"Concord Municipal Light Plant"

Interviewer: Michael Nobel Kline
Date: 9-22-08
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Carrie N. Kline

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Michael Kline: Okay. Would you please say, "My name is Daniel--?"

Daniel Sack: My name is Daniel Sack.

MK: And your date of birth, please?

DS: April 5, 1940.

MK: Maybe if you would, just start out, tell me about your people and where you were raised.

DS: Well I was born in Oak Park, Illinois. Lived there until after we were married. Went to school there. Went to the Illinois Institute of Technology for Bachelor's Degree in Electrical Engineering. Went to the University of Chicago for Master's in Business. And we got married in 1963. We moved out of Oak Park in 1965. Went to LaGrange Park, which is also in Illinois, and stayed there until 1983. And we moved to Columbus, Nebraska. Stayed there until 1986. And we were transferred--. I was transferred to the Boston office of the consulting firm I was with. And we've been in New England ever since.

MK: What sorts of employment were you involved in in those various positions?

DS: From 1963-1973 I was with the Commonwealth Edison Company. It's--. That's the electric utility that serves Chicago and probably the northern third of Illinois. It's now called something else, but I don't remember. I don't know what! Our utilities lately have changed their names every five or six years. They never sound like utilities anymore, to me anyway. And from 1973-1986 I was a consultant with R. W. Beck and Associates, both in the Columbus, Nebraska office and in the Boston office.

MK: Electrical engineers?

DS: Electrical--. Well, all kinds of engineering. But I was mainly in the regulatory arena and the finance arena: rates and rate making, contracts, power supply contracts, that type of thing. Did a lot of testifying before Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Power Commission, state courts, federal courts, on regulatory matters.

MK: Rate--?

DS: Rate-related, contractor-related, power supply-related. Did a lot of work for, once I came here, on the Boston Edison-- our dispute with Boston Edison over the 1980 anti-trust agreement settlement. I left R. W. Beck in 1986, did some consulting on my own. Because I wasn't enjoying the consulting field anymore, I was looking for something else to do. I did some consulting in Michigan and a few other places, couple other states, Ohio. And then I found the job in Concord in 1988. And I started there, and been there ever since.

MK: Was the consulting field changing? What made you discouraged about this field you'd been so active in?

DS: The consulting field definitely changed. It used to be that you would work for a client. And you never did everything exactly perfect, but the client was loyal to the consultant, because you would work with them all year long, and you would hold their hand. You would meet with them, and you wouldn't always charge for everything, and you would build the relationship, and that was important. Then along about the early 1980s things began to change. Relationships became less important and dollars became more important. And we began to lose jobs that would maybe go for $50,000 to somebody who bid $49,500. And they would throw a relationship away for four or five hundred dollars or a thousand dollars. And after a while it was obvious that things had changed a lot in the industry. It wasn't the--. There was no loyalty. Doesn't surprise me that that was about the same time frame as companies stopped having loyalty to employees and employees stopped being loyal to companies, because they never knew if they were going to be laid off, if they were going to be fired, change jobs, downsized.

MK: Was this in the field of electrical engineering or across the board, do you think?

DS: In the company--? The company?

MK: A sign of the times?

DS: I think it was a sign of the times, yeah. When I went to Columbus, Nebraska, people would be moved there by the company for twelve, eighteen months, two years. And then they would be moved someplace else. We all remember how companies used to ship people around the country as they grew in their job. That became very expensive, but it's what companies did to develop people. And that changed, and they no longer did that as much, and they were no longer loyal to people. And people who stayed with a company for forty years, thirty years became a rarity. Now people change jobs every three, four, five years and think nothing about it. And I think that affected--. That's the same time as the consulting business began to change. What caused that in the economy I don't know. I suppose price squeeze, maybe competition from overseas. I'm sure it's not a simple answer.

MK: Had you--? What--? How did you feel about coming to Concord? Did the place appeal to you? What attracted you about this position?

DS: The position promised to let me have an opportunity to use all of the things I've been doing for the last, oh twenty-five years. I had extensive experience with electric utilities. I could do--. I had designed substations, transmissions systems. I understood how utilities worked. I knew about rates and contracts and so forth. And I had the background. And in 1988, when I came here, the town was embedded in an anti-trust case with, against Boston Edison. And I think there were also five or six wholesale rate case increases at the same time. And the Town Manager at that time--.

MK: It was an anti-trust case?

