By: Julia Blatt, Executive
Director, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance
At long last, a recent
weekend presented one of those pristine days that remind us here in
Massachusetts why we endure those winters.
With warm spring weather finally here, many of us hit the water for the
first time this year, visiting local rivers. With more than 10,000 miles of
rivers traversing the state, we had many choices. Sail boats blossomed on the Charles. Rowers huffed and puffed on the Mystic. Fishing rods sprouted along the Swift. Bikers and kayakers explored the
Sudbury. For many people, the beautiful
day meant a chance to spend on, in and around the rivers of Massachusetts.
Fittingly, June is National
Rivers Month, a 30-day gala celebrating our waterways. Whether you kayak past important
Revolutionary War sites on the Concord River, hike over the Bridge of Flowers
on the Deerfield, draw water for local crops from the Connecticut, or depend on
drinking water from the Merrimack, National Rivers Month is a time to celebrate
the gains we have made in protecting these important public recreational,
economic and historic assets.
National Rivers Month,
however, is also a time to reflect on what remains to be accomplished. The Massachusetts
Rivers Alliance, the voice for Massachusetts rivers, is a statewide
environmental advocacy non-profit that helps those whose lives are touched by
these Massachusetts waterways (and we would argue, that’s all of us). Consider, for example, pending legislation
regarding sewage overflows around the state.
Very old stormwater and wastewater systems serving municipalities in the
state have what are called “combined sewage overflow” (CSO) systems. Through these CSOs, stormwater and wastewater
systems are physically interconnected. At times of high precipitation,
stormwater run-off goes into the wastewater system and overwhelms the water
treatment plants. To prevent these
backups, wastewater – the sewage from your homes and businesses – is dumped directly
into Massachusetts rivers. Approximately
200 of these CSO connections exist throughout the state. In Massachusetts, an estimated three billion
gallons of raw sewage gets dumped into the state’s rivers each year. Swimmers,
canoeists, and pets exposed to CSO contaminants are vulnerable to
gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, eye or ear infections, skin rashes,
hepatitis and other diseases. Children,
the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems are especially
vulnerable. Wildlife are also adversely affected by CSO pollutants which lead
to higher water temperatures, increased turbidity, toxins and reduced oxygen
levels in the water.
Everyone recognizes the
problem. But it takes money to fix it,
more money than is now available. Over the
past two decades, Massachusetts communities have spent more than $1 billion to
eliminate CSOs. The federal
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, however, that an additional
$4.2 billion is needed to finish the job.
In addition to supporting
efforts to increase state and federal funding to eliminate CSOs, Mass Rivers is
championing a simple sewage notification bill now pending before the
Massachusetts legislature. Disturbingly,
there is currently no state requirement to notify the public about the presence
of sewage in the water when these discharges occur.
The legislation supported by
Mass Rivers would require the operator of a CSO to notify local boards of
health, in addition to the state Department of Public Health, within two hours
after a sewage spill begins. In
addition, the public could sign up to receive these notifications, by text,
e-mail, phone call or tweet. The state Department of Environmental Protection
would be required to centralize all sewage spill data and make it available on
the internet. Signage would be required
at all public access points (for boating, fishing, beaches) near CSO outfalls
National Rivers Month is a
time to shake off those indoor blues and enjoy Massachusetts’
bounty of rivers. Whether you go to look for
great blue herons, to fish for trout, to take your family and the dog on an
afternoon paddling adventure, or simply to seek calm and quiet, our state’s
rivers are there for you. To preserve
these friends, and to ensure the safety of those who use our rivers, National
Rivers Month should also be a time for towns and cities to insist that our
legislators enact a requirement that when the waters are despoiled with sewage
spills, we know about it.
Julia Blatt is Executive Director of the
Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the voice of Massachusetts rivers. The Alliance is a statewide organization of
77 environmental organizations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The City Council passed a nearly $181.5
million City Budget for Fiscal Year 2020 Monday night, but not without some
dire warnings about the financial future of the City by a few of the
The $181,486,465 budget passed by an 8-3
vote, with Councillors Damali Vidot, Joe Perlatonda, and Robert Bishop voting
against the 3.7 percent increase over the FY19 budget. The School Department’s
$95.4 million commitment comprises the largest chunk of the budget.
The Council also approved the Water and
Sewer Enterprise accounts for FY20, bringing total City appropriations to
around $205 million, but the water and sewer accounts are paid through the
water and sewer rates, not taxation.
