Category Archives: Licensing

licenses and permits

Winds of change: limits on marijuana

At the federal and state election of November, 2016, Massachusetts voters approved Question 4 by a 54-46 percent margin, legalizing marijuana for all uses. Opposition concentrated in the middle and outer Boston suburbs and on Cape Cod. Otherwise support spread across the state. Majorities voted Yes in 260 cities and towns with combined population of 4.7 million (72 percent of state population according to the 2010 census). Majorities voted No in 91 communities with combined population of 1.8 million (28 percent).

Voting to legalize marijuana did not mean accepting marijuana as a local business. Over the next year and a half, 156 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 2.7 million (42 percent of state population) enacted moratoriums on marijuana shops. Some communities enacted outright bans, and some also banned or restricted other types of marijuana business. Most moratoriums were set to expire between June 30, 2018, and June 30, 2019.

Despite warnings from the state’s attorney general about enacting a moratorium extending into 2019, eight towns did so: Abington, Mansfield, Douglas, Rochester, Berlin, New Marlborough, New Braintree and Florida (listed by decreasing populations). Majorities in all but Mansfield had voted Yes on Question 4.

Bans on marijuana shops: As of late June, 2018, 76 Massachusetts cities and towns with combined population of 1.4 million (22 percent of the state population) had enacted permanent bans on marijuana shops. Most were communities where majorities of voters had voted No on Question 4. In those communities, town meetings and city councils could enact bans. Elsewhere voters had to approve.

In 18 Massachusetts communities where majorities of voters in a state election had supported Question 4, voters in local elections banned marijuana shops: Milford, Stoughton, Concord, South Hadley, Southbridge, Bellingham, Auburn, Whitman, East Bridgewater, Holliston, Medway, Acushnet, Hull, Southwick, Freetown, Merrimac, Barre and Mount Washington (listed by decreasing populations).

Hazards: Although milder than those produced by cocaine, amphetamines and narcotics, addictions to marijuana are well known. Craving, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, adverse reactions, cognitive and behavioral impairments and mood disorders tend to increase with frequency and amount of marijuana use. A range of psychological dependence shades into addiction, similar in some ways to dependencies on alcohol and tobacco and to compulsive gambling.

Marijuana users who begin as teenagers or in early adulthood incur risks of lasting harm. As with other addictive regimes, some people are not attracted to marijuana, and some avoid addiction despite exposure. There is controversy over degrees of risk and amounts of harm, and there is currently no reliable way to predict individuals becoming addicted or suffering lasting harm.

Trends and publicity: Rejection of local marijuana business has been notably firm and fairly cohesive among Boston’s middle and outer suburbs. From Boxford and Chelmsford to the northwest, curving through Weston and Northborough to the west, Foxborough and Raynham to the southwest, and Braintree and Duxbury to the southeast, towns banned marijuana shops outright. Some banned all marijuana business.

Those are communities where many live who grew up in the founding high-tech surges. Most such workplaces were located in the suburbs spreading outward from Route 128, so those are also the communities where much of the workforce went. Family values remain strong and upwardly mobile. There is low tolerance for needless risk to sons and daughters from parents who reached success in their careers. As one speaker at a town meeting put it, “We are a community that builds ball fields and parks.”

In contrast, the Boston Globe–New England’s best known news medium–has been patronizing marijuana partisans, often focusing on interests seeking a faster pace of development. Reporter Dan Adams carved out a niche writing items favorable to marijuana interests that rarely mention other outlooks. While there is an occasional contrary view written by someone else, it tends to get lost in the parade for marijuana. Chasing profits instead of candor, Globe managers foster public and reader disservice.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 2, 2018


Massachusetts city and town actions on marijuana shops, Brookline Beacon, July, 2018 (notes majorities voting to legalize marijuana or not, via Question 4 in 2016)

Ally Jarmanning and Daigo Fujiwara, Where marijuana stores can and can’t open in Massachusetts, WBUR (Boston, MA), June 28, 2018 (presents data through an interactive map)

Dan Adams, Attorney General Maura Healey’s ruling could slow Massachusetts marijuana industry, Boston Globe, June 25, 2018

Steven Hoffman, Which Massachusetts towns won’t allow marijuana sales?, WBZ (CBS Boston), June 22, 2018 (tabulates data from the Massachusetts Municipal Association)

Timothy Naimi, Why marijuana policies in Massachusetts aren’t strict enough, Boston Globe, June 20, 2018

Dan Adams and Margeaux Sippell, Recreational marijuana companies face bans, moratoriums in cities and towns, Boston Globe, March 17, 2018

Zoe Mathews, North Andover bans commercial marijuana, North Andover (MA) Eagle-Tribune, January 30, 2018

Massachusetts ballot question 4: legalize marijuana, Boston Globe, November 16, 2016 (includes interactive map showing voting by cities and towns)

Massachusetts marijuana legalization, Question 4, Encyclopedia of American Politics (Ballotpedia), November, 2016

Kevin Sabet, Madeline Meier responds to latest IQ and marijuana studies, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (Alexandria, VA), January 19, 2016

Madeline H. Meier, Avshalom Caspi et al., Persistent cannabis users show neuropsychological decline from childhood to midlife, Proceedings of the U.S. National Academies of Science 109(40):E2657-2664, 2012

Alain Dervaux, Cannabis use and dependence, Presse Médicale 41(12):1233-1240, 2012 (in French)

Alan J. Budney, Roger Roffman et al., Marijuana dependence and treatment, Addiction Science and Clinical Practice 4(1):4–16, 2007

Craig Bolon, Marijuana business: trends in Oregon, Brookline Beacon, May 29, 2018

Craig Bolon, Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana, Brookline Beacon, May 12, 2018

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Marijuana business: trends in Oregon

Oregon has the most experience of any U.S. state with commercial marijuana. For many years before legalization, starting as early as the 1950s, surveys of Oregon found more marijuana use and cultivation than in any other western state. Mild climate and moderate rainfall in the Willamette Valley, which produces widely known orchard fruits and wines, also favored covert marijuana farming.

In 1973, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana: up to an ounce. By the 1980s, marijuana had become the state’s most valuable crop. In 1998, Oregon became the second state to legalize and regulate medical marijuana. In 2014, Oregon became the third state to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana, following Colorado and Washington two years before.

Product trends: Quality and strength of marijuana in the United States evolved after early restrictions, starting with federal and state laws during the 1930s. Bulk “bricks” of a pound or two–common through the 1970s–were often smuggled from Central and South America. Strength was generally low. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main euphoric, measured a few percent by weight in a mix of dried leaves, flowers and stems. Sinsemilla from only unfertilized flower buds–without seeds, leaves or stems–was unusual and costly.

