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352WVN #303: Selectmen ignore calls to reconsider plant closing

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  • waylandvoters1
    Jun 4, 2009
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Selectmen have acted unilaterally to close the Wayland-Sudbury septage treatment plant despite objections from other officials who say the matter deserves more consideration.

      Also in this newsletter: The developer's new plan to build the Town Center in stages gives the Historic District Commission a new possibility as it deals with a proposal for widening roads.


      The self-supporting septage treatment plant that has served Wayland, Sudbury and other towns for a quarter century is scheduled to close by December.

      Though it was apparent for some time that the plant was struggling to meet enhanced Department of Environmental Protection standards, officials decided to close it with no hearings or noticeable attempts to inform voters.

      Many residents learned about it only when two dissenting members of the Wayland-Sudbury Joint Septage Committee wrote about it in the May 28 Town Crier.

      The selectmen of both towns issued a written explanation on June 2, the day after the deadline to tell the state they had decided to close the jointly run facility.

      The two boards voted unanimously for closure at a meeting in Sudbury on May 5, agreeing with a 4-2 vote by the Joint Septage Committee. By chance, WayCAM was unable to broadcast the meeting until the end of the month.

      The facility was created by Wayland and Sudbury town meetings. The selectmen relied on an opinion of Wayland town counsel that they had the authority to close the plant without town meeting approval.

      The release issued to local media, published in the June 4 Town Crier, called closure "the only sensible decision." The issue isn't as simple as that.

      Two veteran Wayland members of the Committee, Werner Gossels and John Dyer, wrote guest columns in the May 28 Town Crier opposing the decision and urging residents to ask officials to reconsider. They called the facility a valuable service to the community, helping to control the cost of pumping residents' septic systems They predicted that householders and businesses will pay more in the future as haulers drive farther to deposit waste.

      On May 29 the Board of Health wrote to the Wayland selectmen and other town boards saying that before deciding on the closure "a general meeting should be convened that will include representatives of the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, the Board of Health, Septage Committee and the selectmen."

      The memo called the plant a "vital cog" in local waste disposal and says it appears to be well on the way toward meeting state standards.

      A former chairman of the joint Septage Committee also called for reconsideration. In a Town Crier guest column William W. Cooper of Sudbury called closure "shortsighted and the easy way out."

      Those for and against closure agree that the new DEP standards put the plant's future at risk.

      The selectmen say there is no guarantee that spending an estimated $350,000 ($300,000 according to Dyer and Gossels) would enable the plant to meet standards and also persuade the state to allow heavier usage necessary to keep the plant financially viable. Furthermore, they say, if the expense failed to achieve the desired results, taxpayers could be stuck with some of the cost of closing the facility.

      To the selectmen and the Committee majority, it is sensible to avoid any risk and then use the site to produce town revenue, possibly from a septage hauling company.

      To the two Wayland Committee members and others, it is sensible to risk a relatively small amount of money to keep a beneficial facility going because the cost of failure is low.

      The selectmen say there is no evidence that people will pay more to have their septic tanks pumped. But the matter is complicated. Only time will tell whether your bills will rise, or whether you'll get an honest answer from haulers if you question an increase.

      It is fair to say that there were sensible people on both sides of the issue. But questions arise about the selectmens' way of dealing with the issue.

      Officials were aware for some time that the plant was failing to meet DEP standards. On Feb. 26 DEP representatives met with Wayland and Sudbury officials and gave them until June 1 to decide whether to close the plant or act speedily to meet standards.

      When voters at Wayland's annual Town Meeting approved the Septage Committee's budget in April, not a word was said about the DEP's latest action. (At the same meeting voters approved additional funding for a new wastewater treatment plant for the Town Center project and other users, driving the cost to $5.6 million.)

      So, though Wayland selectmen often boast about the transparency of town government, in this case they failed to inform other boards and the public of what was at stake and independently made a decision that may be irrevocable. When the selectmen discussed the closure at a regular meeting on June 1, they didn't mention the objection from the Board of Health.

      This wasn't the first time the selectmen have relied on an opinion requested from town counsel in order to pursue their goals. Using Community Preservation funds for artificial turf is an earlier example; a court decision not directly related to Wayland later cast doubt on the town's position. Town Counsel Mark Lanza said recently that the selectmen have the power to overrule the Historic District Commission on road changes to accommodate the Town Center Project.

      Opinions of a lawyer hired by the selectmen are merely advice, but challenging them can require costly legal action.

      Voters might keep this in mind, particularly after several town functions are consolidated on July 1 into a Department of Public Works, giving more power to the town administrator, who reports to the selectmen.

      -- Michael Short


      The Historic District Commission says the developer's new thoughts about building the Town Center in phases throw new light on the approval process.

      At a meeting with the Board of Selectmen on June 1, Chair Gretchen Schuler said that Twenty Wayland's plans for road changes to accommodate traffic represent "a significant adverse impact to the district."

      The Commission's mandate is to preserve and protect historic resources from just south of Route 20 to just north of the Route 27/126 split near the library.

      Schuler said the Commission might vote to approve road widening if it becomes clear that the the project will be fully built as planned, with about 165,000 square feet of commercial space and 100 housing units. Instead of either designating the alterations as "appropriate" or denying any approval, the Commission could issue a certificate of "hardship" for the developer that would allow the changes with conditions.

      But why damage the historic district if the Town Center turns out to be smaller than originally planned and creates less traffic, Schuler asked.

      Selectmen Chairman MIchael Tichnor, who is in close touch with Twenty Wayland, confirmed that if the project is built it will be phased. The first part might be a supermarket and one building across the street housing other stores.

      Twenty Wayland is advertising 400,000 square feet of an existing office building for lease. A sign promoting a future Stop & Shop market is gone from the Route 20 entrance. Developer Chuck Irving says he'd prefer the Town Center, but that if investors, banks and market forces dictate reopening the office space, that will happen.

      Schuler fended off questions from selectmen about whether the Commission would in fact vote to approve the project under certain circumstances. She insisted that no decision could be expected from the Commission until the determination of the traffic implications of a partial build-out could be spelled out.

      The Commission suggested exploring ways to demonstrate the need to improve traffic flow. Tichnor said that no progress could be expected in these deliberations unless Schuler could guarantee the required four votes from the five Commission members not recused. He and other selectmen also objected to paying for another traffic study.

      Complicating this determination are several agreements with other parties. In particular, in the judgment of the court in the lawsuit between the Glezen Lane residents and the town, it was specified that the new traffic light at the intersection of 27 and 126 be installed before any building permit for the Town Center is issued. (The Historic District Commission wasn't consulted.) In addition, the development agreement between the town and the developers specified that traffic mitigation be in place before occupancy.

      Town Counsel Mark Lanza reminded the Commission that in his opinion the selectmen have the power to override an adverse Commission decision and widen roads on grounds of public safety. This raises the question of how much additional traffic would create danger.

      One voice missing at the meeting was the developer's. Twenty Wayland was listed as a participant on the Board of Selectmen agenda, but nobody showed up.

      Schuler said the Commission will continue discussing the possibility of approval under certain conditions.

      -- WVN Staff


      The postponed Public Involvement Plan (PIP) meeting for the Raytheon hazardous waste site cleanup has ben rescheduled for Wednesday, June 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Large Hearing Room in the Wayland Town Building.

      Raytheon will provide a performance summary of the Northern Area Bioremediation Program and other site activities, and answer questions. Documents about the cleanup at the Route 20 site can be found at the Board of Health, the Wayland Library, or www.ermne.com (username is "raytheon", password is "wayland", all lower case).

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor