Sewer work prompts flow of complaints

Brookline project snarling Beacon

Crews work on Monmouth Street as part of a sewer project that has disrupted life for Brookline residents since the spring. Crews work on Monmouth Street as part of a sewer project that has disrupted life for Brookline residents since the spring. (Brock Parker for The Boston Globe)
By Brock Parker
Globe Correspondent / October 2, 2011

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For the streams of motorists who have to negotiate Beacon Street in Brookline, a massive sewer project has caused lane reductions, road closures, and traffic backups for months.

But for 80-year-old Lois Swirnoff, the microtunneling project has struck much closer to home.

The work caused a gas leak at her Monmouth Street property earlier this year, and workers had to dig up her garden to fix it. Construction materials and heavy machinery have blocked the small side street she lives on for weeks at a time, and the banging from the deep drilling project is so loud it shakes her home. When she complained, contractors brought in a seismograph to measure the vibrations, Swirnoff said.

“I’m sure they got a reading, but they didn’t share it with me,’’ Swirnoff said. “We’re really sort of trapped. It’s terribly stressful on our domestic neighborhood.’’

The two-year, $22 million project is separating storm drains from sewer lines to prevent sewage from spilling into the Charles River. The work is part of the federal court-ordered cleanup of Boston Harbor, according to the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which is working with the town on it.

But six months into the project, area merchants and residents say that though they know it has to be done, the resulting traffic disruptions, lack of parking, and building-rattling construction process are pushing them to the brink.

Lesia Stanchak, owner of the clothing store Zia on Beacon Street, blamed the work for a 90 percent drop in her business during the last half of June, as well as a 60 percent drop in July.

When an earthquake caused building evacuations elsewhere in Brookline in August, Stanchak said, she didn’t even notice the seismic event: “With everything going on around here, every day is an earthquake.’’

Stanchak said she wants the town to give the embattled businesses a break on their property taxes to make up for the disruptions.

Barry Kolgian, owner of Kolgian Oriental Rug Galleries, said he doesn’t believe the town has helped merchants much since the project began in the spring.

Kolgian said his business has been on Beacon Street since the 1940s, and depends on its large display windows to entice customers inside. But since the sewer project began, Kolgian said, large equipment has been blocking the view of his display windows from the street.

And even if potential customers could see his windows, he said, it has been difficult for them to find a place to park nearby because of the construction.

“They say to hell with it, and they go up the street and go on their way,’’ Kolgian said. “This situation has hurt our business tremendously.’’

But Betsy DeWitt, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said that though the town has done its best to mitigate the effects of the construction, it’s the MWRA’s project and is largely out of Brookline’s hands.

“There’s very little we can do other than to hope that the MWRA will very speedily finish their work,’’ DeWitt said.

MWRA spokeswoman Ria Convery said the agency is paying for the project, and overseeing its costs, while Brookline has been managing the work.

The project is large, Convery said, and getting it done as quickly as possible is usually the best outcome for everybody involved.

“Unfortunately, this work has to get done,’’ she said.

Brookline engineer Peter Ditto said the construction method being used to separate the sewers from the storm drains is “invasive,’’ but is the least invasive method to complete the work.

The town hired a Hyde Park-based contractor, P. Gioioso & Sons, to handle the project, and held meetings with neighborhood residents and businesses before work got underway to explain what was going to happen, said Ditto.

He also said, however, that as the town informed residents and businesses about the construction, he had the impression that they didn’t really understand what was going to happen.

“Sure enough, when we showed up with all of that equipment, they said ‘Oh my god,’ ’’ Ditto said.

The plans for the project call for a new 54-inch-diameter sewer pipe to be installed under Beacon from St. Paul Street to the Boston border, and tied into the MWRA’s main sewer line, which is 25 to 30 feet deep, Ditto said.

Contractors have dug a number of 15- to 20-foot-wide holes to the depth of the sewer line. Retaining walls are built to shore up the sides of the holes while work is underway. Underground tunnels are drilled, Ditto said, and the sewer pipes are essentially pushed into place. At the intersection of Carlton and Beacon streets the town is even pushing the sewer pipe beneath the MBTA’s Green Line tracks, he said. Similar work is also being done on the secondary roads around Beacon Street.

Sara Colen, who has lived on Monmouth Street for 15 years, said with construction closing her street, she and her neighbors have to use an unpaved access road to drive out of their neighborhood. Some residents have been concerned that the work will damage their homes, many of which are more than 100 years old.

“People have been pretty surprised how big the project is,’’ Colen said.

Ditto said contractors are using survey equipment, such as seismographs, to monitor the area to ensure construction does not damage buildings.

He said the underground drilling will be completed by the end of next month or early December. At that point, Ditto said, much of the heavy equipment along Beacon and neighboring streets will disappear.

“That will be a huge difference, when that stuff is gone,’’ Ditto said.

But the project will continue for 13 to 14 months, he said, while sewer lines are connected to each building in the area.

In the meantime, DeWitt said, providing tax relief to local businesses could be complicated because the savings would go to property owners, instead of benefiting tenants running their operations in rented space.

She said anyone with suggestions about how to ease the project’s effect on neighbors can contact the Board of Selectmen.

“I wish I had a solution. I’m not sure that there are any.’’

Brock Parker can be reached at

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