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Selectmen Hold Water Rate Hearing & Consider a New High School

by Paul Saulnier
February 28, 2018

February 26, 2018.

Selectmen scheduled a water rate hearing for 7:30 Pm but first met with Matt Waugh, below, on the Insurance Advisory Committee.

Matt, along with Town Treasurer Mary Bosquet, below, made several recommendations for changes to the town's insurance policy for employees. The Rate Saver Plan will expire on June 31st , replaced by The Benefit Health Saver Plan. Changes include higher deductibles of $2,000 to $4,000 but no copay. Mary said that employees will receive a rebate of about $23 from the current plan. The Town currently pays 60% of the cost of insurance for employees.

David Thorn was appointed to the Housing Trust, other appointments were made to on-call firefighters and EMTs and a gift of $200 to the Fire Department was accepted by the Selectmen.

The rate hearing was opened at 7:30PM. Selectman chair Kevin Conley, below, spoke first in the public comment session. Conley referred to a February 19th article in HollistonReporter.com that summarized a BU article of a study about hazardous chemicals in Holliston's drinking water. He said that there are no hazardous chemicals in our drinking water.

Conley emphasized that "no hazardous chemicals have been found in Holliston's drinking water. Period". I responded later that the BU article was part of a newsletter to BU alumnae about the study - not the actual study which spoke to the potential for pollutants from 5 hazardous waste site in Holliston to enter the water supply. The article appears to be confusing "groundwater" with "drinking water" which are not necessarily the same.

Selectman Mark Ahronian suggested that everyone should watch HCAT's "Just Thinking" with Mary Greendale and Sean Reese. They discuss the BU's article and study in detail and explain what the Water Department does to make sure Holliston's drinking water is safe.

Above, Tony Lulek said that he hoped the the board would explain how the funds are spent and the long term plans for improvement to the water quality.

Dwight (sp?) asked for clarification of the $75 infrastructure fee. DPW Superintendent Sean Reese explained that he uses the fund to replace water mains and perform other maintenance on the system.

Chelsea, a Central Street resident who often gets the discolored water from nearby Well 5, needed a better understanding of how the treatment and distribution system works and of the infrastructure fee. She also questioned how the town developed its 5 year paln for road repairs.

Joshua asked if the money being allocated to thw 8 Arch Bridge could be redirected to the Water Department as, in his opinion, clean water is a higher priority than repairing the bridge. Conley explained the the bridge dollars come from the Community Preservation Act and cannot be used for repairs to the water system.

This resident complained that she pays about $300 a year for bottled water in addition to the $300 a year that she pays in infrastructure fees, in affect paying twice and still has discolored water.

Conley invited Sean Reese to the table to address questions. He spoke at length about the use of the infrastructure fee to replace water mains in areas that break frequently due to their poor material (transite) and location (areas of high groundwater that cause the pipes to soften and break). He also addressed the water quality as it relates to health and standards required by the state. He said that the water is tested daily for certain criteria and quarterly for others and meets the standards. The discoloration is caused by iron bacteria and Manganese, a natural mineral in the soil and assured residents that neither pose a health risk at the levels found in the water.

Janice, above, said that the water at her home is not brown but asked if it is safe to drink. Reese assured her that it is safe to drink.

This resident complained that water vapor from the shower or bath burns her eyes. Reese explained that the water contains chlorine as a disinfectant and that, depending on your location on the distribution system, you may be getting a little more than the minimum dosage. He said the Water Department offers a water filter that can be effective in removing color and chlorine but must be maintained by the homeowner after installation. Reese said that he will work was any residents who is experience frequent problems withe the water and asked people to call the Water Department (429 0603) and he will respond.

Loe from Shea Drive wondered if a map defining the system would help residents to better understand the problems. Sean explained that he would rather keep some aspects of the system out of public view for security reasons (aka post 911). He is also concerned about letting his kids drink the water. Sean responded: "assume that it is safe to drink unless you are notified that it is not". Loe asked that the Water Department provide regular updates on anything and everything associated with the water and suggested a newsletter.

Brian Moran, a former member of the Board of Health and a professional LSP dealing with hazardous waste sites, suggested that the Water Department include updates with the quartly bills.

John, above, suggested that a connection to the MWRA distribution system should be considered. Sean agreed that such a connection could be a possibility but would take many years to complete' leaving residents with quality issues versus constructing the treatment plant proposed for well 5.

