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Monday, March 14, 2011

City Life on Monday

I was lucky enough to be on City Life this AM with Councilor and former Mayor Edward C. (Bud) Caulfield.  It was an enjoyable and educational time.

The first topic out of the box was the Pawtucket Dam, which, as we realize, was in the news Saturday, when we learned that a Federal Court had ruled that the Wang Agreement, in the deed for our dam across the Merrimack River, was not worth the paper it was written on. One view of that was that we can now go forward without that encumbering us.  Another view, presented by the "Lone Wolf", Tom Wirtanen, is that the Memo from Mr William Guey-Lee, Chief, Engineering and Jurisdiction Branch, Division of Hydropower Administration and Compliance, is controlling.  A PDF of that memo is here.  (I admit it takes a while to load and you are staring at blank white screen, but it is coming, just slowly.)

As an aside, John McDonough was doubtful that Mr Guey-Lee's office still existed.  As of this evening it does and its web site can be found here.

We also talked about the City Council's move to have a City Wide Committee, composed of primary and alternate members from each of the Neighborhood Groups, to look into increasing civic participation, increase voter turnout and to increase the number of candidates for public office.  These are all good things and the idea of a Civil Council appointed Committee was brought to the City Council Rules committee by people such as Victoia Fahlberg, Jack Mitchell, Tom Wirtanen and John McDonough on Tuesday of last week and the proposal was approved by the full City Council last week.  Off and running.

Another topic was Japan and the tragedy there.  There was heavy loss of life, but the discipline of the people and the preparations have limited that loss of life, as compared with the Indonesian Tsunami a few years ago.  We touched on the nuclear power issue and we also touched on the "just in time manufacturing" which will be severely disrupted by these twin natural disasters.

We did spend a half hour on the upcoming Greek Independence Day Celebrations, on 25 March.  There will be both religious and civic celebrations.  On the show were two young people from the Hellenic School.  They both did very well and their parents can well be proud of them.  Greek Independence began in 1820, but it proceeded over decades, as more Greek territory was recovered, after 400 years under Ottoman rule.  Councilor Caulfield and I later discussed how it was the beginning of the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, which was accelerated during World War I, but which continues even today as Peoples from Tunisia through to Egypt and beyond strike for their freedom.  And, later in this month Councilor Caulfield will get an award from the Greek Community.

In the last half hour we covered a number of topics and then, in the last five minutes, John McDonough through out the Alan Kazanjian issue.  Frankly, I wanted a little more time to sort through this thing, which has been lingering for a while, but the IG report is new.  However, the basic facts are that the IG report is now out and it says that Mr Kazanjian owes the city a connection fee of $3,419 and up to $3,000,000 in fines (up to $5,000 a day).  Councilor Caulfield and I were in agreement that Mr Kazanjian's folks dropped the ball and the permitting folks in Lowell City Hall should have picked up on this and moved to fix it.  A first offense, so it is reasonable to expect Mr Kazanjian to pay the $3,419 fee and to pay a fine of $3,000 for not keeping the paperwork straight.  As for the folks in permitting at City Hall, they should be admonished to be more aggressive in following up on these sorts of things with construction projects.  And the owners of the building should pay the past due sewer fees and future fees, which they are apparently prepared to do.

Then it was all over.

Regards  —  Cliff


Unknown said...

Hi Cliff, I'd like readers to know, Cliff came in with less than 12 hours notice. Jim Leary (he has the flu) called me to cancel his visit and our fearless leader "George Anthes" was off helping the poor in Connecticut. Cliff came in with out hesitation. Thanks Cliff You are the best!
Happy St. Patrick's Month
John McDonough

Over the Transom said...

I just read your blog post on the City Life appearance with Bud Caulfield, and I can't agree with the conclusion that the penalty for the sewer tie-in should be limited to the $3,400 plus $3,000.

For one thing, the cost of work avoided is noted in the report as being about $35,000 plus the cost of a lift station. To impose a cost of $6,400 to avoid that cost is a good deal, and any developer would take that route if the precedence was established.

And the cost to the City of Lowell is certainly a lot more than either of those numbers as a result of the investigation.

Yes, $3M ,may be excessive, but I think the penalty has to be multiple times the cost avoided in order to provide sufficient disincentive for similar violations.

["Over the Transom" is a nom de commentator for someone who sent me their opinion via EMail.]

Jack Mitchell said...

Having a front row seat, as I do, it's interesting to see how the neighborhood groups tend to the business of selecting reps to the Charter Review Committee(CRC). Each group was left to their own devices.

Small d democracy is playing out to various degrees.

I spoke with most of the neighborhood group leaders, last night to see how things were progressing. Most are still surveying thier membership, looking for folks willing to take the responsibility. The CNAG boardmembers, present at our last meeting, agreed to recommend Lu Richards and me to the Council. And Deb Forgione has submitted her name for consideration to represent the PCC.

It'll take a 2-3 weeks to shake itself out.

C R Krieger said...

Back to "Over the Transom" I think that it is not a foregone conclusion that the hookup would have had to be to Chelmsford.  My understanding is that Councilor Rita Mercier asked for a report on how many times such hooks had been denied by the City Council (the final authority for such actions).  I am told that while she never got a formal answer to her question, the answer is never.  That is to say, if you are on the town line and you ask to hook up to Lowell Sewer System you will get an OK.  Thus, the amount is rightly around $3,400 and not $35,000.

Should the fine by $5,000 (one day) or $10,000 (two days) or some other number?  Maybe.  I wouldn't find either "excessive".  However, I think going to six figures might be.  In my mind the City bears some responsibility here.  Our folks were made aware that there was construction going on and that a request to hook up to our system was made.  In fact, there was later something about other action in that area that could have been a trigger to looking back into this and fixing it then, but wasn't.  Sometimes the disaster that is an accident is due not to the original cause, but to some other failure in a chain of events.  This looks like a "shared" event to me.

Regards  —  Cliff

Mr. Lynne said...

Has anyone documented the reasons behind the denial of the hook-up. If it was a capacity issue, then the combination of the connection fees involved, the past billing, future billing, and a small fine might not capture the costs Lowell is actually out. Even if we have the capacity for this development - giving it to the development represents an opportunity costs for accommodating other development in Lowell. I suspect this is why the fines are that harsh, and why the fines in this case should be enough to 'hurt'. Otherwise you're breeding an environment where the better money move is to ask forgiveness rather than permission - creating a moral hazard. Granted, anyone stepping into the moral hazard might not run for City Council in such a context, but they also might be more than willing to fund people willing to go light on punishment.

-My 2 cents.

C R Krieger said...

I like Mr Lynne's question.  Was there a capacity problem.  I don't know, but will research.

If such is the case, then a larger fine is in order.

But, that said, I am thinking that this is a paperwork capacity issue, rather than a sewer capacity issue.

Regards  &messy;  Cliff