to resume ordinary activities underground. As of May, 2014, WIPP remained effectively shut down.

Power-plant waste: In addition to high-level radioactive waste–spent fuel rods–nuclear power-plants also generate low-level waste, containing some long-lived radioactivity similar to waste being stored at WIPP. That consists of used filter elements, residues from cleanups, contaminated tools and clothing, and other byproducts of routine operations. Like the other 103 licensed nuclear-power reactors in the U.S., the reactor at the Pilgrim plant in Plymouth is holding both spent fuel rods and low-level waste on-site.

Eventually, low-level power-plant waste is currently destined for a privately run repository that is under construction in west Texas. The principal investor in Waste Control Specialists, located about 35 miles west of Andrews, TX, was the late Harold C. Simmons. Mr. Simmons was also a well known contributor to “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” the group that broadcast attacks on former Sen. John Kerry, now the U.S. secretary of state, during the 2004 Presidential campaign.

High-level nuclear waste is another story. In addition to alpha-emitting elements such as plutonium, irradiated fuel contains nuclear-fission products that emit intense beta and gamma radiation–notably strontium-90 and cesium-131, both with half-lives of about 30 years. Several minutes of exposure to an irradiated, unshielded fuel rod can be fatal.

Sources of high-level waste are former factories for nuclear weapons and nuclear power-plants. U.S. weapons factories left the equivalent of about 2,500 metric tons of heavy metal in plutonium-processing wastes, separated from the plutonium that was used to make weapons. As of 2014, the U.S. nuclear-power plants have left about 73,000 metric tons of heavy metal in unprocessed spent fuel–97 percent of the U.S. total high-level wastes.

Rated capacity of the unfinished, now idle Yucca Mountain repository is only 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal. At current rates, another facility of that size is needed about every 40 years. Most high-level waste is being stored where it was made. The large storage sites in New England are closed power-plants in Wiscasset, ME, Haddam Neck, CT, and Rowe, MA, and active power-plants in Waterford, CT, Portsmouth, NH, Plymouth, MA, and Vernon, VT.

“Government misadventure”: Writing in the New York Times, before the February 14 radioactive discharge at WIPP, veteran reporter Matthew L. Wald called storage of low-level radioactive waste “a government misadventure.” Among the most difficult issues are unexpected events. No one expected waste that had already been in storage for years to explode, but that is what the drum from Los Alamos apparently did at WIPP. A photo published online shows a gaping hole in the drum’s lid.

Laura Zuckerman, writing for Reuters, recently reported that contents of the failed drum heated, because of some unexpected chemical process. Jeri Clausing, writing for Associated Press, reported that one of the main suspects has been commercial cat litter packed around waste containers. Cat litter had long been used as a packing material to absorb liquid leaks. However, for the failed drum, instead of clay composition, available since the 1940s, Los Alamos reportedly used one of the newer cellulosic compositions–also known as “organic.”

“Cat-litter mystery”: News articles report speculation that somehow nitrates in waste reacted with cellulose in “organic” cat litter to create a highly flammable or explosive material. Since the 1820s, it has been known that cellulose can react to form flammable or explosive nitrocellulose–also called “guncotton.” However, that requires a strong acid, usually nitric acid.

Plutonium processing typically uses high-strength nitric acid to dissolve irradiated reactor fuel, as the start point for extracting plutonium. Before wastes from processing are stored, they are ordinarily mixed with alkali compounds to neutralize acids, so that wastes can be held in plain metal tanks. In a laboratory setting, however, strong acid wastes might have been stored in glass or other nonmetal containers. Until contents of the failed drum at WIPP have been examined, a “cat-litter mystery” endures.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 23, 2014


Update, slow progress: As of May 30, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy has stopped sending nuclear waste from Los Alamos to WIPP. In a notice to the New Mexico Environment Department, it estimated two to four years to clean up and reopen WIPP. Other, major clean-up efforts are likely to be affected: notably those at the Savannah River and Hanford sites in South Carolina and Washington state, which produced nearly all the plutonium used for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.


Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Feds say it could take 2 years to seal nuclear waste site, Billings (MT) Gazette, May 31, 2014

Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, Has cat litter turned barrels of New Mexico nuclear waste into ticking time bombs? Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 23, 2014

Jeri Clausing, Associated Press, WIPP leak linked to container from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Albuquerque (NM) Journal, May 17, 2014

Steve Sandoval, Communications Office, Los Alamos National Laboratory ships last of high-activity drums to WIPP, Los Alamos National Laboratory, November 25, 2008

Laura Zuckerman, New Mexico official urges removal of nuclear waste drums that could leak radiation, Reuters, May 16, 2014

Laura Zuckerman, Possible radiation leak at New Mexico military nuclear waste site, Reuters, February 16, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, Texas company owns national radioactive waste monopoly, New York Times, January 21, 2014

Matthew L. Wald, South Carolina threatens over cleanup of nuclear waste, New York Times, November 29, 2013

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Nuclear Energy Institute v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 01-1258, July 9, 2004 [373 F.3d 1251] sourced from U.S. EPA

Robert Vandenbosch and Susanne E. Vandenbosch, The revised radiation protection standards for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, Forum on Physics and Society, American Physical Society, 2009

Richard A. Kerr, For radioactive waste from weapons, a home at last, Science 283(5408):1626-1628, March 12, 1999

Climate Action Committee: “green” schools and solar energy

A regular monthly meeting of the Climate Action Committee on Monday, May 19, started at 6:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall, with 10 of the 15 committee members present, plus five members of the public and Doron Bracha, a Brookline resident giving a featured presentation on “green” schools. Co-chair Keske Toyofuku presided. Next Step Living, a solar energy firm in the Boston seaport district, was to present at this meeting but rescheduled for next month’s meeting.

