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.

Left No-No: Town Set To Experiment With Belmont Center Traffic Patterns

Photo: The WWI Memorial will become the new way to get onto Concord Avenue westbound from Belmont Center during an experiment to make the intersection with Common Street safer.

Whenever Glenn Clancy thinks Town Administrator Patrice Garvin needs cheering up, he will throw out something “crazy out there” at a meeting or in an email.

“I would talk about, like, my dreams for Belmont Center,” said Clancy, the town’s long-time director of the Office of Community Development as well as the town engineer. Those flights of fancy encompass a design – he is an engineer, after all – that will ease the daily bottleneck of commuters hammering through Belmont’s main business district by sending drivers looping around the center in creative new ways.

Then, last month, Garvin told Clancy that now would a great time to follow that dream.

Last Monday, Clancy received the initial go-ahead from the Belmont Select Board to try out one of a pair of ideas that will require drivers to begin looping around Belmont Center in the name of efficiency and safety.

“My real goal tonight is to have the board … maybe not necessarily say ‘Yes, it’s crazy enough that it might work,’ but say ‘Glenn, it’s crazy enough that we feel comfortable with you kind of taking it to the next step and continuing to do your homework here,” said Clancy.

It will all start with the town putting its foot down on left-hand turns.

“I have always been troubled by the left turn conflicts that are created at that intersection of Common Street and Concord Avenue,” said Clancy. A great amount of southbound traffic coming out of the tunnel wants to turn left onto Concord Avenue westbound towards Cambridge. At the same time, there is a good amount of southbound traffic on Common Street looking to take a left under the bridge entering the Center.

“And so you have these two left-turning movements that are in conflict with each other and with each other and they are creating queuing that is impacting the flow of traffic through Belmont Center,” said Clancy. It’s little wonder that this intersection has one of the highest numbers of fender benders in town.

This is not a new problem. A decade previously, the BSC Group, the Boston-based engineering firm that has been Belmont’s go-to for traffic studies, was looking “at a whole host of ways to manage traffic on either side of the bridge,” said Clancy.

“One of the ideas they threw out there was, ‘Hey, what if we turn the Memorial Island into a roundabout and make everybody come up off the bridge?'” said Clancy. The problem with that proposal meant redesigning the island and its near century-old monument for those residents killed in WWI.

“It would have impacted the Lions Club (located at the Belmont commuter rail station) in the activities that they’re involved with over there would have completely changed the landscape of the memorial island itself,” said Clancy.

“I didn’t have an appetite for that,” he confessed.

The perfect time to experiment

Just as that plan was set aside, an explosion of commuters from Arlington and points west began using Belmont Center as a cut though rather than battle with the gridlock at the Route 2/Alewife Station/Fresh Pond interchanges in Cambridge. With the center’s traffic becoming “so unmanageable,” Clancy put the idea to bed for the next 10 years.

Move forward a decade and due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay at home edict passed by Gov. Charlie Baker in mid-March, the traffic levels in Belmont today now resembles what the town sees on a hot Sunday afternoon in August – over 50 percent of the norm.

With traffic levels in Belmont greatly reduced, Garvin told Clancy now would be an opportune time to move forward with a trial balloon on easing traffic through town. “[W]e have a town-wide traffic study that’s informing us on where that traffic’s coming from where they’re trying to get to,” said Clancy.

Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, “I thought, ‘Geez, you know, maybe we should try to utilize the existing layout of the roadway’,” said Clancy, keeping the memorial as it is.

The main “experiment” would go back to solving the competing lefts by restricting vehicles from taking the left turn onto Concord Avenue eastbound towards Cambridge. Those looking to travel points east towards the high school or Cambridge would be directed to loop around the WWI Memorial where drivers would then proceed to take the left onto Common Street. (follow the red arrows on the illustration) And, voila! An end to the dueling left-hand turns.

“It’s that simple,” said Clancy. The experiment would last for two to three weeks to determine its impact and effectiveness. “I see us doing it long enough for us to determine whether or not it’s going to work.”

Clancy told the board he would wait until the state begins lifting the stay-in-place restriction on non-essential businesses to better resemble what a typical traffic flow will be. He said the proposal will be studied first by the BSC Group to see if there are “any fatal flaws” in the plan.

What Clancy is aware of is that some residents will see his dream as their nightmare. “I acknowledged that there’s going to be inconvenienced for people to always have to take that right.”

“If this works and this becomes a long term solution, at 11 o’clock in the morning, when you’re going under that bridge and you’ve got all that wide-open terrain in front of you and you’re forced to take a ride and go all around the world to get back to where you want to go, people are not going to be happy,” said Clancy.

But Clancy countered his own observation by stating the vast majority of peak hours traffic is from out of town, commuter traffic.

“They are the ones impacting the quality of life in the town. And there are going to have to be sacrifices made with the residents of the town to mitigate the impacts of the traffic that is coming in going through Belmont, through no fault of the residents who live here,” he said.

The second proposal would be a second looped detour, prohibit left turns onto Concord Avenue towards Town Hall and Pleasant Street after entering Belmont Center from the tunnel. (see blue arrows).

Cutting the queue

Drivers wishing to continue on Concord Avenue westbound towards Lexington and McLean Hospital would be required to travel up Leonard Street to the lights and take the left on Pleasant to reach Concord Avenue. Clancy said this restriction would only be needed for a couple of hours (suggested times: 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.) during the morning and evening commutes.

