Caption: Worst Offender: Somerville’s SOM01A Combined SewerOverflow (CSO)'Worst offender: Somerville’s SOM01A combined sewer overflow.

Selectboard logo, May 20, 2019The Nov. 20 meeting covered many subjects.

UPDATED Nov. 29: The town’s veterans official, temporary permission for beer at a local café, stronger demands on coping with Alewife Brook flooding, semiquincentennial plans, Conservation Commission members, road improvements, bond issuance and other matters occupied the Select Board at its most recent meeting.

Town Manager Jim Feeney began the Nov. 20 proceedings by introducing Philip McGovern, director of veterans services, who briefly sketched his career as “hybrid of civilian and military service” as a lawyer. He mentioned his service in the National Guard and in Iraq; board member Steve DeCourcey, welcoming McGovern, mentioned his Purple Heart award and tour in Afghanistan. YourArlington earlier announced his appointment.

A longtime Woburn resident, McGovern said that in Arlington he looks forward to “getting integrated into a place where I actually work with individuals and help them get the benefits that they deserve, as well as with a community.” Board member Diane Mahon recognized McGovern’s “strong suit” in mental-health services, adding, “There are a lot of things that you do that we probably won’t know about, so I want to thank you in advance."

Beer for holiday cheer

The board voted unanimously to grant one-day beer and wine licenses to Arlington Brewing Company for a pop-up beer bar at Roasted Granola Café, 1346 Mass. Ave., on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights starting this Thursday and running through Dec. 30. ABC cofounder, brewer and town resident Tom Allen, speaking for the company and his business partner, Matt Guernsey, told the board, “It’s been difficult to find a brick-and-mortar location,” which they ultimately would prefer to selling all their beer in cans. Meanwhile, they welcome the Roasted Granola opportunity to “get to know our neighbors and friends a little bit better,” as they had earlier this year at the summer’s near-weekly beer garden at the Arlington Reservoir.

Mahon called the Roasted Granola “very well embedded in the community and very respectful neighbors,” and Vice Chair John Hurd remarked that it’s been difficult to find his favorite of the company’s many offerings, the Spy-P-A. “We can barely make enough beer, which is great,” said Allen.

‘We can barely make enough beer, which is great.’ -- Local brewer Tom Allen

Board Chair Eric Helmuth added, “Every time I’ve seen you operate, I’ve seen that you take seriously” the precautions and training required to serve alcohol.

Board toughens position on Alewife Brook 

After an involved discussion, the board planned to continue refining the language of its intended comment to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is now considering reissuing a permit for the combined sewage overflow, or CSO, just over the Arlington town line in Cambridge. CSOs discharge sewage, including that from two neighboring municipalities, into the Alewife Brook during bad weather; this created unpleasant and potentially hazardous conditions, including on surrounding land, earlier this year.

Via a board vote, the town’s manager and attorney were given authority to yet further revise as necessary the comment -- to be sent to the EPA by today, Tuesday, Nov. 28. The finalized letter, which Select Board Administrator Ashley Maher confirmed to YourArlington was conveyed by that date, can be viewed here>>

As in an earlier draft, the comment strongly urges the EPA to revise the draft permit to more aggressively address combined sewage pollution through green infrastructure, separating sewage and stormwater pipes, and ultimately building a local treatment facility specifically for the Alewife Brook. “While we continue to believe that CSOs should not be authorized,” it reads, “we urge you to revise the Draft Permit so that the practice of permitting CSOs is at the very least, mitigated to the point that their frequency and volume are dramatically reduced.”

The draft also asks that the permit require a better public- notification system when CSOs occur, more consistent ongoing reporting and follow-through on odor problems -- and a “revised floatables control plan … [that would] require netting, screening or similar system for capturing and retaining these solids” and their “timely removal.”

Co-permittee status questioned

Notably, the latest draft formally objects to Arlington’s status as a copermittee along with the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Somerville and Cambridge, because those two other communities have not fully separated their sewage and stormwater systems, whereas Arlington, as a “sanitary sewer community,” has already done so.

Board member Len Diggins asked, “What would we get for being a co-permittee?” and Town Counsel Michael Cunningham replied, “Unfortunately, we don’t know, but I think the potential negatives are significant.” 

Feeney said, “To be clear, the only basis for co-permittee status is that the town sends wastewater to the MWRA treatment plant at Deer Island,” off the Boston coast. Mahon said the town’s objection to co-permittee status “still has to be flushed through to see if it is legal,” an unintended pun that the others apparently recognized before she did. “Oy vey,” she said when others pointed it out.

Board thanked for ongoing efforts

Local residents Kristin Anderson and David Stoff spoke up in open forum at the meeting, both addressing the town’s ongoing efforts to create an effective comment to the EPA on renewing the existing permit to discharge sewage into the Alewife Brook. Anderson, a Town Meeting member and founder of the grassroots organization Save the Alewife Brook, thanked the board for its work and thanked Mahon and Cunningham particularly for being at a Nov. 15 meeting held by the MWRA and the municipal governments of Cambridge and Somerville as part of a process for long-term control of sewage pollution in the Alewife Brook.

Anderson said that 170 people, representing Arlington, Somerville and Cambridge in roughly equal numbers, attended that meeting via Zoom. “The problem does not end at municipal borders, and neither does concern about it,” she said.

‘The problem does not end at municipal borders, and neither does concern about it.’ – Environmentalist Kristin Anderson

Stoff, whose house overlooks the Alewife Brook Greenway path that was overtopped by untreated sewage on Aug. 8, said of the town’s letter to the EPA, “Each draft I see is so much better than the last one.” He urged changes, however, to another section of the new draft, in which Arlington objects to the requirement in the draft permit that it “develop and implement plans (Major Events Planning Provisions) to address its sewer system’s climate change resiliency.” Stoff called this “language that’s prepared in anticipation of litigation.”

As context, Feeney later said the town Department of Public Works saw the Major Events Planning Provisions as a “duplicative requirement,” as for 13 years the department has worked to identify such problems through “sewer rehab.” To Stoff’s challenge that “the town is a leader in climate change” and shouldn’t object to planning for more intense storms, Feeney said this was something “we agree to in premise and in principle” and that the town was already doing this on its own, “but, if it is required, we wouldn’t be able to do it” in six months, as the draft permit specifies.

‘The town is a leader in climate change.’ – Environmentalist David Stoff

Stoff said that any action around such planning “would never get through Town Meeting in six months,” and that the letter to the EPA therefore should spell out why that is the case: “If we want to reserve our rights, make Arlington-specific comments.”

‘It takes a village’

Feeney agreed that “it would fit well that we lay out the circumstances why the six-month timeline just really doesn’t work for municipal government.” He and Mahon said that they thought 24 months was “more appropriate,” while Diggins wondered about 12 months. “We need to be careful when we extend our timeline out,” he said.

With these possibilities in mind, the board voted unanimously to approve the letter subject to further revisions by Feeney, with Helmuth’s approval. DeCourcey and others thanked Stoff for his contributions to the letter, including at the evening’s meeting. Since the last board meeting, Feeney said that he and Cunningham had collaborated on the letter with the Mystic River Watershed Association and town DPW Director Michael Rademacher. Feeney also thanked deCourcey for reorganizing and tightening the letter.

“It takes a village to write a memo,” observed Helmuth. For his part, Hurd said, “I know a lot more about CSOs than I did a few months ago, but I’m glad there are people in the community who know a lot more than I. It seems like after years of talking about CSOs, [here is] a specific avenue to voice our concerns.”

Intertown cooperation planned on 250th celebration

Arlington plans to collaborate with Concord, Lexington and Lincoln in planning events along the “Battle Road” to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War in April 1775. The Arlington Select Board, as the “executing authority,” approved the town’s “buy-in” of $50,000, half already approved by Town Meeting and the other half to be raised with an economic development bond bill.

Hurd, who cochairs the Semiquincentennial Committee, also called Arlington 250, said everyone on the committee was excited about working with other towns. The money will pay for consultants to plan “the right events to bring people to town” and avoid competition for the same tourists at the same time in different towns. The other three towns will contribute the same amount in “buy-in,” with Concord providing financial reporting.

‘The right events to bring people to town’ – Board Vice Chair John Hurd

Board members asked about the end date of the agreement. Hurd said most events will be in April 2025, but, because the Revolutionary War didn’t end in 1775, the committee also has talked about a series of events that potentially could last into 2026. “If this becomes a really successful way to generate tourism,” he said, Arlington might want to continue the arrangement. Diggins remarked that he was “all for it,” and that the $50,000 price tag for each year “seems low.” Hurd responded that it represents only the cost for the shared consultants the towns are hiring. In Arlington, subcommittees are working on calculating other costs – “public safety is going to be a big expense” -- and should be able to provide a better sense of total cost in six months or so.

