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351WVN #302: Dissent on septage plant closing

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  • waylandvoters1
    May 24, 2009
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      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Almost unnoticed, the Board of Selectmen is moving rapidly to close a plant that has been processing septage from local homes and businesses for more than a quarter-century. Two longtime members of the Wayland-Sudbury Septage Committee say this is a big, short-sighted mistake that will cost residents money before long.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- The Conservation Commission has issued one of two environmental permits needed for the Town Center development.

      -- With 398 tax abatement requests to deal with, the assessors are limping along with only one of three authorized employees.

      -- The Jewish cemetery still hasn't resolved questions about an access road.

      SEPTAGE PLANT, WHAT SEPTAGE PLANT?

      Many residents aren't aware that when they have their septic systems pumped, the truck delivers the septage to the self-supporting, jointly operated treatment plant on Route 20. Sixty percent of the business comes from the two towns and another 15 percent from Weston and Lincoln. Other septage haulers patronize the facility because of convenience or price.

      Now, because the state Department of Environmental Protection is requiring improvements to meet higher standards, Wayland and Sudbury selectmen have voted to close the plant by December.

      Two Wayland members of the six-member Joint Septage Committee, John Dyer and Werner Gossels, opposed the decision, saying that the plant runs surpluses and has enough cash on hand for upgrading to meet DEP standards at a cost they estimate at $300,000. Town officials estimate $350,000.

      According to Gossels, the Finance Committee has prevented using the reserves for upgrades. Wayland, as the site host, is responsible for budget authorization.

      Dyer and Gossels say a loan, subject to approval by Town Meeting, could be backed by the reserves and the plant could continue for many more years. The selectmen say this is risky.

      "There are no guarantees," said Wayland's town administrator, Fred Turkington. The relatively inexpensive upgrades might be insufficient, for example, or the DEP might not approve heavier use of the facility which would allow higher revenues to help pay for improvements. The money spent on improvements might be wasted.

      In Town Crier guest columns Gossels and Dyer maintain that the DEP is willing to work the with Committee on achieving higher standards.

      The alternative, they say is giving away the towns' capacity to offer residents a reasonable price for disposing of waste. They estimated an immediate increase of 10 percent when haulers have to truck the waste many miles farther away. And those prices could increase greatly as other plants invest to meet higher standards, they say. Gossels says that MWRA sewer customers, for example, have been hit with "extreme" price increases.

      If the plant closes, Wayland and Sudbury's septage will be hauled to locations as far away as Fitchburg. It's reasonable to expect that as vehicle fuel prices rise, so will hauling fees.

      Residents' stake in this is the price they pay haulers. The selectmen's stake is the chance to gain some direct revenue to towns by allowing another use on the site. Wind River Environmental showed interest more than a year ago in leasing the facility to use the tanks, according to Turkington.

      Thus this could be become another example of a drain on taxpayers besides direct taxation. Wayland residents have been hit recently by an annual surcharge of $236 in water fees and a 31 percent increase in the cost of disposing of trash at the transfer station. (The new pay-as-you-throw system beginning on July 1 can lower the cost for small-volume users.)

      The two select boards met on May 5, voting unanimously to decommission the plant. They claim authority to do so without hearings or action by town meetings. The matter wasn't on the agenda at Wayland's April Town meeting.

      Town Meeting voters approved additional funding for a waste water treatment plant at the Route 20 site of the proposed Town Center development. That plant, which would also continue to serve some businesses and a few residences, is estimated to cost $5.6 million.

      "Both Boards of Selectmen have consistently refused to take any responsibility for helping the Septage Committee to deal with its dilemma," Dyer says. "They have done nothing to organize and exert political influence at DEP to allow an output permit modification that would allow the Wayland-Sudbury Septage Facility to survive financially."

      The selectmen plan to let the DEP know by June 1 that they intend to close the plant by the end of the year.

      The Wayland selectmen had asked town counsel for an opinion on their authority to decommission the plant on their own authority. The subject wasn't mentioned in the original agreement between the two towns when both town meetings authorized the plant. Town Counsel Mark Lanza says the selectmen are authorized to negotiate and amend the agreement.

      "This seems just a bit too convenient!" Gossels said.

      -- Michael Short

      TOWN CENTER UPDATE
      CONCOM ISSUES TOWN CENTER CONDITIONS

      Though it's not clear whether Twenty Wayland will build the $140 million commercial/residential Town Center project, local permitting boards are nearing the end of their work to make it possible.

      A sign at the Route 20 site advertises 400,000 square feet of space for rent in the existing building. Developer Chuck Irving says he may have a letter of intent soon from a potential occupant and if that's what his bank and his investors want, the office building will remain.