Several attempts were made to cut money from
the budget Monday night, but with the exception of a $1,300 cut in the
Emergency Management department budget, none of those efforts garnered a
Among those failed efforts was one by Vidot
to cut salary lines in the police, fire, and planning budgets.
Vidot proposed the $80,000 cut to the
planning budget, $50,000 to the police, and $100,000 to the fire last year as
well, citing a top heavy administrative budgeting in the Police and Fire
departments, and her displeasure with the way the Downtown Coordinator position
in the Planning Department has panned out.
One of the biggest issues, Vidot said, is
that the Downtown Coordinator has not been properly involved with the small,
local businesses in the city.
“We have to think about the future of this
city, and (the position) is leaving out a huge part of Chelsea,” said Vidot.
Perlatonda said he couldn’t agree with an
effort to cut $80,000 from the planning budget when the Council didn’t take
action to cut millions of dollars from the Department of Public Works budget.
Perlatonda made his own amendments looking
for the cuts in the DPW budget, which would have effectively ended a request by
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino to have the DPW oversee a new City Water and
Sewer Department, rather than contracting for the services.
Those amendments also failed.
Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda also
voted against the cuts to the planning budget, noting several recent city-wide
events that have brought hundreds of people to the downtown area.
Vidot noted that her amendment was not a
personal attack on anyone, but added that City events would more appropriately
be funded in the Recreation Department budget.
In casting his vote against the overall
$181.5 million, Bishop said the constant increases in City spending are
“Last year, I voted against the budget
because it was unsustainable,” said Bishop. “This year, it is even more
unsustainable … this can’t continue. It’s no surprise to everyone that I
usually oppose certain spending.
“I’m against a lot of spending because I
think it is not spent wisely,” he continued. “When is this going to end? I hope
I am not around when the bottom falls out, because it is going to fall.”
District 6 Councillor Giovanni Recupero
voted for the budget, but said the City needs to seriously heed Bishop’s
warning, noting that other large cities in Massachusetts such as Springfield
and Lawrence have seen the economic bottom fall out.
“It can happen anywhere, … and then we will
have to start laying people off,” said Recupero. “We only have 1.8 square miles
in the city, how much can you grow in our city?
“I am going to vote for the budget because
it is the right thing to do now, but like Mr. Bishop said, we have to beware of
the future, because the future is not too far away,” he continued.
Perlatonda said that the budget is rising
without the City doing enough to help its poorer residents through things like
tax and water and sewer rate breaks.
“When is it going to end?” he said. “This budget
needs to be stopped at some point.”
District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown said the
councillors have gone through a long budget process with ample chance to make
amendments or address their concerns to Ambrosino.
“I believe this budget is solid, well thought
out, and well supported,” Brown said. “I know the investment we are making
today is sound.”
Avellaneda voted to approve the budget, but
said it is the first time he has ever given serious pause to voting in favor of
“What I have seen during the last year with
the budget process is that I don’t think we are doing enough during budget
season,” he said.
Avellaneda said there should have been more
debate about, and more information provided about, the proposed change to the
control of the Water and Sewer Department.
He also noted that the budget will have to
be paid for in October, when the Council sets the City tax rate.
When that time comes around, Avellaneda said
he will have questions for the City’s Assessing Department, which he said has
been doing a “terrible job” capturing the true value of many larger properties
“Across the board, there are many, many,
many buildings, and these are large landlords, that are not paying their due in
this community,” Avellaneda said.
For more than a few Chelsea residents, the
Soldiers’ Home red and white checkers water tower defined home.
It was something they saw from planes,
looked at in the rearview mirror when headed over the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, and
could see from nearly every corner of the city.
Now, it’s only a memory.
The Chelsea Soldiers’ Home water tower came
down on Wednesday afternoon, May 29, about 1 p.m. after many months of waiting
for the right conditions to knock down the tower so as to make way for the $199
million state-of-the-art veterans hospital and living center.
Both could not exist in tandem, and after a
long and passionate discussion last year about the tower, the community
conceded to let the tower go.
About 9 a.m. on Wednesday, the demolition
crew moved in to prepare a 200 foot perimeter at Malone Park for the tower to
fall onto. That took several hours, but then about 12:30, work began on the
legs. One leg on the north side was sawn off, and then the tower was simply
It came down with a huge thud, but remained
The company that took it down also had most
recently taken down the water tower at the Weymouth Air Station on the South
Many people from the community gathered to watch the tower come down, and television crews from the Boston media were out in force with cameras and helicopters. Afterward, Superintendent of the Chelsea Soldiers Home Cheryl Lussier Poppe addressed the media, explaining that the tower removal will allow for improvements and construction to the new veterans home that will replace the aging Quigley Hospital.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino presented a
city budget just short of $181,500,000 for Fiscal Year 2020 to the City Council
The proposed budget funds city expenditures
at $86,095,981 and the schools at $95,391,784 for a total budget of
$181,487,765. This budget is about $6.5 million more than the FY19 budget, an
increase of 3.71 percent.