Popular grades of commercial marijuana

Grade A seedless, no large leaves or stems, 15 percent THC or higher
Grade B some leaves, few seeds, around 10 percent THC
Grade C largely leaves, seeds and stems, 5 percent THC or lower

Source: RAND reports

Processed marijuana began to capture U.S. trade during the 1980s and became a focus of consumer appeal. However, grade A sinsemilla needs greenhouses to protect against insects and fungus–optimized for light, temperature, moisture and nutrients. During decades of marijuana cultivation as a covert crop in Oregon, most producers look to have worked small, open-field plantings. Locally grown, grade B products overtook grade C imports and so far survive against industrialized, grade A products.

Business trends: When presented the option of a legalized and regulated business in 2015, experienced Oregon growers mainly adapted and expanded open-field plantings, an annual crop cycle harvested in early fall. Out of about 2,000 producer licenses approved and in process, as of May, 2018, nearly two-thirds were for locations in only four of the 29 Oregon counties: Clackamas, Jackson, Josephine and Lane. They span lowlands east of the Coast Range mountains around Interstate 5, running from Portland south through Salem and Eugene to Medford. That is where about three-quarters of the state’s residents live.

The first of the annual harvests after legalization, in 2016, shrank because of heavy rain, cold weather and hailstorms. The next year, nearly ideal weather provided a huge crop. The Oregon agency licensing marijuana operations has not published production and sales summaries. However, news writers claiming to have seen internal data say producers reported sales for 2017 of around 350,000 pounds against producer inventory, unsold in February, 2018, of more than a million pounds.

Within a few months after the harvest, wholesale prices collapsed. Grade B product formerly selling at over $1,500 a pound was reported dumped at $100 a pound or less, when costs of production ranged above $200 a pound. Some growers say they are converting smokable marijuana into more stable extracts, hoping to sell medical and edible products. Retail shops that bought at last year’s prices are being whipsawed by competitors who waited and bought at fire-sale prices. Half the workers in the Oregon marijuana industry may be out of jobs. Desperate business owners are increasing covert exports to other states that legalization was expected to retard.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 29, 2018


Suzanne Roig, Overproduction of marijuana floods Oregon markets, Bend (OR) Bulletin, May 26, 2018

Matt Stangel and Katie Shepherd, Oregon grew more cannabis than customers can smoke, Willamette Week (Portland, OR), April 18, 2018

Robert C. Clarke and Mojave Richmond, Cups, labs and terps, Cannabis Business Times (Cleveland, OH), April 4, 2018

Oregon Liquor Control needs cannabis monitoring and security systems, Audits Division, Oregon Secretary of State, February, 2018 (7 MB, 41 pp)

Pete Danko, A reckoning has arrived for Oregon’s overgrown cannabis industry, Portland (OR) Business Journal, January 10, 2018

Marijuana License Applications, Oregon Liquor Control Commission, 2018

Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Zlatko Mehmedic, Susan Foster, Chandrani Gon, Suman Chandra and James C. Church, Changes in cannabis potency over the last two decades in the United States, Biological Psychiatry 79(7):613–619, 2016

Omar Sacirbey, Growing high-quality cannabis in a greenhouse, Marijuana Business Daily (Denver, CO), September, 2016

Jerry Kieran, Measuring yield, Cannabis Business Times (Cleveland, OH), September, 2016

Daniel Cressey, The cannabis experiment, Nature 524(7565):280–283, August 29, 2015

Eric L. Sevigny, Is today’s marijuana more potent simply because it’s fresher?, Drug Testing and Analysis 5(1):62-67, 2013

THC content of sinsemilla and Mexican commercial-grade marijuana, Appendin B in Beau Kilmer, Jonathan P. Caulkins, Brittany M. Bond and Peter H. Reuter: Reducing Drug Trafficking Revenues and Violence in Mexico, RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Santa Monica, CA), 2010

Jonathan P. Caulkins, Estimated cost of production for legalized cannabis, RAND Drug Policy Research Center (Santa Monica, CA), 2010

Keith Stroup, America’s no. 1 crop: marijuana, High Times (New York, NY), April, 1986

Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana

This month–likely on Thursday, May 24–Brookline’s Town Meeting will vote on a risk-laden approach to marijuana zoning and licensing. A complex surface hides disorganized, hypocritical, neighborhood-hostile efforts. Two meetings on Thursday, May 10 showed confusions and lapses of community spirit: a review for some Town Meeting Members and a regular Advisory Committee meeting, both held at Town Hall.

Recreational marijuana regulation: At the 2018 Annual Town Meeting starting May 22, under Articles 17 through 22 Brookline could allow up to four retail shops selling recreational marijuana and up to four marijuana cafes. The Planning Board and the Planning staff, supported so far by three of the five Select Board members, propose to allow the recreational marijuana shops in Local Business zones as well as in General Business zones.

Brookline has five main General Business zones. They are mostly well separated from residential areas and schools: Commonwealth Avenue, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square and the west end of Route 9 near the Chestnut Hill Mall. There are smaller ones near the north end of Harvard Street, bordered by Allston, and near the east end of Route 9, bordered by the Riverway.

There are seven main Local Business zones. Many thread through residential areas and near schools: the shopping center near Putterham Circle in South Brookline, the northern part of Harvard Street between Devotion School and Verndale Street, the middle part of Harvard Street between Pierce School and Marion Street, the northern part of Cypress Street near Washington Street, the middle part of Cypress Street near the High School and Route 9, the southern part of Cypress Street near Kendall Street, the east end of Beacon Street between St. Mary’s and Carlton Streets, and land near the west end of Beacon Street around Sutherland Road.

Threatened neighborhoods: Proposed zoning for marijuana includes so-called “buffer zones” extending 500 feet out from schoolyard boundaries. Marijuana shops are not allowed inside “buffer zones.” The maps that follow identify some of Brookline’s threatened neighborhoods–showing parts of Local Business zones outside “buffer zones.” Colored in bright blue are Local Business areas where marijuana shops would be allowed. “Buffer zones” around schools are cross-hatched.

Threatened neighborhoods near Harvard Street

HarvardStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Cypress Street

CypressStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Putterham Circle

PutterhamtNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

Information from Town Hall: Planning staff held a late-afternoon information session at Town Hall on May 10, sought by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members. The two staff were Francisco Torres and Ashley Clark–hired in part to develop and promote plans for marijuana. They have fairly short spans of experience in Brookline, and they smile a lot.

