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218WVN Newsletter #202: Town violates water regulations

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  • waylandvoters1
    Feb 11, 2007
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      A plan to install artificial turf at the high school has led to a state
      finding that Wayland is violating drinking water regulations. This
      raises questions not only about the turf project but about how
      the Water Department has been run in recent years.


      The Wayland Boosters' proposal to replace the grass at the
      football field set off a chain of events that culminated in a Feb. 5
      letter from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental
      Protection. Ruling after visiting the site of the Happy Hollow
      wells in response to a residents' appeal, the DEP said that
      Wayland is in violation of state regulations in seven ways
      including the drainage from the football field and runoff from
      adjacent parking. The DEP requires a mitigation plan by June 1.

      When the Boosters introduced the artificial turf idea last year,
      there were immediate objections to a request for up to $300,000
      in taxpayer funds from the Community Preservation Act to
      augment about $700,000 in private donations. But
      environmental questions soon arose.

      After spirited debate, Town Meeting voted last November to allow
      the use of CPA money. Because the football field is near
      wetlands, the Conservation Commission had the responsibility
      of deciding whether it would be permissible to replace grass
      with 40,000 ground-up tires.

      A ConCom member accused the Boosters' consultant, Gale
      Associates, of sloppy work on environmental impacts. For
      example, Gale was apparently unaware that the playing field
      drains directly into the well field. The commission ultimately
      issued conditional approval containing a number of stringent

      Then 11 residents filed an appeal of the ConCom's action to
      the DEP, saying they aimed to protect the town water supply, not
      to stop the project. Project supporters promptly attacked the
      residents, accusing them of bad motives, "absurdly
      self-aggrandizing" behavior and obstructionism.

      Wayland resident Harvey Wolkoff of Ropes & Gray, Boston's
      largest law firm, volunteered to oppose the appeal pro bono. In
      a letter to the DEP Wolkoff identified himself as the ConCom's
      lawyer and erroneously called Gale the ConCom's consultant.
      Evidently he neglected to consult the ConCom, which demanded
      that the letter be withdrawn.

      A new letter identifies him as the School Committee's lawyer and
      corrects the consultant's status.

      Though Wolkoff is working without fee, presumably the town has
      paid for representation of town counsel Mark Lanza, who was
      present at the DEP's site visit on Jan. 16.

      The DEP's Feb. 5 letter notes that the two Happy Hollow wells
      are approved for 1.411 million gallons per day (between a third
      and half of Wayland's consumption) "and therefore the required
      protective Zone I radius for each of the wells is 400 feet." Within
      that radius are parts of athletic fields including tennis courts and
      a lacrosse field and the site of "Homecoming bonfire and related
      activities." More significantly, the DEP says prohibited activities
      include drainage from the football field, maintenance and
      overnight parking of school buses, and parking lot runoff.

      The residents who filed the appeal noted that sodium level of
      water from the wells is already above state limits. (It is mixed
      with water from other wells, lowering the overall reading.)

      In a Feb. 8 email to Town Administrator Fred Turkington, Water
      Commission Chairman Joel Goodmonson said, "I realize there
      may be significant costs associated (with) some of the changes
      required by DEP. I want to assure you and (School
      Superintendent ) Gary Burton that the Water Department intends
      to cover these costs as much as possible. The issue I am most
      concerned about is redirection of the drainage from the athletic

      This raises questions.

      Since the wells predate the high school, wouldn't the School
      Committee be financially responsible for changing the drainage
      and other mitigation ?

      If the Water Department takes financial responsibility, would only
      water users bear the burden (not an idle question to residents
      not on the town system)?

      If the state ultimately requires drainage changes as a condition
      for installing artificial turf, will the total cost to taxpayers dwarf the
      $300,000 already allocated from preservation funds? Or would
      the Boosters raise additional private funds?

      Where has the Water Commission been all this time?
      Goodmonson spoke at Town Meeting and a ConCom hearing,
      saying he believed the project should proceed as the Boosters
      planned. At Town Meeting he gave the impression of speaking
      for the entire commission, but another member rose to
      contradict him.

      Wayland's water superintendent resigned unexpectedly in
      December 2004 and hasn't been replaced. The Water
      Department foreman was named to fill the slot temporarily. In
      November 2006 the small department's administrative assistant
      resigned suddenly. The acting superintendent resigned on short
      notice a few weeks later. Water commissioners have
      acknowledged a significant number of inaccurate bills and bills
      that were issued belatedly or not at all.

      When the commissioners sought greater control over surplus
      funds to ensure long-term management, the selectmen and the
      Finance Committee opposed them, seeking water revenues for
      other town uses.

      For many years Wayland residents enjoyed low prices for water
      that almost everybody agreed was excellent. The price is still
      low, but there are increasing complaints about taste, color and
      interrupted service.

      The residents' appeal was filed under the Wetlands Protection
      Act. So far the state has acted only on drinking water standards.
      Stay tuned.

      -- Michael Short

      Editor's Note: The signers of the appeal include Tom Sciacca,
      who writes for WVN.

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor