Town Meeting 2019 Warrant Article 28 – details

At a phone and video meeting on Saturday, March 30, 2019 at 4pm, a quorum of Green Acton directors agreed to take no position on Article 28, which is a change from our previous position of not recommending the article.

What’s Article 28?

Article 28 amends Section E39 (“Public Way Obstruction/Destruction”) of the General Bylaws of the Town of Acton to allow the Board of Selectmen to delegate the licensing of changes to the public ways.

What was Green Acton’s previous position?

2019 Warrant Article #28: Amend General Bylaws: Public Way Permits
Green Acton opposes this article because we have observed that the authority of the Board of Selectmen for public way permits provides important public access to policy implications of permitting decisions. We would prefer that public access and input on such matters not be forfeited.

What caused a reconsideration of that position?

We received new information, in an email exchange with Town Engineer Paul Campbell, concerning the implications of the article. The email exchange below may be summarized as follows:

  • We were opposed to the article largely because we wanted public access to such decisions to be preserved, and in particular, to have access to deliberation, and be able to comment on, any new (especially methane (“natural”) gas infrastructure.
  • We learned that this bylaw change would impact only repairs to existing infrastructure. New infrastructure still requires a Board of Selectmen (BoS) hearing, because of a state statute (see below).
  • In addition, expediting repairs to existing infrastructure by allowing administrative review (rather than a BoS vote) will speed up gas leak repairs, which is an important environmental goal.

Because of the variety of different responses by the directors to the information below, all directors were willing to agree simply to take no position on this article, rather than oppose it.

The email exchange

On Mar 28, 2019 at 9:40am, Paul Campbell, Acton Town Engineer, wrote to Green Acton via the website:

Name: Paul Campbell
Email: PCampbell@actonma.gov
Comment: Hello. This is Paul Campbell, the Town Engineer in Acton. I’d like to provide additional information related to your concern with Article 28 which proposes to allow the Selectmen to designate authority for work within public roadways. The purpose of this article is a mostly housekeeping matter which would align Acton with other communities. Permitting for repair work in public ways is administered by the Department of Public Works in most communities and was done this way in Acton as a matter of practice from 1969 until last year.

This article would not impact new construction for new gas mains or new utility poles, for example, which would still require a public hearing for a “grant of location” from the Board of Selectmen due to state law. That practice would remain unchanged. The purpose of this article is to allow the DPW to administer the day-to-day repair work that occurs in roadways such as the repair of gas leaks. By designating the Selectmen as the sole authority to approve these minor repair permits, gas leak repair work is delayed since the Selectmen meet as few as once a month during the summer; the height of National Grid’s construction season. Other minor work of concern to residents include installing new driveways or work for their water or sewer services.

National Grid applies for the vast majority of work in roadways (approximately 100 permits a year). Most permits are gas leak repairs or replacing old, leaking gas mains and are approved on the Selectmen’s consent agenda without much discussion. Having read Green Acton’s position on addressing gas leaks in Acton, I understand that gas leaks are an important issue for you. We have met with National Grid recently and due to their lockout having ended, they are anxious to address the large backlog of repair work in Acton. If they are required to wait for a Selectmen meeting it will only delay them and increase their deferred maintenance which causes these gas leaks in the first place

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. 978-929-6630 or pcampbell@actonma.gov Thank you——

From: Debra Simes [mailto:debra_simes@GreenActon.org
Sent: Thursday, March 28, 2019 10:15 AM
To: Paul Campbell
Cc: Jim Snyder-Grant
Subject: Re: Feedback from website (contact us page)

Hi Paul,
Thank you for reaching out to us. This information may be helpful to Green Acton as we approach Town Meeting. 
We assumed this was largely a housekeeping kind of article, but, as you surmised, were concerned in part about public ability to address (particularly) the establishment of new NG infrastructure in town.
To be clear: are you saying that, although there’s nothing in the language of the article that would suggest it would NOT apply to N. Grid’s installation of new infrastructure, pursuant to some other regulation or bylaw (which?), Grid necessarily must come before BoS for a hearing on any such proposed NG infrastructure?
It would be most helpful to get that question answered definitively, with reference to where, in law, such hearings are mandated. Thank you! Debra Simes Co-president, Green Acton
debra_simes@GreenActon.org
978.635.0455
[pronouns: she/her] 

On Mar 28, 2019, at 10:37 AM, Paul Campbell <pcampbell@acton-ma.gov> wrote:
Thanks Debra.
I understand your concern to address new NG infrastructure in town. As I said, new infrastructure is still the Selectmen’s responsibility due to state law: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXXII/Chapter166/Section22A company desiring to construct a line for such transmission upon, along, under or across a public way shall in writing petition the board of aldermen of the city or the selectmen of the town where it is proposed to construct such line for permission to erect or construct upon, along, under or across said way the wires, poles, piers, abutments or conduits necessary therefor. A public hearing shall be held on the petition, and written notice of the time and place of the hearing shall be mailed at least seven days prior thereto by the clerk of the city

National Grid must apply for a Grant of Location anytime they propose new infrastructure. I’ve attached an example of one and our typical comments. That will not change if the article passes. The repair or replacement of any existing infrastructure does not require a Grant of Location. Existing infrastructure repairs were granted by a permit issued by our department. We updated the standards for construction in roadways last year and at that time it was noticed that the General Bylaw technically only vested authority in the Selectmen. The Engineering Department had been administering permits since 1969. Last year we had it on consent to address the housekeeping issue but the article was held and debated without any explanation of the article from staff or Selectmen. When it failed last year, that caused problems. Fortunately National Grid was locked out, so they weren’t doing any construction, but the residential contractors were delayed waiting for Selectmen meetings. Typically a residential contractor applies for a permit on the day they are doing the work. Because we had to make them wait 2–4 weeks for a Selectmen hearing, that caused problems for them and their residential client. This problem will only be compounded this summer with the National Grid lockout ended. We’re working very closely with National Grid on addressing gas leaks, particularly for them to address the high-volume leaks and all leaks on roadways we have scheduled to be repaved in the next 5 years (see attached). The summer is National Grid’s peak construction season and the Selectmen, only meeting once a month, will have 30+ permits on their consent agenda to be addressed. This proposed change is really just a practical matter to address. Thank you,
Paul Campbell
Engineering Department
978-929-6630

———- Forwarded message ———
From: Debra Simes <debra_simes@greenacton.org>
Date: Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 11:10 AM
Subject: Re: Feedback from website (contact us page)
To: Paul Campbell <pcampbell@acton-ma.gov>
Cc: Jim Snyder-Grant <jimsg@greenacton.org>

Thanks for this, Paul. I’m aware of last year’s update to the “road-opening” regulations (a good thing, IMO), and Corey’s efforts to achieve better coordination with Grid on openings, and better reporting on leak repair (which, honestly, at least as of 6 months ago, could hardly get worse). All good stuff.
Jim (other GA co-prez) and I will confer to talk about whether to bring the current position back to the GA directors for reconsideration, and will let you know what happens if we do.
We really appreciate your paying attention and letting us know more about this article and attendant issues.

Best,
Debra
debra_simes@GreenActon.org
[pronouns: she/her]


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