Part 2 – Behind the Eight Ball? Transparency Concerns About Pit Reclamation Project.
Sunday, May 20, 2018
Pepperell, Massachusetts – Residents are concerned the town could be behind the eight ball, as a project to truck 4 million yards of fill to a lot next to the Pepperell Airport, may have started its way through a state permitting process.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has jurisdiction in permitting the type of gravel pit reclamation project proposed near the airport, and its written policy, entitled “Interim Policy on the Re-Use of Soil for Large Reclamation Projects – Policy # COMM-15-01” (Interim Policy) can be seen by clicking on the title.
That policy has an important referral to local government – but a town’s sway over the process may have some limitations – which we will write about later in this report.
The concern residents have is a result of the ambiguous comments and abstruse actions of two key town officials about their meetings with the developer and its consultants.
Town administrator Mark Andrews and town planner Steve Parker met with the developers as early as December 5, 2017, according to Andrews, and in mid-February, according to a public record The Candle viewed and photographed in Town Hall last week.
Despite these two meetings, neither Andrews nor Parker communicated anything about those meetings to the all the members of the BOS – a responsibility described in the town charter and their employment contracts.
Resident Caroline Ahdab wrote the Candle, “The Town Administrator should have placed his initial meeting on the BOS Agenda for discussion. All meetings should have Meeting minutes, documented times, etc.”
The Candle checked the minutes of the BOS for the meetings following the December and “February meetings Andrews and Parker had with the developer, Mass Composting Group MCG, and at least one of its consultants, TERRA Environmental, LLC (TERRA).
There is no mention of the meetings.
As reported earlier, the proposal was not shared with all members of the board of selectmen (BOS) by the town administrator for more than five months.
And then, only after Selectman William Greathead, the recently elected member of the BOS emailed Andrews demanding to know, “What is going on here with this. Mark this is wrong…I want to know how long you have known about this and why we do not know what is going on. This is a major issue here.”
Selectwoman Lisa Ferolito emailed The Candle, “I was never informed nor given any information relative to this topic by the town administrator.”
One of the documents Andrews and Parker received from TERRA in February (and ostensibly at the meeting held that month) was a letter describing the proposal and which ended asking Andrews for a letter of support for the project from the town.
Another document received by Andrews and Parker from the projects consultant, was a copy of the DEP Interim Policy.
That meeting, if not an even earlier one, may meet one of the critical components of the requirement “that the appropriate local officials are aware of the project and have been afforded the opportunity for meaningful input.” – Quoted from page four of the Interim Policy.
The DEP document provides basically two models for an applicant for a reclamation project to follow in its interaction with the town.
One option exists for a project in a town that requires a:
“local permit or other approval specific to the use of large volumes of fill material that may be required (municipal approval of an up-to-date reclamation plan for the receiving location, and/or or a municipal permit under an “earth filling” ordinance, and/or any other approval required by a municipality for activities that involve the transportation of soil onto the receiving site);”
It is not clear that Pepperell has a process that would meet the terms laid out in that first option.
The second option states:
“where such local approvals are not required:
a copy of any notification to the public in the area surrounding the fill project and the Chief Municipal Official (CMO) and the Chair of the Board of Health (BOH) of the city or town in which the fill project is located of the proposal to use the excavated soil (including a description of the oil and/or hazardous materials that it contains) and
a summary of the steps taken to solicit meaningful input from those local officials, copies of comments received, and a description of the ways in which these comments have been (or will be) addressed.”
The applicant, using either option, will need to demonstrate that “all comments from such local officials on project impacts related to noise, dust, odor and/or trucks have been appropriately addressed by the project proponent.”
Residents are concerned that the process may have already started due to the meetings in which Andrews and Parker participated.
While there seems to be a need for the applicant to still notify “the public in the area surrounding the fill project” they are concerned that the notification of the Chief Municipal Officer may have been met through those meetings.
It was not until Greathead demanded an update from Andrews on May 10, 2018, that there was any response from Andrews about the project, when he wrote back to Greathead:
“Good morning, please note that Mr. Burton has had a multitude of “concepts” regarding his land over the past three years. As a courtesy to Mr. Burton, I reviewed his concept that he presented. I made it very clear that this concept is a “non-starter” and would not be supported by the Town Administration. I do not and would support a project of this type under any circumstances, as I have stated. I have worked with him and his realtors and to date and no plans have been filed with the Town Building Department. I would be happy to meet with Ms. Ahdab when she reviews the file, if she has any questions.” (NOTE: this response was copied and pasted directly from a copy of Andrews’ email; we recognize there seems to be an inconsistency in part of his response, however we surmised it was a typo/omission of the word “not” and not an intentional contradiction.)
