READING – Reading’s Town Meeting is coming up starting Tuesday, November 12. The Town Warrant contains an important article, Independent Audit of Natural Gas Leaks, that addresses the problem of leaking natural gas from the aging pipes under the town’s streets.

These leaks cause many problems: they kill trees, exacerbate respiratory illness, and add methane to our atmosphere. Methane is 84x more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, worsening the climate crisis. Adding insult to injury, consumers pay for the gas lost in these leaks.

The audit article (Article 17) empowers Reading to engage a private contractor to detect and locate gas leaks along the streets and public spaces in Reading, with the ability to measure leaks to determine their size. The Town will benefit by learning which leaks to focus on first. Armed with this knowledge, the Town will be able to work more effectively with National Grid to assure Reading citizens that the most dangerous and largest leaks are addressed first. Towns that have performed gas leak audits bring the discovery of many leaks that National Grid has not identified to the table.

The audit article was initiated by Green Sanctuary, the climate justice group of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading. The gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley a year ago has made residents of towns all over the Commonwealth much more aware of the risks associated with our aging gas distribution system. Over 200 residents of Reading signed an online petition and over 100 residents signed print petitions that Green Sanctuary distributed, asking the town for a gas leaks audit. You can still sign the online petition here: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/fix-readings-gas-leaks.

When approached by Green Sanctuary members and Reading residents in favor of the audit, Select Board Chair Vanessa Alvarado and Select Board member Andy Friedman supported a Warrant article that would allocate funds for the project. Based on information provided by Andy Friedman and Vanessa Alvarado, as well as David Zeek, Chair of the Reading Climate Advisory Committee, the Select Board voted 4-0 to support the article.

Article 17 reads:

Independent Audit of Natural Gas Leaks

To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate, transfer from available funds, borrow, or otherwise provide a sum or sums of money, not to exceed $35,000, to engage an independent engineer or related professional contractor to perform a comprehensive audit to detect natural gas leaks in Town. Using proven leak measurement methodology, the contractor will characterize the nature and extent of natural gas leaks on public right of ways or Town property, including roadways and outdoor areas around schools and other Town-owned buildings; provided, however, that, if  a gas leak appears to extend onto private property and the property owner allows access thereto, the contractor may characterize the combined public and private extent of those readings.

The Green Sanctuary Committee urges all Reading residents who support this article to inform their town meeting members.  Contact information for town meeting members can be found on the town's website at https://www.readingma.gov/town-clerk/pages/town-meeting-information.

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