Mr. Bracha, an architect specializing in energy-efficient school buildings, lives in the Devotion district, where his children attend. He is active in the Green Team at the school. He illustrated design features for school buildings that manage solar flux entering windows, reduce energy consumption with air heat exchangers, capture and store rainwater, and control acoustic reverberation.

Some of these features were illustrated with recent pictures of Wayland High School, where several “green” design elements have been employed. Committee member Dan Bennett asked about a high ceiling, looking to be around 20 feet, over the lunch room. Mr. Bracha acknowledged there had been tradeoffs between prestige appearance and energy efficiency but said some of the upper space was occupied by a mezzanine and balcony.

At Devotion School, Mr. Bracha said he noticed there was little recycling. In particular, the lunch room was discarding disposables and food scraps in refuse bins. He wondered whether other Brookline schools were also missing recycling opportunities. Committee member Benjamin Chang, who also serves on the School Committee, said he did not know but would ask Food Services director Alden Cadwell, who joined the school system at the start of the current school year.

Committee member Werner Lohe, who also serves on the Conservation Commission, said he had read that Boston University recycles both disposables and food scraps. Committee member Don Weitzman said some but not all schools have blue recycling bins supplied by the public works department. Co-chair Neil Wishinsky, who also serves on the Board of Selectmen, cautioned that the department lacks authority to require recycling by Public Schools of Brookline. An audience member recalled Green Teams at elementary schools organized several years ago by Mary Dewart, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, saying they had been less engaged recently.

Mr. Bennett asked about the variety of alternative energy systems considered for “green” schools, saying he believes cogeneration gives the most “bang for the buck.” Mr. Bracha replied, “Every project is different,” and “many projects don’t have the budget for environmental enhancements.” Committee members were concerned that could happen with current projects under review for Devotion, Driscoll and Lawernce. Mr. Toyofuku said he hoped Mr. Bracha would come to future meetings to continue the discussion.

The meeting turned to energy efficiency programs, alternative transportation and solar energy installations in Brookline. Mr. Wishinsky called attention to the Hubway bicycle station formerly at Town Hall and now near JFK Crossing, the intersection of Fuller and Harvard Streets. Mr. Lohe said utilization at Town Hall had been low. He hopes to see improvements to traffic signal coordination but realizes it is complex and costly.

Committee member Linda Olson Pehlke expressed concern that if town meeting rejects Article 16, submitted by Precinct 13 town meeting member Andrew Fischer, reducing parking at Brookline Place, it could not be proposed again for two years. The Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee all recommend Article 15 instead, submitted by the Brookline Place Advisory Committee.

A question from the audience asked about the status of a program guide for solar energy. Lara Curtis Hayes, who provides staff support to the committee, said there is now a first draft and that the agency running the state’s rebate program has received a recent infusion of funds. Massachusetts makes available a comprehensive list of all the state’s subsidized solar energy projects since 2008.

After a slow start, the Massachusetts solar program became very active in 2012 and 2013, spurred by drastic drops in solar panel prices. The state offers rebates of up to $4,250 for a home installation, if the household income is not over $95,420. The federal government offers a 30-percent tax credit. In 2013, there were 4,262 installations of small solar systems in the state, rated at up to 10 kilowatts, peak.

Although small systems were 87 percent of the state’s solar installations for 2013, they provide only 11 percent of their rated power, because several large solar plants were brought online–mostly by cities, towns and utility companies. For 2013, Brookline had 16 solar systems installed, all of them small ones for homes, rated at a total of about 90 kW, peak.

Compared to a statewide average of 33 peak watts per resident, new Brookline systems for 2013 were rated at just 1.5 peak watts per resident. A fairly typical home solar system was rated at about 5 kW, peak, and it cost around $25,000 installed. However, installed system prices reported in Brookline during 2013 ranged from $3.40 to $6.98 per peak watt; they were similar to prices in other places.

For New England, small solar installations rarely realize capacity factors above 12 percent–ratios of average to peak power. Their unsubsidized prices are equivalent to around $40 per average watt. So-called “third generation” nuclear is coming online this year at unsubsidized prices around $8 per average watt. Of course, small solar installations deliver energy to the doorstep, while delivering energy from utility plants adds transportation and distribution costs–quite high in New England.

Committee members strategized about stronger efforts to promote solar energy. Next month’s committee meeting will feature several solar energy installers providing services in Brookline.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 20, 2014

Public Works: question time and complaints

Brookline’s Department of Public Works (DPW) held a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor north meeting room at Town Hall. At least 30 town meeting members attended, along with quite a few other Brookline residents.

Since at least the 1940s and likely since open town meetings before 1916, questions and complaints about town services dominated town-meeting debates on the former highway, sanitation and water budgets and, after the early 1960s consolidation, on the public works budget. By the 1970s, problems with potholes, water leaks, street cleaning, litter, burnt-out lights, missing signs and crumbling sidewalks and paths would often take most of an evening’s town-meeting session.

“Question time” began in the 1980s, in hope of reducing the town-meeting schedule and solving rather than just airing some problems. DPW has now made a tradition of the event, held shortly before an annual town meeting. Commissioner Andrew Pappastergion, former chief of the water division, led this year’s “question time.” Division directors were on hand: Kevin Johnson for Highway and Sanitation, Fred Russell for Water and Sewer, Erin Gallentine for Parks and Open Space, and Peter Ditto for Engineering and Transportation. Some of the senior managers were also present: Thomas Brady for Forestry and Conservation, Edward Gilbert for Solid Waste and Recycling, and Todd Kirrane for Transportation.

