Vote On Town’s Real World ‘Experiment’ On Need For DPW Fuel Tanks Set For Tuesday

Photo: Will this be the location of Belmont’s “fuel supply” for town vehicles?

An three month “experiment” using the local gas stations as the prime supply for the town’s nearly 180 vehicles could be voted on this week to determine the real world impact of removing the town’s municipal fuel tanks.

The Select Board is holding its second public forum on the possible replacement of the two 6,000 gallon underground fuel tanks at the DPW yard off C Street. On the agenda will be a discussion and possible vote on the trial program for off-site fueling of town-owned vehicles at the neighborhood service station including fire engines, police cars, highway department snow removal equipment and Belmont Light repair trucks.

A preview of the forum took place at the Select Board’s Monday Sept 19 meeting as Glenn Clancy, the director of the Department of Community Development, who is leading the Herculean effort to determine the future of the tanks and the size of the tanks that would supply the town vehicles. While the first forum on Aug. 3 focused on the topic of insuring above and underground tanks, residents opposed to the town’s “large” tanks at the June Town Meeting took to surveying gas stations as an alternative of the town’s fuel supply. It soon became an issue those residents took to heart as one reason to remove the tanks.

In response to several board members to wanted an analysis conducted, Clancy presented to the board a highly-detailed draft report (the main report is 13 table-laden pages with a large number of supporting data) on the fuel consumption for all the town’s 179 vehicles in fiscal year 2020 from July 1 2019 to June 30, 2020. The culmination of three months of work, Clancy studied the when and how much each vehicle consumed either diesel or unleaded gas .

“The report is supported by a lot of data, there’s a lot of information in there in terms of consumption when and where,” Clancy told the board of the draft that took three months to prepare.

“The report will be the centerpiece of the next fuel forum,” Clancy said, culminating with the board possible approving one of two recommendations: the first is allow diesel fuel to remain at the DPW yard.

This is going to show whether you save money or lose money, but it’s not going to show if we have a Blizzard of ‘78 whether or not we’re going to be completely screwed because we’re going to private stations that [will be] closed for two weeks

Adam Dash, Chair Belmont Select Board

The second is what Clancy dubbed the “experiment” in which the town vehicles will fuel up at the town’s nine private service stations from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. The trail will take place over three months beginning Oct. 15 with the hope it will “capture at least one snow event.”

The trial will produce “real world experience” using a gas station vs. the pumps at the Town Yard.

Clancy said the department heads who rely on the fleet have been informed of the possible trial.

“My hope is that at the end of the [Sept. 28] forum, the public and the board both agree that it makes sense for us to move forward with that [experiment],” said Clancy.

On area the report has analyzed is the cost difference using private gas stations and the town’s current practice of being a member of a fuel consortium with a dozen eastern Massachusetts communities that purchases fuel at a group discount. Clancy’s data indicates the town saving up to $14,700 if it remains in the partnership.

Board Vice Chair Roy Epstein said the draft “is really an enormous amount of work and I think it provides the basis for a much more informed discussion of this issue,” adding the report’s detail analysis provides “the rational for keeping diesel at the DPW yard.”

Yet Epstein noted making conclusions with data over several years can be troublesome as underlying economic factors – recessions, Covid downturn, unsustainable recoveries – must be factored into the analysis as well as calculating productivity effects when fueling at the private service station vs. at the DPW yard and the special case of police vehicles fueling at the DPW yard rather than at a service station because they operate a third shift.

“Predictions are not guarantees but in terms of making predications, that [the data] is reliable,” said Epstein.

Clancy noted part of the goal of the three month trail is to look at those types of operational issues “and see whether or not they work.”

Adam Dash, the board’s chair who said he would want to hear public comment before a vote after the forum either on the 28th or Oct. 4 when the board is scheduled to meet, said his major concern is fuel security.

“This is going to show whether you save money or lose money, but it’s not going to show if we have a blizzard of ‘78 whether or not we’re going to be completely screwed because we’re going to private stations that [will be] closed for two weeks,” said Dash.

Second Go-Around For Replacing DPW Fuel Tanks Starts With Tuesday Public Forum

Photo: The location of the DPW tanks.

If you first don’t succeed, hold a public forum. That’s the approach town officials are taking as they prepare to host a first of possibly two public forums on the future of a pair of municipal fuel tanks located beneath the Department of Public Works Yard off C Street.

The forum will take place via Zoom at 7 p.m., Tuesday, August 3. Zoom information can be found on the Town’s calendar at WWW.BELMONT-MA.GOV

“This is such a big hot item that we felt it needed a night onto itself rather than being crammed into a meeting agenda. It needs the respect of having its own night,” said Select Board Chair Adam Dash at the board’s Monday night meeting.

Despite seeing a nearly $500,000 supplemental allocation – which was championed in 2020-1 by the Capital Budget Committee and the Select Board after numerous public meetings – to pay for the removal of the existing 35-year-old tanks with an above-ground model costing a total of $1,033,000 narrowly defeated by the June annual Town Meeting, the town is currently conducting a detailed analysis to answer any questions about the project and refute unsubstantiated claims by three abutters who brought a successful citizens petition to defeat the allocation.

Glenn Clancy, Belmont’s director of Community Development who is leading the analysis, said the first meeting will be a chance for the town to share its findings and information on a couple of items such as ensuring tanks that have passed by several years their useful life and likely Department of Environmental Protection environmental concerns.

“I’m going at this very methodically. I’m starting from the beginning myself but I also recognize that a lot of the work has already been done by town staff and so I’m piecing together information and I’m taking good information from them as they help me inform me on my work,” said Clancy.

Both the Town Administrator’s Office and the Select Board said they will make a final recommendation only after hearing from the public and providing a finished report. The town will bring its proposal to the Special Town Meeting tentatively scheduled for early/mid-November.

Already, possible opposition to the town’s findings is coming from a familiar source. In a note to members over social media, Citizens for a Fiscally Responsible Belmont – a financially conservative group that headed the successful drive to defeat the $6.7 million Proposition 2 1/2 override this past April – will press the town to defend the size of the tanks while demanding it produces cost analysis on the tanks and alternatives.

The only option the CFRB is opposed to is a head-scratcher now as it was when it first promoted it before the June Town Meeting: an abolition of above-ground tanks. Despite the town and outside consultants demonstrated above ground storage was far less costly in the long run than those located underground, it was reported the group abandoned its fiscal conservative credo to solidify greater political support.

For Clancy, the only thing he’s seeking is “validation from the residents that what I’m doing and how I’m going about this.”

“The worst-case tomorrow night is that I come away with a message that I need to be digging deeper or … looking a little closer at certain things, which is fine. You know at the end of the day, what I want is a recommendation that I can make to the board that has broad consensus in the community. So it’s important that the community and the residents feel good about what the town proposes,” said Clancy.