“What that does is it eliminates any of the bottlenecking that’s occurring right now at the Leonard/Channing/Concord intersection,” said Clancy. The current gridlock can result in traffic backed up on Concord Avenue all the way to Underwood Street adjacent to Clay Pit Pond.

Clancy told the board he’s eager to find a way to unplug the congestion in Belmont Center because a traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Goden Street and Concord Avenue as part of the new Belmont Middle and High School project. And as it stands now, “that signal is not going to allow a lot of traffic to release off of Goden Street because the queue on Concord is going to be so unmanageable.”

“This is really an effort to try to look not only at the way traffic is flowing in and around Belmont Center but also take an opportunity here to see if we can alleviate the backup that’s occurring on Concord Avenue westbound in the evening,” he said.

While Select Board member Adam Dash dubbed the first plan “brilliant,” he was concerned that halting the left onto Concord Avenue after the tunnel would require anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to navigate the “loop” to return to Concord Avenue. Clancy said he will see if the lights at the intersection of Leonard and Pleasant has the ability to manage additional traffic and if a dedicated “left” lane can be added on Leonard Street.

Garvin advised the board that the town will have a limited window of opportunity to introduce a new traffic pattern to residents and commuters as traffic begins to “ramp back up.”

“What we’re doing trying to do is gather some information to then bring to the public to see if it worked,” said Garvin.

Both Dash and member Tom Caputo did feel that public input through the Transportation Advisory Committee should be sought but were satisfied that the “experiment” was temporary and there would be public meetings on the result.

With the board’s thumbs up to move forward on the first plan, Clancy will begin meeting with Belmont Police and Public Works on a traffic management proposal that will include the locations of barrels and barriers and where police officers would be stationed.

“And if successful, this will be a full-time change to the traffic pattern coming out of Belmont Center,” said Clancy.

Belmont Begins, Yet Again, Search to Find Source Polluting Mystic Watershed


Glenn Clancy may not look like Benedict Cumberbatch, but like the hugely popular sleuth the actor plays on BBC television, Belmont’s town engineer will be doing his best Sherlock Holmes as he attempts to find the source of what has been dirtying up a nearby major watershed that has been dogging the town for more than 15 years. 

“Am I confident that we are going to get it this time?” Clancy rhetorically pondered to the Belmontonian after this past Monday’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting.  

“How confident are the Red Sox when they step on the field for a ballgame? We are going in with the idea that we will get it done,” he said.

With a finite budget and state and national environmental regulatory agencies breathing down his neck, Clancy is pinning his hopes on a game of elimination to pinpoint where the worst of the contaminants are coming from and marshal his resources there. 

Belmont has been on the state’s Department of Environmental Protection going back to January 2000 of being noncompliant of acceptable water quality standards leading to pollutants entering the Mystic River Watershed, a collection of rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds that drain an area of approximately 76 square miles and 21 municipalities north of Boston.

And for the past decade, the town has sunk into the ground several million dollars to repair and replace infrastructure to improve the quality of the water entering the system. But the work so far has had little impact on several water sources within Belmont with locations such as the Little River and the Winn’s Brook receiving poor or failing mark for water quality. 

It’s not a mystery what is creating the problem, said Clancy.

“This is strictly about the sanitary sewage system mingling with our stormwater system. So in Belmont, the biggest contributors to this problem are deteriorating sewage pipes to where that sewage is leeching up and finding its way into the storm drain system,” he said. 

The other source is toilets that contractors or homeowners have placed over a storm drain pipe. “While the decaying pipes are our most important issue, we have found 10 to 15 illicit direct connections to the storm drain system that we have already mitigated,” said Clancy. “We expect to discover more with this testing.” 

Clancy, who is also the director of the Office of Community Development, told the Selectmen Monday that the $70,000 (from a total of $200,000 the town approved to seek a solution) to conduct sample testing of 15 outfalls sites to determine which of those are responsible for the majority of pollution being sent into one of the Mystic River watershed tributaries located in Belmont. 

“We’ve done [testing and remedies] two or three times in the past decade with construction work totaling $8 million and the next phase to identify specific problems,” Clancy told the Belmontonian.

“The sampling is the first step in what ultimately will be another construction process,” said Clancy. 

“Once you identify the outfall as ‘dirty,’ you then have to determine where the source of that contamination is coming from,” Clancy told the Belmontonian.

The fix has mostly been lining the deteriorated pipe which “still in a structural condition that allows us to line it with concrete,” he said. If it is too far gone, the main will need replacing. 

If the survey discovers issues with toilets or interior plumbing, “we find a way to work with the property owner to solve the problem whether that is reconnecting a pipe to the proper main or eliminating the source altogether. The conditions will usually dictate the best way to mitigate.” 

And it won’t be cheap; the town could be open to another $4 million to $6 million over several years to make the necessary repairs, according to Clancy.

Saying that he understands the frustration from residents who will end up paying for the repairs, Clancy said the repairs in the past and the future would begin to show results.

“We spent eight million [dollars] plus already, and every dollar of that eight million plus has fixed some problem. I want people to understand while we still have a problem doesn’t mean that the money that has already been spent has not been spent properly. It has fixed problems that we have identified. The challenge that we have more problems that need to be identified and mitigated,” he said.

“I could never look someone in the eye and say this is going to be the time when we get it because I understand the nature of the problem. All we can continue to do is make a good faith effort to find the sources and mitigate them,” said Clancy.