Maura In The News

Nstar needs hounding over unsafe power lines
By Monica Collins/Downtown Journal
Monday, March 8, 2004

The trauma still lingers for Greg Thomajan, whose dog suddenly collapsed in convulsions at Broad and Milk streets in downtown Boston on a snowy evening in December 2002. Thomajan says it was ``the worst moment of my life, and I'm pushing 68 years old.''

Thomajan and Grady, a golden retriever just past puppyhood, were walking two blocks from Thomajan's clothing business when the spooked animal bolted into the busy intersection. Thomajan held tight to the leash and managed to wrangle the panicked Grady up onto the sidewalk.

``I brought him back but he collapsed on the sidewalk. His eyes were rolling in his head and he was howling in agony. I fell flat on my chest in my million dollar suit,'' remembers Thomajan. ``People were shouting, women crying. I didn't know what was going on. I had tremors up and down my arm. I thought I was having a heart attack.''

A clear-headed good Samaritan moved the tormented Grady off the electrified sidewalk, then drove Thomajan and his pet to Angell Memorial, where Grady received $400 worth of emergency treatment. Both dog and owner eventually recovered from the jolt.

Thomajan dialed the Mayor's Hotline and the Boston Fire Department to report what happened. The response from officialdom was disheartening. ``They could not have cared less,'' he remembers.

That attitude prevailed until recently, when shocks in the sidewalks killed a dog in Charlestown, burned a dog in Chinatown and hurt a dog and its owner in Mission Hill. Meanwhile, in New York's SoHo section, a woman was electrocuted while trying to rescue her dog. The dog survived.

For every incident that makes the papers, countless others, such as Thomajan's, never get any notice or official response. This winter, a corgi walking with its owner was shocked on Fulton Street in the North End. In the same neighborhood, a terrier tried to bolt into Commercial Street after walking on a hot spot.

After a dog in the South End was killed a few years ago when walking over a metal plate, the incident was dismissed as ``freak'' by the city's Inspectional Services Department. Only now does the dead dog get its day.

``Anyone who has current in their lines or anyone who goes into our streets must bear responsibility,'' says Boston City Councilor Maura Hennigan.

She will preside at a City Hall hearing scheduled for 1 p.m. today to examine the issue. Hennigan expects representatives from Nstar to attend. The electrical company's lines run the juice through city streets.

Nstar has taken much heat for the dog shocks, even as company spokespeople react to each incident as an isolated occurrence. While the evidence of negligence piles up, NStar is being shamed into taking action to inspect and repair frayed wires under Boston.

``In New York, after the woman died, Con Edison discovered over 500 hot spots,'' says Hennigan. ``Boston is a city of similar age, and it's been a tough winter with much salting of streets and sidewalks.''

She is calling for an ``immediate inventory'' of lines as well as new accountability for Nstar contractors, who now can nick or damage lines and walk away without penalty.

``Having Maura Hennigan on our side is nice,'' says Thomajan, who intends to submit written testimony about his experience. ``So is having Mayor (Tom) Menino on our side. But there's one thing and one thing only that matters to Nstar. The company is embarrassed. All they worry about is their public image.''

And image also matters to politicians, who tend to focus on the human element of the problem.

When Hennigan scheduled her hearing two weeks ago, she was aware of the sneers from unenlightened corners.

``Some people may have kind of rolled their eyes, but that doesn't bother me,'' she says. ``Anyone who looks at the Manhattan case knows that this is a serious issue. And I think that if something happens to someone's animal, that's a sufficient cause for concern.''

She also praises the injured dogs for ``pointing out the real hazard'' on city sidewalks. Hennigan has two German shepherds. The notice for the hearing includes a picture of the councilor posing with one of her hounds.

( Monica Collins' column appears every Monday. )

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