DS: An anti-trust case, price squeeze. They, where the wholesale rate was higher to us than they were selling it retail to their own customers, which theoretically can't be. But that's what they were doing. So they were in a anti-trust case, which we did in fact win, but it was later overturned by the First Circuit Court of Appeals and we never--. We didn't make it to the Supreme Court although we tried. Would have been about a forty million dollar trouble damage suit for the town, had we been able to prevail at the Supreme Court, but they wouldn't hear the case, so that was the end of it. So at that time we had all of those cases going, and I guess I walked into Allan Edmond's office when he was then the Town Manager. And he needed somebody that could handle all that kind of work. And I walked in and applied for the job. As I recall, it was a four or five line ad in The Boston Globe, one time, run by some consulting firm that was helping recruit. I think they only ran it one time, and it was the Sunday I picked up The Globe and read it. So I guess the job was intended to be mine. So that started out the career here. I thought it was a nice town. I didn't really know much about Concord at the time. It was a good job, good people to work with.

MK: And did you have a family by that time?

DS: Oh yes. That was 1988, yeah. I was forty-eight years old then. So our children were born in 1966 and '68, so they were twenty-- twenty-two and twenty.

MK: Out on their own.

DS: Well, the twenty-two-year-old was here at Perkins School, because he's disabled, so he was in a special school. Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown also has a program for the disabled. And he was there while we were waiting for the state to find housing for him. The twenty-year-old was in, was out of high school and working. And then later Danny, who's the twenty-two-year-old, did in fact get housing in Watertown, where he lives still, in a group home.

MK: So with the age of your children, you never dealt particularly with the Concord school system or were part of the community in that way.

DS: No, I never--. We never had children in the school system here. They went through the Framingham schools, because we lived in Framingham for twenty-five years before we moved to Sudbury in 2001.

MK: Well so you were already in the area.

DS: Yeah, I was transferred here from Nebraska in 1986. And so we were already here. That's not right. 1976.

MK: '76.

DS: We were transferred to here in '76. And I left R.W. Beck and Associates in 1986. So we were in New England since 1976. And we were in three different homes in Framingham.

MK: Tell me more about--. You said Concord was a nice town. Tell me more about--. Where did you decide to live in Concord, and what was the town like as compared with what it's like now?

DS: We don't--. We never lived in Concord.

MK: You never lived in Concord.

DS: We lived in Framingham. And then in 2001 we moved into an over fifty-five condo development in Sudbury, the first one in that town. And that's where we live now. We never lived in Concord. The housing prices were just more than we could afford.

MK: Uh huh.

DS: If you're here I guess--. We couldn't afford to buy a house here. So we didn't live here. The town's nice in that the people are nice, but people are nice lots of places. But it's a very active town. People--. There's a lot of people that work in town government, committees, volunteers, do a lot of things. It's an active, vibrant community. There's a lot of people that are volunteering on various, to do various things.

MK: Like what? What has caught your attention? Which kinds of efforts?

DS: One of the things I think is neat in Concord is this unwritten rule that nobody does any one particular committee or Selectman for more than six years, even though it's--. There's no, I guess legal prohibition on it. It's an accepted practice over the years that you don't serve more than six years in any one position. And I think that gives you a nice turnover, and it involves more people, and it gives new people an opportunity to participate, because there's always new people moving into town. There's always the older people who move out of town, or leave on, for other reasons. And it gives new people an opportunity that they don't have to try to unseat a twenty-two year incumbent Selectman, which is, for the most part, next to impossible.

This way everybody leaves at the end of six years, and they're just leaving because they, that's the way it is. And I think that gives you a nice turnover in town. I don't know of any other town that, where the people I've talked to, or the other managers of Light Plants, I don't know of any other town that has that process in place. So I think that allows a lot of people to become involved. And as new committees are set up, they don't always pick the same people all the time. The light board has a lot of turnover. They also serve no more than six years, except in extenuating circumstances where recently we had some extensions for more than six so that we could level out the terms again. They were all expiring at the same time, because people had left early, and things kind of got out of the way we wanted them to be. So you wouldn't lose--. Out of the five members of the board you don't want to lose three or four all at the same time, and so--. And that doesn't happen very often I don't suppose.

MK: They've been sort of staggered over--?

DS: Yeah, so you can stagger the terms. So we extended some of the terms one year so we could get back to a more staggered approach. And that's what the Town Manager did.

MK: Tell me about the Light Plant itself. What condition was it in when you took it over?

DS: Well it had a good reputation, as it still does. People like the Light Plant in town. They like the rates being low. They like the level of service, the reliability. It's much better now than it was in 1988. We had low rates, but when I walked into the office over where it used to be in Keyes Road at 135, which is where the Water Department is now, I walked into an office that was dark and dingy, had orange walls, had eight and a half-inch pictures on the wall from the top half of calendars, had a carpet that had so many bumps in it that the tops of the bumps were threadbare from people walking over them, because they had been glued down and had slipped over the years and it had--. What do you call that?

