For the second time, the Town Council voted to table the vote on a proposed petition to put in a new utility pole on Irving Street to supply power to a new residential building on North Beacon Street.
The petition submitted by Eversource is asking to install a new pole about 18 feet north of another pole on Irving Street, just south of North Beacon Street. Eversource officials said they looked at other options but the pole was the preferred way to provide electrical service to the development at 101 North Beacon Street — a three-story condominium building on the property which was formerly home to AA Rental Center.
The petition appeared on the agenda of the Council’s April 27 meeting, at which time many councilors expressed concern about adding another utility pole in an are with a lot of poles stand. Also, representatives from Eversource did not attend the meeting, so were not able to answer questions about the project.
On Tuesday, May 11, the project was back on the agenda, and again Councilors brought up their concerns.
Kenny Rice, an engineer working on the project for Eversource, said a higher voltage line is needed to service the new building. He met with representatives from the Town, Eversource and the developer to look at the option, and looked at some other alternatives, but decided the easiest way would be to provide service off a pole from Irving Street. Unfortunately, Rice said, the poles on either side have other equipment on it that do not allow them to add additional items needed to do the new high-voltage line, so a new one would need to be installed.
Councilor Lisa Feltner — who represents District B, where the project is located — said she has heard from many residents have told her they don’t want another pole along Irving Street. She added that the presentation was inadequate. Feltner was concerned the pole would be near the driveway for 101 North Beacon St., and said it does not solve problems likely to come up down the road.
“We know looking at future development in this area in the abutting properties we should be building capacity not adding poles to address the fact that the current poles are already inadequate or can’t be added to,” Feltner said.
Feltner asked if, instead of adding a new pole on Irving Street, the lines could be buried underground on North Beacon Street. Eversource officials said the closest pole that could be used would be about 200 feet away, which would require a lot of work and interruption to traffic on North Beacon Street.
Watertown Public Works Superintendent Greg St. Louis added that the ground underneath North Beacon Street has many utility lines in it already, including for water, sewer, storm drain and natural gas. Kevin Duffy, from the DPW’s Engineering Division, said there is also an RCN cable line near the curb line, plus a 20-inch MWRA water line which complicates matters.
“It has long permitting process around it, and has a lot of unique requirements as far as construction within 10 ft. of it,” Duffy said.
Another option would be to build a utility box outside the building to house the equipment needed to install the high-voltage line, Rice said. He added that it would probably be double the size of most such boxes.
Frank French, one of the developers, said they have been working on the project for about two years, and have been seeking a solution to get power to the building for about 18 months.
“Unfortunately for us we are coming up to 11th hour on finding a solution to keep the project viable and on track,” French said. “Those in the neighborhood want to see the project finished and completed and carry on.”
Councilor Tony Palomba asked whether the DPW or Eversource could come back with a pros and cons list for the different options for providing electrical service to the building. Town Attorney Mark Reich, from KP Law, said that it is not within the Council’s power to pick and choose which option to go with. They can either approve or reject the proposal made by the petitioner.
Multiple Councilors said they raised questions at the previous meeting and do not feel they had been answered. Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said he feels bad for the developers, because they have been waiting so long for a solution, but he said it is not the Town Council’s responsibility to come up with a plan that it feels comfortable approving.
“I am disappointed we had same discussion two weeks ago. I would have thought the petitioner would have listened to that and would have done their homework,” Piccirilli said. “They could have come back tonight and said we looked at the three options and here’s the reason why two of them don’t work.”
Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she still has too many questions that have not been answered, and could not support the proposal as presented. She said she would be neglecting her duty as a Councilor to vote on it without having all the information.
Other Councilors raised a long-standing complaint that the Town has too many double poles. Those are created when an old pole has been replaced with a new one, but the old one is still attached until the wires are moved to the new one. Councilor John Gannon said he is continuing the push started by former Councilor Ken Woodland to hold the utility companies accountable until they fix the double poles.
“The Town Council has been put through too much here. As Town Councilor (Angeline) Kounelis said, we’re not engineers. We depend upon the proponent to state a case for their permit request,” Gannon said. “I have been picking up Councilor Woodland’s baton and pushing for a report of double pole locations and the responsive action from utilities. I have not been getting any information from the utilities. They are not doing right by Watertown. I don’t think we have to accept this crappy program just to meet their immediate needs.”
In the end, the Council voted unanimously to table the discussion to a future Council meeting to give the petitioner time to explore all the options and bring back more information.