At the Town Hall session were Betsy DeWitt–formerly a Select Board member–plus Phyllis O’Leary, Wendy Machmuller, Rob Daves, Andy Olins, Hugh Mattison and newly elected Cindy Drake from Precinct 5, John Bassett from Precinct 6, Craig Bolon from Precinct 8 and Regina Frawley from Precinct 16.

Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members generally opposed medical marijuana at the former Brookline Bank on the corner of Route 9, High Street and Washington Street. They spoke about keeping marijuana shops out of the Local Business zones on Cypress Street. Betsy DeWitt saw high profits from marijuana shops pushing out ordinary local business.

Planning has proposed no standards that support ordinary local businesses. Their proposals for zoning and licensing amount to a “first in the door” approach to zoning permits and business licenses. However, they propose no system to regulate how the timing of applications would be recognized. That could leave Brookline exposed to long and potentially costly “due process” lawsuits, claiming that results from its informal approach had been arbitrary and capricious.

Advisory Committee hostile to neighborhoods: Many of the 24 out of 30 Advisory Committee members at the evening meeting on May 10 seemed hostile toward Brookline neighborhoods. Because around 60 percent of Brookline voters opted to legalize marijuana, they claimed recreational marijuana shops could be sited without considering impacts on neighborhoods. Fisher Hill resident Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 led a charge for more marijuana revenue, while several others on the committee chimed in.

Critically examined, some claims about huge local revenues turn out to be fragrant BS when not flagrant lies. The budding marijuana industry had its friends at (the General) Court when Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 was being written: the ironically titled “act to ensure safe access to marijuana.” The access is particularly “safe” for marijuana dealers. Much of the potential local revenues come from so-called “community impact fees” that can be included in city and town contracts with marijuana dealers. However, when the revenue party is over after five (5) years, it’s done and gone–while all the problems the community may find continue indefinitely. According to Chapter 94G, Section 3(d) of the General Laws, as amended by the 2017 act:

“…a host community may include a community impact fee for the host community; provided, however, that the community impact fee shall be reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center and shall not amount to more than 3 per cent of the gross sales of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center or be effective for longer than 5 years….” [emphasis added]

Voters blindsided: Many of the Brookline voters who opted to legalize marijuana had been informed by the cautious, two-year process to zone and license medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed in Local Business zones. The only current one is on Route 9. Hardly anybody would have expected “full speed ahead” and “open floodgates” for recreational marijuana–the approach from Brookline Planning, welcoming both marijuana shops and cafes to the Local Business zones threading through residential neighborhoods and near schools.

At Advisory Committee on May 10, vocal majorities rejected a motion to exclude marijuana shops from Local Business zones. They supported another motion to allow marijuana cafes. Hypocrites would continue to ban medical marijuana sales from Local Business zones, and they support a new ban on marijuana treatment centers. The outlook of hypocrites seems to be that medical marijuana would not yield as much in licensing fees and local taxes as recreational marijuana–so medical marijuana should be banned.

Those supporting neighborhoods by voting to exclude recreational marijuana shops from Local Business zones were committee members Harry Friedman, David-Marc Goldstein, Angela Hyatt, Alisa Jonas, Steve Kanes, Fred Levitan and Lee Selwyn. Thumbing noses at neighborhoods by voting the other way were Ben Birnbaum, Clifford Brown, Carol Caro, Lea Cohen, John Doggett, Janet Gelbart, Neil Gordon, Janice Kahn, Bobbie Knable, David Lescohier, Pamela Lodish, Shaari Mittel, Michael Sandman, Kim Smith, Charles Swartz and Christine Westphal. Committee chair Sean Lynn-Jones did not vote. Vice-chair Carla Benka and members Dennis Doughty, Kelly Hardebeck, Amy Hummel, Mariah Nobrega and Susan Roberts were absent.

Preventing needless burdens: The NETA medical marijuana dispensary on Route 9 is already in negotiations for one of the potential licenses as a recreational marijuana shop. Its success would leave only three licenses available. There are six more General Business zones to provide sites, leaving no need to burden neighborhoods near Local Business zones. A simple amendment to Article 17 at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting can keep recreational marijuana shops out of Local Business zones.

VOTED: To amend the motion under Article 17 so as to change “Use 29A, Storefront Marijuana Retailers” from “SP *1,2″ to “No” for L (local business) districts.

As of May 17, an equivalent motion is being proposed by Neil Wishinsky (chair of the Select Board) together with Betsy DeWitt, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member (TMM-5), Cynthia Drake (TMM-5), Scott Gladstone (TMM-16), Angela Hyatt (TMM-5) and Kate Silbaugh (TMM-1). After several years of experience with recreational marijuana shops in General Business zones, Brookline could review the results and see whether it might make sense to allow them in other places.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2018, updated May 17, 2018


Recreational marijuana information, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Locations for marijuana shops, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018

Adult use of marijuana, 935 CMR 500, Massachusetts Code of Regulations, 2018

Public documents, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2017-2018

Emma R. Murphy, Brookline’s NETA marijuana dispensary seeking recreational license, Brookline (MA) Tab, April 18, 2018

Business and functional requirements for the licensing, tracking and sale of adult-use marijuana (57 pp) Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, November, 2017

An act to ensure safe access to marijuana, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2017, Chapter 55

Gintautas Dumcius, Brookline medical marijuana dispensary, operated by NETA, set to open in mid-January, Springfield (MA) Republican, December 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

London high-rise fire: tragedy of the commoners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear power-plants at risk from hidden defects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heavy manufacturing of power plants, World Nuclear Association, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Board of Selectmen: marijuana dispensary license

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 8, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The early start left ample time for a final hearing on the registered medical marijuana dispensary being proposed at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village–the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9).

Minutes: Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, announced that minutes of closed sessions that were held this year on January 20, May 12, June 9 and September 8 will be released. They all concerned “real property,” a lawful topic for a closed session. The session on January 20 was described as reviewing a “lease agreement.” The ones on June 9 and September 8 were held jointly with the School Committee.

The four sets of minutes were not online as of December 12 but are available on request. Under the state’s open meeting law and regulations, the board must release minutes of closed sessions when the matters are finished and the reasons for confidentiality no longer apply. In practice, the board has reviewed and released minutes of closed sessions only on request. There are hundreds of closed meetings with unreleased minutes.

Marijuana dispensary: A long review of a registered dispensary for medical marijuana is nearing an end. Voters approved medical marijuana in the fall of 2012. A town meeting authorized zoning and local licensing in the fall of 2013. The next year, New England Treatment Access (NETA) filed for a zoning permit, reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a local license, reviewed by the Board of Selectmen.

