HANSON — A 139-year-old water main running through Hanson may end up causing the town a headache of potentially more than $100,000 the Select Board learned at its Tuesday, Jan. 10 meeting.
The main, which travels through Hanson, supplies water to Rockland and Abington, may need to be moved during a long-planned road improvement project, which could damage the pipe.
The Board voted to seek assistance in setting up a meeting between the stakeholders and/or filing legislation to address the legal questions involved.
“You’re looking at an additional cost well over $100,000 for this project that the town of Hanson would have to take on,” Town Planner Antonio DeFrias said. He asked if grants could be used to defray that impact.
“I’m getting ‘no,’ this was part of the deal,” he said.
Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if Environmental Partners should have been expected to identify that it was a potential issue.
“They’re the ones that did this design,” she said. “Those pipes didn’t just suddenly pop up in that road.”
While she said she thinks highly of Environmental Partners, the water main issue was a known entity and she was disappointed it wasn’t found to be a potential limitation on the project. The project is currently at a standstill.
“This issue puts a $13 million project into jeopardy, that goes on the shelf,” DeFrias said. “And the money you’ve spent are [he threw his hands in the air in a gesture of hopelessness].”
Any funds spent so far has been for engineering.
The deadline for project completion is 2026.
Negotiations between Hanson and Abington, centering on Abington’s ownership of a water main, created through special legislation in 1885, that is the center of concern during work on a state DOT project to lower the road and change an intersection on Route 14/Maquan Street.
The state was concerned that roadwork could undermine the water main.
“The question for me was not the engineering piece, but what was the liability?” said Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff. “How do we handle that if we have to relocate the main. Who pays for it?”
The main serves the Rockland/Abington area, not Hanson.
According to Feodoroff, default easement rules state that whoever disturbs is the one who pays. Hanson, as the town disturbed by the easement, is the town seeking to make the change that could impact Abington’s delicate old water main, according to Feodoroff.
“That becomes a question for experts to answer,” she said. “The reality is there is no real clean way of doing this.”
Abington has reported that they do not have the funds to do such a large project right now. Feodoroff said., noting they were unwilling to come to the table to volunteer to replace the pipe while the roadway was dug. DOT offered to again redesign the intersection, by some modification but was rejected and they are requiring a Level 2 survey – a subsurface utility engineering – of the project to determine the impact on the main, which could bring the town up to Teir 1.
“They’re doing this with all their projects,” DeFrias said. “There have been some utilities in the ground where utility companies haven’t maintained them and had accidents.”
For that reason, the SUE survey is being done on all projects MassDOT is involved in, he said.
DeFrias noted there are three possible tiers for addressing the problem:
• Teir 3 uses existing plans to determine a utility’s exact location;
• Teir 2 uses lidar to locate vertically and horizontally where the water line is; and
• Teir 1 uses tests borings at intervals – done by a state-certified company — to find where a pipe is and may be able to determine its condition.
A Teir 2 survey costs $80,000 to $90,000, DeFrias estimated. Teir 1 ususally costs about $1,000 per boring.
Environmental Partners has to keep filing reports to the state.
“It’s a killer,” DeFrias said. “There’s no compromise.” To the other towns, replacement of the line is not a need.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said her concern was the surveys could bring advice that the town doesn’t want to touch the problem, but DeFrias said a 200-foot change on a curve along the crest of a dirt road and Cresent Street for safety has already been in the works, which effects that length along the water line.
He’s spoken to Environmental Partners about foregoing the lowering of the road at that place.
“They’re not keen on it, but it’s one of those things that, if this becomes such a hindrance, we may have to ask MassDOT to either put someone else’s feet to the fire or turn the burners down on us because this isn’t going to work,” DeFrias said.
Select Board member Jim Hickey said the commonwealth has to have encountered the pipe responsibility before since 1889.
“It can’t just be us,” he said.
He and member Ed Heal asked if any other solutions were considered beyond lowering the road.
“Is anybody getting together?” FitzGerald-Kemmett asked. “Is there any ability to have a conversation with all of the concerned parties and say, ‘We’re just trying to improve this road?’”
“That’s why we’re here tonight,” DeFrias said. “What we’re trying to do, here at Town Hall and Environmental Partners, is get all the parties together in one room and try to hash something out or figure out that it’s not going to happen.”
If it’s not going to happen, some hard decisions may have to be made, he said.
Weeks suggested asking the town’s legislators work on a bill before the Jan. 20 filing deadline to help resolve the situation, make phone calls and/or find funding sources to help resolve the deadlock.
Feodoroff said Rockland/Abington Water is not being adversarial, the main as a stumbling block to roadwork, is simply not their priority.
In other business, CPA Erick Kinscherf met with the board to discuss questions members have raised about his application for appointment as interim town accountant. After the discussion, the board voted to appoint Kinscherf as the interim accountant until a new permanent accountant is identified and hired.
A graduate of W-H regional schools, Kinscherf said he has more than 25 years’ experience in municipal accounting, having served- as assistant treasurer of Brockton, treasurer/collector of Dennis, finance director in another community for four years and has audited municipalities for three years. He opened his own municipal finance and consulting firm in 2008.
“I started out with just me, but we’ve probably dealt with a little over 100 municipalities with engagements over the years doing interim town accountant, interim treasurer [work],” he said. “As an interim town accountant, basically, you provide a town with a bridge between their old town accountant who left … and a permanent town accountant and some guidance to keep it going.”
His most recent interim accountant work has been with Middleboro.
For Hanson, Kinscherf said he would be the main person doing the interim accountant work because he finds it fun.
Hanson’s books are in “excellent shape” and he has met Hanson’s former part-time accountant on several occasions, and had already spent a couple of hours getting to know the people and procedures of Hanson Town Hall.
Select Board member Ed Heal asked how many days per week Kinscherf planned to devote to Hanson’s accounting needs. Kinscherf said he planned to be on-site between four and eight hours one day each week as well as working remotely.
As a long-term solution, Green said a salary of about $95,000 for a full-time accountant has been worked into the budget and former accountant Todd Hassett recommended the town hire its own accountant and that is the direction in which the town will proceed.
“I really appreciate that you’ve hit the ground running, espcially since you don’t know of we’re going to vote for you or not,” FitzGerald-Kemmett told Kinscherf. She also asked that he be open to letting Green know anything the town should look for in a new accountant, as well as providing he feedback, which he readily agreed to do.
“It’s a good experience anyway,” he said. “It wouldn’t be for naught.”
Weeks noted that the town is fast approaching Town Meeting and asked what Kinscherf’s experience has been in “hitting the ground running” in that circumstance as the town tries to avoid a tax increase.
“I absolutely do not see you not using that 2 ½ percent increase, realistically,” Kinscherf said. “As far as keeping taxes the same or lower, I don’t think that’s realistic in the district, because the schools will eat that right up.”
Weeks said he is interested in working with people who are willing to say the opposite of what the board wants to hear, and asked how willing Kinscherf was in doing that.
Kinscherf said he likes to outline the effect on a budget of any given course of action.
“I don’t say whether I would do it or wouldn’t do it, but would say if you this, be prepared next year that you’re going to have to find the funding to do X,” he said. “If I see you going off a cliff, I’ll let you know.”
Weeks said that is exactly the approach he is looking for.