City council live blog 2/1/11 — the should’ve been cancelled edition

Posted by Jeremy Shulkin

City council is still happening tonight and lucky for you, you can keep up with all the action without leaving your house with the agenda and Cover It Live. What can you expect tonight? The west side councilors could vent some frustration at Verizon, rain gardens, eradicating homelessness and lots of talk about snow.

7:08: Here we go. Starting off by celebrating a Chinese performing arts group that is coming to the Hanover.

Peter Lukes comes up for appointment as license commission. Konnie wants to know if she needs to recuse herself. Solicitor Moore offers advice similar to “when in doubt, recuse.” The vote is unanimously in favor of P. Lukes.

Haller praises Kevin O’Sullivan’s work as former head of the license commission. She says the board has become more neighborhood friendly during his tenure.

7:17: $150,000 for snow removal equipment. J.O’Brien jokes it’s the world’s biggest snow blower.

Rushton suggests pairing up with the MassDEP to help with removal, or have some kind of “flexibility” with snow removal — they’re allowing excess snow to be dumped in Boston harbor, so maybe we could use Lake Quinsigamond?

Palmieri says this doesn’t seem like a good idea, and praises the Worcester DPW. He says the Times or Globe talked about a “snow dragon machine” in Minneapolis, MN that melts 30 tons of snow per hour, while collecting sand/salt. He wants the City to look into buying or leasing one so we stop piling up the snow.

Eddy congratulates DPW as well. He talks about already being $500,000 over already on snow removal. He wants to know if M. O’Brien has a contingency plan if we go way over budget — like $1 mil.

O’Brien says we could hit that emergency threshold, but money’s been put aside to deal with it from last year. Eddy praises his forethought. Eddy also points out that snow banks nearby schools are worrying parents. He wants to know if that falls under the purview of the school department or City. Moylan says he’s been speaking with the school department about it, giving them the same resources the City would use to haul away snow with private contractors.

A lot of jokes tonight about where we could be dumping snow, first Lake Quinsigamond, now Indian Lake.

7:27 Germain brings up Gary Rosen’s rubber sidewalk idea, saying this is close to that: using pickle juice to clear snow. It’s being used around the country, even a hybrid of pickle juice in Southbridge. Germain says it works better than salt and is only $16 per ton versus $63 per ton for salt. “It sounds crazy, I have a tough time talking about this without laughing at myself,” but he says it makes sense. “It’s better for the environment…financially it’s better and it’s more effective. Have we looked at any of these alternatives to salt?”

Moylan says they have looked at the use of a “brine product” like pickle juice or molasses, even the residuals in the manufacturing of beer. “I’m not sure we want to put beer on our streets,” he says to laughter. “You need to keep in mind that you need a completely different way to dispense with the product.” Worcester would have to buy new equipment to spray these materials, versus using the sand spinners we already have. “It perhaps is less harmful to the environment than regular road salt, but not more effective.” He says road salt is still more efficient financially too.

Germain wants to continue to explore using pickle juice or other salt alternatives.

Toomey says she understands where Rushton is coming from about dumping snow into Boston harbor, but it would be harmful to dump into Lake Quinsigamond because the smaller volume of water would lead to much more environmental damage. Toomey also takes down Palmieri’s snow dragon.

Clancy says we should remember this is a once-in-20 year amount of snowfall for Worcester. Clancy also says the EPA would be all over us for dumping snow in Lake Quinsig too. “I really have to disagree with Councilor Rushton’s suggestion of putting it anywhere near a tributary or a lake…we’d just be getting into more difficulties (with the EPA).”

He remembers 1978 where there was a snowstorm, then a rain storm, then blizzard, then no storm for the next two months. If we get the amount of snow they’re estimating for tonight and tomorrow, we’ll set the record for most snow on the ground. He wants the roadways cleared and the snow dumped on the snow dump, not the waterways.

Haller also wants no snow dumped in the lakes. She wants the commissioner to provide advice about emergency vehicles, roof care, towing/ticketing, etc.

“The concern always is for emergency vehicles,” say Moylan. Priority of snow clearing goes: arterials, secondaries, then residential streets.

He says the arterials are in “pretty good shape.” The secondaries are bus routes, and he says they’ve been working with the WRTA to maintain bus traffic. The streets that are most problematic are the residential streets. The winter parking ban is in effect “for the foreseeable future.” 300 cars were towed in the last storm. Private properties cannot plow snow back on the street — four off-duty policemen were hired to give out 23 $100 tickets.

“We’re not trying to plow (the public) in, but invariably snow will end up on their driveway.” He also asks residents to shovel out their hydrants and open up catch basins.

Haller says there are particular citizens that have trouble during this kind of weather. She asks that people act neighborly towards one another, help them out.

Petty says he noticed people around Clark University were shoveling out their cars, but dumping the snow back in the street after the plows have come by. “This is one big city issue,” he wants “common sense” used by the City and citizens.

