WOBURN - Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco recently brokered a City Hall compromise over a proposed ordinance change aimed at expediting the permitting process for excavation work related to new developments.
During the City Council's most recent meeting, the North Woburn alderman explained that DPW Superintendent Jay Duran and Building Commissioner Thomas Quinn sanctioned a plan to split responsibility for trench permits based upon the underlying reason for the excavation work.
As a result of that deal, the council voted unanimously to adopt a months-old municipal code amendment that formalizes the role of each department head in the process and creates a new trench permit.
The municipal code modification also establishes a $100 application fee for such applications.
"Commissioner Quinn and Superintendent Duran talked today, and this is the language we came up with. It satisfies both departments," Tedesco explained.
"Good job, Alderman Tedesco. I'm glad we got everyone on the same page," later remarked City Council President Michael Anderson.
Under the compromise, Duran, whose staff is charged with maintaining key municipal infrastructure like water and sewer lines, will make the final determination regarding any permit request that involves digging up a public way. His office will also retain jurisdiction over trenches being dug on private property, so long as the reason for the excavation relates to the replacement or repair of primary public utility connections.
Meanwhile, the building commissioner's staff will now be delegated authority over trenches being dug for privately owned infrastructure that is subject to the rules and regulations outlined in the state's plumbing and electrical codes.
At the outset of last August, Tedesco introduced the legislation at the request of Quinn, who became concerned over a permitting backlog during the course of a renovation project by Horn Pond Plaza's Whole Foods Market off of Cambridge Road.
During a subsequent gathering of the City Council's Ordinance Committee, Quinn explained that other communities in the state had adopted a new category of permitting, often referred to a trench opening permit, which made a distinction between excavation on public ways and private property.
In doing so, municipalities were able to shift part of the review workload away from local public works departments, which traditionally handled all such matters under local street opening permit rules.
Given the tremendous amount of construction activity that is taking place in Woburn, the building commissioner insisted the split workload would speed up the entire approval process.
Though some aldermen expressed concern about stepping on the DPW's toes, especially when electrical and plumbing work on private property could have an effect on city infrastructure, the Ordinance Committee voted unanimously to endorse the proposal in late August.
However, in September, during a gathering of the full council, the matter was referred back to the Ordinance Committee at the request of Duran, who in a memo listed a number of concerns with the legislation.
Under the recently brokered compromise, each department head will be obligated to promptly notify their City Hall counterpart about any excavation permits that have been issued by their offices.
Over the past year, Woburn's public works department has been dealing with the fallout from an extended National Grid lockout and subsequent freeze on permits for non-emergency gas line work. Though that moratorium was lifted last December, city and town officials from multiple communities have explained the halt created a significant backlog in permitting applications for utility connections.
In fact, last spring, months after that state-mandated moratorium was lifted, the City Council considered separate requests from both Boston developer Madison Properties and local builder Scott Seaver for propane connections.
At the time, both landowners, complaining about serious delays in their construction timelines for the Chick-fil-A Restaurant opening in East Woburn and the completion of the Shannon Farm townhouse project in the West Side, complained that National Grid was not responding to their requests for natural gas service connections.
This January, National Grid ended a protracted six-month-long lockout of its unionized gas line employees. However, the labor dispute, which allegedly resulted in the utility company's reliance upon an irregular replacement workforce, hit a crisis point in Oct. of 2018, when a Woburn gas main by Wyman Street became over-pressurized.
That maintenance error occurred just weeks after the Merrimac Valley was rocked by a series of explosions and structural fires from an over-pressurized gas main. In response, state regulators instituted a moratorium on all non-emergency gas main work that lasted some 10 weeks.