Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

July 1, 2013

Plan for Ethanol Trains Derailed

Filed under: transportation — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 6:13 pm

July 1, 2013 – Opponents of the plan by Global Partners to transport ethanol via high-volume trains through Cambridge, Somerville, and other towns east of Worcester to a planned blending facility in Revere scored major victories today. The "Ethanol Amendment" in the state’s annual budget that would effectively have prohibited the planned terminal in Revere was passed by the State Senate Conference Committee and sent to the Governor’s Office for ratification into law.

Roseann Bongiovanni of Chelsea, a principal citizen opponent of the plan, said, "A big thank you goes out to our legislative champions Senator Sal DiDomenico and Senator Anthony Petrucelli! Without their leadership and support, and that of their great staff (Ingrid and Anthony G.), this would not be possible. Representatives Reinstein and O’Flaherty should also be recognized for their advocacy in favor of this amendment. A special thank you also goes out to Attorney Rubin who drafted the amendment language."

The amendment was H.3538 which read as follows:

"SECTION 81. Section 14 of chapter 91 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official Edition, is hereby amended by adding the following paragraph:
An ethanol storage or blending facility that stores or blends or is intended to store or blend more than an average of 5,000 gallons of ethanol per day and is located within 1 mile of a census block that has a population density of greater than 4,000 people per square mile shall not be granted a license under this chapter. For the purposes of this section, ethanol shall be defined as any mixture composed of not less than 30 percent ethanol.

Upon final passage, many people believed that even with the Governor’s signature, a legal challenge would be sure to follow. For example, U.S. Congressman Michael Capuano wrote several months ago in a letter to the Cambridge City Council:

Therefore, I am compelled to inform the Council it is my understanding that neither federal nor state law seems to provide ways to prevent ethanol from being transported through any community. There are laws and regulations available to ensure safety, but bans on the transport of hazardous materials have not been upheld in court. The Council may know that the Washington DC City Council enacted a ban on hazmat transportation through the city, but it was struck down in federal court. As far as I know, no other city has passed legislation banning the transit of hazardous materials and had the ban stand up in court. Of course, if others can identify alternative paths to judicial success, I stand ready to support them.

With this view as backdrop, opponents of the ethanol transport plan were thrilled to receive word that Global Partners has decided to cancel their plans. Noting significant opposition from local groups such as the Chelsea Creek Action Group, Global Partners stated that they are "a good company that doesn’t want to go against the wishes of the local community."

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June 3, 2013

Coming up at the Cambridge City Council on Monday, June 3

Filed under: Cambridge,City Council,cycling — Tags: , , , — Robert Winters @ 1:06 pm

Coming up at City Council on Monday, June 3

During a municipal election year, it is common that the content of City Council Orders is at least in part motivated by the need to identify or, in some cases, create issues that will distinguish the author of the Order. The same can be said of matters taken up by the City Council committees and more. Controversy and alarm are sure to draw more attention than more mundane matters. There’s now just four weeks to go before nomination papers become available for City Council candidates, and it’s a good time to look at the actions of our local elected officials through a campaign-tinted lens. With this in mind, here’s a list of some of the more interesting agenda items on this week’s agenda:

Manager’s Agenda #5. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-38, regarding a report on measures the City can take to prevent the transport of ethanol. [Meeting Notice with response from Congressman Michael Capuano]

Order #6. That the City Manager is requested to appoint a working group of up to eleven people charged with drafting a community response to the Mar 29, 2013 report issued by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation as it relates to ethanol transport and the impact on the City of Cambridge.   Councillor Maher and Councillor Decker

There’s no doubt that this is a significant issue that deserves a thoughtful response, but it’s true that an atmosphere of fear is something that can be nurtured and exploited for political gain. The state legislature has taken some steps to stop trains bearing this particular hazardous cargo, but the letter from Congressman Capuano makes clear that federal jurisdiction in interstate commerce may trump any such efforts, including actions targeting things other than the transportation of such cargo. It’s not surprising that residents may be fearful, especially with news stories from elsewhere about train derailments and their consequences.

Should this plan go through, the most likely route would follow the Fitchburg Line through North Cambridge and Porter Square and then through Somerville en route to the Chelsea destination. The Grand Junction branch passing through Cambridgeport and East Cambridge is a possible alternate route. Perhaps the most potentially dangerous locations for any route would be at-grade crossings. On the preferred route, this includes Sherman Street in North Cambridge and Park Street in Somerville.

Manager’s Agenda #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-33, regarding a report on adding a RSS feed to all City web pages.

This item will be carefully scrutinized by Councillor Cheung, John Hawkinson and Saul Tannenbaum, but probably not by legions of other residents.

Manager’s Agenda #22. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-78, regarding a report on expanding the number of parks/playing fields with public toilets; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-132, regarding a report on incorporating permanent bathroom facilities at the Cambridge Common, conducting a study for permanent bathroom facilities in all squares and providing a list of all locations were portable bathroom facilities are currently located; Awaiting Report Item Number 12-150, regarding convening a task force to look into the creation of providing permanent public restrooms at high volume locations; and Awaiting Report Item Number 13-55, regarding a report on efforts to develop a working group to review public bathroom issues.

As the text of the Manager’s report indicates, this responds to four separate Council orders. Though the idea of bathroom facilities may seem like a not-so-hot topic, it has actually brought out a lot of people during the Public Comment period of meetings over a span of quite a few years, and good answers are not so easy to come by. This is also not just about the Cambridge Common. In past years there was a lot of discussion about creating public toilets in the major squares, but nothing really happened for a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, people still "have to go" and you can’t change that via legislation. It does seem clear that the City administration is taking the matter seriously and that some accommodation will follow.

Manager’s Agenda #28. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 13-60, regarding a report on the feasibility of donating old computers to non-profit agencies in lieu of recycling them.

This is clearly a good thing, but one has to wonder why sensible efficiencies like this should require City Council orders. The City of Cambridge is often seen as a leader in "sustainability" efforts, and one major part of this involves waste disposal and reuse options. It seems to this writer and long-time recycling advocate that all City departments should be ensuring that surplus equipment is disposed in the best possible way, and reuse certainly seems a better choice than other alternatives.

Unfinished Business #14. Report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Ordinance Committee, for a public hearing held on Apr 3, 2013 to discuss an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance to create a new Section 6.100 Bicycle Parking, and to create a new definition for Bicycle Parking in Article 2.000, modify the yard standards in Article 5.000 as they relate to bicycle parking and modifying various sections of Article 6.000 to remove references to bicycle parking. The question comes on passing to be ordained on or after May 6, 2013. Planning Board hearing held Mar 19, 2013. Petition expires June 17, 2013. May 6, 2013 substituted language referred to Unfinished Business and remained on Unfinished Business.

I suspect this will be ordained at this meeting. The proposed ordinance could be made better by including a requirement for secure bicycle parking for all redevelopments. At the very least, there should be a requirement that there be no net loss of potential bike parking below an established minimum for both residential and commercial buildings.

Resolution #17. Thanks and best wishes to Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray for his service to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.   Councillor Decker

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Tim. I’ll never forget the evasive answers you gave me at a City Council committee meeting back when you were still the Mayor of Worcester. You haven’t changed a bit.

Resolution #30. Congratulations to City Manager Robert W. Healy on his fellowship at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.   Mayor Davis [Press Release]

How do I schedule an appointment with Professor Healy during office hours later this year?

