By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Saying that more study was needed before moving forward with the Great Road underground utilities project, Town Manager Rick Reed told Selectmen that he recommended removing the former Article 18 from this spring’s Annual Town Meeting Warrant. According to Reed’s analysis, details and procedures associated with this type of initiative have changed substantially in the 15 years since the Town last did a project of this nature.
“I’ve been looking into this [project] a bit more. . . and, in conjunction with the Public Works Director, have been looking at the statute and talking to NSTAR about what the Town should do in preparation for a project like this. We essentially became aware that the law has changed and there are certain steps that we have missed that we should undertake.
“Even more important than that,” Reed continued, “[is] the timing of Town Meeting this year on April 1. The statute is written in such a way that the actual effective date of the bylaw [that Town Meeting would be asked to pass in order to move forward with the project] would not take place until the January 1 that first occurs nine months after the vote. Voting [for] this [bylaw] on April 1 [in 2013 means it will be January 1, 2015 before]. . . the [bylaw] becomes effective.
“Knowing that—and presumably we’ll have an earlier Town Meeting next year—we essentially have almost a whole year’s worth of time to take a look at this and study it a bit more,” Reed concluded.
Reed added that public hearings –by both the Planning Board and the Selectmen, plus public notification in the newspaper prior to the hearing dates—need to take place before the article can be placed on the Town Meeting warrant. This is an additional step, Reed said, that is not required for public hearings [on matters] that the Town controls.
“We haven’t been able to comply with the statute, so I think, all things considered, knowing also that we’d like to have more information from NSTAR on costs on [this project]. . . the best course of action is to take it off [this year’s] warrant and work on this over the next several months,” Reed said. He added that incorporating Maple and Elm streets into the plan was now of interest.
Selectman Mike Rosenberg asked about financing the project, specifically whether a down payment would be required.
Reed responded that he is awaiting details from the NSTAR employee most familiar with this type of project. “They have some provision—but it doesn’t appear to be written into the law— where a town can make a $150,000 down payment to do the design work on the project so they can [then] come up with a better cost estimate. They would apply that $150,000 to the overall cost of the project. We want to get more information about that.”
As Reed understands it, the cost of running lines from the newly buried utility lines to houses and structures along the affected street could also be rolled into the project. While this would make the total cost of NSTAR’s work higher, it would alleviate the need for Bedford to separately fund and bid out that portion of the overall project.
Also, law now has a different way of calculating the utility surcharge residents would pay monthly, over time, in order to satisfy the cost of the project. The amount 15 years ago was 2% on the entire utility bill; it is now 7% on the distribution portion of the bill only.
“If you’ve looked at your electric bill, you’ll notice there are different components to it,” Reed explained. “In a sense, the 2% is probably a similar number to the 7% because it’s [calculated on a different base.]”
“Because of all these reasons and because the timing isn’t going to affect when this project can be implemented, I think we should not [put it on the warrant at this time],” Reed concluded.
To read about the Great Road utility lines project from an earlier meeting, visit: https://www.thebedfordcitizen.org/2013/02/13/selectmen-recommend-town-meeting-approval-to-put-utility-wires-underground-in-historic-district/