Brian asked about a wastewater treatment plant for the town. Been there, down that. Forget it.

Laura, a civil engineer, asked why the Water Department is not asking for a rate increase which would accelerate repairs to the infrastructure. Sean responded that the current rates are sufficient to retire tha current debt from past projects and take on new debt from the proposed treatment plant. Sean asked everyone to attend Town Meeting in May and to support funding for the proposed watrer treatment plant, estimated cost of 8.4 million dollars.

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After listening to residents' concerns about drinking water, the Selectmen then listened to Superintendent Brad Jackson's concerns about the deficiences of the high school.

Jackson related a list of problems with the high school and the campus. With School Committee Chairwoman Anne Louise Hanstad at his side he told Selectmen that the building is 50 years old and has all the problems of a 50 year old facility: high energy use, poor circulation, dark classrooms and out of date science labs. He said that the cost to improve the facility would be at least $10 million dollars but would still leave the facility out of date by today's standards.

Jackson asked the board to consider asking for a state grant to fund a feasability study to determine the most cost effective plan for the high school. An application has to be made by April 6. The Selectmen agreed to consider Jackson's request.

 

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Comments (6)

Answers to my earlier question re long term debt schedule for school facility related improvements. In 2020 roughly $2.1M per year retires for the $29M (total) elementary school project and in 2022 approximately $1.7M per year (w/236k remaining in '23) retires for the combined $50.4M in projects at the HS and Middle schools. This information is from the Holliston LongTerm Debt Schedule dated 4/22/16.

- Brian Grace | 3/1/18 10:47 AM

John - I like the idea. I am thinking what would make it prohibitive is that you would need two hookups to the each house. You could not have the same pipe feeding drinkable and undrinkable water to a residence. That would mean every house would have to have another pipe installed and I would think that would make it cost prohibitive. You would be tearing up every front lawn in town. And the pipe from the street to your house is your responsibility. So we would all have to pay out of pocket for that. It might work out west in rural areas where the population is much denser. Less pipes going into homes. Just my two cents. But it could be a pay now or pay a lot more later situation.

- Bill | 3/1/18 8:33 AM

The annual Holliston surcharge on our water bills is for improvement of the existing system, particularly for replacement of our decaying supply system: the underground water pipes. Necessary, and it can't be delayed much longer. In the American Southwest, where water supply is much more under limitation than here, many cities and municipalities have developed a dual system whereby water is supplied in two grades. There is potable water, and there is "grey water" used for watering lawns, flushing toilets, washing cars, and etc. Holliston has a large amount of grey water, reportedly not worthy of treatment for drinking (potable) water. While we are opening trenches to replace pipes, is this not possibly the time to lay two sets of pipes so that we can be ready to use our available water supply more effectively? We already have water bans so that we limit use of potable water for unessential uses, and pipe is cheap compared to the cost of opening trenches to install pipes. We would be ahead of the game if we planned for the future before it is here. I proposed this several years ago, and I have forgotten the reason I was told that it was not a practical idea. That was several years ago. It may be time to reconsider.

- John Losch | 2/28/18 8:01 PM

When does the debt/bonds retire from the Adams and Miller school projects? Agree that our High School is woefully out of date and relative to surrounding towns not competitive from a facility POV. However do see this as a massive undertaking for a town of our size and timing/implications to taxes should be managed. Continuous renovation over a new school debate feels like a lesson we have already learned from the water infrastructure discussion. Applaud Jackson for putting this project on the table.

- Brian Grace | 2/28/18 1:04 PM

Build a new, modern, competitive high school NOW.

- Stephen Nault | 2/28/18 9:18 AM

People do understand that ground water is undrinkable as is? The BU study is a joke. We are paying for the mistakes of past administrations. How much money did we spend to try to get a sewer project going? In the 1980s the federal government would have paid for most of it. Not sure what happened there. Then we were going to build our own waste water treatment plant? Now its two tiny houses. Why do our town teams have to pay the town to use the fields that our tax dollars pay to maintain. People this is double taxation. Why can't the town afford to install trash barrels at parks and have a town employee empty them daily. Not getting sewer destroyed any hopes of attracting a lot of businesses to offset our residential tax rate. The current administration is trying but it looks like an uphill battle. The sins of our forefathers and we are all paying for it now.

- Bill | 2/28/18 8:51 AM

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