Order #1. That the Executive Assistant to the City Council confer with the Dedication Committee to consider the request from Wayne Ishikawa for a street corner dedication in honor of Michael Shinagel.   Councillor Toomey

I tip my hat to my former boss, Harvard Extension School Dean Michael Shinagel. The Extension School has been providing affordable educational opportunities for residents for a century and Michael Shinagel served as Dean of the Division of Continuing Education for 38 years from 1975 through 2013. [Harvard Magazine article, Sept 2012]

Order #2. That the City Manager is requested to confer with relevant City staff, City of Boston, state transportation officials and Longfellow Bridge construction project managers to determine if it would be possible for pedicabs to transfer passengers from the general MGH/Charles Street area of Boston to the general Kendall Square area of Cambridge and back again.   Councillor Kelley

This is an excellent idea. Still unresolved, however, is the question of where pedicabs should ride on streets where the City wants install so-called "cycle tracks." The pedicabs often consume the entire width of these bike lanes, and in order to accommodate the sidewalk "cycle tracks" roadway widths are often narrowed to the point where motor vehicles and cyclists can no longer safely share a travel lane in the road. It’s even worse for pedicab drivers who will have no option other than to "take the lane" or ride the sidewalk. This conflict will likely not be an issue on the Longfellow Bridge.

Order #5. That the City Manager is requested to confer with the State Auditor’s Office to determine if the state of Massachusetts will fund the costs incurred by the city when it assesses and establishes full and fair cash value for tax-exempt properties within the City of Cambridge even though the city cannot collect taxes from said properties.   Councillor vanBeuzekom

As the Order states, the City cannot collect taxes from said properties, so how the assessment takes place is unimportant to the City. The simplest solution is to simply ask that the owners of tax-exempt properties submit estimates of their "full and fair cash value." There will be no tax collected anyway, so there’s no practical need for more than a good estimate. This also applies to the valuation of City, State, and Federal properties within the city.

Committee Report #4. A communication was received from Donna P. Lopez, Interim City Clerk, transmitting a report from Councillor David P. Maher, Chair of the Government Operations and Rules Committee, for a public meeting held on May 22, 2013 to review the status of positions reporting directly to the City Council.

The purpose of this meeting was to take up the issue of the appointment of the City Clerk and the City Auditor. It’s about time that the word "Interim" should be removed from "Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez." Jim Monagle is also expected to be reappointed as City Auditor.

Unfinished Business #10. Transmitting communication from Robert W. Healy, City Manager, relative to Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90, regarding a report on Executive Session to discuss lawsuits. [City Manager Agenda Number Seven of Feb 25, 2013 Placed on Table on motion of Councillor Kelley on Feb 25, 2013.]

Communications & Reports #1. A communication was received from Councillor Craig Kelley notifying the City Manager and City Council of his intention to move to take Calendar Item #10 from the table to enable discussion of various lawsuits against the City.

Communications & Reports #2. A communication was received from Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom alerting her colleagues of her intention to pull Awaiting Report Item Number 12-90 (Unfinished Business #10) to discuss pending lawsuits.

My speculation is that these fundamentally identical communications originated on Brookford Street and that Public Comment will once again feature bitter commentary from one of its residents. City Manager Robert Healy will retire four weeks from today. The City will move on without skipping a beat, but some multiple-decade critics may never move on. – Robert Winters


Addendum: At this meeting the City Council accepted a late committee report from the Government Operations & Rules Committee and passed the following Order:
ORDERED: That the former site of the Cambridge Police Department which is now the new location for the Cambridge Community Learning Center, the Cambridge Housing Authority and the Multi-Service Center be named the “Alice K. Wolf Center” and that a suitable dedication ceremony be planned by the Executive Assistant to the City Council and the staff, and be it further
ORDERED: That the Deputy City Manager be and hereby is requested to report back to the City Council with a plan for either a suitable plaque or a sign for the “Alice K. Wolf Center“.

May 30, 2013

Cambridge Delegation Partners with MassDOT to Host Ethanol Train Meetings (June 4-5, 2013)

Filed under: Cambridge,East Cambridge,transportation — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 11:00 pm

The Cambridge legislative delegation invites residents, homeowners, local businesses, and community organizations to join them for two public forums about a plan proposed by Global Partners to transport ethanol through the City of Cambridge using the existing rail system. To facilitate participation, two forums will be held. The first meeting will occur on June 4 at 5:30pm at the King Open School, 850 Cambridge St., Cambridge. The second meeting will take place on June 5 at 6:15pm at Graham and Parks School, 44 Linnaean St., Cambridge.

Representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will present the findings of their ethanol safety study and answer questions from the public. Following this presentation, elected officials will facilitate an open discussion about the proposed plan and explore opportunities for public involvement.

The meetings will be hosted by the Cambridge legislative delegation, including Representatives Toomey, Decker, Rogers, and Hecht, and Senators Petruccelli, Jehlen, and DiDomenico.

MassDOT’s ethanol safety study and related documents can be found at http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/Main/CurrentStudies/EthanolSafetyStudy.aspx

Any questions regarding the meeting may be directed to Dan Weber at Daniel.Weber@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380.

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Note: Here’s what Congressman Mike Capuano had to say about this in an Apr 26 letter that’s included in the agenda materials for the Monday, June 3 Cambridge City Council meeting:

Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Michael E. Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts

April 26, 2013

Mayor Henrietta Davis
Cambridge City Hall
795 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139

Dear Mayor Davis:
I am writing to you in response to recent correspondence I received from the Cambridge City Council regarding a proposal to bring ethanol through several Massachusetts communities by rail. I understand the Council’s concerns and support its efforts to find a safer way to transport ethanol through heavily populated areas.

As you know, my office approaches all issues honestly, even when I expect the response may not be what is hoped for. Therefore, I am compelled to inform the Council it is my understanding that neither federal nor state law seems to provide ways to prevent ethanol from being transported through any community. There are laws and regulations available to ensure safety, but bans on the transport of hazardous materials have not been upheld in court. The Council may know that the Washington DC City Council enacted a ban on hazmat transportation through the city, but it was struck down in federal court. As far as I know, no other city has passed legislation banning the transit of hazardous materials and had the ban stand up in court. Of course, if others can identify alternative paths to judicial success, I stand ready to support them.

I am sure the Council realizes that ethanol is currently transported by rail through many urban, rural and suburban communities all over the country, including in Massachusetts. It is my understanding that the Cambridge Fire department is informed pursuant to state and federal regulation of such transits and is prepared to handle emergencies related to them. I have been informed that any local or state restrictions imposed on rail transportation of hazmat are pre-empted by interstate commerce regulations. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) informs me that they do not have jurisdiction to deny ethanol or other hazardous materials transit and do not have the authority to require the use of certain routes. The FRA does regulate track safety, street crossings, operational requirements and the integrity of tanker cars. I have asked that the FRA carefully review the integrity of the infrastructure that could be used for ethanol transport and I am confident this request will be supported.

It is my understanding that substantial work must be undertaken on the rail line that connects to Global Petroleum’s ethanol facility in Revere. Improvements may also be necessary elsewhere on the routing lines under consideration before they may be used for ethanol trains. I am confident that FRA will only allow ethanol trains on lines that meet FRA safety and operational standards and I will work hard to ensure that this confidence is well placed.

I have also reached out to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the United States Coast Guard (USCG). It is my understanding that EPA does not have a role in allowing or disallowing the transportation of ethanol. TSA informed me that ethanol is not a Rail Security Sensitive Material (RSSM) and therefore TSA does not require additional safety and/or security measures for its transportation. Please note that if ethanol were deemed an RSSM, it is my understanding that TSA still could not prohibit it. Given that the storage facility is along the water, the USCG is required to approve the facility’s security procedures. I have long experience with the Coast Guard and am confident this is a responsibility that the USCG takes very seriously.

While I regret that my initial review of the matter indicates ethanol transport cannot be prohibited, I believe my office can be helpful in other areas. One suggestion would be to have city public safety officials assess the city and region’s preparedness for a release of ethanol. I have read the MassDOT report on ethanol and understand that area fire chiefs believe there is a need for staff training and equipment. My office stands ready to aggressively support any municipal or state effort to access federal funding or seek mitigation. I also strongly support making sure first responders are informed in a timely fashion when ethanol will be transported.