“The FY20 budget continues support for many
programs we have implemented over the past few years,” Ambrosino stated in a
letter to the City Council.
The City Manager is proposing full funding
for social services programs in the downtown, including the Navigators and
Youth Navigator program. The Health and Human Services budget also includes a
new social services contract to support the ISD housing program.
The budget does include new positions in
three city departments — E-911, DPW, and Elder Services — and an increase
from a part-time to a full-time position in the Licensing Department. The E-911
increase, a total of three new full-time positions, follows a personnel review
by the department’s new director.
Increases in the DPW include personnel for a
new 311 system as well as a group of new hires required for the city to operate
its own Water and Sewer Department.
The FY20 budget includes funds in salary
reserve to cover the anticipated costs of ongoing union negotiations with City
Hall employees. With the exception of the police and fire union contracts, all
municipal union contracts expire on June 30 of this year.
•In other business, the Council approved an
order proposed by councillors Giovanni Recupero, Enio Lopez, Luis Tejada, and
Damali Vidot requiring that all street cleanings should be limited to the same
amount of time in every street. Lopez and Recupero both noted that residents
who live in areas where they have to move their cars for five hours for street
cleaning face greater hardship than those where street cleaning is limited to
•The council also held a public hearing on
zoning amendments that will allow for outdoor dining and improved signage and
facades in the city.
business owners and city officials spoke in support of the zoning amendments,
noting it would improve the look of the downtown and make for a livelier, safer
The City could soon be running its own Water
and Sewer Department as part of the Department of Public Works.
Currently, Chelsea outsources those water,
sewer, and drainage services to R.H. White Construction Company as part of a
10-year contract set to expire on July 21, 2022.
City Manager Thomas Ambrosino is asking the
City Council to consider an early termination of that contract, allowing the
City to get a jump on establishing its own Water and Sewer Division under the
DPW. While there will be initial start-up costs and ongoing personnel costs,
Ambrosino said Chelsea will ultimately save about $350,000 per year.
Ambrosino is requesting the City pay an
early termination fee for the contract with R.H. White in order to get the City
Water and Sewer division operable by July of 2020.
“The DPW leadership and I recommend that we
meet in subcommittee to go over (an informational spreadsheet) and work plan in
detail,” Ambrosino stated in a letter to the City Council. “This will allow the
Council to understand fully why we believe we can perform these services not
only cheaper, but at a higher quality, and with more resources, than we
currently achieve with the RH White annual contract.”
The upfront costs of the water and sewer
transition prior to July of 2020 include the purchase of new vehicles and
equipment and the hiring of seven employees to make sure the department is
prepared to take full control of the water and sewer system on the date.
The total additional Fiscal Year 2020 costs
are just over $1.5 million, according to the City Manager.
“The capital costs are obvious one-time
expenditures,” said Ambrosino. “But the added personnel costs in FY20 are also
one-time expenses. All of these personnel costs will be covered by the $1.784
million saved on the annual RH White contract starting in FY21 when the
contract is terminated.”
Ambrosino recommended that all the one-time
costs be paid for through the retained earnings in the City’s Water and Sewer
Enterprise System, the equivalent of free cash in the general government
•In other business at Monday night’s City
Council meeting, Ambrosino asked the Council to consider a plan for municipal
“Because municipal electric aggregation has
the potential of providing more stable and lower prices and utilizing more
renewable energy sources, over 140 municipalities in Massachusetts have taken
advantage of this program,” Ambrosino said.
•The City Manager also told the council that
the City will seek competitive bids for Chelsea towing work beginning in Fiscal
Year 2020, which begins on July 1.
Although Ambrosino said towing work is
exempt from state bidding laws, the City will seek bids for the work in
response to a recent City Council order by District 6 Councillor Giovanni
“There is some work required to prepare a
(request for proposals) and evaluate responses,” said Ambrosino. “For this
reason, the Purchasing Agent believes he will have a new contract for towing
services in place no later than September 1, 2019.”
Lead pipes are often a hidden danger under the streets and sidewalks for a lot of families in Chelsea, but if the City
State Rep. Dan Ryan praised the program and congratulated Chelsea in being proactive to replace lead service lines.
can help it, that danger will be removed one pipe at a time.
