Phyllis Theermann
[Image courtesy of Dr. Nathan Phillips, using Google Earth]
Image: This image is a graphic representation of methane readings taken on August 18, 2019, in the vicinity of a gas release near 68 Walnut Street in Wellesley and Quinobequin Road in Newton.

During August, Wellesley experienced not one, but two gas “blowdowns” during which gas was vented from an interstate pipeline that runs along the eastern edge of town. 

What happened?

On August 18th and 27th, Enbridge vented gas from roughly three and a half miles of its Algonquin pipeline into the atmosphere from its valve station near 68 Walnut Street in Wellesley and Quinobequin Road in Newton. This valve site has apparently been used for gas releases in the past, including last October.

What is natural gas?

The main component of natural gas is methane. Methane is a major contributor to climate change. It is about 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. It is also extremely flammable and is a harmful air pollutant. Natural gas contains other chemicals aside from methane, including respiratory toxins and cancer-causing compounds.

How much gas was vented?

Enbridge did not provide the Town with any information about how much gas was vented. However, Boston University Professor Nathan Phillips, Dr. Curt Nordgaard (a pediatrician and environmental health expert), and Bob Ackley (Gas Safety USA) collected methane readings during and after the blowdown using a car-mounted methane analyzer. They estimated that the volume of gas released during the first blowdown was equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of as many as 439 US cars.  The gas plume was detected on residential streets in Newton and Wellesley, and throughout the grounds of the Newton-Wellesley Hospital. 

Why is Sustainable Wellesley concerned?

Sustainable Wellesley is concerned about the impact of this blowdown on our local environment and on our neighbors in Wellesley because breathing air polluted with the components of natural gas is hazardous to human health. The organization is also concerned by Enbridge’s poor communication about this blowdown. The Town was notified of this event, but no Massachusetts state agency (to our knowledge) was informed or was otherwise made aware of the 2-week-long scheduled blowdown period. 

According to emails from Enbridge to the City of Newton, the reason for the blowdown was to address “various anomalies” in the section of pipeline between Needham and Wellesley. There has been no further information as to the number and description of anomalies.  

In light of this event, Sustainable Wellesley makes the following policy recommendations: 

  • Transmission and distribution pipeline operators should be required to work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Environmental Protection to notify sensitive populations about large gas blowdowns, using a minimum period of time (to be determined) in advance of scheduled gas releases exceeding a minimum threshold (to be determined). When appropriate, based on the quantity and pressure of gas expected to be released, Mass DPH should issue air quality alerts to municipalities expected to be affected by the releases. Municipalities should send push notifications to neighborhoods expected to be affected.
  • Disclosure of pipeline anomalies must be made promptly to municipalities where the anomalies occurred, including the date, time, duration, and nature of the anomalies, and that information should be made publicly available.

What can residents do?

Call your legislators to discuss your concerns about this event.

Rep. Alice Peisch

Phone: (617) 722-2070

Senator Becca Rausch

Phone: (617) 722-1555

Senator Cynthia Creem

Phone: (617) 722-1639 


Thank you Susan Z for this inspiration!

FIRST: What does the ocean mean to your kids?  Ask them: whales, starfish, mermaids, underwater volcanoes, mysterious deep water creatures, scuba diving, sailing, swimming, sandcastles, tide pools, haunted shipwrecks…

NOW, WATCH THIS: The ocean means so much to the world, beyond the beauty and mystery, but it desperately needs preservation.  Did you know that the equivalent of one giant truckload of trash (mostly plastics) is dumped into the ocean EVERY MINUTE? 

For this reason, from the Arctic to Zanzibar, millions of people will be celebrating World Oceans Day, this week.  Your children (and you) can get involved by checking out the World Oceans Day Youth Advisory who collaborate with the Youth 4 the Oceans network.  Nearby, the New England Aquarium will offer a brilliant festival, while on Cape Cod, the Ocean Protection Advocacy Kids, will host “One Ocean, One Cape Cod” screening of Sonic Sea.  Elsewhere, your kids can look into someday participating with the Sea Youth Rise Up group.  

For inspiring reads, check out I Can Save the Ocean!,  Follow the Moon Home,  Oil Spill!, and The Pout-Pout Fish Cleans Up the Ocean (younger kids) and At Home in the Coral Reef,  Why Are the Ice Caps Melting? , One Well, The Story of Water on Earth,  Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea,  The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a Changing Sea,  How to Speak Dolphin,  Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans, and lastly, Song for a Whale, among many others.  Of course, any of David Attenborough’s visually-stunning and educational videos about world waters are sure to be a hooting success for any child — or adult!  

The best thing of all, however, is the 5minutebeachcleanup — can your kids take a BEFORE pic and an AFTER pic of your 5 minute beach clean up this summer?  Post it!  And thank your kids!

Phyllis Theermann

The Planning Board guides the Town of Wellesley in preserving and enhancing Wellesley’s quality of life by fostering a diverse housing stock, multi-modal transportation options, valuable natural resources, resilient infrastructure, and a thriving local economy. The Planning Board achieves these goals through the creation and implementation of Zoning Bylaws, policies, long-term planning, and by promoting citizen participation in the planning process.

The role of the Planning Board is to make short and long term decisions related to land use in the Town of Wellesley. The Planning Board seeks to realize the vision of Wellesley residents for their community through the judicious use of municipal planning and project review. As a result, the Planning Board is responsible for the maintenance and update of the Town’s Zoning Bylaws and Zoning Map, divisions of land, and the review of large-scale projects with Town-wide impacts.

1. What is your track record on environmental sustainability, including any related interests, experience, or initiatives?

Tom Ahern (5 yr. term)

Environmental sustainability has been a central part of both my professional and personal life since I was in college back in the late 80’s. Early in my professional career, while working in the Legislature, I was part of the House & Senate working group that created the Massachusetts Brownfields Law, paving the way for the cleanup and revitalization of contaminated industrial properties. I was subsequently appointed to the Commonwealth’s Brownfields Advisory Committee and later served as the first Director of Brownfields Redevelopment for the city of Boston/BRA. After leaving the public sector, I started a consulting firm that specializes in building grassroots support for renewable energy projects across the country. I’m proud of some of the more environmentally significant projects in my professional portfolio, including the redevelopment of the Cyclorama site and the Dudley Square brownfield cleanup and redevelopment in Boston; Shoreham Solar Commons in New York (the largest utility-grade solar project in NY State), and the more than two dozen onshore and offshore wind energy projects we have permitted in the U.S.  In addition, I have particular pride in helping to gain approvals in 2017 for the first Net Zero housing development in the city of Boston.  It is my hope that the Wellesley Planning Board can start to incorporate some of these technological advancements in future updates to our bylaws.

At home, our family is strongly committed to recycling and striving towards a goal of zero waste. Thanks largely to my wife, our family has reduced our weekly landfill garbage by more than 50% and participates in the town’s food recycling and composting collection program.  If I am elected to the planning board, I will seek to encourage greater energy conservation, renewable energy usage, and waste reduction in our community.

Patty Mallett (5 yr. term)

As a civil engineer in the water/wastewater field, my professional career has focused on environmental sustainability. My projects have ranged from a Watershed Management Strategic Plan in California’s Yosemite National Park to water treatment improvements and sewer rehabilitation projects. Environmental sustainability is the common theme among these varied projects. Source water protection is key to preserving the environment. Additionally, my design projects have also used the latest in green technology.

Deed Mccollum  (1 yr. term)

Environmental responsibility begins with personal responsibility. I have recycled my entire adult life, consciously avoiding anything packaged in plastic, using alternative fuel sources for heating (pellet stove), utilizing public transportation etc. I walk whenever feasible. My car is a hybrid. I use the Wellesley dump to shop and donate. I use organic cleaning products. I compost. Generally, I try to leave as little carbon footprint as possible.

Frank Pinto – (1 yr. term)

I was an Environmental Studies and Economics major at Middlebury College. Middlebury College is a pioneer in the environmental movement, the campus reached carbon neutrality in 2017 and Bill McKibben of is in residence at Middlebury. Middlebury finished near the top in the Solar Decathlon sponsored by the US Dept. of Energy designing and building an all solar home and besting the finest engineering schools in the US. I was an Environmental Scientist at a major environmental consulting firm and conducted environmental impact statement for housing development, commercial development and industrial projects.

2. How do you see sustainability as a factor in the development of planning policy in Wellesley?

Tom Ahern

As a suburban community, our past is best exemplified by our proximity to Route 128 and the commuter rail. Residents lived in Wellesley, left during the day for work, then drove (or railed) back home.  When we needed to go somewhere, we have always driven our cars. But that is changing, in part because of the way people work, use technology, and consider the economics of housing and energy. I strongly believe that Wellesley must consider sustainability (economic, environmental, and health) in our planning decisions. To do that, however, requires that we consider bylaw changes that gives the town the ability to require sustainability criteria in rendering decisions on special permits, special exemptions, and land development approvals. In California, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) gives communities wide latitude to consider broad impacts that affect a communities’ sustainability score. And while MEPA does not gives us the exact same tools, the impacts from stormwater, traffic, air quality, light pollution and walkability scores should all be taken into account when negotiating with development interests.

Patty Mallett

Sustainability is central to all aspects of planning policy in Wellesley. Whether it is a Project of Significant Impact, a 40B Comprehensive Permit Application, or a Large House Review, environmental sustainability is one of the factors considered in the approval process. The impact of proposed projects on factors such as storm water drainage, utilities, traffic, and the natural landscape are evaluated. The Large House Review process strives to ensure that measures are taken to mitigate these impacts
to acceptable levels as defined by the Bylaw.

