What’s done is done, especially if it was done by someone else a long time ago.
The Londonderry Town Council reviewed the latest Amendment, Amendment 7, to the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Exit 4A off Interstate 93. While they agreed by consensus to pay another $1,166,598.54 for the EIS update, they also pressed the project managers to ensure that Londonderry’s investment stay capped at the original $5 million.
Christopher Bean, principal in CLD, the firm doing the EIS, and Keith Cota, project manager with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT), were at the May 16 Council meeting to discuss the latest version of the EIS.
Janusz Czyzowski, director of public works, presented the project as part of the 1990 settlement with Boston North, the original developers of the interchange, which obligated Londonderry and Derry to $5 million each.
The original EIS was begun in 1998, Czyzowski said.
Bean reminded the Council that in September 2014, the towns agreed to have DOT take over. In January 2015 they signed a Memorandum of Understanding turning over the project, including final design and construction, to DOT.
In Amendment 6, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) determined that the EIS needed an update and CLD held eight “topical meetings” with an EIS Review Team. “We reviewed specific areas, with the meetings ending in March 2015,” Bean said. “We finalized a revised scope and project schedule.”
“Why do we need a supplemental EIS?” Bean asked rhetorically. “The last official public meeting was in 2007, the draft EIS was in 2010. There have been a lot of changes since then.”
These include different regulatory issues and a revised traffic study, he said.
“We needed to incorporate the widening of I-93 EIS from May 2010, and also the growth of Pettengill Road and the proposed Woodmont Commons,” he said.
“We were asked by the FHA to resubmit,” he summed up.
Amendment 7 will be an 18-month process, tackling “thorny issues” such as the Beaver Brook watershed and chloride limits, Bean said. At the end of the process there will be a public meeting where they will discuss the expected impact and layout, before going into the final design process.
The scope of the process includes project management and coordination, preliminary engineering, base mapping, and a new survey of the preferred alternative, he said. The document is expected to include the chloride issue; traffic and transportation; issues with congestion, noise, water and air quality; the Interstate Access Modification; and endangered species including the Northern Longhaired Bat.
“There will be indirect and cumulative effects,” Bean said. The study will go with the “preferred alternative” identified earlier and will be published and presented in a public hearing, he said.
At the end, Bean said, he hopes to have a final EIS and a record of decision so construction can begin.
But the Londonderry Councilors had plenty of questions.
Capping the commitment
The estimated person-hours for the EIS totals 19,428. The total cost for labor and expenses is $2,333,197, leaving Londonderry and Derry each with a share of $1,166,598.54.
Councilor Tom Freda asked, “What happened to the EIS drafted in 2010?” Bean gave a quick history of the project, pointing out that there was a public hearing in 2007 followed by a “stop work” order from the FHA in 2009. “The FHA wanted to see a reasonable range of alternatives,” he said. “The towns fought it, and the EIS was put on hold.”
In 2009 a new work order was issued and in May 2010 the I-93 EIS was published. “We had to make sure all that data was incorporated. In late 2010, we published a draft,” Bean said.
At that time, he said, the resource agencies requested that they bring the developer on board. “We had additional studies and dual meetings,” Bean said.
In April 2013 the development was at an impasse and came to a halt. Then there was a “new round of interest” from the towns to get it going again, to take advantage of the I-93 widening, he said.
“We have an aggressive time frame,” Bean summed up. “We want to complete the EIS in 18 months, so construction can begin in 2020.”
Freda asked, “Who paid for the work in 2007 and 2010?”
“The towns paid,” Bean responded.
Londonderry Town Manager Kevin Smith said each town has paid $1.7 million so far. “We have $3.3 million left in our obligation,” Smith said.
Council Chair John Farrell worked a calculator and said, “That comes out to $120 per hour for 19,428 hours. How many full-time people do you expect to have on this?”
Bean responded, “We’re talking 19 months and 1,000 hours.”
Farrell said, “If I’m still in office in 2020, and still alive, are you going to come back and ask for more money?”