On Monday, the MWRA and the Clean Water Action Group awarded the City of Chelsea and GreenRoots for their early adoption of a program that removes, at no cost to the homeowner, lead water service lines while in the process of other infrastructure projects.
Part of that award included a $100,000 grant to help continue the program and remove more lead water lines as the City encounters them during paving or sidewalk repair programs.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said it is a common sense operation, but one that goes the extra step in replacing the line for free – as it usually is the responsibility of the homeowner to pay for the replacement.
“For the last year or more, as we’ve undertaken other construction projects on the streets, when we encounter a lead service line on the street, we are replacing it at no cost to the homeowner,” he said. “The MWRA grant helps ensure we will be able to continue to do that. We all want safe and clean drinking water and having clean water is elemental.”
Over time, lead can leach into drinking water, and studies have shown that lead is a neurotoxin and can affect cognitive abilities with repeated exposure. This is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women.
“Chelsea is so proactive in doing this,” said MWRA Director Fred Laskey. “They are going through the inventory and going house to house and street to street to get rid of this problem. This is something that should serve as a model in how to prevent the scourge of lead in water. No other community has forged into this.”
Fidel Maltez of the Chelsea DPW said that more than 50 lines have been replaced so far under the program. Some of those were last year and came when they were working on street repairs, including to Shurtleff, Maverick, Clark, Crescent, Lawrence, Tudor and Webster Streets. This year, they will take on Essex Street and will be looking for lead water lines there too.
“Every project moving forward is going to identify and remove these lines with zero cost to the homeowner,” he said.
He said that any homeowner that thinks they might have a lead service line should contact the DPW at (617) 466-4200. They will send out a technician to verify if it is a lead pipe, and if it is, they will put it on a list for completion.
But, as School Committeeman Rich Maronski recalled, Scottie Holden did climb the Soldiers’ Home water tower and it was the stuff of legend growing up in Chelsea.
“The biggest news with the tower as a kid was when Scottie Holden actually climbed it,” said Maronski. “It was the talk of the town for more than a week. I grew up beside this tower all my life. It’s the thing I look at when I’m on an airplane. I know when I’m leaving and I know when I’m home by looking at that tower.”
His remembrance was but one of many that were shared at a special farewell to the Soldiers’ Home water tower last Friday, Nov. 30, in the shadow of the tower, which was constructed in 1958 and will come down in the next few weeks. It has to come down to make way for the $199 million Community Living Center that will provide long-term care for veterans in a modern, home-like setting. Currently, the Quigley Hospital provides great care, but it is laid out in open wards, which are no longer acceptable.
“Today is an opportunity to say farewell to the water tower that served as a beacon or a landmark to so many in and around Chelsea,” said state Veterans Secretary Francisco Urena. “This is a bittersweet moment, but this is also a happy moment for the veterans at the Soldiers Home who will reap the benefit of the largest investment ever in the Commonwealth for long-term veterans care. It’s going to be a beacon of care for veterans across the Commonwealth now.”
Supt. Cheryl Poppe said CBI Corp. put up the six-legged water tower in 1958, and the purpose was to help the water supply and water pressure at the home. Over time, however, the tower became less useful and a permanent pump station was implemented in 2011. The tower was decommissioned at that time, but allowed to stay in place. Over time, it has deteriorated and vandals have painted it.
“It was a noticeable part of the Chelsea skyline, but now our Community Living Center will serve as a special vision on the horizon as it will serve our veterans for the decades to come,” she said.
Tom Kasiecki said he has watched the tower all his life.
“I watched this tower go up when I was a kid in 1958,” he said. “I sat there at my window over there and watched them build it. Now, as a senior citizen, I am going to sit over there and watch them demolish it.”
Former City Councillor Matt Frank said he is going to miss the tower, and that it is special to him, but he also said he will choose to remember it now as a place of hope and rest for those who have served their country – as it was for his grandfather when he was there.
“That’s what I’m going to remember moving forward is we’re going to have a brand new facility for the veterans,” he said. “When I look up and see the skyline without the tower, I will be sad. I will miss the tower because I’ve had it there all my life. It’s always been there. However, when I look up and don’t see it, I’m going to think of the wonderful care that the veterans are receiving there.”
Added Barbara Richards, “It’s going to be very hard to see it go. Whether you go by boat, train, plan or car, you can always see the tower.”