Rushton says he does “feel comfortable” regarding his order about dumping snow in Lake Quinsigamond, mostly because it all relies on whether or not the DEP would allow it. He suspects they won’t let Worcester do this, but if they do it sounds like he thinks we should take them up on it. “Frankly we’re getting to the point where we’ll have to consider it…a little more snow and we’re going to have to start talking about alternatives.” He just wants the City Manager to consider consulting with the state DEP about it.

Eddy wants to know if we’re out of space at the snow dumps. The answer is no.

Rushton’s idea is shot down, 8-3.

Palmieri wants his snow dragon idea taken seriously. “Certainly we do live in New England. We do get a lot of snow and we should budget for it.” He says we’re not getting “children to school or people to work.”

Lukes says she couldn’t reach the parking meter when she tried to park. In Cambridge she says they stop giving parking tickets if that’s the case. M.O’Brien says “clearly we’re being flexible in these weather conditions.”

8:02: The governor’s budget for 2012 goes straight to finance. Cost savings in health care for the city goes straight to municipal operations.

Haller on the PIP closing:

“Today is a momentous day – today is a day that the PIP shelter is no longer and we have replaced it.”

She says she started working to this since 1990. She said the PIP established “a zone of illegal behavior,” and thanks her colleagues years ago for going on record in support of closing the shelter, and thanks M.O’Brien for his “difficult negotiations.”

“There are people out there who will say ‘the PIP is closed and the crime will continue,’ but there’s hope in that neighborhood.”

She thanks all the politicians involved, Community Health Link and South Middlesex Opportunity Council.

J.O’Brien:

Talks about Governor Patrick’s visit, where staff told him because of the cold they would have hundreds of people there, but the numbers were well below that because of efforts to find people permanent shelter.

“Today is another milestone and great effort.”

8:10: J.O’Brien brings up rain gardens, swails, etc.

He says Worcester has issues with sewage system and storm water system, both of which flow into the Blackstone, and we face challenges over EPA permitting.

He says “we should do everything we can to diminish the flow into these waters.” He calls future litigation regarding permits “inevitable,” and says doing work to reduce run-off will strengthen Worcester’s defense in the courtroom, since the city could show it’s been trying to limit its impact. He’d like a public education campaign to teach home and business owners how to adjust water flow from rooftops into yards rather than driveways. He’d like to see policy changes for new developments (like parking lots, roads and housing developments). “I know they’re working on a whole series of improvements.”

He says there are ideas for rain gardens around Indian Lake and Coes Pond for water diversion. “Here I think there’s opportunity for us to work for common goals.”

J.O’Brien says he knows it would be a small amount of water, but he says every little bit counts and could help as a defense in future lawsuits over water drainage.

Haller agrees, saying “we have to look at ways to reduce that flow hitting our system.” She mentions “asphalting our city” a few years ago with people hungry for off-street parking and blacktopping lawns.

Toomey is concerned about the number of people who are not hooked up to the public sewer system.

Lukes says this is the subject of an article in the Globe “discussing the trends in urban planning.” She says landscape requirements were created a few years ago, but wavers were given by the planning board with made them moot. “We haven’t done enough in protecting the city environment.”

Jo Hart: She says this was “very good,” but wants to add we can reuse water. “There has to be technology now for that.” Water that can be reused for things other than drinking or cooking. “If you can divert that and recirculate it to be used.”

J.O’Brien says he has a water system in his house that takes non-sewer water into a secondary system that can be reused for watering the lawn and other non-potable uses.

Rushton talks about biotech and economic development. “Now we’re starting to see a real shift where the big drug manufacturers (from out of state) have actually started to come to MA and drop big-time jobs in Boston.” He says they’re doing this because of the education centers, and they want to join in with entrepreneurs and schools. He says Pfizer is coming to MA but haven’t announced a location. Rushton thinks what they’re looking for Worcester can provide with UMass and the medical school. He wants admin to develop a group to reach out and explore attracting these companies to lure them away from looking at Boston and Cambridge.

Haller says they’ve reached the deadline date for Pharmasphere’s facility in South Worcester. They could not “adequately respond to that demand.” She wants to know what the next steps are to bring that parcel into use.

Clancy wants to know more about the $37 million that was secured by Rep. McGovern for a new WRTA hub. He wants more information about a potential site in the gasworks building. Apparently there’s an issue with flooding there. He wants other locations named as well, throwing Wyman-Gordon out there.

Petty wants a report on the abatements that were filed for property taxes. He also wants to know the average dollar amount.

Haller points out an event this weekend at Clark University from 9-2:00 regarding Promise Neighborhood, a federal grant Worcester received to determine how the community can organize itself to help make Main South kids successful in school.

8:35: Adjourned.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “City council live blog 2/1/11 — the should’ve been cancelled edition

  1. I thought we were going to dump all the excess snow on Wayne Griffin’s street

  2. Pingback: MG, I wish I knew how to quit you « Nicole, Worcester

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