Mr. Pappastergion said DPW has Brookline’s second-largest expenditure, after schools: for fiscal 2015 about $42 million in total spending. Much of that pays for MWRA water and sewer, but the rest would still leave DPW as the third largest budget, between Police and Fire. In the budget tables–which account separately for pay changes, health care and other employee benefits–DPW is now proposed for near-level funding in fiscal 2015.

Parks and Open Space is allocated a 4-percent cut, about $137 thousand, while other divisions are getting increases. However, Parks and Open Space has the second largest share of the Capital Improvement Program, after schools. In the warrant report for the 2014 annual town meeting, neither the Board of Selectmen nor the Advisory Committee explains cutting the operating budget for parks.

Mr. Pappastergion’s “flashiest” program for the next fiscal year is starting to install light-emitting-diode (LED) lamps for street lighting, a 4-year program. Brookline maintains its street lights rather than pay a flat fee to Northeast Utilities (before that Boston Edison, then Nstar). Energy savings and extended lamp lifetime from LED rather than high-pressure sodium-vapor lamps can save money when costs of replacing lamps are high, as with street poles. Recent drops in LED prices combine with a state incentive program to result in estimated payback periods under ten years. When the new lamps are lit, residents will see more balanced white rather than pink color.

The first question came from Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member. He asked when the town would address deterioration of Claflin Path, on Addington Hill. He said flooding has become more severe and more frequent, and a path light has failed. Before it failed, neighbors replaced the bulbs. Several neighbors detailed problems, including Amy Hummel, also a Precinct 12 town meeting member, who said flooding has occurred often for at least ten years.

Mr. Ditto of Engineering promised Claflin Path will inspected soon, and a plan will be drawn up to correct problems. That could involve larger drains and catch basins; if so, it might take some time. The failed light fixture is attached to a house, and Mr. Ditto did not know who owned it.

Carol Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, complained about “tree wells,” as she called them, around street trees in commercial areas. Without protective grates, edges of brick or pavement around tree bases are increasingly exposed as soil compacts or erodes. Ms. Caro tripped on one and suffered injuries.

During the 1960s, a small “first wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted without much protection for either trees or pedestrians, mostly in lower-density areas. As soils compacted or eroded, mulch was sometimes added, with little concern about sidewalk appearance. Over time many of those trees died, but several still survive. Higher-density areas, notably Coolidge Corner, were left bare, as they had been since Brookline began to pave streets shortly after 1910.

When a “second wave” of commercial-area street trees were planted during the 1970s and 1980s, in a program galvanized by former Brookline business-owner and resident Anita Belt, higher-density commercial areas got trees, including Coolidge Corner. In some places, brick edging was installed along curbs and around trees, with heavy metal grates spanning spaces between brick or pavement edges and tree trunks.

As tree trunks and roots grew, grates began to shift and warp. Many have now been removed, exposing the “tree wells” about which Ms. Caro complained. Mr. Brady of Forestry knew about the issue and sympathized, but he did not appear to have a solution ready. He said Brookline plans to try polymer bricks set into soil around trees, as already done in parts of Boston. He did not say how trees will survive without ample rainwater.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, reported fewer newspaper boxes, with the remaining boxes in better condition. When she coordinated a survey over a year ago, more than 150 boxes were found, with about three-fourths in what she called “poor condition.” A recent survey found only 33 boxes, all in “good condition.” While more neatness may please some people, it may not help others. For example, the Brookline TAB used to distribute newspapers from a box in front of the Arcade Building at 316 Harvard St. Now that box is gone; there are no longer any TAB newspaper boxes in Brookline.

Cornelia van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, complained of several problems, including snow clearance violations near her house, street lights extinguished and fluorescent lamps left out with refuse for collection. Mr. Gilbert described the town’s recent expansion of hazardous waste collection, from once or twice a year to Thursdays from May through October. Fluorescent lamps are accepted at the South Brookline transfer station between 7:30 am and 12:30 pm and at the Health Center dropoff between 8 am and 5 pm.

Several people described problems they reported via the Brookonline Web page deployed in fall, 2011. While it lacks a distinctive site address, or URL, people said it has been effective–with problems often cleared a few days after being reported. However, some people have reported problems that remain unaddressed. One is rainwater accumulating in recycling bins. An unidentified resident said she found them too heavy to empty.

Ruthann Sneider, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked whether there is a program in Brookline to survey and correct gas leaks, citing reports of thousands of leaks found in Boston. Actually, the survey she likely read about also found many leaks in parts of Brookline too, near Coolidge Corner and toward B.U. Mr. Brady of Forestry described a survey to locate leaks near street trees, where soil is exposed.

In response to a report from Virginia LaPlante, also a Precinct 6 town meeting member, about a recent, strong gas odor near Welland Rd. at Tappan St., Mr. Brady said that sounded like an emergency situation: if noticed again, call 911.

Clint Richmond, another Precinct 6 town meeting member, asked about new street-marking materials that appear to be plastic. Mr. Pappastergion said DPW is trying out several materials for durability and contrast. He said one of the more successful trials had been crosswalks in service for about three years at the busy intersection of Beacon and Harvard Streets.

A South Brookline person asked about plans for trash metering. Mr. Pappastergion and Mr. Gilbert described proposed automation for solid waste collection, after the town’s current disposal contract expires at the end of June. That includes an element of trash metering but not the typical “pay as you throw” adopted mostly by low-density communities.

Instead, Brookline would continue to charge a fixed fee, paying for collection and disposal of one standard-size, marked refuse bin per household per week. Additional refuse would be collected when left out in marked plastic bags, Mr. Pappastergion said. Under the recent proposal, the town would supply marked bins to the 13,200 households using the town’s refuse service–around half the households in Brookline.