Dottie Kusmierek has lived across the street from the tower for most of her life. She said it holds a special place in the hearts of her family members. She said it will be hard to see it go, but she understands the reasoning.
“My older brother was in Vietnam and he saw the water tower when he came back home and said, ‘At last, I’m home,’” she recalled. “There are a lot of changes now in Chelsea, and a lot of them I’m not happy about. Good bye old friend and on with the new.”
Councilor Luis Tejada said he would definitely be sad to see it go, and it’s a part of the local history to him.
“It’s sad to me because New England and Greater Boston have so much history, and it’s why people are jealous of us in other parts of the country,” he said. “The tower was an historical marker for Chelsea. My generation and up recognize that certainly. Sometimes in the name of progress you must give up some things to get others.”
A new and irate constituency of condo owners has arisen in response to the Water Discount program championed by Councilor Giovanni Recupero and voted on by the City Council Sept. 24 – a proposal that excludes condo owners from the owner-occupied water bill discount.
Recupero proposed the measure in September, after many years of discussing it and proposing it in other forms, to find that it had support and the votes to pass. After a challenge by Councilor Roy Avellaneda last week, the measure stood.
It is to go into effect on July 1, 2019 with the new water rates.
But what it might have lacked in votes on the Council has not deterred the momentum that has grown among those in the City who own condos. Because condo owners don’t have separate water meters in their units, they are excluded from participating in the program along with absentee landlords.
That has ignited a base that continues to protest the move, and has spoken out this week in letters to the newspaper that decry the program and, potentially, others like it that could come down the road.
“Chelsea water and sewer rates are increasing significantly, and the Council’s vote means that those renters, businesses, and 1,861 condos are going to subsidize a discount for 625 owner-occupied, single-family households and 1,149 two- and three-family households,” read a letter written by Sharlene McLean and signed by numerous condo and homeowners. “This decision is blatantly discriminatory as it creates separate classes of homeownership in Chelsea, and privileges residents who have the financial capital to buy and own single or multi-family homes – all at the expense of, among others, condo owners who are also stakeholders in the community, and deserve the same consideration as other homeowners.”
The condo owners wrote that the policy will hurt the entire community. For example, they said houses of worship are not allowed to participate, and neither are businesses.
“Simply put, this is a poorly conceived and exclusionary policy that was rushed to a vote without any meaningful discussion or community input, and that benefits the few at the expense of the many,” they wrote.
The new constituency of condo owners asked that the Council repeal its vote before the new rates go into effect.
The City Council passed District 6 City Councillor Giovanni Recupero’s measure to provide a 10 percent water and sewer percent discount to Chelsea homeowners last month.
Yet, since that vote, there has been a fair share of resident dissatisfaction from condominium owners who don’t qualify for the price break, as well as allegations of some social media shenanigans between councillors.
But despite an attempt on Monday night by Councillor-At-Large Roy Avellaneda to consider a repeal, the discount will stand for now.
The discount applies to all units in any owner-occupied single, two-, or three-family homes and any owner-occupied condominium that has an individual water meter. The problem, as some condominium owners noted at Monday night’s council meeting, is that very few condominium units in the city have individual water meters.
“I chose 15 years ago that I wanted to buy a condominium and not a house,” said resident Suzanne Perry. “I consider this to be a basic issue of discrimination and unfairness. I’m sure it was not meant to be that way, but that’s the way it ended up.”
Condominium owner Alison Cuneo circulated an online petition with more than 130 signatures as of Monday night asking the Council to overturn its water and sewer discount vote.
“I would oppose this even if I were to benefit from (the discount),” Cuneo said.
The debate over the issue took a personal turn early in the meeting, when District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop spoke out about a social media post by Avellaneda. In the post, Bishop said Avellaneda posted a Google maps image of his home and pool, noting that Bishop would benefit from the discounted water and sewer rates.
“Councillor Avellaneda wrote that Bob Bishop would get a discount to fill up his pool next year,” said Bishop. “That is not only petty, but it is untrue.”
Bishop said that he, like many people, has an individual water meter on his pool that would not qualify for the homeowner discount.
The District 1 Councillor also said he would be in favor of extending the discount to condominium owners if there was a way to determine the water use in owner-occupied units.
Avellaneda’s attempt to overturn the discount was struck down on a procedural vote.
Council President Damali Vidot ruled the request by Avellaneda to take another vote as out of order.
“We shouldn’t set a precedent just because this is something you disagreed with,” she said. “The majority of the Council voted in favor of adopting this.”
Avellaneda challenged Vidot’s ruling that his request was out of order, but the challenge failed.