Saturday, November 1, 2014

NIMBYism

If the number of citizens who turned out to hear about the process for the search for a new Superintendent of Waltham Public Schools is any indication of concern about the person who is hired, then we citizens are a pretty unconcerned bunch.  It's probably easier to let the search committee get on with it and then, when the new Super is in place, and has to contend with underperforming elementary schools, capacity issues, a High School that may lose accreditation, complain that the Superintendent is clearly not the right person for the job.

Sigh.

On the other hand, if the number of citizens who are concerned about scheduled work by National Grid in the neighborhood near the intersection of Trapelo and Waverley Oaks Roads is an indication of how invested people are in complaining about the traffic, then the level of concern rivals that of Ebola hysteria.

The good people who live on Upton and Shirley and surrounding streets came out to hear from National Grid about the plans to abandon the gas main under the Beaver Street Culvert (which I wrote about here) and redirect the gas flow to mains near their homes.  I, of course, attended the meeting because I am OBSESSED with the Beaver Street Clusterflub.  In fact, I arrived a few minutes before the meeting began and met Mr. Steve Casazza, the City Engineer.  He is, it turns out, a decent guy and quite intelligent and well-prepared and soft-spoken.  So, I started out feeling like an asshat for throwing him under the bus (or into the culvert.)  It's so hard to be angry with people when you actually meet them.  For me, anyway.  Read on to see how that's not the case for everyone.

In addition to Mr. Casazza, Waltham Police Chief MacPherson was there, along with Mike Chiasson, Public Works Director; Mike Garvin, the Traffic Engineer; Susan Scarcella from National Grid; and Ward 4 Councillor, John McLaughlin.  So, anybody who knew anything about anything to do with gas and roads and traffic and whatnot was there.  There were detailed maps!  There was a detailed plan for the replacement of the culvert!  I was beside myself: my obsession was being fueled!

I learned that the existing culvert had been placed in 1920!  Aging infrastructure!  The new culvert will only take a "long weekend" to put in after the gas main is abandoned! The plant life will be replaced to prevent erosion! I was on the edge of my seat.

The questions at the beginning of the meeting were thoughtful and were being asked to get more information.  How long was this going to take? Two months.  What roads would be affected? Upton, Brookfield, Shirley. What would be done to divert traffic? Signage and communication to the office park and businesses on Waverley Oaks Road. Would National Grid repair the road after their work was done? Yes.

Then, somewhere, it started to spin out of control.  I was reminded of a book that a long-ago boyfriend had given me: 
Yes, the madness of Crowds.  Mob Mentality.  Here it was.

Why are the roads bumpy? Why is there construction on Trapelo Road? Why do people ignore the signs and cut through Upton Road? Are the pipes going to my house new pipes or old pipes? Are the pipes going to explode? What day will you be at my house? What is Ms. Scarcella's cell phone number so that I can call it whenever the traffic is bad or I smell gas? Why am I being inconvenienced? What happens if it snows?

And THEN! The absolute BEST question of the night: What about the rare species of fish that lives in Beaver Brook? Would the presence of this fish cause environmentalists to stop the construction?

The competent and intelligent and professional group of presenters was stumped.  I was stumped.  I've walked and run and cross-country skied and ridden bikes all along the course of Beaver Brook for 13 years.  I have never seen a fish, especially not a rare one.  I remember when my (now deceased) dog, Sydney, found a frog and played with it in the creek, but never a fish.  Happily, there was a member of the Conservation Committee on hand.

The loud, red-faced guy who was concerned about the rare fish and was backed up by two women in the audience was met with a refute from Jerry, the Conservation Committee Member, equally loud and red-faced, who told the loud guy (and everyone else) to come to a meeting next Thursday at Government Center.  One of the supportive women read from a paper about the involvement of the DCR.  Jerry insisted that the Cons Com has authority of all of the water in Waltham!  Not the DCR!  It's HIS water!

I thought that it may come to fisticuffs.  My money would have been on Jerry.

Then, the other woman who had been encouraging the loud guy, had questions of her own.  Of course, she had arrived 45 minutes late, and most of her questions had been answered before.  Ms. Scarcella offered to review all of the information with the woman at the end of the meeting.  None of this deterred her from asking questions.  And what was Ms. Scarcella going to DO about it?  Ms. Scarcella must be responsible for many projects, so how would she be able to stand on Upton Road to personally escort the woman from her driveway?  Ms. Scarcella responded "What is your specific concern? I am very responsive and I get the job done."  I wanted to applaud.  Instead, I Tweeted about it.  It was awesome.

It was now nearly 8:30.  The Mayor arrived and apologized for being late.  I wish that I had had the fortitude to stay and hear her response to the rare fish issue and the personal escorts from the driveways, however, I had to leave.  I went home, my obsession fueled.