Open letter to neighborhood residents from residents of Temple Street
Dear Beacon Hill Neighbors,
We are writing to let you know that, as residents of Temple Street, we have asked the City of Boston to do a pilot project that switches the power source of the Temple Street sidewalk lamps from methane gas to energy-efficient electricity, without changing the look and feel of the gas lamps.
Why this pilot project?
Gas leaks have either killed or severely weakened the 16 trees planted the same year as the gas lamps were installed on Temple Street (1977).
Temple Street smells like gas and some homes have elevated methane levels.
National Grid does not have to repair the leaks from lines connected to the gas lamps.
Leaked methane is bad for our health, potentially explosive, and is a potent greenhouse gas.
Background for how the decision to try switching gas lamps to electric was reached:
Temple Street, located on the North Slope of Beacon Hill tucked behind the State House, is one block between Derne and Cambridge Streets. In 1977, our street, dedicated as Temple Walk, was converted to an accessible brick walkway with wider than normal sidewalks. The beautiful gas lamps were added that year, along with 16 trees in tree pits. Residents have paid for and planted summer annuals for over 40 years in the tree pits. The street thrived and became a featured image of the Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau at Logan Airport.
Over the years, two-thirds of those trees have since died; the remaining 5 original trees show severe signs of dieback and decline. More recently their decline has accelerated. In 2018, six trees were removed on the same day. Several of us suspected that high levels of methane in the tree pits were contributing to these tree deaths.
Moreover, methane gas is known to be bad for human health, is potentially explosive, and, when unburned, is a potent greenhouse gas that is 86 times more efficient at trapping heat than CO2 over a 20-year timeline. Today, Boston public lighting accounts for 9% of our City’s greenhouse gas emissions, and while gas lamps comprise only 4% of the lighting units, they represent 37% of those lighting emissions.
Out of concern for the remaining trees, the survival of the new plantings, and human health, an independent gas expert from Gas Safety USA was asked to check Temple St. for gas leaks. He found elevated methane concentrations in the soil in the middle of the street and in many tree pits. Two of the “sick” original trees have readings with greater than 30% methane in the tree pits. Tree roots actually “breathe” and require oxygen for their cellular respiration. Leaked methane is slowly asphyxiating the trees by replacing oxygen in the soil pores.
National Grid has been called to repair these leaks several times. They have dug and vented methane for hours. The smell of gas persists, and trees still have methane in the root zone. Gas is even seeping into basements and homes. In 2019, we were evacuated for several hours because a construction crew hit a gas line.
State regulations do not require the connections to each gas lamp to be repaired unless the leak is identified as potentially explosive.
The pilot project:
A National Grid worker suggested changing the energy source for the gas lamps from gas to electric to eliminate the multiple leaks, which are likely to increase as pipe infrastructure gets older.
Lighting technology has improved so that currently available light bulbs can match the warm glow of our gas lamps. We see this as an opportunity for the neighborhood to weigh-in and to learn from the Temple Street experience. At this point, no decisions regarding the look of the lamps have been made, and the City has committed to a meaningful public process throughout this pilot project.
We Temple Street residents love our street, have worked very hard on historic maintenance and beautification efforts, and want to maintain the beautiful atmosphere for both our trees and human health. We hope that many residents will participate in the public process so that the final product is something that we can all be proud of.
Nan Borod; Betsy Peterson; Susan McWhinney-Morse; Kathie Sims; Monica and Brian Kimball; Ania and Carlos Camargo; Ben Norton; JT and Cheryl Aldridge; Paul, Anna, and Cameron Huang; Anne and Bill Hayward.