MK: Bunched up.

DS: Bunched up, wrinkled up, whatever. I mean, to put it mildly, the pits. It was not a conducive place. The lighting was terrible. The plastic shades were all yellow. It was--. It would make you think of, "My goodness, what did I get myself into here?" So then we set about starting to freshen up the place and remodel and buy some new carpet and so forth. And then there was some discussion on the table at the time about adding a second floor to that building. And it seemed to me that spending the kind of money they were talking about at that time wasn't the right approach, and maybe we should find a different location. And so we put that on hold, and I was naïve enough to think that there must be some other place in this town where we could go and build. And after two or three years of looking for the site, I don't remember the exact date we made the deal through the Town Manager and the Selectmen, but I was a little surprised on how difficult it was to relocate the Light Plant to better offices. We finally did move over to between Route 2 and Route 2A west of the rotary, west of the gas station, where the land was swapped with the state. The state prison didn't own that piece of land, and then in 19, early 1990 the state wanted part of the landfill and Goose Pond, over near Walden Pond, and exchanged the prison, declared the land surplus. No other state agency wanted it, and so the town swapped its land for that piece of land and we moved over there. Built a new building.

MK: And that--? That year was--? '90?

DS: 1998.

MK: '98.

DS: Now--.

MK: It's all right.

DS: I don't remember. Ten years? Could be. Yeah, because the substation was 1994. So at, in 1988 the electric supply of the town was on some low voltage lines coming down Route 2 and Route 2A and coming in out of Maynard. And the reliability of the lines was terrible. We would lose lines at the peak time of the year. We would always have to be shutting people off or rotating blackouts, things like that, in order to maintain the power supply, because the lines were so unreliable from Boston Edison. It was nothing that the lines were bad, except the supply was bad. We had bought, in 1980, all of the low voltage lines within the town boundaries, so we owned those.

When I came here in 1988 we'd already done that, and we'd upgraded a lot of them, but not all of them. But Edison never did anything outside of town to upgrade its facilities. So we had, we were in that anti-trust case at the time, and part of that anti-trust case was a Boston Edison engineer guy had testified that there was plenty of capacity in the 115 (21:57) KB lines in to Maynard that we could make a connection. That's significant, because Edison had been telling us for two or three years there was no capacity in those lines and we had to come out of Lexington down Route 2A into a piece or property that we used to own over at the corner at, Crosby's Corner. That would have been about twenty million dollars back then, and we didn't want to do that. We wanted to come out of the Maynard station, which was only 1500 feet from where we wanted to get a piece of land. And then when the engineer testified under oath that there was plenty of capacity, Edison suddenly changed their mind and decided that maybe we could connect over in Maynard and not have to run all the lines into Lexington. So that--.

We started to plan for building 115,000 volt step-down substation at (23:11) Forest Rich, where we bought the piece of land. And we put a substation there and fed it underground, underground transmission lines out of the Maynard station, which is over in the four, the corner where the four towns come together just over by the (23:31) escrow property. You have Sudbury, Maynard, Acton and Concord all come together at one corner. And that's where Edison has a substation. So we supply out of that station underground into our station. And then we built the whole distribution system, about eleven million dollar job, to provide more reliable power. And once that was done, we haven't had the kind of outages we used to have on the low board system. People in Concord Center no longer complained about dips in voltage and fluctuations in computers that suddenly shut off because the voltage dips too low, which really irritates people who didn't just save their document!

In the course of that we put in all of the underground on Main Street and Harrington Avenue, Old Marlboro, over to the substation at Main and ORNAC. [abbreviation for Old Road to Nine Acre Corner.], did all of that work, did all of that cable work ourselves, hired a contractor to put in the conduit. And then we cut ourselves off from the low voltage supply, and we just take power now at high voltage, which has given us a much more reliable system.

MK: But at one time the low voltage system had been adequate. I guess I'm wondering, as all this was going on, what was happening to growth generally in Concord, and were you, was part of your planning requirements to somehow predict and keep pace with that growth that was going on?

DS: Well certainly that's part of our job was to know and be prepared for whatever growth happens in the future, and we're always trying to make projections for where that's going to be. And yes, you're right. At one point the low voltage system was adequate for the load of the town at the time. And then when the load got a little bigger than the five lines for the east could handle, two more lines were added from the west, from Maynard. And but then we reached a point where, at some point you need more capacity than those seven lines can handle. And there weren't going to be adequate ways of continuing to build low voltage lines, one after another after another, as the load would grow from 32,000 kilowatts to forty or 45,000 kilowatts to where it is today. You can't continue to add low voltage lines. At some point it becomes uneconomical. And they were old lines. Edison wasn't upgrading them, so the reliability was terrible. So that's when we decided we needed to get to a higher voltage.