      If that doesn't pan out, Irving has told Wayland selectmen, he might build the Town Center in three stages, starting with part of the retail space and ending at some unspecified time with the condominiums.

      After nearly a year of work, including many special meetings, the Conservation Commission has issued an Order of Conditions required to meet environmental standards on the building site. Another permit will have to be issued for off-site environmental matters.

      Twenty Wayland has accused the Commission of delaying development, but the chronology shows that the developer is responsible for some delays, and for a project of this size and environmental complexity other processes required historically normal amounts of time.

      SCHEDULING

      Twenty Wayland filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) with the ConCom on June 5, 2008. Although the project's permitting process had been under way with other boards for years, this was the first submission to the Commission. State and local officials had raised questions about stormwater and wetlands as early as 2006.

      Twenty Wayland didn't file its application with the ConCom until nearly five months after the Planning Board issued a Master Special Permit.

      Initially, Twenty Wayland's plans were drawn to the wrong scale and used the wrong elevation system. ConCom guidance documents specify scale and elevation systems for all applicants.

      Several commissioners also remarked at the first meeting, on June 26, that they could not read markings that were supposed to show contours indicating where wetlands were and where the 100- and 200-foot riverfront area boundaries were. The plans showed boundary markings with different-length dashes instead of different colors.

      Corrected plans were passed out, but not in time for commissioners to study them before the meeting.

      Then consultants had to be hired to read the corrected plans and make extensive comments. Twenty Wayland had to draw new plans to reflect the consultants' comments. This is normal procedure and it commonly takes a few months for any large project.

      The developers canceled or postponed a number of meetings because they could not respond to consultants' remarks in time or for other reasons. This is also normal for any large project.

      STORMWATER MANAGEMENT

      A recurring theme in the hearing discussions has been the requirements for stormwater management for redevelopment projects.

      Stormwater is a pressing national problem. The national water supply is threatened by the continual paving over of America. Whenever a parking lot or structure is built, rainwater that would have sunk into the ground and been filtered naturally instead carries pollution directly into rivers and streams. For this reason, we have federal, state and local regulation of stormwater management.

      Regulations are based on the principle "Do not harm wetlands, rivers and streams." But regulations cannot anticipate every circumstance. Conservation Commissions and other governmental bodies must make judgments.

      Sometimes developers do not violate any particular regulation, but ConCom is still concerned that harm might occur to the wetlands or the rivers. In this case, they express their reservations in "findings" in the permit issued (which will be read by the state Department of Environmental Protection) and they require monitoring to see if their concerns are justified. This occurs in several places in the permit issued to the Town Center developers.

      REDEVELOPMENT

      State stormwater regulations are different for new development than for redevelopment. For new development, explicit stormwater BMPs (best management practices) must be used. (BMPs are often swales or basins constructed in special ways.)

      For redevelopment, applicants must show that they are doing the "maximum extent feasible" by providing alternatives analysis, showing they have considered the BMPs suggested for new development and that there is some reason they cannot be used.

      Most of the Town Center project is redevelopment, as the land has been used for a large office building and parking lot. Thus, technically, the developers are not held to the required BMPs of new development.

      However, ConCom is concerned that the choices made by the developers, while not violating redevelopment regulations, may harm wetlands.

      One of the findings of the permit is that the designs of two storm basins use BMPs in a hybrid design that does not conform to the BMP design standards of the state stormwater handbook. Also, consultants felt that the current design of these basins would not meet the required 80 percent TSS (total suspended solids) removal.

      These basins have sand filters constructed within them and they do not have sufficient volume. Also, the sand filters are not supposed to be inside the basins. All of these concerns are written in the findings where state agencies can read them.

      As a result of these concerns, ConCom has required long-term monitoring of the performance of these basins. For example, if water is observed on the sand filter surface more than two hours following a storm between April 1 and November 1 of each year, the owner of the property must start repairs within 30 days. This monitoring is required in perpetuity.

      Owners could avoid monitoring requirements if they change their plans and construct conforming BMPS.

      WETLANDS ALTERATIONS

      Another major concern has been alterations in the volume of water arriving at wetlands. Since the flow patterns have been changed to make water flow into the stormwater drains, more water may be going in one direction and less in another, causing some of the wetlands to dry out and cease their cleansing function.

      Findings suggested that assessments of volume did not consider subcatchments on the site. It was feared that some of the wetlands to the north of the site, beyond the proposed residential buildings, would receive reduced runoff volume. The same concern applied to the southeast corner of the site.

