Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner informed the town at Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting that Selectmen in Stoneham no longer support the Northern Intermediate High (NIH) Water Redundancy Project, which was designed to ensure reliable water service to the communities of Reading, Stoneham, Woburn, Wakefield, Winchester and Wilmington.
Stoneham’s opposition threatens to push back the date when the project will come online and begin benefitting the communities it is intended to.
The project includes the installation of 2,200 feet of 36-inch water pipeline along the southbound side of Route 28, including under Route 128. The limits of work are South Street in Reading through the North Street intersection in Stoneham. The portion of the project located in Reading is all finished except for paving, Hechenbleikner said on Tuesday night.
Hechenbleikner also expressed surprise that the Stoneham Selectmen had chosen this course of action.
“There must be some miscommunication,” he said. “[The project] is in the entire system’s interests, not just Reading’s ... It’s a one time impact for the sake of securing your water supply.”
The Board included copies of the letter from the Stoneham selectmen, as well as the response from the MWRA in the meeting packet on Tuesday.
“This project will cause undue hardship on the citizens of Stoneham through a long construction process that will result in congestion and digging up our streets, increasing traffic, increasing our noise and increasing the long-term presence of heavy construction equipment in our neighborhoods,” the Stoneham Selectmen stated in a letter to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority dated Dec. 13. “These hardships will affect our quality of life and the people of Stoneham will not receive any benefit from it ... The Board of Selectmen urges the MWRA to find another route for this pipeline, one that does not, once again, require the Town of Stoneham to solely bear the burden.”
Stoneham’s recent opposition to the pipeline stems, in part, from promises made to the town and later reneged upon by the MWRA, according to the letter.
“Two years ago, for reasons that were never explained, the MWRA purchased land in Stoneham to place an underground water tank even though the state owned enough land just next to it,” said the letter. “That resulted in the Town of Stoneham losing 90 affordable housing units and over $100,000 a year in property taxes. Stoneham was told we would get a soccer field as mitigation for the loss of tax revenue. After the deal was done, the MWRA reneged and Stoneham received nothing. Now, it is the Stoneham rate payer that has to subsidize the cost of the land and construction while absorbing the lost revenue the land would have produced. We find this unfair to our Stoneham MWRA rate payers.
“The Town of Stoneham’s rights have been disenfranchised by the MWRA and without immediate recourse, we will be forced to take further action to protect our citizens.”
In a Dec. 22 letter, MWRA Executive Director Frederick A. Laskey responded to the Stoneham Selectmen.
“MWRA has invested nearly $2 billion to modernize the water system from Stoneham all the way out to the Carroll Water Treatment Plant in Marlborough,” the letter said. “Rate payers in all MWRA member communities have paid there equal share for these improvements, whether or not the facilities in their communities directly serve them.”
Laskey cited a regional water supply improvement project from 15 years ago, where Malden and Medford hosted construction of a 6-foot diameter pipeline so the Spot Pond open reservoir could be taken out of active service, meeting state and federal drinking water regulations for open reservoirs, “measurably improving the safety, security and quality of drinking water to the Town of Stoneham.”
Laskey closed by saying the MWRA, based on the Selectmen’s opposition, would begin actively seeking alternative routing for the pipeline.