Back in the 1970s, 1960s, I--. Before we moved out of Keyes Road I went through a lot of old files. At one point they were in the upper floor of the 141 Keyes Road building where we had a store room. And I found a lot of letters from previous superintendents who told customers not to come to town because we didn't have any power supply, because the lines couldn't handle any more load in that part of town. So it's best that you find someplace else to build.

Now in my way of thinking that was wrong, that any utility, whether it be a town-owned utility or an investor-owned utility, has an obligation to serve whatever load wants to come to town. Eventually that load came to town anyway. So chasing them away in 1970 didn't do anything real. Eventually they came, and you have to build the lines, you have to build the substations. You really can't tell people, or shouldn't tell people, "You don't come to town, because we can't supply you." That to me was evidence of just a reluctance to spend money to maintain the system. And the physical system in 1980 was very poor. By 1988 it had been upgraded a lot. When I came here they were working on upgrading it, but the previous superintendents didn't put any money into the system. And while that helps to keep rates low, it also creates service problems, reliability problems, voltage problems, and all kinds of things that people don't really like. But that seemed to be the attitude back in the '60s and '70s. It's not the attitude now. I don't think it should ever have been the attitude. It would be like saying, "Well we don't want to build a road, so don't build your subdivision, because we don't want to build a road up there. We don't want to pave the road." And that's just not what towns should do. That's not their job, I don't think. But. So utilities should provide the service that is requested. So the system's in much better shape now. We put money into the system. We maintain the reliability. And we don't have very many outages, except when storms come about and trees come down. But we don't have a lot of outages.

MK: Sounds like a whole new infrastructure.

DS: Well it's just about a whole new infrastructure. Yeah. We've rebuilt a lot of the system, put up a lot of wires that are stronger. In some cases the trees can lean against the wires. You know, wires'll hold up the tree, rather than the tree taking down the poles, which means that we can go out and take the tree off the wires without interrupting service. Or you may just have a little bit of a flicker, but you won't get an outage, short of a major storm coming in, which obviously nobody can do much about.

19—What, 1990--. 1986 the town passed a underground bylaw that required all overhead utilities to be placed underground at some point in time not specified in the bylaw. And we started doing that in 1989 or so and been working on it ever since. So at the current time we have about forty-five percent of the town underground.

MK: Wow.

DS: It's a combination of taking down some of the old existing wires and coupled with a requirement that you can't put up any new overhead subdivisions. Any new subdivisions, any new housing developments all have to be put underground. Even though they might be fed from the overhead on the road, we don't allow them to be put up overhead in the subdivision itself. And that means that all new subdivisions and so forth will be, are already underground. So we don't have to come in later and convert them.

MK: What does it mean to run lines underground? What accommodations do you have to make? What's different about underground? Can we--? Why aren't we doing that everywhere?

DS: The real reason is cost. It's much more expensive to build underground than overhead. It is somewhat harder to find a problem, because you can't drive down the streets and look for it. You can't see the underground, so you have to use different techniques to find a problem area. But mainly it's cost. It's probably ten times as expensive to go underground as go overhead. But the town voted they wanted to do that, and then we instituted a two percent on the surcharge on the bills to generate the money to do it. And that's what we've been using ever since. There's a big underground project going on in the area next to the library and around Emerson Field. And that's being financed out of the underground money. It's about a two million dollar project, and we're paying for that out of the underground funds that we've accrued over the years.

MK: The two percent.

DS: Yeah, the two percent surcharge. So that takes the electric wires down, but the big problem is that we can't get the cooperation of Verizon and Comcast to also take their wires down. Comcast has been cooperative, more so than Verizon. Verizon only wants to take it, take their wires down when they have the money that they've--. They also collect a two percent surcharge. So when they have money to spend and they want to spend it--. In some cases we've had to encourage them strongly, you might say, to actually spend the money they have collected. They don't really want to do it. And the amount of money that they collect every year continues to go down as the telephone services get transferred over to wireless, to cell phones. Then the wired lines go down. The revenue generated by the wires go down, so the two percent surcharge goes down. So there are a lot of areas in town where we still have overhead poles, like on Harrington Avenue, and the only people in the pole is Verizon. Everybody else, Comcast and the Light Plant, are underground. The fire alarm is out of service and replaced by radio system. So we have Verizon on the poles, so we can't take the poles down. Just this year we finally, after fourteen years, Verizon actually put wires in the underground conduit on West Main Street from the town line into about where the bridge over the river is. And those pipes have been there since 1994, when we put them in, when we did the substation. And we finally, this year, got them to actually use them. So that's the biggest problem we have is we can get the things--. We can get out wires underground, but getting the other occupants on the poles underground is the big problem.