Although I am not optimistic that I can prevent this proposal from being implemented, I will continue doing everything I can to be sure that the interests of our communities are protected. Particularly in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings, I understand the unease you may feel and the desire to make sure that everything possible is done to protect public safety. Please keep my office informed of the Council’s actions and any support I can offer in your endeavors.

Sincerely,
Michael E. Capuano
Member of Congress

April 16, 2013

Cambridge Delegation Announces Ethanol Train Meeting (Tues, Apr 16, 2013)

Filed under: Cambridge — Tags: , — Robert Winters @ 1:10 pm

Cambridge’s legislative delegation invites residents, property owners, and local organizations to participate in a public forum about a proposed plan to transport ethanol through the City of Cambridge by rail. The forum will be held Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 6:00PM at the King Open School, 850 Cambridge St., Cambridge. Representatives from MassDOT will present the findings of their ethanol safety study at this meeting, followed by an opportunity for a dialogue between the public and elected officials.

“Ethanol is a highly volatile substance, and this proposal presents a clear and present public safety risk for the people of Cambridge. Without concerted action, the burden of emergency preparedness will fall on Cambridge taxpayers, while a Fortune 500 company pads its profits,” Representative Timothy J. Toomey, Jr. said.  “I hope that everyone who has an interest in the future of Cambridge will attend this meeting.”

“Public safety and the environment remain central issues in the shipment of ethanol through the Commonwealth,” said Senator Anthony Petruccelli. “I continue to stand in opposition to the issuance of the Chapter 91 license to Global and I am committed to working with my fellow legislators in assuring that our public safety officers are prepared to protect our communities.”

“The plan to bring ethanol via train through Cambridge raises serious public safety concerns and potential negative environmental impacts for its residents and for the residents of its surrounding communities,” said Senator Sal DiDomenico. “Ethanol is a highly flammable liquid, and this project will greatly increase the risk of spills, releases, and fires along the route in which the 1.8-million-gallon ethanol-carrying train would pass. I urge all residents to attend the meeting to learn more about these risks and how they can be mitigated. We need answers to these serious questions.”

“Running trains carrying ethanol through densely populated residential neighborhoods carries serious potential consequences,” said Senator Patricia Jehlen. “Cambridge residents should take this opportunity to learn more about the process and ramifications of the proposal, and have their voices heard.”

“This meeting is a great opportunity for residents to learn about MassDOT’s safety study and to speak directly with their legislators about how we can stand together to oppose this plan,” said Representative Marjorie Decker. “Please attend this vitally important meeting.”

Representative David Rogers said, “Shipping ethanol through Cambridge will create an unacceptable transfer of risk from a private company to the general public. I am concerned about both the potential for a catastrophe and the ongoing financial cost to the City of Cambridge.”

This meeting will be hosted by the Cambridge delegation, which includes Representatives Toomey, Decker, Rogers, and Hecht and Senators Petruccelli, Jehlen, and DiDomenico.

MassDOT’s ethanol safety study and related documents can be found at http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/Main/CurrentStudies/EthanolSafetyStudy.aspx

Any questions regarding the meeting may be directed to Dan Weber at Daniel.Weber@mahouse.gov or (617) 722-2380.


UPDATE: Cambridge Ethanol Train Meeting Agenda Changed, MassDOT Safety Study Presentation Being Rescheduled

Due to the tragic and disturbing nature of the events that occurred at yesterday’s (Apr 15) Boston Marathon, the Cambridge state legislative delegation has chosen to abbreviate this meeting regarding the transportation of ethanol that was originally planned for 6pm this evening at the King Open School. The delegation has decided that it will go forward with the meeting in a shortened format, and will postpone the presentation of a Massachusetts Department of Transportation safety study by Department officials. Residents who still wish to attend will have an opportunity to discuss their questions and comments with their elected representatives. Residents who attend the meeting will also be able to obtain copies of MassDOT’s safety study presentation. The Cambridge delegation plans to reschedule a full meeting with Department of Transportation officials and will announce the rescheduled meeting’s date, time, and location in the coming days.

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