After exploring a potential site near the corner of Beacon St. and Summit Ave., NETA negotiated an agreement for the currently proposed site in Brookline Village. In December, 2014, the town’s Licensing Review Committee began a series of five public meetings and one public hearing. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing April 23 of this year and granted a zoning permit.

The NETA proposal to use the former Brookline Savings Bank building at 160 Washington St. attracted strong neighborhood protest. Opponents filed an article for the fall town meeting last year, seeking zoning changes that would have struck out the former Savings Bank building as a potential site. They lost 60-146, in an electronically recorded vote.

The Licensing Review Committee developed a fairly stringent set of recommended license conditions, completed last April. On April 25, the Board of Selectmen adopted general regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries, based on those committee recommendations.

Until May, the committee was headed by Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, former members of the Board of Selectmen. They did not run for new terms and were replaced by Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene. The Licensing Review Committee’s findings are advisory; the Board of Selectmen is not obliged to follow them.

Headwinds: Signs of dissent emerged last month. As a regular meeting Tuesday, November 3, the Board of Selectmen was to discuss “the process for reviewing the application” from NETA for a local license. As minutes of the meeting show, the discussion soon veered from process into substance. Mr. Wishinsky suggested that any license be for a “trial period.” Board member Ben Franco questioned sales of edible products containing marijuana.

Nancy Daly, now in her tenth year on the board, called for monitoring “excessive prescriptions.” She did not say how that might be achieved but did propose several added conditions on a license for the proposed medical marijuana dispensary. They included:
• No walk-in business, service by appointment only
• A maximum number of appointments per hour
• On-site dispensing limited to 20 percent of state limits
• Home deliveries for balances of sales above local limits
• Hours of operation 10 am to 7 pm except noon to 5 pm Sunday

So far, the board is not known to have proposed similar limits on local businesses that sell other medical products. Although medical marijuana has not been identified as a significant cause of death in the United States, most pharmacies stock prescription drugs involved in a long, horrible trend of U.S. drug deaths.

U.S. drug deaths, 1999 through 2014

CdcDrugDeathDate1999to2014
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Contrary to many, uninformed news reports, rapidly rising deaths from drug use are not a recent trend. Data from the federal government that span 15 years show major growth in drug deaths of U.S. residents over that entire period. Prescription drugs–not black-market drugs–caused an average of about two-thirds of those drug deaths. Currently, the U.S. rate of drug deaths exceeds the U.S. rate of deaths from motor vehicles. Prescription drugs are responsible for about 60 percent of current U.S. drug deaths.

Public hearing: The board’s public hearing on a local license continued for over two hours but produced little that had not previously emerged from several related hearings held this year and last year. Those occurred at the Licensing Review Committee, the Advisory Committee on Public Health, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Advisory Committee and its subcommittees.

Following its November 3 meeting, the Board of Selectmen released an unsigned document titled “Proposed conditions for a registered marijuana dispensary license (2015-11-20 Draft)”. Footnotes tell who on the board proposed some of the conditions but give no explanations. At the hearing, Amanda Rossitano, who has been named manager of NETA’s Brookline dispensary, objected.

The NETA dispensary now operating in Northampton, Ms. Rossitano contended, has had no problems that might justify added license restrictions. She objected to proposals for business by appointment only, for an on-site sales limit lower than the state limit and for home delivery requirements applied to larger sales.

Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, asked for a police report. Mark Morgan, a deputy superintendent, responded: “No traffic or police issues experienced in Salem, Brockton or Northampton”–three of the four communities with dispensaries now operating. The board spent substantial time questioning pharmaceutical properties and testing of products, although it lacks jurisdiction in those areas.

Frank Smizik, state representative for Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, testified in support of a local license. “NETA is a competent company,” he said. “Amanda Rossitano helped lead my office for several years.” Mr. Smizik stated he “does not support additional purchase limits” as license conditions.

Several other Brookline residents and former residents supported a license for NETA, with some objecting to added license restrictions. They included Anne Braudy of Linden Ct., Richard Brauley of Pond Ave., Fred Levitan of Beacon St., Linda Olson Pehlke of Browne St., Ronna Benjamin of Newton, Dr. Peter Moyer of Walnut St., Dr. Jordan Tishler of Loveland Rd. and Dr. Mark Eisenberg of Monmouth St.

Brookline opponents included Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., Andrew Olins of Walnut St., George Vien of Davis Ave. and Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St. Some supported added restrictions, and all opposed the proposed site on Washington St. However, Dr. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel of Wolcott Rd. said the location is “as good a site as we can get in the town” and pointed out that “home delivery is not an option for some people.” The Board of Selectmen will review the hearing and reach a decision at a later meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 12, 2015


Causes of drug deaths, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February, 2015

Tracey Michienzi, Draft conditions from Licensing Review Committee, April 8, 2015

Regulations, registered marijuana dispensary, Town of Brookline, MA, April 24, 2015

Minutes, Board of Selectmen, Town of Brookline, MA, November 3, 2015

Unsigned, Draft conditions, from current Board of Selectmen, November 20, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting, Brookline Beacon, November 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline, Beacon, December 7, 2014

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

Craig Bolon, Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems, Brookline Beacon, August 7, 2014

Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants

The Pilgrim nuclear power-plant in Plymouth may be the next casualty from the Fukushima, Japan disaster in 2011. Safety director David Noyes has warned that Entergy may close the plant if it can’t see a way to make money. Many South Shore neighbors would say, “Good riddance.”

Nuclear shutdowns: At the end of 2014, Entergy closed the Vermont Yankee nuclear power-plant in Vernon, near Brattleboro. Both the Plymouth and the Vernon reactors are close relatives of the wrecked nuclear reactors in Japan. All use BWR-3 and BWR-4 “Mark I” designs by General Electric, dating from the middle and late 1960s.

Those so-called “boiling water” reactors were cheaper to build than the “pressurized water” reactors from Westinghouse, Babcock & Wilcox and Combustion Engineering. They send steam directly from reactor cores into power turbines, rather than through heat exchangers that isolate radioactively contaminated core water.

For decades, the industry-dominated U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed potential problems with “boiling water” reactors as unlikely. Then came the simultaneous collapse of three of those reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, challenged by an earthquake and a tsunami. The three reactor enclosures failed, along with the spent-fuel enclosure of a fourth reactor, releasing clouds and streams of enormously radioactive materials into the countryside and the ocean.