“The process has twists and turns,” Bean said.
“I want a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer,” Farrell pressed.
Bean said, “There may be hurdles, but we’ll try to solve them before we get off-track.”
“So you can’t commit that this is all we’ll spend?” Farrell said.
Bean pronounced himself to be “cautiously optimistic.”
Councilor Joe Green asked how the town would get updates, and Keith Cota said, “In the Memorandum of Agreement with the two towns, we have taken charge.” He said he is on a steering committee with Smith, Acting Town Administrator Steve Daly of Derry, and Bean.
“We will monitor the budget and monitor the scope of work,” he said. He is also on a Technical Advisory Team with the Public Works directors of the two towns, he said.
Councilor Tom Dolan returned to the budget question with, “Will the budget be managed?” and Cota said it would. “Under the Memorandum of Agreement, the maximum the two towns will pay is the $5 million.”
How did we get here?
Freda returned to the issue of the prior EIS. “What value did we get out of the first two studies?” he asked. “Right now, half of the $5 million is going to the EIS. And why are two studies being done? In 2010, what was different from 1991?”
“We had a full intent of completing the project at that time,” Bean said.
Freda then added, “What gave you the idea that there was going to be a 4A project, with no funding?”
“That was one of the hurdles,” Bean responded. At the time, he said, efforts were being made with the Legislature to obtain money to fund the project.
“That’s the problem with the government,” Freda said. “They spend money that isn’t there. We spent $2.5 million for plans that will sit on a library shelf somewhere.”
Bean responded, “I agree that the money was not in place at the time. But it’s not necessary to have it until you get to the ‘record of decision’ phase.”
“Who are these people?” Freda said of the town officials who obligated Londonderry to the plan. “It’s a mystery to me.”
He added the scenario of a taxpayer coming up and saying, “What the hell are you doing here?” Freda said, “It’s like getting the plans to build a house when the banker already said ‘no.’”
Bean countered, “The EIS has to progress to a certain point in order to define the project that needs to be funded.”
Green agreed with Freda. “What do we say if a constituent comes up and says, ‘You have already paid for this’?” he asked.
Smith added his perspective, saying, “My perception is that up to the summer of 2013 we had what should have been a state project, but it was run by the towns. It was essentially rudderless. In 2014 the DOT said, ‘Allow us to take over, or there will be no project.’”
There is funding now, Smith said, and DOT is now the project manager. “They will be keeping tabs on CLD and the other participants, to see that the timeline is met,” he said.
But, Green said, “We are on the hook for $5 million, no matter what.”
Freda queried, “Because we were rudderless, it’s okay to spend the money? There was no accountability. This is really a shame – that was a significant amount of money.”
Freda added, “What will the new study do that wasn’t done in the one when we were rudderless?”
Green asked Bean, “Is there anything in the previous study that we can take forward with us?”
Not much, Bean responded. “Some of the information is still transferable,” he said. “But in order to find out what, we have to review it.”
The bottom line, Councilor Jim Butler said, is that there was poor management several years ago. “I don’t like it better than anyone else, but we have to move forward,” Butler said.
Farrell agreed. “Let’s go forward, get this done, and make sure it stays within the budget,” he said.
Since you’re here anyway…
Councilor Tom Dolan took advantage of having Cota present to ask him about what’s coming up with Exit 4, the current exit off I-93 in Londonderry.
“We are doing a new traffic modeling plan,” Cota responded. “It needs to be looked at again. With a new exit a mile north, that might have an influence on it.”
Dolan observed that there are six or seven traffic lanes on the Londonderry side of Route 102, narrowing to two in Derry, and that bottleneck creates traffic issues.
“That’s one of the motivators for another interchange,” Bean noted.
The Council discussed how to pay its share of the new EIS, whether from fund balance or other means, but determined to discuss that in a future meeting. “If we do it too quickly, we will do it wrong,” Farrell said.
They agreed by consensus to go forward with Amendment 7.