Private To Public: Belmont Adding A Circle To Its Streets

Photo: Carleton Circle will soon move from a private way to a public road.

It’s been so long since the town of Belmont took ownership of a private street that Town Engineer Glenn Clancy can’t recall the last time it’s happened.

So next month’s Special Town Meeting will have a unique opportunity to approve the town’s taking of Carleton Circle, a 455 foot private through-way connecting Common and Washington streets.

“This is a rarity that something like this happens,” said the Select Board’s Adam Dash.

“A public road would mean that it would be cared for and maintained by the town,” said Patrice Garvin, Belmont’s town administrator.

That doesn’t mean the town hadn’t had some involvement in the current road’s upkeep. Private roads are plowed for snow and some patching is done by the town’s Highway Division, according to Garvin. But significant improvements is the responsibility of the owners which are the homeowners that abut the roadway.

Why private to public is such an anomaly is due to two major factors. First, all property owners must agree to the taking. And second, the roadway must be meet the “standards of a public way” in terms of road surface and if it has the necessary width, which in nearly all cases requires the abutters to come up with a significant amount of coin to reach that milestone.

“We don’t want to inherent any problems,” said Clancy.

In the case of Carleton Circle, one advantage is there are only nine abutters to the road, a small enough number that led to a successful outcome.

There have been initial attempts since 2000 to turn a few of the several private roads on Belmont Hill into public ways. But with between 50 to nearly 200 homeowners, it quickly became evident to campaigners they could never achieve an unanimously vote on those roads.

“We’ve been working with other people and other streets and it’s been very frustrating because you’ve got some holdouts who just won’t do it and it’s private property … so we can’t afford to go in and take this if people aren’t going to go along,” said Dash.

But just as important, the owners had the advantage of having the street recently repaved for free. During National Grid’s two year long improvements to the infrastructure under Common Street, the neighbors allowed a portion of the road to be a staging area for construction equipment. As part of the contract, the multinational utility agreed to repave the potholed asphalt surface at no cost.

Usually, the expense to homeowners of a private way to reach the public standard is significant and requires the abutters to seek a betterment assessment, a special property tax that lasts for 10 to 15 years in which the property receives a special benefit or advantage from the construction of a public improvement such as a new roadway.

But for the homeowners along Carleton Circle, the National Grid paving job “significantly helped” the road to reach the town’s pubic way standards, said Garvin.

“The most expensive element in a road project is the roadway itself. And because we were able to work with National Grid … it took the cost of asphalt in the road off the table,” said Clancy.

With much of the potential price tag reduced, the owners petitioned the town to make their street a public way. The town determined that a minimum amount of sidewalk maintenance and tree work would address the town’s remaining concerns. The owners anted up about $1,400 each and all signed a waiver to allow the road’s ownership to be passed over to the town.

A warrant article with an adopted layout of the street created by the Board of Surveyors was approved by the Select Board in early August.

A Labor Lockout Could Keep Belmont Streets Unpaved ‘Til Spring

Photo: Common Street.

The money is in the bank, the contractors are ready to go and long-suffering residents are waiting with bated breath.

But for homeowners along four Belmont roadways, a labor dispute between workers and an international utility firm is threatening to delay the reconstruction and repaving their streets until this coming Spring.

The prediction by Town Engineer Glen Clancy to the Board of Selectmen at its Monday night meeting, Aug. 20, relates to a month-long lockout of 1,100 union gas workers by employer National Grid after the two sides could not reach an agreement on a new longer-term contract in June.

Now Belmont residents are locked out of a promised a new road after suffering through detours and delays for the past year.

“I just want the community to understand that … the town and DPW (Department of Public Works) are obviously aware of the conditions of these roads,” said Clancy.

In each case, permitted infrastructure projects – such as the installation of gas lines – are uncompleted. Under current town policy, the Office of Community Development will not release funds for roadways that require expensive gas, water, and electrical work in the near future even if it was approved by Town Meeting.