Despite major alarms from the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania, its “pressurized water” reactor resisted a partial collapse. Unlike gross failures of the “boiling water” reactors in Japan, nearly all the damage at Three Mile Island was contained inside a reactor enclosure.

Compared with their initially more costly relatives, “boiling water” reactors have narrower ranges of stability, making them more likely to overheat and collapse when challenged by problems. Among their problems, extra monitoring and maintenance has tended to make them more costly to operate. Quoting an unpublished report from UBS (formerly Union Bank of Switzerland), David Abel and Beth Healy of the Boston Globe claim the nuclear plant in Plymouth is losing more than $2 million a month.

Closing barn doors: NRC trundled out a set of “safety enhancements” that require costly retrofits. In traditional nuke-speak, institutional NRC flacks call those “lessons learned”–making themselves sound like sleazebags. Many lessons about hazards of boiling-water reactors were taught 40 years ago, after a near-disaster at the Browns Ferry nuclear power-plant in Alabama, but those lessons were not really learned.

A March, 1975, fire under the unit 1 control room at the Browns Ferry plant, ignited by careless workers, disabled safety systems and came within about an hour of collapsing the “boiling water” reactor. After that incident, General Electric assigned three senior engineering managers to investigate the safety of the plant’s three reactors. They reported that the reactors could not survive a major challenge.

The company largely disregarded their analysis. In February, 1976, Dale G. Bridenbaugh, manager of product service for the nuclear division of General Electric, and two other GE nuclear engineers, Richard Hubbard and Gregory Minor, resigned and tried to publicize the hazards. NRC commissioned a safety review, sometimes known as the Rasmussen Report (WASH-1400).

In a 1986 conference with industry executives, held at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Harold Denton, then director of the NRC Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation, referred to the Rasmussen Report, saying it showed “something like a 90 percent probability of a containment failing” in a “boiling water” reactor using the General Electric “Mark I” designs.

Pilgrim’s progress: During the 1980s, Boston Edison, then the owner and operator of the Pilgrim plant, was plagued by safety citations. In 1982, NRC imposed its largest fine ever, $550,000, for safety failures. Boston Edison spent about $300 million on upgrades, but the failures continued. From 1986 to 1989, NRC closed Pilgrim, mainly for extensive worker retraining.

Trying to curry favor with NRC, in 1987 Boston Edison proposed a “direct torus vent system” intended to reduce hazards, also known as a “hard vent” system. NRC did not certify the system but allowed it to be installed. Although the “hard vent” system at Pilgrim was never given realistic testing, eventually most reactors of its type were retrofitted with similar “hard vents,” including ones in Japan.

The “hard vents” of the three Japanese reactors that collapsed all failed, and then the enclosures of those reactors exploded. NRC staff responded to the unreliability of “hard vents,” first designed for Pilgrim, in their highest-priority recommendations for new regulations in 2011. The required retrofits are very expensive, and they may not prevent disasters, because they do not address basic instabilities of the “Mark I” designs.

Nuclear losers: This year, Pilgrim is back in the federal doghouse. In March, it was downgraded to the lowest NRC safety rating short of impending closure. Entergy and Exelon are apparently pulling out. Exelon announced that it will close the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in New Jersey by the end of 2019. That was built with an even earlier version of the “Mark I” reactor designs.

A parade of nuclear losers continues to lengthen. They are being ousted from business by poor operating economics of “boiling water” reactors, by high costs to recover from maintenance blunders and by high costs to retrofit unsafe designs. Those already ousted, over the past three years, have been:
* Crystal River 3, one reactor, Crystal Rver, FL, closed in 2013
* Kewaunee, one reactor, Carlton, WI, closed in 2013
* San Onofre, two reactors, San Diego County, CA, closed in 2013
* Vermont Yankee, one reactor, Vernon, VT, closed in 2014
* Oyster Creek, one reactor, Lacey Township, NJ, closing in 2019

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 27, 2015


Evan Allen, Pilgrim nuclear plant safety rating downgraded, Boston Globe, September 2, 2015

David Abel, Pilgrim nuclear plant says it may shut down, Boston Globe, September 17, 2015

David Abel and Beth Healy, No easy answers for Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Boston Globe, September 26, 2015

Market-driven reactor shutdowns threaten local economies, Nuclear Energy Institute, 2015

Jeff McMahon, Six nuclear plants that could be next to shut down, Forbes, November 7, 2013

Japan: lessons learned, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2015

Prioritization of recommended actions, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, SECY-11-0137, October 3, 2011

Craig Bolon (as AppDev), Will Japan’s nuclear disaster help make Pilgrim in Plymouth safer?, Boston Globe, October 31, 2011

Tom Zeller, Jr., Experts had long criticized potential weakness in reactor design, New York Times, March 15, 2011

Matthew Mosk, Nuclear reactor design caused GE scientist to quit in protest, ABC News, March 15, 2011

Pilgrim reactor restarted after 3-year shutdown, Associated Press, January 1, 1989

David Dinsmore Comey, Fire at the Browns Ferry nuclear power station, Friends of the Earth, 1976

Board of Selectmen: new saloon and funding gap

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, August 4, started at 5:40 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation and probably won’t meet again in August. This rambling, sometimes cornball board often pushes the biggest problems far out into the night; maybe observers might give up and sign off. The last agenda item on this particular night was a zinger.

$4 million funding gap: The town looks to be around $4 million short of money to rebuild Devotion School. To town administration, that was obviously stale news. The state had sent a funding letter on June 10. The Board of Selectmen did not put the matter on their agenda and let the public know about the problem until almost two months later.

Last May 26, town meeting voted $118.4 million for the project, told by the board and the Advisory Committee to expect $27.8 million in state aid. Six weeks later, the state came back with only $25.9 million. Adding to a $1.9 million problem, the public schools still have no place for kindergarten through fourth grade students during the project. Old Lincoln School will be full with fifth through eighth grade students.

At a morning meeting on August 4, according to board member Nancy Daly, Suffolk Construction of Boston, the general contractor, proposed to install temporary classrooms over the asphalt basketball courts behind the school along Stedman Street. That would cost another, unplanned and unfunded $1.8 million. Where can it all come from? Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, thought it could not come from the debt exclusion approved at the May 5 town election, saying voters had been “promised” some particular amount. He was mistaken.

Mr. Wishinsky apparently forgot that voters approved a project–not an amount of funds. According to state law, that is how debt exclusion questions have to be worded. Up to the times of the town election and town meeting, Brookline had only estimates of total costs and of state funding. It was in no position to make promises to anybody about amounts of funds.