MK: What kind of leverage do you have in a situation like that? Do the courts play a part in this?

DS: We have very little leverage. We'd have to take Verizon to court to enforce the bylaws or enforce the statutes. And so far the town hasn't chosen to do that. That would have to be something that's initiated by the Board of Selectmen. But we don't have a lot of leverage over Verizon to do it, just like we don't have a lot of leverage to get rid of the double poles that are in town.

MK: The double--?

DS: Where you see two poles in the same location, where we set a new pole or someone'll set a new pole, because the old one maybe is not tall enough or is rotted. And usually the electric company'll come in and make the transfer of the wires to the new pole, and Comcast and Verizon won't come and make their transfer. So they just lash the old pole to the new one and leave it there for years. And so you now have two poles where there should be one. And their wires are attached to the old pole, which is strapped to the new pole. And that's--. It really looks ugly. It's not the right way to do it. But it costs them money to make the transfer, and they get no extra revenue for doing it. And while the law says they have six months, or three months—I forget which—to make the transfer, there's no teeth in the statute. There's no penalty if you don't. So while the law says you have, I believe it's actually three months to do it, once the pole is there, there's no way to make them do it. And so without any teeth behind the law, the law may as well not be on the books.

MK: What's going on with the town government in that case? Is it that they want to try to be good neighbors, or they would rather not coerce, or they think in time it may happen, or--?

DS: Well, they--. We do a lot of coercing. The town government does a lot of coercing of Verizon, but they just don't yield very easily. And obviously it would be expensive to take them to court. Perhaps we should. I don't know. We haven't really ever discussed that with the town government.

MK: Why do you suppose the town government ruled in the first place to try to get the lines underground? What were some of the discussions that led up to that?

DS: Well the discussions were before I got here, but as I read the history a little bit it was mainly aesthetics. People didn't like the proliferation of more, and more, and more overhead wires to make everything look so ugly. And while that predated, to a large extent, the additional telecommunication services that we were getting out of cable television, and then you have other telephone companies, and you have other TV companies coming in and putting up their wires. And you have private companies coming in putting up their wires, it just gets to be more and more ugly every year that goes by. And I think the town just wanted to beautify the community. And they wanted it to look nicer and the aesthetics. I think that was the main, the main idea. At the very beginning, you see the original bylaw that was filed at Town Meeting, said that all the overhead wires in town had to come down in two years.

MK: So it was aesthetical issues that were driving this move to get the wires underground?

DS: I believe that was the driving force, yeah, just wanted to clean up the looks of the town. And there's no question about it. If you look at some of the main streets in other towns that, you know, you have five, six, seven different companies' wires up there. And Verizon will come in, and they'll put up another wire, another cable. And maybe the existing cable is broken, or become overloaded or become inadequate. But they never take anything down. They just put up a new one and add to it and bundle it a little tighter and just leave everything else there. And it just gets bigger and bigger and uglier and uglier. And even though I am a utility person at heart, overhead utilities in some cases can get really ugly. They just are.

MK: Beyond looks, or aesthetics, what are the environmental considerations of high tension lines going through? What effect does it have on human life or the quality of life?

DS: I don't think it has any effect on the quality of life. There was some discussion back about 1989, 1990, '91 about the electromagnetic fields of the underground lines that we ran down Main Street. And people were upset that the EMF, the electromagnetic fields, were going to harm people. But we took measurements that showed that by the time you got to the curbstone of Main Street your field was reduced by ninety percent or eighty percent or some large number, whatever it was. And by the time you got to the front steps and into the house, there was almost no field coming from the cables under Main Street.
And once we showed the public those tests and those numbers, then they were more accepting of the project. That was this big substation project. Especially when you consider that you have electromagnetic fields throughout your house because of the wiring in the walls. Now electromagnetic field is generated by the current, and so the lower the voltage, the higher the current. So you have a lot of EMF field in your own home. But unlike the claims at the time, we're not all walking around with cancer and boils, and we haven't all lost our hair because of that, maybe for other reasons, but not because of that. And people didn't--. That wasn't the popular opinion. So we had to prove it by the data. High voltage lines have more of an electric field from the voltage, but most people don't live very close to a 115,000 volt line. And those fields drop off rapidly also. So I don't think there is any significant health effect. The electromagnetic field scare, the interest in the articles and the books that were all over The New York Times and various newspapers and publications, has more or less just disappeared and gone by the wayside in the last--. I think by the middle of 1990s, '95, '96 it was pretty much gone.

MK: What was at the root of that thinking? Had there been tests that suggested that—

DS: Well.

