The alley running between West Brookline and West Canton Streets is known to the City as Alley 521. Both Alley 521 and the alley connecting West Brookline to West Canton at the north end of Alley 521, known to the City as Alley 522, are open to public use and are regularly used by private, commercial and municipal vehicles. The third Alley, known to the City as Alley 507 connects West Brookline and West Canton but is only accessible to foot traffic.
The assertion that ownership and responsibility for the sewer rests with the abutters is not supported by the evidence. Responsibility for maintenance and repair of the sewers should properly reside with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission [BWSC].
The alleys or passageways in question can be thought of as having two distinct portions defined by the original boundary [Boundary] between land created and owned by the City and that created and owned by the Boston Water Power Company [BWP]. The passageways south of the Boundary were created and owned by the City and the passageways north of the Boundary were created and owned by BWP.
After extensive research we believe that the portion of the sewer in Alley 521 south of the Boundary was built by the City on City land. In seeking definitive information from BWSC and from other City records we discovered
1. Alley 521 south of the Boundary is on land created by the City in the 1850s. The alley is clearly represented on the Plan of City Lands Sold
2. The Plan of the Proposed System of Sewerage for the Back Bay & Vicinity dated 1850 shows a proposed sewer for all of West Brookline Street which was built south of Tremont Street but was never extended across Tremont Street to the north.
3. House lots were sold in 1858 and dwellings were built on the Alley before 1860; the alley or “passageway” was not conveyed with the house lots. These houses would have needed a sewer pipe and there was none built in West Brookline Street.
4. Manhole #392 is located behind 161 West Brookline, the northern-most dwelling built south of the Boundary and the apparent end point of the sewer south of the Boundary.
5. Manhole #494 is located in Alley 507. It reads BWSC and is situated on the City owned Tremont sewer.
6. The length of sewer in the alley between manholes 392 and 494 is represented on historical BWSC maps in the same manner as other ‘public’ sewers .
7. A visual inspection of manhole 392 facilitated by BWSC shows a bricked up opening of the sewer that is consistent with the location of the waterline when this section of the alley was filled by the City. It is known that original sewer lines emptied directly into the bay .
In response to a request for confirmation that the sewer line south of the Boundary does in fact belong to BWSC and is not private, John Sullivan, Chief Engineer at BSWC provided this answer in an email on August 20, 2014: “We have not confirmed if the pipe from 392 to 494 is BWSC property although we do not have information suggesting that it is private. I will make that determination once we have remapped the location of the manholes and obtained the invert elevations.”
In June 2015 BWSC officially acknowledged ownership of the southern end of the sewer.
The current map at BWSC does not accurately represent the sewers and manholes in these alleys and BWSC is unable to confirm where four houses built south of the Boundary on West Canton Street connect to a sewer. This makes it impossible for residents to know who to call if there is a problem.
North of the Boundary there are two manholes, one in Alley 521 behind 177 West Brookline (unmapped by BWSC, not numbered and buried under several inches of dirt and gravel) and the other in the intersection with Alley 522 (manhole #391). The sewer extends north of manhole #391 to serve six houses on West Canton Street. In addition there is a sewer that runs from #391 east out to the public sewer in West Canton. The sewer north of the boundary runs downhill from #391 to #392 and ultimately empties into the Tremont sewer.
As early as 1854 a City Document expressed the intention of any sewers built to later become part of the works of the City. In 1861 the City appointed “Back Bay Commissioners” who, in the 1860s laid out streets, grades and sewers to be built on privately owned and state land which were approved by all interested parties which included BWP, the City and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts among others. The maps from 1863 and 1864 labeled as such include sewers in all the alleys between Tremont and Columbus, from W Springfield to West Canton. In the same year an indenture between BWP and the City expressly states that sewers built by the former would become part of the sewer system of the City. This intention is repeated in the Annual Report of the Superintendent of Sewers of 1864 . The sewer plan was approved by the City with every intention and expectation that the City would ultimately take responsibility for the sewers built by BWP as part of the public infrastructure of the City.
As BWP created and sold land sewers were specifically addressed in the deeds for the land. In 1863 the lots on Alley 521 were sold with the following language included in the deeds: “Boston Water Power Company will build or cause to be built a common sewer and charge to each lot abutting one half of the expense of constructing the same: each sewer to be extended as the land shall be filled and to be maintained by said land Company but at the expense of said abuttors [sic] until the same is accepted by the City.” Ownership should have passed to the City long ago.
In 1869 the City took ownership of many streets in the now South End making them public streets. In the same year the City agreed to purchase from BWP the sewers built using fees collected from abutters for the sewers north of Columbus. West Brookline Street was conveyed by BWP to the City in 1867. The sewer was built in the alley, according to the plan of the Back Bay Commissioners rather than in the street. According to the Tripartite Indenture of 1856, sewers could be built in either streets or passageways at the discretion of the Board of Aldermen. The intent was clearly that the City assume ownership of the sewers in Alley 522 and 521 north of the Boundary.