Deed Mccollum

The town has a commitment to ensuring the health and social well-being of its residents. It must respect the environment and support sustainability as documented in the Unified Plan and the Vision for Wellesley. The Planning Board is part of the social contract. It’s responsible for ensuring projects lead to improvement and sustainability; limiting resource consumption, reducing our carbon footprint, fostering community and mitigating unintended consequences.

Engaging community groups and other town departments and drawing on residential expertise is essential to crafting new policies.

Frank Pinto

Sustainability should be one of the key criteria in the formulation of planning policy in Wellesley.

3. What specific sustainability-related initiatives should the Planning Board undertake in your prospective term?

Tom Ahern

I’m specifically interested in three planning matters with sustainability-related impacts:

  • Planning for potential transit-oriented housing in areas of the central business district area and Wellesley Hills;
  • Greater incorporation of sustainability scoring system for new developments that includes building materials, impacts on water and air quality, and potential waste generation for new housing;
  • Encouraging more development that strives towards net zero impacts and zero waste solutions at the household level. This may require that the Planning Board work more closely with other town agencies, boards, and committees to encourage renewable energy options in town operations.

Patty Mallett

I am particularly interested in looking at storm water drainage. I feel that the Large House Review process has made huge strides in addressing the impacts of construction of these houses, but there is more work to be done. Any time a project is constructed, the loss of permeable surfaces contributes to drainage issues unless adequate provisions are made. It would be relevant, as well, for Planning to strive to incorporate green technologies, such as Net Zero, in all Town building projects. Incorporating these concepts within the Zoning Bylaws will need everyone’s effort and understanding that patience and flexibility in any outcome are key.

Deed Mccollum

Multi-family housing options provide an opportunity for innovation and environmentallyfriendly alternatives for design and construction. Other opportunities include heat capture and redistribution, grey water capture and re-use, use of town lands/building for solar capture, and LEED certification. Charting a sustainable course involves gathering information from and listening to residents and community organizations, such as Sustainable Wellesley.

Frank Pinto

The Planning Board should encourage the use of solar wherever possible and practical. Wellesley has adopted the stretch building code which has more stringent insulation requirements. It costs more to build initially, but it reduces carbon output and will save the homeowner or building owner money over time. If practical, it would be great to see the MLP add a solar farm perhaps at the Route 9 and Route 128 interchange.

4. What are your ideas concerning how the Planning Board could encourage sustainable transportation and reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in Wellesley?

Tom Ahern

  • On 40B developments, the Planning Board could be more proactive to encourage the Zoning Board of Appeals to require bikeshare options, cross town shuttles, and to engage developers in friendly 40B applications on sites nearer to mass transit. Independent of 40B, Wellesley should planning for greater use of bike share programs.
  • With all of the professional office space in Wellesley (my office is at 36 Washington Street) is it remarkable that we do not have a co-working location here in town. The Planning Board can take the lead in trying to encourage this type of modern work environment, like WeWork, that can serve to reduce car use.
  • Many communities around the country have started to offer density bonuses to developers who restrict parking spaces in their developments. For new multi-unit developments in Wellesley, we should consider this idea.
  • I’d like to explore a town initiative to offer a 2.5% property tax abatement for owners of electric vehicles (I don’t own one—no conflict here!)
  • The Planning Department staff should be encouraged to collaborate with the Wellesley Public Schools and the PTOs of the elementary schools to create some kind of incentive program for car-pooling or ride sharing during the winter months;
  • Finally, one of the best carbon reduction strategies is the planting of trees. I’d like to explore a community investment requirement on new development that mandates the planting of five new trees for every 2,500 SF of new gross living area developed or redeveloped.

Patty Mallett

The Planning Board is an instrumental part of the Mobility Working Group. This initiative came from our Unified Plan and seeks to address all forms of mobility in Wellesley. Planning is carrying a $30,000 capital request in the FY20 budget for studying Mobility. We are working to encourage alternate modes of travel and are focused on Complete Streets and reducing vehicle travel in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While the commuter rail is an effective mode of transportation into Boston for work, more needs to be done to promote mass transportation within Wellesley. Bike safety measures need to be improved, including bike travel lanes. Planning is working to prepare a new Off-Street Parking Bylaw. This will revise the current Bylaw to incorporate measures for ride sharing and electric vehicle charging.

Deed Mccollum

Children are the future. Any opportunities we have to provide alternative transportation for children or to encourage self-transportation, bicycles, skating or walking need to be encouraged. Viable and desirable multi-family building projects should include review of resident proximity to retail, schools, and public transportation. To further encourage sustainable transportation, there’s an opportunity to explore providing secure and weather resistant bicycle cages at commuter rail stops, providing MWRTA bus shelters, offering discount trial passes, allowing free or discounted parking for hybrid and electric cars and increasing the number of bike lanes throughout town.

Frank Pinto

All town vehicles should be all electric or hybrids wherever possible. Hybrids and all electric vehicles actually require less maintenance and may be more durable mechanically.


All 2019 Candidate Responses