The new refuse bins would be compatible with automated handling, similar to what now occurs when recycling bins are emptied into collection trucks. However, Mr. Pappastergion said, the likely capacity of new refuse bins is 35 gallons, about half the capacity of current recycling bins. Marked plastic bags for additional refuse would be sold at grocery and convenience stores, at prices based on costs of collection and disposal.

Mr. Pappastergion said under the proposal Brookline would operate waste collection using its own trucks, with conditions still being negotiated with the union representing workers. No one asked, but apparently Brookline would no longer take bulky items, such as mattresses and tables, that won’t fit in plastic bags. If that were so, a likely result would be accumulation of discards along sidewalks in some residential areas.

Participants raised several other issues, although many of them have been widely reported. The atmosphere contrasted with what might have been found forty or fifty years earlier: little of the “us and them” attitudes once common. Instead, even though far fewer Brookline employees live in the town today, on all sides it was mostly “we,” “us” and “our problems.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 15, 2014


Beth Daley, Boston riddled with natural gas leaks, Boston University study finds, Boston Globe, November 19, 2012

Board of Selectmen: awards, block grants and human relations

A weekly meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, May 13, started at around 7:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. There were no reports from departments or organizations. However, the meeting attracted many people who came for the annual awards to police officers and several people interested in a proposal to replace the human relations commission.

Leadership: In a brief, afternoon open session before vanishing into a two-hour executive session, the board elected Kenneth Goldstein as chair for the coming year. Mr. Goldstein is a former, long time member of the Planning Board. Newly elected member Benjamin Franco, a former Advisory Committee member, joined the board–replacing Richard Benka, who did not run for another term.

Awards: Chief of Police Daniel O’Leary presented awards to three police officers for distinguished service: a commendation to Noah Brothers, a public service award to John Bradley and an award for police officer of the year to Douglas Dunwoody. Officer Dunwoody was noted for service in several difficult incidents, including one last year near the intersection of Lee St. with Route 9, when the driver of a car transporting illegal drugs was disarmed of a pistol.

Announcements: The Department of Public Works is holding a public meeting to answer questions about its services Wednesday, May 14, starting at 7:00 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, 333 Washington St. The department also offers an “open house” Tuesday, May 20, from noon to 6 pm, demonstrating its services and equipment at the Public Works Center, 870 Hammond St. The department provides services for parks, roads, sanitation, water and engineering. The Bicycle Advisory Committee will hold an annual bicycle parade Sunday, May 18, starting at noon from Amory Park, near the corner of Amory and Freeman Streets.

The Brookline Neighborhood Alliance will hold a forum on town meeting issues Wednesday, May 21, starting at 7:00 pm in the sixth floor meeting room at Town Hall. The Driscoll School Council will host a discussion on proposals to renovate the school Friday, May 16, starting at 8:15 am in the school auditorium. The Council on Aging and other organizations host a discussion on “elder care”–home-based services and residential options for older people–Thursday, May 15, starting at 5:30 pm at the Brookline Senior Center, 93 Winchester St.

Block grants: Joe Viola, assistant director for community planning, presented the fiscal 2015 community development block grant program. It will bring in over $1 million in federal funds to serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods. Brookline’s eligibility stems from the former Redevelopment Authority, which carried out two major projects from the early 1960s through the mid-1980s. In the early 1970s, the Nixon administration convinced Congress to replace redevelopment project funding with block grants.

This year’s program has four large elements at around a quarter million dollars each: assisting acquisition of houses on Beals St. for homeless people, a contribution to the town’s housing trust fund used to subsidize housing for low-income and moderate-income residents, demolition of the pedestrian overpass near the corner of Route 9 and Washington St., and grant administration. Several smaller projects fund security systems in public housing, youth employment and training, and other social services. Total funding is $1.334 million.

The pedestrian overpass was built in the early 1970s by the former Redevelopment Authority, connecting its Marsh Project and Farm Project sites, on the north and south sides of Route 9. Poor visibility of pedestrians from below led to assaults and vandalism, and the overpass was blocked off in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s town meeting authorized demolition, but until now that has never been carried out for lack of funds. A development project at Brookline Place is expected to reimburse the cost of demolition, restoring block grant funds for use in other programs. The Board of Selectmen voted unanimous approval of this year’s program.

Construction noise: Representatives for Claremont Companies of Bridgewater, MA, presented a request for a waiver of noise control to demolish the former Red Cab garage at 111 Boylston St., where Claremont plans to build a 130-room hotel. The building abuts tracks of the Riverside branch of the MBTA Green Line. Demolition can only be performed during very late night and very early morning hours, when trolleys are not running. Claremont estimates 40 nights of work spread over two months. They will be operating excavators, front-end loaders, a crane and a Brokk demolition robot but will not operate manual jackhammers or transport debris or heavy equipment at night.

Neighbor Mike Bukhin of 46 White Place described experiences with a recent, much smaller project, restoring a dilapidated exterior wall. After getting a waiver, he tried notifying nearby residents by e-mail, with mixed results. He said erratic MBTA scheduling made the work take far longer than anticipated and predicted similar problems for Claremont. The Board of Selectmen approved a waiver for Claremont for 60 days, Sunday through Thursday nights between 1:15 and 4:45 am, starting in June or July, provided Claremont notifies the town at least ten days before starting and maintains an e-mail list to notify neighbors, day by day.