MK: --there was adversity in being close to magnetic, electromagnetic fields?

DS: There had been some testing, I think it was out in the California area. [Microphone noise as microphone is readjusted] I think it was out in California there was some testing that seemed to suggest that there was a health effect, increased levels of cancer, but it was all subjective; it was not ever proven, to my knowledge. And we looked at some of the literature, and a lot of it was just suggestive. And so there was more of a overreaction to the possibility that there might be some health effects. I suppose it's not too dissimilar to the current discussions going on about the effects of cell phones on your ear, and how much we use cell phones and what is that doing to our health from the magnetic fields and the electric fields from the cell phones. I haven't seen any studies that show that that actually is a concern. But then I also haven't been watching all the various sources, so I'm not really knowledgeable about that, but I haven't seen anything. I personally don't think that there's effect there. Well maybe that's because I don't walk around with a cell phone to my ear all day long like some people do, but. It makes me wonder sometimes if the magnetic field out of the cell phone is any different than the magnetic field out of the home phone, because they work the same way, if that's any different. And we have used home phones against our ears for decades, and we're still here. We're still healthy. And I don't know if there's a significant difference between the two; I haven't ever seen anybody make that comparison.

MK: Well you have beautifully described how the electronic infrastructure, electrical infrastructure of the town developed over the last twenty years. What about other aspects of the town's growth? Can you comment on how the landscape is changing or the open spaces filling up, or wetlands being overrun, or, I don't know. What's your overall judgment about growth in the town? It sounds like this aspect of it we're talking about, putting the wires underground was--. A lot of thought went into that. Many other towns haven't done it. So that sounds like a real plus. What about other aspects of the town's growth over the past twenty years?

DS: Well you mentioned wetlands. I think Concord does a lot to protect its wetlands and protect its conservation land. They have put a lot of money into buying conservation land, to buying and maintaining open space, perhaps more so than a lot of towns have done. A lot of towns have open space, but aren't paying much attention to it right now. And then developer comes in, then suddenly they get all excited about maintaining this field that nobody has paid any attention to for the last twenty-five years. I think Concord has done that differently. They've been buying open space, and they've set up funds and dedicated tax dollars to doing that. I see a lot of tear downs of houses in Concord with bigger homes being put up, perhaps sometimes called the mcmansions, bigger than they should be on that size of a lot and that piece of land. I'm not sure that's good for this town or any other town, if you end up with a lot of very large mansions that only a few people can afford to buy and maintain, as opposed to the smaller housing markets that open up housing stock to more of a potential buyer. But that's been a big change. There's a lot of tear downs. I haven't seen a lot of wetlands filled in or things like that. You do see now houses squeezed in where you would not have thought they would squeeze them in town, twelve, fifteen years ago, where they will take one house and it has a big back yard, like the one out on, west of the Light Plant office, where they put some condos in the backyard. And where there used to be one house there are now five or six housing units. And I think you'll see a lot of that coming, because the land in Concord's expensive. The best use of that land is residential, not commercial, because the developers can get more profit out of building the residential than the others. So I think that's a change we've seen over the last twenty years, more houses being squeezed in where you wouldn't normally have thought they would put something.

MK: Surely the town government of a place like Concord, Massachusetts would have strong impulses toward historic preservation. How does this jive with preservation directions in the town?

DS: Well a lot of the housing stock isn't necessarily historic. It's just old. And it may only be fifty, sixty years old. I mean there was a lot of development in town after World War Two in the '50s. That's the time I mentioned earlier when the '50s and '60s, where the town utility, the Light Plant was telling people not to come. So a lot of the housing stock was built maybe fifty years ago. Well in a town like Concord that's not historic; it's only fifty years old. So I don't know that we're tearing down the historic parts or any houses that are in the historic areas. I'm sure there are people in town that think anything more that twenty-five years old is historic and should be preserved, but that's not what I see happening. I see those homes being demolished. There's probably a half a dozen homes right now that have been torn down and are being demolished, because we get the requests to disconnect the electric, and usually the reason that's stated on the order, you know, "House to be demolished." And we know that that means it will be rebuilt with a bigger, fancier home than was there.

MK: And more service needs.

DS: Well, not necessarily. Just a bigger home doesn't mean necessarily that you sell more electricity. It doesn't necessarily mean you sell more water. If people live in a 2,000 square foot home, they have two bathrooms, or they live in a 6,000 square foot with four bathrooms, there's still only two people living there. And there's still only a certain amount of water and electricity and other things that you can consume. So I don't know that necessarily building a large mansion six, seven, 8,000 square feet necessarily increases the utilities or the other service need proportional. Probably doesn't fill that house up with children, so it doesn't drive the school system. It still may be the same number of children, they just have more rooms to live in than they used to.

