By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service
Boston’s thousands of gas leaks highlighted the action at Wednesday’s city council meeting.
Two resolutions, both brought forward by councilors Matt O’Malley and Josh Zakim, were adopted by the council in support of state legislation that would push utilities to act more quickly in response to natural gas leaks. The first resolution supports House Bill 2870, a bill that would protect consumers from paying for gas lost in leaks. According to O’Malley, Texas and Pennsylvania are the only two states in the nation with similar laws in place.
“This is a very simple yet profound piece of legislation. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for the rate payers, it’s good for the economy, it’s good for public health,” O’Malley said.
The second resolution supports House Bill 2871, a bill that would require utilities to repair leaks whenever a road is opened up for work. The goal of this bill is to cut down on opening and reopening the same section of roads multiple times, each time for different work. For example, if a road was opened to repair a water main and a gas leak was exposed, natural gas utilities would be required to repair the leak before the road was repaved. Currently there are no requirements for utilities to repair gas leaks during roadwork in Massachusetts unless the leak is life-threatening.
The city council also used the meeting to authorize the acceptance of more than $13 million in various funds. The majority of this money went to the Boston Fire Department. The council authorized the fire marshall to accept $12.7 million in Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants meant to pay for 75 new firefighters. The SAFER funds were awarded to the BFD by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The city itself accepted $200,000 in private funds for fire-related purposes; half of this money went to helping for the treatment of firefighters who have cancer, and the other half is to be spent on fire prevention measures.
The city also accepted $360,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Health. That money is to be used by the Boston Police Department to hire a mental health clinician for a three-year period. This clinician would ride along with BPD officers and respond to disturbances involving a mentally ill person.
In matters designated for future action, councilor Michelle Wu called for a hearing on the care of Boston’s street trees.
“Many of our public shade trees are dying because of [the city’s] gas leaks,” Wu said. “We need to do everything we can to help trees deal with the stresses of living in an urban environment.”
“One of the great strengths of this city is that we are such a green city,” O’Malley said while speaking in agreement with Wu. O’Malley urged the council to look beyond city funds for solutions, saying that city resources are stretched thin and pointing to Harvard Arboretum in Jamaica Plain as an example of privately funded alternatives.
A hearing on the care of Boston’s street trees has been assigned to the council’s Committee on Environment and Parks.
Wu also joined councilor Timothy McCarthy in calling for a hearing on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority’s commuter rail rates and how inconsistencies in fares impact people living in different Boston neighborhoods.
“The zone fares in southwest Boston are screwy at best,” McCarthy said. This matter was assigned to the council’s Committee on City, Neighborhood Services and Veteran Affairs.