      Since the roof runoff from residential buildings will not be collected until the buildings are constructed (possibly several years after the commercial buildings), calculations using this roof runoff as a water source for wetlands may be incorrect for several years, while the northern subcatchments dry out.

      OTHER CONCERNS

      A number of other concerns are expressed in the permit. Many are standard and apply to all properties. For example, the use of salt for de-icing is forbidden. Vacuum sweeping of parking areas is required four times a year. Permanent stormwater drains cannot be used during construction.

      There are about 60 findings and 60 conditions in the Chapter 194 permit. This is not unusual for a large project. The length of the report and the time consumed by the hearing are not considered unusual.

      With the ConCom's work heading toward a finish, Historic District Commission approval is also needed. Beyond that, issues that must be dealt with include waste water treatment and a sewer connection.

      -- Betty Salzberg

      ASSESSOR STAFFER LAID OFF

      The Board of Assessors let a part-time clerk go and now operates with only a department assistant, the Town Crier reports.

      The Board said that the 17-hour-per-week data-entry job that Eileen Collett performed will be filled through an outside vendor.

      The office is authorized to hire three full-time employees. One position has gone unfilled for nine months and the assistant assessor, Molly Reed, has been on leave for three months. Her performance has been criticized, and this is her second leave in the past two years.

      Collett said she had no warning about losing her job. Since she arrived in 2007, she told the Crier, there was little guidance and a lack of clarity about who was in charge.

      Harald Scheid, a consultant who recently gave Wayland's assessment practices a D rating, told the Crier that the elected five-member board is trying to get the office back on track.

      Wayland's 398 abatement requests represent the highest per-household rate in the region. Sudbury, with a third more households, received 112. Weston received 33.


      CEMETERY ACCESS ROAD

      The problems the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts has had with access to its new cemetery, East Beit Olam, started when Paul Sullivan sold four acres of land to Perry Traquina for $1.58 million on Feb. 17, 2005.

      This land separates West Beit Olam, the existing Jewish cemetery adjacent to Wayland's North Cemetery, from the new East Beit Olam now being constructed. The sale also changed the access of East Beit Olam cemetery land from a long driveway ending on Route 27 (at 53 Old Sudbury Road) to a house lot at the end of Holiday road. Thus the 2005 sale prohibited access from Route 27 and from West Beit Olam.

      When JCAM bought the new cemetery land and the house on Holiday road from Paul Sullivan in December 2006, it also bought another lot at 48 Concord Road, hoping to provide access from Concord Road (Route 126). Use of the 10-acre cemetery land with access from Concord Road was approved by the Fall 2007 Special Town Meeting.

      Unfortunately the Concord Road access lot was wetland containing five vernal pools. The plan JCAM first discussed with the Conservation Commission last June 5 to build an access road through the wetland was denied and the Conservation Commission approved access through the Holiday Lane property.

      The Holiday Road access is now in use for construction of the new cemetery.

      However, Holiday Road residents have organized to oppose access on the end of their road for funeral processions. Several Asian residents of Holiday Road say that it is considered unfortunate in their culture to live on a road having funeral processions. Both JCAM and Holiday Road residents would prefer access through the 48 Concord Road property.

      At the May 14, 2009 ConCom meeting, attended by over 30 Holiday Road residents, JCAM proposed a new modified access road plan that moves the road to the southernmost border of the property. The new plan was made possible by acquiring some permissions and a sliver of extra land from the Concord Road neighbors. Now the entire access road lies outside the 50-foot buffer required around vernal pools.

      The newly proposed access road from Concord Road may prove acceptable to the Conservation Commission. ConCom requested that a professional consultant be hired to evaluate it.

      However, there is a legal problem. The state Department of Environmental Protection requires alternatives analysis. The new proposal must be compared with the Holiday Road access, which is already in use and which was deemed to have no adverse effects on wetlands.

      Although the new proposal will be 50 feet from vernal pools, and though other improvements were made over the old plan, the Concord Road access is clearly a more delicate issue with respect to wetlands than the Holiday Road access. For example, it is expected that some of the land bordering the wetlands must be disturbed in order to build the road.

      The hearing was continued to June 11 and, since a consultant's study is required, it is unlikely that the issue will be resolved before the end of the summer.

      -- Betty Salzberg

      MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVANCES

      Wayland will celebrate memorial Day on Monday May 25 with traditional ceremonies and a parade. For the complete schedule see the Town Crier or :

      http://www.wayland.ma.us/selectmen/parade.htm

      CORRECTION

      In WVN Newsletter #301 the new price for renting a 20-by-30-foot plot at the community garden was incorrectly listed as $12. The correct price is $14 ($10 for seniors and students).

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      Michael Short, Editor