MK: What about other aspects of growth, the school services, the development of roads and--?

DS: I haven't seen any new roads being built. I think the, other than maybe roads in the subdivisions. I think the roads that are here have been here for a century. They get repaved. They get rebuilt. But I don't know that I've ever seen a new road being built outside of a subdivision road. The schools--. Obviously we're building the third new elementary school in some place between five and ten years, at a significant cost for the third one. And then I guess there's still a discussion about the high school and the middle schools, although I haven't seen anything lately on that. I think the school system seems to be in good shape as far as the buildings go. I don't know much about the educational system. So those are changes, but I haven't seen any new schools, any expansion of the schools.

Concord is kind of hemmed in. It has a certain amount of land. It can't really expand a lot, although that's what we keep telling ourselves, and then we have big, new developments like the Lexon, over where the escrow property (55:25) is, a corner of town. We're going to put in 350 or 400 apartments. And that will bring in a certain number of students, but yet there's capacity in the elementary schools to absorb it in the third school. So, we, you know, I hear a lot of people say there's no place to develop in Concord anymore, and you turn around and you see the overhead door company close up over in West Concord and new condos along the railroad tracks, Concord Park or some--. I think that's the name, Concord Park, where you have high end condos being developed along the tracks where the door company used to be. So we close up one commercial business and we opened up maybe seventy or so condos in small business, small storefronts over there. And that's what I see happening to lots of places in Concord. So there is growth. There is development, mostly residential.

MK: And it sounds as though you keep being surprised at all the new ways people think of, that they can crowd one more dwelling or one more--?

DS: Yes. It never ceases to amaze me how somebody can squeeze three or four or five units into what I thought was just a big backyard and, under the existing zoning, and do it. It always amazes me, when you drive by and you say, "Oh, what are they doing here? Oh this is going to be twelve or fourteen apartments, what used to be a single family home."

MK: What is going on with zoning? Is that a progressive and creative function of town government, or--?

DS: Well, it is. And it's run by the Planning Board. And I really am not at all familiar with the current status of the zoning or what's happening or what isn't happening or anything. I just don't stay up on that. I don't know.

MK: Is there anything else you'd like to leave for the public record?

DS: You asked before what other things we've done. Back, I guess it was in the early 1990s, we started to build our fiber optic network for the town, the Light Plant did, originally so that we could run the utility building that was at one location from multiple locations, and we could exchange the information. So we began to build this network, and then we expanded the network little by little, until now we have about thirty miles of fiber optic network in town that provide a high speed, reliable, dual path network for all the town network and the town functions and the, all of the servers and all of the telephone and all of the data, and all of the Internet access for all the town employees.

So that's something that the town is getting. It really isn't the job of the Light Plant, but we wanted it for our own purposes, so we've now got a lot of fiber, and we're looking at expanding that amount of fiber, which would provide more services to the town, in terms of load management, and voltage control, and monitoring, and some metering of major circuits, and maybe Internet access, and maybe expanding that into even providing or building the infrastructure so that television and telephone and Internet services can be provided by third parties, so that it's not just Comcast that's in town.

It appears that Verizon does not want to bring their fiber optic service called Files into town because of the undergrounding. They don't want to spend the money to put it underground. They made that reasonably clear to us a couple of weeks ago when we met with them. So we're now looking at, what will it take for us to do it, and maybe open it up to a third party under bidding, or let anybody else come in and provide the service. And my guess is that if we actually do that and take it to Town Meeting, then Verizon will suddenly have an interest in coming into town, because they won't want to lose the business. But I may be surprised about that too. They may just say, "Well now that you've done it, we can't compete, and so we're just not going to come at all." So, we'll see where that goes.

MK: So that's a certain little lever that you might be applying.

DS: Well the competitive basis of it--. I mean we can build the network for less money than they can build the network. It would be nice if we would build it and they would come use it. Then they could get the service. We would build the network. And they wouldn't have to put out the money to build the network at their cost of money and paying income taxes on it, and we can build it for our own purposes and then let them use it. But I don't see that they have a lot of interest in doing that.

MK: So by providing the service for the people in the community, does the town stand to have a steady income from it? I mean will it eventually pay for itself, or has it already, or—?

DS: Well, the network we have for the town? No, it doesn't pay for itself, because we don't charge the town to use it. It's just a service that the Light Plant, as part of the town, builds and provides for the rest of the town at no cost. But if we build the network for, and we use it for third parties to provide television or other services, then yes it would. They would have to pay, give us revenue to use the system, and that would help pay for the system. So eventually it would pay for itself. But the way it is right now, it doesn't pay for itself, because we don't charge to use it.