The May town meeting was advised differently by the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee. The board estimated debt exclusion would apply to $49.6 million in bond funding. [on page 8-25 of the warrant report] The committee estimated debt exclusion would apply to $44.6 million. [on page 8-69 if the warrant report] The town meeting endorsed neither estimate, and it appeared not to have authorized bond funding either.

Instead, the town meeting approved a project total of $118.4 million, by a vote recorded as 222-1. Prior to the vote, Edward “Sandy” Gadsby, the moderator, did not say the motion included bonding, although the margin was more than required by law for bonding. So far, no one knows how much of the approved total might come from current revenue, how much if any from bonding and how much of the latter via debt exclusion. What looks nearly certain is that the total funds approved won’t cover the total costs.

Irish saloon: In another roundabout of the evening, the board approved a large Irish saloon amid lower Beacon Street neighborhoods. Known elsewhere as Waxy O’Connor’s, the Brookline site is to be only a Waxy’s–without beer pitchers and self-serve beer taps. Brookline is getting management from Woburn, at least for a while. In Woburn, according to an online review last month, “The people at the bar were screaming, swearing and running in and out of smoking cigarettes.”

Waxy’s put on a better show than three weeks ago. Frank Spillane, the Foxborough lawyer representing the chain seeking to open at 1032 Beacon St., had reviewed Brookline regulations. Ashok Patel, the Woburn site manager, was slated to manage the Brookline site–no more questions about who the manager would be. Mr. Spillane and Mr. Patel had settled potential problems with some neighborhood representatives.

Board members still proved wary. Although they approved licenses for a restaurant, full liquor service, entertainment and outdoor seating, they limited closing hours to 1 am and attached conditions, including outdoor service to end at 10:30 pm with clean-up completed by 11 pm, limits on noise, deliveries and smoking, little or no paper on the patio and multiple security cameras. Restrictions are still lighter than some at Chipotle on Commonwealth Avenue, where no alcoholic beverages can be served outside. As board member Nancy Heller observed, the ban on pitchers did not extend to sangria or margaritas.

Personnel, contracts and finances: In a little over half an hour, the board reviewed and approved hiring for 25 vacant positions, and it approved six miscellaneous contracts ranging from $3,000 to $25,000. It is unclear why, in a community that employs an expensive town administrator with a staff of six, the Board of Selectmen would not delegate such matters, which it always approves.

David Geanakais, the chief procurement officer, presented a contract to lease space on the third floor at 62 Harvard St. for classroom space. The contract distributed by the board was abridged to leave out the amount and cost of the space. Members of the board did not seem to think that important to tell the public about, but afterward Mr. Geanakakis said the first-year cost would be $129,000.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, won approval for two contracts with Susi and Sons of Dorchester for a total of $1.23 million, the main yearly contracts for street and sidewalk repairs. Susi was low bidder on the $0.95 million street repair contract but won the sidewalk contract only when another bidder failed to submit complete documents.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, August 5, 2015


Annual town meeting, first session, Brookline Interactive Group, May 26, 2015 (video recording, vote on appropriation for Devotion School at about 01:40:10)

Warrant report with supplements, May 26, 2015, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors, Brookline Beacon, July 18, 2015

Board of Selectmen: water fees, snubbing the public, Brookline Beacon, June 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, How we voted, costs of business, Brookline Beacon, May 10, 2015

Rhode Island: offshore wind-power, winning and losing

Upon lapse of the Patrick administration, the major electric utilities in Massachusetts quickly bailed out of contracts to buy costly offshore wind-power from Cape Wind, citing lack of agreed progress on the project. Barnstable, the largest town on the Cape, had joined with others, suing to quash agreements they said the Patrick administration coerced utilities into signing. That lawsuit may be moot, but only lawyers stood to profit. Last January, Cape Wind became a legal zombie.

Racing the wind: A national race for offshore wind-power is being won by Deepwater Wind in Rhode Island. This spring, Deepwater began building foundations three miles offshore from Mohegan Bluffs, on the south side of Block Island. Next summer, the company aims to install five turbines. Ironically, the state with the least wind-power capacity in New England looks to become the U.S. pioneer of offshore wind-power.

Wind turbines seen from Barlows Point, Block Island, simulated view

BlockIslandSimulatedViewBarlowsPoint
Source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2013

Writing this spring in the Boston Globe, Derrick Jackson claimed that the apparent success of Deepwater Wind versus Cape Wind had sprung from “thinking smaller,” but he was not looking far beyond the end of his nose. From an initial base of five turbines, Deepwater has plans to install at least five more off Block Island and then to move out into Rhode Island Sound, where it holds federal leases on areas large enough for more than 200 similar turbines. Total power generation could be around three times recent estimates for Cape Wind.

The turbines being manufactured by Alstom of France also mean thinking big. They are nearly twice the size Cape Wind had planned, by peak power ratings, and about three times the size of any land-based turbine in Massachusetts. Rather than use the speed-increasing gearboxes needed with induction generators, they use direct-drive generators, removing a common source of high maintenance costs and turbine disasters. So far, however, offshore wind power has failed to demonstrate any useful economy of scale.

Politics, jobs and prices: Like Cape Wind, Deepwater carefully surveyed wind profiles before bidding on leases and building turbines. Unlike Cape Wind, Deepwater paid good attention to political as well as ocean winds. In contrast to Cape Cod, Block Island lacks a powerful corps of rich people inclined to hire expensive lawyers. Instead, Deepwater was able to appeal to lingering senses of inferiority, promising a leap into high technology.

The appeal that seized former Rhode Island Gov. Carcieri, however, was jobs–good-paying technology jobs in an economy savaged by the 2008 recession. Carcieri helped Deepwater with a land base for operations at Quonset Point, working to haul in over $23 million in federal money for the facility, and he helped to enlist state regulators, ushering Deepwater into the state’s wholesale electricity market.

His successor, former Gov. Chafee, helped to clear a path to permits for Deepwater through state and federal bureaucracies, making it advantageous for the company to build first in state-chartered waters off Block Island and to start the clock running on company operations. Unlike Cape Wind, which never produced any power, by the end of next year Deepwater will be delivering electricity, starting to satisfy contracts.

Deepwater claimed it would employ hundreds of workers from Rhode Island while building the Block Island wind farm. The fine print said something else. According to sworn testimony by a Deepwater representative, after the facility now in progress opened, there would be only six permanent jobs. The price for that employment was huge: nearly four times the average wholesale price for electricity in New England.