Human relations: Yet another long discussion ensued over replacement of the current Human Relations Youth Resources Commission by a proposed Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. Among those present were Harry Bohrs and Michael Sandman, chair and subcommittee chair of the Advisory Committee, Mariela Ames, chair of the Human Relations Youth Resources Commission, Barbara Scotto, vice chair of the School Committee and Jean Berg, chair of the Committee on Town Organization and Structure. There were several other members of boards that have become involved in the issue.

The change is being proposed by a selectmen-appointed “diversity committee.” In the fall of 2012, the human relations commission disclosed that the 26 departments reporting to Town Administrator Mel Kleckner and the Board of Selectmen lacked even one minority person as a department head and had not had one for over 40 years. The Board of Selectmen reacted by appointing the “diversity committee.” However, rather than investigate hirings and promotions, that committee proposed to abolish the human relations commission. They want to set up a new community relations commission, but it would be unable to investigate complaints involving Brookline personnel.

Nancy Daly, a member of the Board of Selectmen who chairs the “diversity committee,” described its latest revisions, developed after reviews by the other boards. The situation has become an unusually tangled set of disagreements that could lead to six or more competing proposals set before town meeting. The Board of Selectmen was not able to reach consensus and will reconsider the matter next week.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 14, 2014

Planning Board: house improvements and a common driveway

A weekly meeting of the Planning Board on Thursday, May 1, started at 7:00 pm in the northern first-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Topics were four applications to the Board of Appeals for exceptions from zoning requirements. This was a typical working session for the Planning Board and Department, who sometimes act as mediators in issues involving Brookline real estate.

When a property owner or an architect, a contractor or a landscaper working for one wants to build, demolish or make changes on a Brookline property, a first effort is often to seek a building permit. The Building Department checks proposed plans against the town’s regulations. When there is a zoning, neighborhood conservation, environmental conservation or historic preservation issue, an applicant will get a referral to the Planning Department, the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, the Conservation Commission or the Preservation Commission. There are occasionally proposals involving more than one review.

The four proposals reviewed on May 1 were to build a porch, replace a garage, add a new entry way and install a common driveway for more than one dwelling, Each proposal needs approval for some exception to zoning requirements and should soon go to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The appeals board looks to the Planning Board and Department to evaluate a proposal and sometimes to negotiate a satisfactory approach.

At 45 School St., the applicant seeks to build a new back porch, but there is an issue with minimum depth of the rear yard–a so-called “setback” requirement for the T-6 two-family zone. The Planning Board found the proposal reasonable in light of circumstances and is recommending approval to the appeals board.

At 87 Colchester St., a homeowner wants to replace an existing garage but proposes the new one be attached to the adjacent house rather than free-standing. That means the replacement will not be “grandfathered” under zoning, because it is considered a different type of structure having different “setback” requirements within the S-10 single-family zone. However, the new garage is designed to match the appearance of the house, with stucco rather than metal sides and with tile coping around its roof.

Several neighbors came to the hearing to support the proposal. Those included Fred Lebow, a former Massachusetts general contractor, former Brookline town meeting member and former resident of Colchester St., who said he traveled from New Hampshire to speak in favor of the proposal. The Planning Board is recommending approval to the appeals board. However, the property is located in an area of historical interest, listed on the National Register. An application to demolish the existing garage will need to be submitted to the Preservation Commission, and there could be a delay of up to 18 months.

At 17 Baker Circle, a homeowner wants to add a new entry way and extend the room above it. The small amount of added floor space would make the “floor area ratio” to the lot area become 0.36, as compared with a maximum of 0.35 for the S-7 single-family zone. The Planning Board found the proposal reasonable in light of circumstances and is recommending approval to the appeals board.

To the south of houses at 21 and 39 Sears Rd. is an expanse of unbuilt land that belongs to owners of the houses. The total lot area of about 621,000 square feet–where there are now two houses–could be enough to satisfy land area requirements for about 15 detached, single-family houses, even though the S-40 single-family zoning district has Brookline’s lowest residential density.

A developer seeks to install a common driveway that could serve five additional houses. It was not clear how much of the land the developer is including in sites to build housing and how much of that is actually eligible for the use. Parts of the area appear to be wetlands and may be subject to conservation restrictions. Questions from the Planning Board brought out that the land has not yet been “replatted”–subdivided into lots for houses. It was not known whether requirements of the Massachusetts subdivision control law would apply–Sections 81K through 81GG in Chapter 41 of the General Laws.

If the developer goes ahead with the proposal, it might require subdivision of land into at least five new lots, each enough for a detached, single-family house. The developer might otherwise invoke so-called “cluster zoning” to build attached or semi-detached houses–Section 5.11 in Brookline’s Zoning Bylaw. An appropriate configuration for a common driveway could depend on the approach chosen.

Planning Board members seemed puzzled at lack of project definition, but their questions were oblique. Polly Selkoe, the department’s assistant director for regulatory planning, was more direct, saying, “It doesn’t make sense to put a common driveway in an area that’s not yet a subdivision.”

Neighbors were clearly unhappy. Joseph Freeman of Lee St. compared the proposal with what he called “pork-chop development” outside Brookline. He said the proposal “does not meet requirements for the special permit” and called to the Planning Board’s attention a special permit application “denied ten years ago because of lack of appropriate access.”

Robert Allen, Jr., a Brookline lawyer, represented some abutters. Mr. Allen said that the application “should trigger subdivision control laws” and that “problems with conservation zoning have not been resolved.” Like others, he criticized vague plans, saying Brookline has never allowed a common driveway “without knowing where that drive is going.”