Andrews’ claim this is a “non-starter,” and that the proposal “would not be supported by the Town Administration” does not necessarily mean that the project cannot move forward.
That is a worry of residents who live close-by who, along with others in town, fear that 50,000 large trailer trucks hauling fill to the site over four years will create new public safety problems.
The Candle emailed Andrews and Parker several questions on two occasions last week regarding the request from the project consultant for a letter of recommendation from the town, and queries as to there being any communication with the state or any other town department, among other questions – which are listed with status of responses in the chart at the end of this story.
Suffice it to say, Parker has provided no response, and Andrews has given a single rather circumspect answer to our many questions, writing:
“Mr. Wetherbee, please note that Mr. Burton, the property owner met with me and the Town Planner. At the meeting on December 5, 2017, he discussed his “concept” for the potential development of the property. The Town Planner informed Mr. Burton that the use was not allowed by the town’s zoning by-law. He was advised to see the Zoning Enforcement Officer.”
Some residents question whether there is any jurisdictional authority under the current zoning by-law, which if there was none, they feel they need to have time to martial opposition to the project.
For the record, Andrews has yet to answer yes or no to the question: “Did you or anyone representing the town provide such a letter, or any other communication, written or verbal, indicating any level of support for the project?”
The Candle also contacted Phil Peterson of TERRA by phone last week, asking if the town had provided a letter of support for the project as he had requested from Andrews.
We asked for a simple yes or no answer, if he chose not to elaborate.
Peterson refused to answer.
He then asked that we send an email with our questions. During the week we sent two emails with the questions, to which he has not responded.
The indirect responses of Andrews and the lack of any response from both Parker and Peterson further complicate whether the public is being adequately informed about this project.
It appears residents and concerned town officials can still be looped into the process as the project moves along.
But the lack of notification by Andrews and Parker – both highly paid town employees – to their bosses about this project, may have placed those concerned about the project at a tactical disadvantage if the permitting process has already begun – kind of like figuring out how to out from behind the eight ball and finesse their best shot.
The local Facebook page has carried comments from many Pepperell residents expressing concerns very similar to Ahdab, who lives in a neighborhood of about 75 homes just a mile down the road from the proposed reclamation project.
“I want Pepperell to be known for Skydiving and the beautiful Covered Bridge … not the town where contaminated soil was dumped,” stated Ahdab who, despite meeting obstacles to getting information from town hall has not given up.
The BOS meets tomorrow evening, Monday, May 21, 2018, at the town hall at 7:00 PM.
Questions From The Candle to Town Administrator Mark Andrews and Town Planner Steve Parker
Questions to Mark Andrews – Pepperell Town Administrator
|When did you meet with the consultant(s) from TERRA for a discussion on this project?||Acknowledged December meeting, but silent on February meeting.|
|Who participated in the meeting?||Acknowledged he and Steve Parker met with Mr. Burton of Mass Composting Group at December meeting, nothing about February meeting.|
|When did you first share knowledge of this meeting and the scope of the project with members of the board of selectmen?||No answer.|
|In the February 12, 2018 letter from TERRA to you, Mr. Peterson sought a letter of support from the town of Pepperell.|
|Did you or anyone representing the town provide such a letter, or any other communication, written or verbal, indicating any level of support for the project?||No answer. (Also Philip Peterson, consultant to Mass Composting Group, MCG refuses to answer whether Andrews provided a letter of support or not.)|
|What precisely was the presentation made to you and other participants of the meeting held with the TERRA consultants, and what precisely was your response to the presentation?||Other than generally acknowledging a presentation and saying it was a non-starter, no significant details provided.|
|Have you had any communication with any state agencies or authorities regarding the 161 Nashua Road Reclamation Project?||No answer.|
|Do you have any notes from the meeting with the TERRA consultants, and/or did you write a report to update the board of selectmen on such a significant proposal?||No answer.|
Questions to Steve Parker – Pepperell Town Planner
|As the town’s official planner, did you write up a report from this meeting?||No answer.|
|Did you take notes to memorialize the discussion about such a major proposed project?||No answer.|
|Did you forward the information you gathered and were made aware of relative to this project to other departments in the town, such as public works police, fire, conservation, and the board you staff, the planning board?||No answer.|
|Did you ask for specific information regarding where and from what type of venues the soil would be trucked in from?||No answer.|
|The records I have observed include a request from the project consultant, Terra Environmental, LLC, for a letter of support from the town. What did you offer as comments, observations and/or recommendations relative to the issuance of such a letter of support?||No answer.|
|As this is a public matter, it would require the keeping of all documents, notes, communications (including emails whether using a town or private email address) and notifications to other boards and agencies. Have you preserved such records?||No answer.|