Deepwater’s agreement with National Grid calls for an initial wholesale price of $0.244 per kWh. Cape Wind had not been quite so greedy, settling on an initial wholesale price from National Grid of $0.188 per kWh. According to power-pool regulator ISO New England, the region’s average wholesale electricity price, at the busbars of power plants, was $0.0633 per kWh during calendar 2014–considered a fairly high-priced year.

Ripping off customers: Retail customers are paying transmission and distribution charges, too. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that the average total price paid by New England residential customers during calendar 2014 was $0.179 per kWh. Transmission and distribution combined cost them on average $0.116 per kWh.

If New England residential customers had to buy all their wholesale electricity at Deepwater prices, they would have paid a total of $0.36 per kWh on average during 2014, more than twice the actual average total that year. All the New England states are requiring utilities to get increasing amounts of electricity from renewable sources, but so far utilities have been able to find much lower prices from land-based wind farms and hydroelectric generators.

Luckily for Brookline residents, Deepwater never extracted contracts from Eversource or its predecessors, NStar and Northeast Utilities. National Grid serves nearly all of Rhode Island, tending to make that company far more susceptible to political factors there. As Deepwater grows, its dead weight on Rhode Island customers and on other National Grid customers in northeast, central and southeast Massachusetts will grow apace.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 26, 2015


Diane Cardwell, Offshore wind farm raises hopes of U.S. clean-energy backers, New York Times, July 24, 2015

U.S. regional electricity prices, U.S. Energy Information Administration, July, 2015

Beth Winegarner, Cape Wind deadline halted while Massachusetts mulls extension, Law360 (New York, NY), May 28, 2015

New England’s wholesale electricity and capacity markets were competitive in 2014, ISO New England, May 20, 2015

Derrick Jackson, Wind power’s future depends on thinking smaller, Boston Globe, March 28, 2015

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

Alex Elvin, NStar and National Grid sever contracts with Cape Wind, Vineyard Gazette, January 7, 2015

Deepwater Wind (Block Island Wind Farm) summary, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District, 2014

Block Island wind farm permit, Deepwater Wind, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, September 4, 2014

Deepwater Wind project, Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council staff report, January 24, 2014

Memorandum for record, Block Island wind farm, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, October, 2013

Mark Drajem and Andrew Herndon, Deepwater wins first auction for U.S. offshore wind lease, Bloomberg News, July 31, 2013

Visual impact assessment, Block Island wind farm, Deepwater Wind, submitted to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, May, 2012

RI Supreme Count hears anti-Deepwater Wind arguments, Wind Power, May, 2011

National Grid, Power-purchase agreement with Deepwater Wind, June 30, 2010

Board of Selectmen: two boards, changing colors

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, July 14, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board has gone into semi-hibernation for the summer. However, the extra rest and vacations did not seem to help with what is striking some as crabby behavior, at least when dealing in public affairs. Like a chameleon, the board can seem to change colors when dealing with licenses, at least as seen by the general public, if not always as seen by the license applicants.

Discord: Nine Advisory Committee members gathered to witness a protest: vice chair Carla Benka, Janice S. Kahn, chair of the Public Safety subcommittee, Stanley Spiegel, chair of the Planning and Regulation subcommittee, Leonard Weiss, chair of the Administration and Finance subcommittee, Clifford M. Brown, Janet Gelbart, Fred Levitan, Neil R. Gordon and Steve Kanes.

Mr. Weiss spoke about lack of communication shortly before the annual town meeting this May. Not more than a day or two earlier, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had concluded negotiations starting in April for a new recycling collection and processing contract. He had settled a price about $200,000 per year above the budget the Advisory Committee published, which it was about to propose at the town meeting.

Since 1910, the Advisory Committee and its predecessor, the Warrant Committee, appointed by the moderator of town meeting, have served as Brookline’s finance committee. Under Section 16 of Chapter 39 of Massachusetts General Laws, the committee proposes budgets to annual town meetings. In between, it regulates use of the reserve fund. In Brookline, the same committee and its subcommittees also review, hold hearings on and make recommendations about all warrant articles for all town meetings.

Although Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, knew that the budget would go out of balance, he withheld information from the Advisory Committee and might have withheld it from the Board of Selectmen. As a result, the town meeting passed a budget with a major, structural deficit that likely could have been prevented. Mr. Kleckner admitted as much in a later exchange with Sean Lynn-Jones, chair of the Advisory Committee.

According to Mr. Weiss of the committee, that was a breach of trust. The committee, he said, “places great reliance on management representations…Some folks thought withholding information was a good idea…This experience has severely damaged my trust and respect in management.” Fallout included a hotly controversial reserve fund transfer, narrowly approved July 7, when another reserve fund request was denied.

Two members of the Board of Selectmen rushed to defend Mr. Kleckner, and none questioned him, even though all five current board members are Advisory graduates. Nancy Daly, the only board member not serving a first term in office, claimed, “This was not an attempt to hide information…A suggestion that we were trying to sweep something under the rug…was quite offensive.” She did not explain what that referred to.

Neil Wishinsky, chair of the board, made a long statement, concluding, “We try to act in good faith…use our best judgment…There was no bad faith.” In the message exchange, committee chair Lynn-Jones had asked Mr. Kleckner, “…did you consider letting the Advisory Committee know [in April]…budget recommendations might have to be revised?” Mr. Kleckner had responded, “Not at that time….”

Public affairs: Deborah Rivers of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance described to the board proposed changes in the town’s “climate action plan.” However, from her descriptions alone, it was not clear what differed from the previous plan of December, 2012. An interactive form of the 2012 plan has vanished from the municipal Web site, but the conventional document for that plan remains available.

Comparing proposed actions in Appendix F from the 2012 plan with a new Appendix A of proposed changes showed a reduction in actions being considered. Gone, for example, was a 2012 proposal to “develop a program for replacement of…refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers” and a dozen other types of equipment. There are still no comparisons of costs with benefits, and there are no estimates for amounts of efforts involved.

Linda Hamlin and Steve Heikin from the Planning Board and Roger Blood from the Housing Advisory Board asked for authorization to file an application for a $15,000 state grant. Grant applications are routinely filed by town staff without authorization, and approval is sought only to accept grants. It was not clear why any such authorization was needed and why those members of other town boards had become involved.

Their presentation was mostly a replay from a recent meeting of the Housing Advisory Board. Without any explanation, however, the ante had gone up. Instead of less than $35,000–an amount intended to avoid public bidding requirements under state law–Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood were now talking about a total of $50,000 or more–not saying why more money was needed or where a missing $35,000 or more might come from.