MK: The town doesn't charge, or the Light Plant?

DS: The Light Plant doesn't charge the town departments to use the network. And right now it's only used by the town. It's not used by anybody else. So we have the network, but it isn't available to the public. We are undertaking a trial in West Concord to see about providing some commercial Internet services to some of the customers out there that have no way of getting Comcast of Verizon high speed access to the Internet. And if we can do that and do a trial to some of the homes out there, then that will help us decide what, or if we should expand our efforts to the whole town.

MK: Isn't it conceivable that it would generate income for the town eventually?

DS: Oh it would generate income if we built the system out and sold the services to third parties. Yeah.

MK: Or even to the local--?

DS: Absolutely.

MK: Even to the local public?

DS: Well that's what I mean by third parties. It's not the town. It's not the Light Plant. It's not the town government. It would be the customers. Sure. It would generate revenue, because obviously we have to pay for the system, and you're talking millions of dollars of infrastructure and fiber optic, maybe four to six million dollars to put it up. Clearly we would have to charge for the services, but they'd still be less expensive than Comcast or Verizon. So I see that as a hope on the horizon that we can actually provide those services and make them as good and as reliable as the electric is. That's the goal.

MK: Well that little five line ad in The Globe sure turned up the right fellow!

DS: Yeah.

MK: That's what it sounds like to me.

DS: And I've had a good--. I've had a lot of fun doing this job. It's a good job. I enjoy it. I don't get bored doing it. That's for sure.

MK: But it's a job for--. Beyond engineering, it's a job for a visionary, somebody who can—

DS: Yeah.

MK: —who can look down the road twenty years.

DS: A lot of it is. It's not just putting out the day to day fires. Frankly I don't even deal with those. I let the rest of the staff handle the day to day fires. I think my job has got to be above that and be more the visionary, and the planner, and the looking down the road as to where we can go and what do we have to do, just like we're now finishing up a study with a consultant to tell us how we, what are the options of providing for the electric supply for the town through 2025? And we know that we're, we have a peak load problem developing. We know we have some substation capacity potential problems coming. We know we have some transmission line capacity problems coming ten, twelve years from now. But we have to know now, what should we do to be ready, because it could take us three, four years to do permitting and building and construction. And you can't wait until we need the power before we realize that we have to build something. So we're looking now as to what we can do to make sure that the town has adequate capability for the next twenty years. And that study'll be finished sometime this fall. And then we can evaluate the work and decide what we want to do to begin to prepare. So that's what I see my job more as than putting out the day to day problems and fires.

MK: How much longer do you have at the Plant?

DS: Right now I've told the Town Manager I'm going to retire next July of 2009.

MK: But that'll be after this plan has been finalized?

DS: Yeah. It'll be after the plan's finalized. It might not be after any decisions have been made. But we will leave behind at least the scenarios, the plans, the ideas, the concepts. They won't be fully developed. One would then have to look at what are the options and decide which option you might want to develop in more detail. We won't have anything but rough costs. We won't have any detailed costs or any detailed environmental studies. Until you choose the options, then you go into the more detailed analyses. So we'll leave that behind, and we're leaving behind a new operation center, a brand new substation, well, brand new relative to Concord's history anyway, and a very good electric system that will carry this town for the next half a century.

MK: Thank you. Thank you--

DS: You're welcome.

MK: --for your interview, and thank you for your good service over the years.

DS: Thank you.

MK: It's a pleasure to talk to somebody who knows what they're doing—

DS: [Laughs]

MK: --in a world where nobody seems to know what's going on anymore.

DS: Just don't' ask me about Wall Street. I don't know!

MK: [Laughs] [Recorder is turned off and back on] You were telling me about a film crew that--.

DS: There was a film crew that came into town maybe seven, eight years ago. And they were making a movie, and they were going to film some of the story on Main Street in Concord Center. And they were using a house, or a house front I guess it really was, a shell that they had put on Barrett's Mill Road. But they didn't like the streetlights that were in town in Concord Center, because of all the high pressure sodium. They wanted incandescent lighting. So the film crews came in and rewired all of the lights on Main Street and put incandescent bulbs in there for the film. And then when they got done they put them back to where they were, except that they didn't do a very good job of putting them back. And it caused a lot of trouble for us, to go back and restore the lights the way they should've been. So I don't think if any other film crew who comes in I want them to, I would want to rewire all of our street lights again! Because it was a lot of work to put it back the way they supposed to have been, because they didn't do a very good job. They just quickly put everything back and didn't worry too much about quality. So, we had a lot of outages from the lights.

MK: Yeah, the unseen difficulties.

DS: Yeah.