Mr. Allen and several neighbors said no meetings had been organized by the developer about the proposal in the neighborhood. Mark Zarrillo, an architect who chairs the Planning Board, announced that the review would continue at a future meeting. He recommended the developer meet with neighbors about the proposal.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 2, 2014

Hazards of rail transport

When we encounter news of railroad crashes involving oil and fuel tankers–such as the disaster last summer that took the lives of 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec–we probably don’t imagine anything like that in Brookline. We don’t even have freight rail here.

However, we once did. In the early 1850s, the former Charles River Branch Railroad was built from Needham through Newton and Brookline to Boston. For about twenty years it hauled millions of tons of gravel and sand to fill the largest parts of the Charles River’s former saltwater mudflats. Those once extended from what is now the east edge of the Public Garden to what is now the Charlesgate channel of the Muddy River and westward to what is now Kenmore Square. Since the mid-twentieth century, such a massive project probably would not happen. No one could likely get environmental waivers or permits today.

The former freight railroad is now the Riverside or D branch of the MBTA Green Line, since 1959, and the filled parts of Boston are the Back Bay neighborhoods. Unlike the rest of the Green Line, the Riverside branch was a first-class, heavy-duty railroad–a twin-track with fully separated crossings. After days of hauling gravel ended, the former Boston & Albany bought it to run a commuter-rail service into Boston. Passenger carriages were originally pulled by coal-fired steam locomotives, standard for the day.

A long-running controversy about the so-called Carlton St. Footbridge–passing over tracks of the former Charles River Branch Railroad and connecting Colchester St. and Carlton St. with the Riverway and Olmsted Park–has origins in the 1890s, when Longwood-area residents asked selectmen to install it as a convenience. It served a whistle-stop on the former B&A commuter-rail branch between Needham and Boston.

Unlike handsome stone bridges designed during park construction under Mr. Olmsted, Sr.–whose son chaired Brookline’s first Planning Board–the Carlton St. bridge was a makeshift. Brookline highway workers assembled it from steel shards, beams and fasteners. Under Article 5, a special town meeting November 17, 2009, appropriated $1.4 million, using a rare roll-call vote, to rehabilitate the rusted-out relic, which has been closed to public access as a safety hazard since fall, 1975. So far, the project has not been completed.

The city of Revere is not so fortunate as Brookline to be distant from its freight-rail history. Branches of the former Boston & Maine–some transporting freight under successor Pan Am Railways–provide a potential corridor connecting interstate rail to large oil depots along banks of the Chelsea River. In 2011, Global Partners, owner of the largest tank complex, proposed to bring grain alcohol from the Midwest into Revere and East Boston, using rail tankers. Revere residents and city officials became alarmed.

Most rail tankers in widespread use today to carry flammable liquids were designed in the 1950s, as much for capacity as safety. Of more than 100,000 type DOT-111 tank cars built, over sixty years around a third have been involved in rail crashes. Even when traveling at low speeds, hundreds have split open, starting massive fires. These tankers carry about 30,000 gallons each, or about three times the fuel carried by each of the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001.

Global of Revere proposed to bring in one to three trains a week, typically 60 cars each–a total that could reach around 200 million gallons a year of fuel-grade ethanol to be blended into gasoline. That would probably travel through eastern Massachusetts at night along the route of the MBTA Fitchburg Line commuter rail–through Lowell, Cambridge, Chelsea and other communities. Global has been shipping ethanol by rail from the Midwest to Providence and then by barge from Providence to its tanks in Revere. Eliminating barge shipping could save money.

Revere residents approved a ballot question opposing rail shipment of ethanol. They joined with people from several other communities, pressuring the state legislature. Considering potential hazards from multiple perspectives, the General Court attached “outside section” 81 to H. 3538 of 2013, the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill. It likely matters that Robert A. DeLeo, the House speaker, represents Revere and has his district office there.

Section 81 did not attack rail transport of ethanol. Instead it would have altered Chapter 91 of the General Laws, regulating waterways, by blocking new licenses for facilities that store or blend large amounts of ethanol when located within a mile of a census tract with a population density above 4,000 residents per square mile. As soon as its current licenses expire, that might have put Global out of business in Revere. At best, the company could blend ethanol elsewhere and bring in pre-blended gasoline, raising costs.

Governor Patrick used a so-called “line-item veto” against Section 81. Mr. Patrick, a former corporate lawyer who is not a candidate for re-election this fall, proposed that the General Court instead forbid using rail tankers to bring ethanol into Revere or East Boston before August, 2015. He promised to have the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency develop a “comprehensive ethanol transport response plan.” However, a few days earlier Global had announced it was suspending plans to transport ethanol by rail.

Gov. Patrick issued, at best, a disingenuous statement. Unlike many among the public, he and concerned state legislators would have been well aware that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had just published an “Ethanol Safety Study.” In Chapter 4, Report Findings, it frankly states that “movement of [ethanol or other hazardous materials] is regulated at a federal level, and it cannot be regulated in any manner at the state or local level.” By acting to force Global of Revere to change its plans, close or relocate, the General Court was exercising powers it does have to head off potential disasters.

Rail tankers do not seem likely to become much safer very soon. There is a somewhat sturdier design approved as a Canadian standard, in the wake of Lac-Mégantic: type CPC-1232. However, that design might not be enough. Recently another rail tanker crash occurred in downtown Lynchburg, VA. Three tank cars loaded with petroleum split open and ignited, but no one was reported injured. Associated Press news writers stated that the National Transportation Safety Board knows of “several accidents in which cars built to the new standards ruptured.”