Although they used oblique language, the main strategy from Ms. Hamlin, Mr. Heikin and Mr. Blood was clearly to target Brookline neighborhoods for major development and to invite Chapter 40B developers whom they might prefer into Brookline to take over properties. Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, seemed to catch on partly, saying such an approach would be “difficult”–involving “identifying specific sites” and “public processs.” However, he seemed to think the strategy involved zoning, when the intent of Chapter 40B is to override zoning, along with all other local permits.

Other board members were circumspect. Nancy Daly spoke about “a huge need in town for affordable senior housing.” Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, claimed Brookline could not focus on senior housing, apparently unaware such plans are authorized under federal law and had been recently announced for development at the Kehillath Israel site on Harvard St. With board member Bernard Greene not participating, the other four voted to approve filing a grant application.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Melissa Goff, the deputy town administrator, got approval to accept a $0.24 million state energy resources grant, intended to offset costs of energy-efficient lighting. Brookline is in the second year of street lighting improvements. In response to a question, Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said changes to street lighting are about 40 percent complete. The new grant, however, is to be used for other public facilities: the high school, the Tappan St. gym, the swimming pool and several parks.

Mr. Ditto got approval to accept $0.144 million in state funds for repairing winter storm damage to streets. He said all the work had been completed by June 30. At his request, the board also approved a $0.024 million contract with Superior Sealcoating of Andover for summer street maintenance.

Lisa Paradis, the recreation director, sought hiring approval for two lead teacher positions at the Soule Recreation Center. As board member Nancy Daly observed, there has been high turnover among the seven teaching jobs at the center. From participants, there have been some notes of morale issues. Responding to a question from board member Nancy Heller, Ms. Paradis said the average length of employment was 3 to 4 years. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Paradis to “seek a diverse pool of candidates.”

Licenses and permits: After the board turned its attention to license applications, Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, left the hall. First up was Richard Nasr of Westwood, who operates the Ontrack Cafe there, seeking a food vendor license at 1633 Beacon St, to be called Square Deli. Such a license for prepared foods does not include restaurant seating or service.

Ms. Daly questioned the application for 2 am closing, calling that “pretty strange” for a sandwich and salad shop. However, as the application noted, the previous business at the site, a 7/11 market, had operated with 2 am closing hours. The board approved the new license with 2 am closing hours.

Adam Barnosky, a member of the law firm headed by Robert L. “Bobby” Allen, Jr., represented Peet’s, seeking approval for three outside tables and service for nine seats at 1154 Boylston St., formerly Starbuck’s. The board has become quite liberal about outside seating, even allowing it on some sidewalks. At this site, outdoor seating was planned on private space in a narrow strip adjacent to a sidewalk. The board approved, subject to another review of seating area dimensions by the Building Department.

A prime candidate for board attention this evening was a proposal for Waxy’s, a regional chain of restaurants with an Irish theme, to open at 1032 Beacon St. That had most recently been the site of a sometimes troubled Mission Cantina. Waxy’s submitted an ambitious proposal, asking for 122 indoor seats, 48 outdoor seats, up to 60 employees, full liquor service including a bar, 2 am closing hours all 7 days a week and recorded entertainment. It would become one of Brookline’s largest restaurants.

The chain was represented by Frank Spillane, a Foxborough lawyer. There turned out to be disconnects. The people named as managers on papers distributed for the license hearing were not actually expected to be the managers once the restaurant was open. The chain was still looking for someone. A main spokesperson at the hearing was a manager recently hired at another location who mumbled his name, although clearly it was not one of those names appearing on the license papers.

Members of the board had read a Brookline Police Department report calling attention to multiple problems at one of the chain’s current locations, in Foxborough. There had been a sale to a minor, drunken behavior by patrons and repeated license suspensions–at least one while that location was managed by one of the people named on license papers as a Brookline manager.

Lt. Hayes of the Brookline Police Department, who had investigated, recommended 1 am closing hours, security cameras and other license restrictions. Board members Nancy Daly and Ben Franco stated they would vote against the application as it stood. With Bernard Greene not participating, the application could not get a majority vote of approval. Mr. Wishinsky, the chair, called for public comment.

Steve Kanes of Carlton St., an Advisory Committee member, described widespread neighborhood concerns. They included noise, litter and smoking. A license, he said, should not allow outdoor entertainment. He mentioned late-night noise after closing, around the outdoor trash receptacle, asking for restrictions.

Joel Feingold of Beacon St., a next-door neighbor, said the former Mission Cantina had caused much more trouble for nearby residents than other business at the site: “a rude awakening” and “a difficult neighbor.” They ran until 2 am outdoors, he said, although licensed only until 11 pm. Outdoor litter and late-night noise had been chronic problems. He asked for no deliveries before 8 am if a license were granted.

James Franco of Amory St., a Precinct 1 town meeting member, asked for no outdoor service after 10 pm if a license were granted, intending that use of outdoor seating should end before 11 pm. Neil Gordon of Ivy St., also a Precinct 1 town meeting member, had similar concerns. Other neighbors recounted past problems and joined in asking for restrictions on any new license. The board was going nowhere with this application. Mr. Wishinsky announced the hearing would be continued to a future date.

Chickens: Brookline is not always so difficult for applicants. Illustrating the point, two evenings later the Zoning Board of Appeals considered an application at a location not far away, on Amory Street, asking for a permit to install a small chicken coop. There may not have been a similar application north of Route 9 during at least the past half century.

The applicants were the Gurock family, who opened the popular Magic Beans children’s store on Harvard St. in 2003, at the former site of Imaginarium. They now have five other locations in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The parents are seeking educational experiences for their children, said Sheri Gurock, describing measures the family plans to prevent odors and neighborhood disturbances (no roosters). Neighbors sent in letters of support, and there was no opposition. The board approved.

Located in the Cottage Farm historic district, the proposal also needed Preservation approval, which it had previously received. The district name was an 1850s invention of Amos Adams Lawrence (1814-1886), sponsor of the unusual development. It did not reflect any known historic farm that might also have raised chickens.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 18, 2015


Memorandum from Melvin A. Kleckner, Town Administrator, to Sean Lynn-Jones, Chair, Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, July 13, 2015

Climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, December, 2012

Revisions to climate action plan, Town of Brookline, MA, July, 2015

Planning assistance toward housing (PATH), Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015

Kehillath Israel: renovation and Chapter 40B development, Brookline Beacon, July 9, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: reach for the reset button, Brookline Beacon, July 8, 2015

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant, Brookline Beacon, June 25, 2015

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