“With National Grid being locked out, the utility work necessary to finish those projects are at a standstill,” said Clancy.

Clancy said many complaints relating to the condition of Common Street which runs from just outside Belmont Center to Cushing Square and to the Watertown line. 

Other streets include Payson Road, Lawndale and Prospect streets which were selected in the past year to be part of the annual pavement management program which sets aside funds to reconstruct streets the town determines to be in the most need of repair.

“I want people to understand that if not for the lockout, it’s likely that Clifton and Prospect streets would be finished since most of the major work is complete,” said Clancy, noting that Common Street is under the 2017 pavement management contract, “so all we are waiting for is for the street to be fixed.” 

While the beginning of winter – and the end of the reconstruction and paving season – is not yet around the corner, Clancy said unless the lockout is resolved soon, DPW will need to consider a stop-gap solution “to make sure those roads are safe for driving until the spring of 2019.” He pointed to the temporary top coat of asphalt placed on Grove Street last winter as an example. 

“[National Grid] has been put on notice for that job,” said Clancy.

Answering a question from Selectman Tom Caputo, Clancy said mid-September would the latest date to begin reconstruction and replacement for any street, providing six good weeks before the weather conditions turn “sketchy.” 

“We have a little bit of time but the clock is ticking,” said Caputo. Worst case scenario, according to Clancy, is the work will be scheduled to begin in eight to nine months from Sept. 1. But even if the lockout is resolved in the next few weeks, there is no guarantee National Grid would be able to send the necessary crews to finish the work as the firm is currently backlogged with jobs.

The one “good” result of the management action is it now allows the lining of the large MWRA water main along nearly the length of Common Street to be completed without competing with National Grid crews, said Clancy. 

Correction: The labor action between National Grid and the unionized workers is a lockout, not a strike.

Gas Line Replacement Begins Friday at Washington and Branchaud

Photo: Road work on Washington and Branchaud.

The prep work has been done, and the work to replace a major utility line a block from the Chenery Middle School is set to begin today.

National Grid is scheduled to replace the natural gas main at the intersection of Branchaud Road and Washington Street. As part of this project, we will also replace the natural gas service piping that connects the main to the customer’s gas meters of nine houses.

Traffic will be affected at the site.

Construction is expected to begin on Friday, Aug. 25 and end approximately on Monday, Sept. 4, all dates weather permitting. The first day of school at the Chenery Middle School is Wednesday, Sept. 6.

We will work hard to complete this project promptly and with minimal disruption to the community,” said Grace Sawaya, Community & Customer Management manager for National Grid in a press release to the town.

National Grid has produced a YouTube video on the gas main replacement process, in addition to a second video explaining the replacement of the service pipe to customer homes at ngrid.com/serviceline.

“We’re here for you if you have any questions about this project. Please contact me at 781-907-3419
We look forward to working with you as we upgrade our community’s infrastructure,” said Sawaya.

Belmont Joins Ranks With Communities on Gas Leak Legislation

Photo: Yvonne Brown (left) and Jennifer Marusiak of Mothers Out Front.

The rotten egg smell associated with leaking natural gas – it’s actually a chemical additive called mercaptan – is an annoyance that dampens your outdoor activities or forces windows to be closed on summer nights. But the problem of leaking gas mains goes beyond the odor it emanates; the hydrocarbon mixture is harming the environment and draining resident’s pocketbooks.

That’s the warning Jennifer Marusiak of Chester Road and Yvonne Brown of Highland Road brought to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 27, as they sought the board’s backing for state legislation that would put a modest plug in what has become an epidemic throughout the state.

“It’s serious that we have these uncontrolled leaks in every Belmont neighborhood and the consequences are to climate change,” said Marusiak, who with Brown are members of the Belmont chapter of Mothers Out Front, a national grassroots organization seeking to implement policies to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

And with the Selectmen’s official endorsement of the legislation making its way through Beacon Hill, Belmont joins 36 communities across Massachusetts supporting the effort to limit the level of gas leaks statewide.

In a comprehensive analysis of Belmont by Mother’s Out Front reported in the May/June Belmont Citizens Forum newsletter, there are 80 gas leaks throughout town – the majority in the heavily residential neighborhoods inside an area bordered by Trapelo Road, Pleasant Street, Concord Avenue and Grove Street –  part of the 20,000 leaks statewide that is spewing tons of methane into the atmosphere.
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‘[Methane] has been described as carbon on steroids,” Marusiak said of the greenhouse gas that’s nearly 90 percent more efficient than CO2 in trapping heat. It also exacerbates the effects of asthma and kills trees.

In addition to the environmental damage, the leaks cost ratepayers and consumers $90 million annual in lost product, which could power 200,000 homes each year.

The reason leaks occur is due to an aging infrastructure, said Marusiak. National Grid, the gas utility in Massachusetts, told Mom’s Out Front that half the pipes running through town are cast iron or unprotected steel “which makes them leak-prone” due to changing temperatures and corrosion, said Marusiak.

National Grid will repair leaks immediately if they are indoors and in an enclosed space with the real potential of an explosion, she said. There is a second level of severity are pipes that could become dangerous if they are close to residential buildings, but the company can wait six months before fixing them.

All other leaks don’t have any timeframe on repairs, which has resulted in two Belmont locations which have had been leaking gas since 1996, said Marusiak.

“And the shocking thing [about replacing leaking pipes] it has absolutely nothing to do with the volume [escaping] … they could sit there forever,” Marusiak said, noting that National Grid acknowledged it doesn’t know the volume of escaping gas from any of the Belmont problem areas.

The women were seeking backing on two bills in front of the state legislature on Beacon Hill: House 2870 would prohibit company from passing on costs from leaks to customer – this bill has been sent to a Study Committee – while Senate 1767 would mandate utilities check for leaks when roads with gas pipes are dug up, and fix any leaks found within one calendar year.

“The support from towns are vital,” said Marusiak. “The main benefit of passing this resolution is to keep up the pressure by saying ‘we need action now’.”

“This is an issue that the town itself can’t do and so political pressure that you’re proposing is the only way to get action,” said Selectman Jim Williams, who joined Chair Mark Paolillo and Selectman Sami Baghdady to sponsor an official resolution backing the measures.

Despite a stall on the House bill and the Senate measure still to be voted on to be included in the Senate’s omnibus energy legislation, Marusiak said communities, citizens, and groups “will just continue to keep on pushing for its passage, now or in the next session.” 

OverNight Work Set for Commuter Rail Bridge Until Friday

Photo: The Belmont Center Commuter Rail bridge.

Much needed gas work will require National Grid to spend the overnight for most of this week tearing up and repairing infrastructure under the Belmont Center Commuter Rail bridge.

Glenn Clancy, director of the Community Development Office, told the Belmont Board of Selectmen Monday, July 27, said the construction is part of the wider work involving long-delayed repairs and the Belmont Center Reconstruction Project.

With work required on the eastern section of the roadway (the left side as one leaves Belmont Center) under the bridge to be completed, Clancy said National Grid requested an overnight shift from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., lasting from Tuesday, July 28 to Friday, July 31, as being the most effective and least disruptive way of completing the job.

“Unfortunately, the work needs to be done,” said Clancy.  

National Grid’s Gas Repair Complicates Waverley Square Road Work

It’s now official: Waverley Square is going to be a mess!

In a release issued today, Friday, April 4, the Belmont Police Department report that in addition to the closure of the Waverley Square municipal parking lot and Chruch Street as part of the Trapelo/Belmont Corridor Reconstruction Project beginning on April 14, National Grid announced it will begin work on April 15 on the gas main that traverses the Trapelo Road bridge over the MBTA’s commuter rail tracks.

Work on the gas main is expected to be completed on April 25. The street and lot closures will conclude a month later.

The Belmont Police recommend that motorist seek an alternate route and avoid this portion of Trapelo Road during the last two weeks in April. Expect delays if you are driving through this area, said police.