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 1, 2014


Dave Riehle, Runaway Quebec train, source of so much heartache, began its journey toward disaster years ago, Workday Minnesota, July 24, 2013

John Laidler, Ethanol transport raising concerns, Boston Globe, August 4, 2011

Seth Daniel, Screeching halt: backed into corner, Global withdraws ethanol train plan, Chelsea Record, July 4, 2013

Alan Suderman and Michael Felberbaum, Associated Press, Rail tankers carrying oil derail and catch fire in Virginia, New York Times, May 1, 2014

Commission for the Disabled: taxi accessibility and snow clearance

A regular meeting of the Commission for the Disabled on Tuesday, April 22, started at 5:00 pm in the Denny Room at the Health Center. Commissioner Jim Miczek reported on wheelchair accessibility requirements for Brookline taxis. The town currently has no accessible taxis and is considering permanent taxi licenses. Mr. Miczek said the draft accessibility requirements are cursory and vague.

Eileen Berger, the commission’s chairperson, reported no response to the issue so far from the Transportation Board, which has responsibility for taxis. Dr. Lloyd Gellineau, the town’s Human Relations Youth Resources director and a Human Relations-Human Services administrator, raised a general issue about how the town can require accessible transportation services. The commission will be reviewing a possibility for proposing home-rule legislation.

Dr. Saralynn Allaire, another commissioner, reported on investigations in support of the “age friendly community” designation that Brookline received last year. Several at the meeting remarked on hardships last winter because of haphazard snow clearance, notably in commercial districts. Article 28 on the warrant for the annual town meeting in May, submitted by Frank Caro, a member of the Age Friendly Cities Committee, seeks to send “enforcement officers on foot in business districts beginning in the fourth daylight hour after snowfalls.”

The commission considered ways to raise awareness among older town residents about the services currently available for people with disabilities. Dr. Sarah Whitman, another commissioner, will prepare a proposal for the next meeting, to be held May 20. Ms. Berger will also invite Todd Kirrane, the town’s transportation administrator, to that meeting, to review requirements for taxi accessibility.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 23, 2014

Recycling makes more progress without trash metering

A look at recycling reports from Massachusetts communities provides no support for using trash metering in Brookline–so-called “pay as you throw.” It has not been a particularly helpful approach for largely urban, high-income communities. Instead, metered trash fees became common mostly in middle-income communities, far suburbs and rural areas.

A survey for calendar 2012 is the most recent available. It is far from complete. Of 352 cities and towns involved, 131 failed to report, and nine filed obviously faulty information–a compliance rate of only 60 percent. Many scofflaws are small towns, but scofflaws also include Amherst, Harvard, Hull, Medford, Nantucket, Norwood, Pittsfield, Salisbury, Springfield, Topsfield, Wakefield, Watertown, Wellesley, Winthrop and Worcester.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection calculates a so-called “recycling rate” that turns out to be misleading. It is supposed to be annual tonnage recycled, divided by annual tonnage collected. However, that metric has been badly distorted by including “electronic waste” and “yard waste” within the tonnages.

The problem with “electronic waste” is that a few communities housing businesses involved in electronics disposal report huge amounts: Ashland, Melrose, Milford, Revere and Saugus. The problem with “yard waste” is the great variation in community customs. Some communities don’t handle yard waste at all and report none. Others operate popular services with large composting pits and report enormous amounts.

A straightforward way to put communities on an even footing is to exclude “electronic waste” and “yard waste” in figuring rates. When we do that, real recycling rates of Massachusetts cities and towns reporting for 2012 averaged 23 percent. Brookline achieved 37 percent, and the town ranked 37th out of 212 reporting communities in the state. The more highly ranked communities usually have small populations or had only a small fraction of households using community-operated trash services.

A more representative comparison with Brookline can be found by looking at communities with large numbers of households using community-operated trash services. Of the 50 largest community services, according to the number of households served, Brookline ranked fourth in real recycling rate. Only Barnstable, Lexington and Cambridge were ahead.

A scan over communities with large numbers of participating households quickly shows that richer communities tended to achieve high recycling rates and poorer communities tended to achieve low ones. At the foot of the 50-community list were Lowell, Fall River and Lawrence–with rates of 13, 11 and 7 percent.

Trash metering–so-called “pay as you throw”–is often advertised by people who seem to be proselytizing or promoting their careers–such as the mayor of Gloucester, who was recently written up in the Boston Globe. Out in the wider world where most people live, trash metering has not become a popular topic.

Changes for Massachusetts communities in real recycling rates (not counting yard waste) show no evidence that trash metering works better than other ways to encourage recycling. Following are records of real recycling rates for the top five Massachusetts communities, among the 50 communities with the most households using community-operated trash services, plus the record for city of Gloucester:

Massachusetts Real rate Trash
community 2008 2012 metering
Barnstable 13% 52% no
Lexington 39% 42% no
Cambridge 28% 39% no
Brookline 31% 37% no
Newton 13% 37% no
Gloucester 21% 30% yes

All top-five communities substantially improved their real recycling rates. Barnstable and Newton far outperformed Gloucester, yet none of the top-five communities used trash metering. There are likely to be good opportunities for Brookline to continue improving its recycling rate. More outreach to neighborhood associations and school programs might help. It can be really irritating to be nagged by your neighbors or your children. Trash metering, on the other hand, looks like a distraction.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 11, 2014

Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns

Wind power, New England’s prime renewable resource, remains a favorite of “green energy” enthusiasts–as long as it isn’t harvested in Brookline. If it were, Brookline would likely sprout a crop of environmentalists with outlooks different from ones we often hear now. That has already happened in several Massachusetts towns hosting wind turbines, from Falmouth and Kingston in the southeast to Princeton and Florida in the northwest.

Today’s giant machines are much more intrusive than farm windmills that once dotted the countryside in days before rural electricity and small wind turbines that began to appear more than 30 years ago in California and several European countries. As tall as 50-story office towers, their huge moving parts weigh many tons.