 Conservation Commission: two new members

The board unanimously approved two new members of the Conservation Commission, Eileen Coleman and Sara Alfaro- Franco. Coleman served on ConCom in 2017, and Mahon said she was “happy to have you back. There’s really no learning curve with this appointment, and that’s much needed,” given “a lot on the CC platter, artificial turf and the Mugar project.”

Alfaro-Franco has been attending commission meetings for more than six months, she said, and is “very impressed with the many layers” that go into its decisions. In turn, Mahon, who along with Diggins knows Alfaro-Franco through her work with ACMi, told her, “You’ve always done your homework, and my homework sometimes, in terms of being level-headed and able to listen more than talk.” Helmuth spoke appreciatively of the town’s abundance of “smart, hard-working, qualified people who are willing to serve.”

Pedestrian safety addressed near Gibbs School

Transportation Advisory Committee Chair Laura Swan, via Zoom, discussed intersections where pedestrian safety has come to the committee’s attention; however, only at Rawson Road and Broadway, near the Gibbs School, did she recommend action. Among other concerns, vehicles traveling south on Rawson can’t always see pedestrians in the crosswalk. The board thereupon approved short-term recommendations including eliminating a parking spot on the southbound side of Rawson, installing a marked crosswalk and moving the stop bar closer to the intersection.

Another intention is to “Gather traffic counts at River/Bates/Warren/Broadway to see if signal timings can be adjusted to reduce the number of cycle failures (when a driver has to wait through two or more signal cycles) on River/Bates,” as these may inadvertently be drawing more traffic to Rawson.

Longer-term recommendations, including “Tighten the geometry of the entrance to Foster Street (like what was done at Egerton and Herbert),” are subject to funding and capital planning measures. Diggins urged a “mechanism” so such decisions don’t get “pushed down the stack,” and Hurd suggested Feeney review the plans for feasibility and come back to the board with a timeline.

In contrast, on a request for a marked crosswalk at Jason and Hillsdale streets at the entrance to Menotomy Rocks Park, Swan recommended no action, saying that a study didn’t find enough pedestrian traffic to justify another crosswalk, as “traffic was stopping for pedestrians that were observed crossing in the unmarked crosswalk.”

NSTAR, bonds, Long-Term Planning Committee

The board approved the petition by NSTAR, a Massachusetts-based, investor-owned electric and gas utility, for a Grant of Location to install a conduit at Massachusetts Avenue and Broadway. No public objections were raised, and deCourcey commended NSTAR’s Jacqueline Duffy, who appeared at the meeting, for the work she has done coordinating with Verizon. No date was set for the conduit work to begin, but it is intended to make service more reliable, officials said.

The town plans to issue a bond of about $18 million in the first half of December, consisting of $10 million exempt debt for Arlington High School renovations and $8 million for the Department of Public Works. As a procedural matter, Feeney requested a “certificate of useful life” for “certain pieces of equipment that a community needs to borrow for,” like ambulances. The board approved this.

Watch ACMi video of Nov. 20, 2023, meeting:

DeCourcey reported that the Long-Term Planning Committee had met the previous Friday and “updated long-range financial projections based on the results of the override” vote earlier this month, which was approved by the general electorate. The committee plans to meet again in February, with Feeney’s budget for fiscal 2025 expected to be in hand by then, as well as more likely to be known on the state budget. Explaining the timing, Feeney said that at that point he would have “a good indication of where some of our revenue sources for this year are trending.”

In response to a request by Mahon for actual, rather than budgeted, balances for the override stabilization and municipal building bond trusts, Feeney said that the updated long- range plan will have numbers “based on monthly statements” from the banks holding the funds.

Nov. 14, 2023: Select Board: ARB vacancy, Alewife Brook pollutio, proclamations, Arlington called 'sushi town'

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Catherine Brewster was published Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, and underwent minor wordsmithing later that day. It was updated Wednesday, Nov. 29, to include a link to the text of the letter that the Arlington Select Board sent to the EPA, as well as an ACMi video window.

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