Boston Water and Sewer Commission Meeting Provides a Platform for Residents’ Infrastructure Concerns in Chinatown and Downtown Neighborhoods – Sampan

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“My tap water is reaching temperatures of nearly 100 degrees.” described Robert Qua, a South St Leather District resident, at a recent meeting called by the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to Announce Capital Improvements and StormWater Remediation Installation. He spoke about the adverse effects of high groundwater levels on civil infrastructure. By highlighting the impact of groundwater on infrastructure integrity, he underscored the urgency of implementing measures to mitigate potential risks and safeguard critical infrastructure assets. His insights served as a wake-up call to prioritize groundwater management strategies in urban planning and infrastructure development efforts.  He explained that the presence of “high water levels combined with high heat can accelerate rotting,” pointing out that the effects of climate change may impact the further deterioration of our infrastructure.

Infrastructure is the backbone of any city, providing essential services and facilitating daily life for its residents. Boston continues to grow and the strain on its infrastructure becomes increasingly evident. In the meeting, key stakeholders and city officials discussed a myriad of infrastructure challenges, ranging from infrastructure deterioration to stormwater management issues. The meeting was a result of multiple water main breaks over the year and it was an opportunity to inform the community of recent requirements to implement stormwater retention systems for rehabs and new constructions.

Irene McSweeny, Chief of Operations, and John Sullivan, Chief Engineer of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission acknowledged the persistent challenges faced by Chinatown and Downtown neighborhoods. Also in attendance was Dolores Randolph, Deputy Director of Communications.  All emphasized the critical importance of maintaining infrastructure projects, fostering collaborations with Chinatown residents, and ensuring the resilience of its infrastructure against future challenges. Sullivan took the opportunity to announce at the meeting that on April 1st there will be a new stormwater fee  and 60 percent of residents should expect to see their bill go down.” because of the plan to lower sewer fees and allocate funds to stormwater efforts,

Katherine, a local resident on Edinboro Street, voiced concerns about the current stormwater management, drawing attention to the unpleasant odor emanating from drains. She noted, “There are still issues with rain/snow with storm drains at street level, which drain in her building and smell really bad.” Her observations highlighted the need for comprehensive solutions to address not only drainage issues but also the environmental and health implications associated with poor stormwater management practices. The group discussion explored innovative approaches to mitigate odor and improve overall stormwater quality in Boston’s urban environment.

Wilson Lee and Tran shared their frustrations about the water main breaks and the infrastructure maintenance work on Edinboro Street and Washington Street. Lee is a long-time landlord in Chinatown. Their comments provided their personal experiences about the impact of infrastructure failures in Chinatown emphasizing the need for proactive maintenance and investment in upgrading aging systems. Their input reinforced the importance of a better approach to infrastructure management, including preventive maintenance and responsive measures to address immediate concerns, especially the need for closer communication with community residents. Tran questioned, “How would we know how the plans are progressing?” Tran informed the panel, “Lots of elderly, stores, and everyday people would be affected by this service disruption.”

Margaret asked about timelines for the infrastructure projects on Boylston and Tremont Streets expressing concern about delays in implementation and the need for expedited action. Her query opened up the group’s feeling of urgency for efficient project management and timely execution to meet the evolving needs of Boston’s growing population. Her question also brought to the fore a recurring concern with the problem of pipes still being in use.

Chulan Huang, a Chinatown resident and Mayor Wu’s Liaison for Chinatown, Downtown, and the Leather District, emphasized the responsibility of the Boston Sewer Department in addressing cracks around pothole covers and underscored the interconnected nature of infrastructure management. His remarks also included the need for collaboration among various city departments. By recognizing the role of each entity in maintaining the city’s infrastructure, Chu emphasized the importance of collective action in addressing Boston’s infrastructure needs.

At the meeting, Sampan heard from the community members who came that infrastructure challenges are still not being handled effectively and efficiently. Aging infrastructure, coupled with the effects of climate change, pose significant risks to public health, safety, and the environment. Water main breaks, stormwater flooding, and high groundwater levels were described as leading to property damage, disruption of essential services, and compromised infrastructure integrity. Furthermore, inadequate infrastructure maintenance can exacerbate these challenges, resulting in increased repair costs and prolonged service interruptions. Boston Water and Sewer Commission reported that they plan to strengthen Boston’s resilience to environmental hazards and ensure the sustainability of essential services for future generations.

Various solutions were proposed to address the concerns voiced by residents regarding the infrastructure challenges facing Boston. Irene and John Sullivan outlined plans for new infrastructure projects in Chinatown, emphasizing collaboration with the city and securing federal funding. “Working with the fire department to abandon the old system and remove lead services which are being mandated.” They also highlighted efforts to address water and sewer rate affordability and ensure public health and safety. Irene discussed strategies to address water main breaks and improve hydrant maintenance, including a master plan to update inventory and remove old services. Katherine suggested investigating issues with storm drains and odor emanation, with Irene offering to conduct investigations and ensure proper maintenance of catch basins. She also mentioned a commitment to furthering the process of “switching hydrants to a different system.” Robert Qua’s insights into high groundwater temperatures prompted discussions on infrastructure upgrades and closer collaboration with adjacent areas. John Sullivan emphasized the need for comprehensive planning and collaboration to address aging infrastructure and slow processes due to design work. Margaret’s inquiry about project timelines prompted reassurance of progress updates and feedback mechanisms for residents. Chu’s comments about infrastructure maintenance around potholes covers prompted commitments to prompt action and coordination among relevant departments and contractors. For instance, Irene addressed the issue and promised “a pavement contractor to do the casting.”

The meeting provided a platform for residents’ concerns to be heard and actionable solutions to be proposed, signaling a proactive approach towards addressing Boston’s infrastructure challenges.

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