According to German standards, safety and health require about a mile between residents and giant wind turbines. New England standards, requiring far less, were often proposed by the wind-power industry; they tend to favor its interests. Their failures to protect nearby residents from health problems and life disturbances, caused by turbine noise and flicker, have resulted in trenchant protests.

When Falmouth and Kingston, MA, tried skimping on distances for just a few giant turbines, they drew lawsuits from angry residents; some Falmouth operations have been curtailed. Another bitter dispute over turbine noise has been reported in Vinalhaven, ME. Opposition movements in western Massachusetts aim to block any more wind turbines in the Berkshire region. That is where the only two sizable wind-power plants in Massachusetts are located, with a total of 29 giant turbines, and where the state’s strongest land-based winds are found.

Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont now have a total of 334 giant wind turbines, producing around 90 percent of New England’s wind-powered electricity. The former enthusiasm for wind power in those states has faded. Instead, dozens of local protest groups and regional organizations have sprung up, opposing wind power and trying to curtail current wind-power plants. Town after town has enacted laws restricting wind turbines.

Wind energy is often regarded as far “cleaner” than electricity generated with fossil fuels. However, the difference turns out to be more apparent than real. The key problem is that in most places the wind doesn’t blow all the time, while electricity customers expect their lights to stay lit. To make sure that happens, electricity grids keep wind-backup generators running–enough to replace a substantial fraction of power being generated by wind turbines.

Ramping up and down, backup generators other than hydro and nuclear will produce higher emissions than achieved with sustained generation and release emissions when not generating. The extra emissions from fuel burned to maintain wind backup are rarely tallied. When they have been, wind-powered electricity looks little cleaner than electricity generated using combined-cycle natural gas.

In New England, wind remains a tiny part of the energy supply, despite hoopla from the Patrick administration in Massachusetts and the Shumlin administration in Vermont. For 2012, the latest year in federal data, wind provided just over 1 percent of New England generation. For the entire U.S., wind provided 3-1/2 percent that year. Preliminary data show U.S. growth to over 4 percent in 2013 and higher growth in New England–owing to a bumper crop of new turbines commissioned in 2012 that was followed by a market crash in 2013.

Overall, wind power has failed to make much progress toward a socially responsible source of energy for New England. Manufacturers opted to develop giant, noisy turbines costing millions of dollars each–rather than building less expensive versions of small, quiet ones. That approach made wind power into a game of money and politics, mostly run by and for a few big companies. The intrusive, costly machines have turned thoughtful environmentalists who might have been supporters into opponents.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 8, 2014


Robert Bryce, New study takes the wind out of wind energy, Forbes, July 19, 2011

Net generation by state by type of producer by energy, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2013

Net generation by energy source, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2014

George Taylor and Thomas Tanton, Hidden costs of wind electricity, American Tradition Institute, 2012

Will Boisvert, Green energy bust in Germany, Dissent, August, 2013

Haste makes waste, even in Brookline

Brookline’s town meeting acted too hastily in banning expanded polystyrene foam last year. Often mistaken for Dow Chemical’s trademarked Styrofoam–slabs of extruded foam–the firm but featherweight molded foam is widely used for food containers in restaurants and grocery stores.

Brookline activists–none with sustained work experience as food or polymer chemists–tried to finger polystyrene as a specially dangerous material. In fact, nearly all plastics contain additives and monomers that could be hazardous in their raw forms and in large quantities. However, evidence against any one of the hundreds of commercial plastics is weak–nothing like the overwhelming evidence against tobacco.

Polystyrene happens to be a fairly valuable material for recycling, yet in 40 years of recycling programs the town has never given it serious attention. Recycled polystyrene is a prime component of some high-volume products, including supposedly “green” bamboo composite floor coverings. Industrial demand often exceeds supply.

As an intrepid reporter for the Brookline TAB recently discovered, potential alternatives to polystyrene foam food containers are much more expensive. Most use more, not less, in virgin materials and manufacturing energy. Many of them also release as much or more in life-cycle air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

The key problem with polystyrene foam is the same as its key virtue: the combination of firmness with low density. That makes it a good insulator and shock absorber but also makes it bulky to handle at curbside pickup, prone to blow around and hard to separate for recycling instead of burning.

The town’s year-round “solution” to recycling has been voluntary dropoff at the worst possible location, far from our main population centers. Driving there with a whole carload of foam would consume more petroleum than it could save.

A real solution for recycling would be a hydraulic foam compressor, taken around occasionally to dropoff bins located within walking distances of those population centers. The town could also adopt a similar approach in place of its other hasty ban: polyethylene film, also useful as a recycled material.

Living near the B.U. West section of Commonwealth Ave., we’re not much affected by Brookline’s hasty bans. We often visit markets and restaurants in Allston and Watertown. We have long avoided extra packaging of any kind but still bring home some amounts of polystyrene foam and polyethylene film, which we continue to recycle via privately managed programs.

When Brookline joined Boston, Cambridge and other communities in adopting so-called “single-bin recycling,” the town effectively abandoned recycling in favor of burning most waste tonnage other than glass and metal. That’s because mixed materials end up badly soiled and damaged, destroying value. These communities “recycle” more in name than in fact. Would-be “environmentalists” rarely know where contents of their “recycle” bins go.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 5, 2014


Burning public money for dirty energy, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 2011

Jon Chesto, Gov. Patrick eases ban on Massachusetts incinerators, Boston Business Journal, 2013

Fred Bever, Environmentalists slam Massachusetts solid waste plan, WBUR (Boston, MA), 2013