200WVN Newsletter #189: Wells endangered?
- Oct 31, 2006Dear Wayland Voter,
The Conservation Commission continues its methodical
hearing this week into the potential impact of artificial turf, which
raises wider questions about the future of Wayland's water
supply. And the Board of Selectmen replaces a widely respected
member of the Community Preservation Committee with a
choice likely to be seen as political.
COULD TURF PROJECT ENDANGER WELLS?
The Conservation Commission, which among other things is
charged with protecting Wayland's water supply aquifers,
continues its hearing on Thursday Nov. 2. (See
www.wayland.ma.us for the meeting agenda.)
When the Wayland Boosters began raising money to replace
grass at the high school football field with 40,000 ground-up
truck tires mixed with sand, it's unlikely that they anticipated the
probing questions and research that followed. This kind of
artificial surface has become very popular in recent years. (The
New England Patriots, for example, may use it to replace their
grass field.) Statistics on athlete safety are well established, and
proponents say a new field will save money and water.
But environmentalists counter that, unlike other artificial fields
such as those at Lincoln-Sudbury High School, Wayland's
would drain into the municipal water supply and potentially
threaten an adjacent national wildlife refuge and the federally
protected Sudbury River.
At an Oct. 19 segment of the hearing the ConCom heard from
Gale Associates, the turf consultant hired by the Boosters. Gale
introduced statistics on overall usage of the material but was still
completing requested tests and couldn't identify other
installations with precisely the same environmental
Two residents, an engineer and a former Wayland hazardous
waste official, pointed to research in the U.S. and elsewhere
suggesting that there could be problems. One of them made a
rough estimate that if the new field increased parking by 25
percent, the drainage from the field and the parking lot could
make more than 40 percent of the town's water supply unusable.
The field would drain through a pipe ending near the Happy
Hollow wells; salt and petroleum runoff from the adjacent
parking lot could be a major influence. No plan has been
presented to address the problem as part of the
This points to a more comprehensive question. These wells,
unlike Wayland's other wells, are above allowable limits of
sodium. Water reaching households combines all sources, so
the total sodium level is manageable for now. If it is even
thinkable that the Happy Hollow wells could be damaged beyond
economical recovery, voters and their elected and appointed
officials might want to look carefully at how the town is managing
a resource that may be more vulnerable than they imagined.
The state Department of Environmental Protection lists as
"inappropriate activities" in the protected Zone 1 nearest the
wells "Portions of the high school parking lot and overnight bus
Responding to earlier WVN newsletters, some readers asked
what would happen if Wayland's water system failed. The only
other feasible source is the Massachusetts Water Resources
Authority, which supplies Boston and many other communities.
One Wayland water commissioner made a rough guess that
MWRA water could cost four times what residents now pay.
According to the Boston Globe, a Boston MWRA bill is nearly
$1,000 annually for a family of four using 90,000 gallons.
People tend to take water for granted, at least until it tastes
terrible, turns brown or stops altogether -- all of which have
occurred in recent years in Wayland. Some 230 years ago,
Adam Smith pondered why diamonds, which people don't need
at all, are expensive while water, absolutely essential, always
seems to be cheap. Wayland charges low rates but still
produces a surplus designed to pay for capital expenses as the
system ages. The Finance Committee recently raided that
surplus, over Water Commission objections, to ease budget
problems. Voters may ask whether Wayland is doing enough
long-range thinking about a valuable resource.
At the Oct. 19 hearing, ConCom member Andy Irwin called
attention to the need to take a comprehensive view of the the
entire local watershed, a complex, interconnected system.
Water Commission Chairman Joel Goodmonson told the
hearing that in his opinion there was no problem with the tire
crumb surface. He acknowledged that salt is a different problem.
The Water Commission can't stop the project. The ConCom can.
When the Water Commission met on Oct. 30, two of the three
members said they opposed artificial turf at the site. The
commission has no approval role and didn't take a formal vote.
The Boosters argue that even if the field is used 272 days a year
as planned, there won't be a large increase in cars using the
parking lot. But they also say that the idea is to use the field for
as many activities as possible on as many days as possible. A
representative of FieldTurf, the manufacturer, noted that in snowy
weather a field can be plowed and in any case clears by melting
faster than grass and is usable all year. It would be playable on
warm days in January, he said.
Because the existing grass is weak, the field is almost unused
in the summer. Artificial turf could be used day and night . On
hottest days, watering can cool the surface.
The Park and Recreation Department routinely rents town fields.
The new field could become the most desirable location in town,
and usage could exceed current expectations.
Proponents note that Gale has installed hundreds of fields and
has done much research. "I have to rely on them," said Boosters
President Craig Foreman. Gale spokesmen apparently weren't
aware, though, that the proposed drainage has been measured
at 265 feet from the nearest well, within the zone protected by
state environmental regulations. Though this particular surfacing
material hasn't been in service long enough to produce
ong-term test results, there is noticeable concern in Europe,
and it is banned in Norway.
At the Nov. 9 special Town Meeting voters will consider an article
that would take up to $300,000 from Community Preservation Act
funds to augment about $700,000 in private donations for the
installation. The town would be responsible for maintenance.
Though the Boosters calculate that it would be less expensive
than maintaining grass, the playing surface would have to be
replaced after 10-12 years at a cost estimated at $400,000.
CONTROVERSIAL CHOICE BY SELECTMEN
In a move that could bolster their power but also upset many
voters, the selectmen appointed former selectman Betsy
Connolly to the Community Preservation Committee. Critics are
likely to see it as purely political.
Connolly fills the vacancy caused by the surprising decision of
Michael Patterson in July to refuse reappointment. The board
offered Patterson another term after some delay even though
selectman Michael Tichnor had said he was "very troubled" by
Patterson's independent views on legal counsel, which he called
"an affront to the selectmen."
Patterson, who has served in Wayland government for many
years, said he couldn't in good conscience continue without
appearing to acquiesce in the position of the board majority on
curbing the committee's independence. He accused the majority
of lacking decorum and creating a hostile atmosphere.
With Connolly, the board should have no worries about
Before the 4-1 vote on Oct. 23, the selectmen interviewed
Connolly and the other candidate, former Planning Board
member Becky Regan. Though everybody praised both
candidates, voters who had followed the Planning Board's
tortuous path toward a vote to build a shopping/housing complex
at the former Raytheon property might have guessed the winning
candidate. Regan had spoken up often for the planners' duty to
serve the town's long-term interests, while some selectmen
appeared to view her board as an obstruction.
In her interview Regan emphasized the need to maintain
Wayland's open spaces and to keep enough Community
Preservation money on hand to save appropriate parcels from
Connolly spoke of the the Community Preservation Act account --
about $3.7 million -- as a significant source of opportunities to
use "unencumbered funds."
"I'm eager to be the board's representative," Connolly said.
When Tichnor moved to appoint her, he described her as
"representative and appointee." The CPC consists of two
members appointed by the Board of Selectmen and five
appointed by other boards. Like many town bodies, the CPC was
intended to exercise a certain measure of independence.
Regan served on the CPC as the the Planning Board appointee.
The selectmen and Connolly left little doubt that she is likely to
be a reliable vote for whatever the board majority is pushing.
Patterson disagreed with the board's support for using $300,000
in preservation funds to help pay for artificial turf at the high
school football field. State lawyers consulted by the CPC
questioned the legality of the proposal.
Connolly has many supporters who commend her advocacy of
the town center project and recent tax overrides. Critics point to
her record of violating the Open Meeting Law, forming a
controversial political action committee that was dissolved only
when it was declared illegal, ignoring dissenting views, and as
board chairman sometimes acting individually beyond the
mandate of her position. She dropped out of a 2005 race for
re-election after one term and became a founder of
The four selectmen who voted for Connolly no doubt pleased
the Connolly constituency. Many voters would have seen Regan
as a step toward greater collaboration and consensus. Only
Selectman Alan Reiss supported Regan, citing her experience
on the CPC and elsewhere and her expertise in affordable
housing, one of the CPC's mandates.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor