603WVN #456: Fighting NStar/Correcting school violence figures
- Jun 15, 2012Dear Wayland Voter,
Officials and outraged residents are fighting NStar's devastating clearcutting near power lines. Beyond aesthetic concerns there are questions of environmental damage and effects on property values.
Also in this newsletter: School superintendent disputes teen violence figures, plus briefs and alerts.
WAYLAND, NEIGHBOR TOWNS FIGHT NSTAR ONSLAUGHT
NStar has adopted a clearcutting policy along its easements near some high tension transmission wires in Framingham, Wayland, and Sudbury.
On Monday, June 4, Department of Public Utilities representative Nancy Stevens announced at a Wayland selectmen's afternoon meeting that there would be a week's delay in ongoing work. That was after clearcutting in Framingham got the attention and action of area state legislators. The intent was to give all parties a "time-out" to improve communication regarding the utility's proposed vegetation management plan.
Wayland Town Administrator Fred Turkington held a staff meeting with NStar on Friday, June 8. The clearcutting resumed in Wayland on Monday morning, June 11 without NStar keeping its word to provide the easement documents to Wayland officials.
A Board of Selectmen meeting Monday, June 11 heard residents' complaints, and selectmen viewed a picture of a drastically reconfigured, obliterated front yard at the bottom of Oak Hill Road.
(elapsed time 01:26:00) The town administrator told residents they should deal individually with NStar to seek mitigation.
The board instructed the town administrator to send a letter to NStar and the Department of Public Utilities seeking answers to questions, the easement documents and a requested continuation of the "time out." That letter and NStar's response are posted in various online versions of local newspapers:
The board's efforts stopped short of trying to protect residents on Oak Hill and Meadowview by legal action or negotiating with NStar for remediation, based on their understanding that the utility has the right to conduct the work. The removal of shade trees located in both the town's right of way and NStar's easement, however, is subject to a future shade tree hearing. Those trees are marked with dark blue ribbons and/or orange spots.
Robert Noa, a Meadowview Road resident, went the board one better by filing an action in Middlesex Superior Court on Monday. When he made this legal action known at the selectmen's meeting, the audience applauded. Noa's premise is that there is no justifiable need to destroy all of the trees in the right-of-way, contending there are places where a level of reasonableness and compromise would still provide the long-term protection the utility requires. As the Wayland letter notes, the federal guidelines are less stringent than absolute clearcutting.
As the week passes and the clearcutting continues unabated, Noa's is the only property on his side of the street with trees still standing in his backyard. While Noa referenced the neighborhood in his pending legal appeal, it appears that NStar interpreted the action to apply only to his property. A court hearing originally set for June 14 was postponed, at the request of NStar's attorney.
Other aggrieved parties, including Sudbury residents who know they are next in line, could file their own requests for a temporary restraining order. Noa, an attorney, is telling his neighbors that he will gladly share a generic template of his court filing if contacted at rnoa@....
Although individual Wayland residents were still being told as late as Tuesday morning that there were no funds for remediation, on Tuesday night at the Sudbury Board of Selectmen's meeting, NStar senior arborist Bill Hayes disclosed that his company has engaged Weston Nurseries to provide some new, low shrubs and trees that are considered compatible species. Individual residents need to request in writing specific remediation measures they want for their properties.
Hayes is at 781-441-3932 and william.hayes@.... NStar's community relations representative is Annemarie Walsh. She can be reached at 617-369- 6356 and Annemarie.Walsh@.... NStar says it will consider each property individually.
State Rep. Tom Conroy provided an update on his efforts to address constituents' concerns. During the Sudbury Selectmen's meeting on Tuesday evening he made a new request of NStar during public comment based on his professional experience as a risk manager. He seeks further accommodations from NStar, based on the fact that NStar cannot guarantee 100% service reliability no matter how much is clearcut. He favors a level of reasonableness: instead of clearcutting 100% of the right of way, there could be a workable 80-20 solution to preserve quality of life and property values without lowering utility reliability.
NStar's new aggressive policies are not an isolated neighborhood issue. When the utility returns later this year for vegetation control along its distribution lines along Wayland streets, property owners may want to pay close attention to "doorhanger" notices because they may be the only advance warning they get. Notices NStar says it sent to Town Hall offices for this year's proposed vegetation control activities apparently were never publicly posted or questioned.
High tension transmission lines also run through other parts of Wayland, but the current effort is focused on the Meadowview and Oak Hill area. Homeowners near such lines may want to check the fine print in any easement documents attached to their deeds.
Assessors' maps posted on the town website show NStar's right of way in the Oak Hill area:
In contrast, when the utility was Boston Edison it planted many pine trees near and beneath the wires after homes were built there in the 1960s and maintained the trees for many years by topping them. The area has had many yards with trees providing shade and screening.
With NStar, the new policy is to cut everything that grows near the wires, save for a few forsythia and other low shrubs specifically requested by residents.
NStar uses an impressive machine nicknamed the "`brontosaurus" which does the work of many humans. It removes tall trees by grasping them, cutting them in seemingly one action, and picking them up and setting them down in a pile for later removal or chipping.
No plan has been announced to reseed the barren area, now subject to erosion given the steep slopes whose surface water runoff heads downhill towards wetlands, the Meadowview wellfield and the Sudbury River.
On Tuesday, Town Administrator Turkington said he had referred residents' environmental concerns to special legal counsel. By the end of the work day forester Eric George, working with the tree crews, assured the public that the workers were done clearing whatever foliage they needed to remove inside the gate area that eventually leads to the Meadowview well. The relatively low-level brush growth had been cut by workmen on foot using chain saws.
George reported that no heavy mechanized equipment would be used to clear cut further because the (wetland) area was too wet, and they were done clearing along the right of way down to the Sudbury River. He said the only task remaining was the use of the Harvester to remove tall pines near the roadway.
But by the end of the work day Thursday, this is what had happened: All the remaining low growth foliage to the left of the entrance gate was removed. From the house across the street one now sees through to the Water Division's building labeled "Chemical Feed Station" (which currently stores no chemicals). Huge tire tracks in the mud are evidence that large equipment was in fact used to clear cut, all the way down the path to the building.
The security gate has been left unlocked since Tuesday. reportedly at the direction of the town administrator. A pile of large tires sat just behind the sign that says "Drinking Water Supply Area. Please Protect It!" And four huge vehicles used by NStar during the week were parked for the night in a drinking water resource area.
Friday morning, George explained that the crew needed to remove some of the lower foliage to make room for the Harvester to be in a safe position to remove the tall pines. When asked why the rest of the area down to the chemical feed station building was also cleared out, he said it was a request of Wayland's public works director, Don Ouellette. Ouellette was out of the office today and could not be reached for comment.
So far NStar has been silent on the requests made for a mitigation plan for impacts to the wetlands and water supply. The drinking water resource area is now completely open, unsecured and accessible from Meadowview Road.
The Wayland town website doesn't mention the NStar matter. The Board of Public Works will discuss the issue of its legal rights regarding easements at its Tuesday, June 19 meeting.
In response to a Sudbury audience question on Tuesday evening, NStar's William Hayes reported that he expects the work in Wayland to wind down soon so "brontosaurus" can resume its work in Sudbury. The June 12 NStar meeting with Sudbury selectmen is available at:
NStar representatives will discuss the company's tree-clearing project at the Natick selectmen's meeting on Monday, June 18, at 7:30 p.m., at the Natick Town Hall, 13 East Central St.
-- Linda Segal
SUPERINTENDENT DISPUTES TEEN VIOLENCE FIGURES
Some may have been shocked at reports in Wayland Patch and the Town Crier that the incidence of violence and teen dating violence among Wayland teens is roughly twice as high as in surrounding towns. Wayland is being awarded nearly $40,000 to address the problem, according to the reports.
But School Superintendent Paul Stein tells WVN that the reports are inaccurate. He says that the compilers apparently misused the data. "The press release appears to have added together the percentages of male and female respondents to arrive at a total percentage, which statistically you cannot do because the "n" is different for the two groups," he said. The actual Wayland numbers are in line with area averages, he explained. He is trying to get the MetroWest Health Foundation, the originator of the survey, to correct the error.
"No matter how small or large the percentages, the issues raised by these statistics are of concern, and it remains important that the schools and the wider community continue their efforts in the area of health and wellness," Stein said.
In another matter, at the June 4 School Committee meeting, Stein announced that he is forming an Elementary Building Use Task Force to "be charged with identifying options, conducting a cost/benefit analysis for each option, and recommending options that it feels should remain under consideration," according to a memo he distributed to the School Committee.
His action stems from an architect's study of room reconfiguration options at Happy Hollow, which in turn was in response to parental complaints of overcrowding. The architects concluded that most of the problems could be fixed, primarily by turning oversized kindergarten classrooms into a larger number of normal sized regular elementary classrooms. But the modifications would cost several hundred thousand dollars, and should not be undertaken without a long term plan, he said. The problem is that the current elementary school population fits perfectly into the currently assigned space, with virtually no room to spare. If existing flat population projections are wrong and the elementary school population increases, something will have to give. Kindergarten enrollments this year, and already for next year, exceed projections.
Increased use of Loker is an obvious option. But, as an example of the possibilities, there are several ways in which Loker use could be expanded. Returning to the previous neighborhood K-5 configuration is one. But another possibility is a grade level configuration, by, for example, making Loker the townwide kindergarten and first grade school, Happy Hollow grades two and three, and Claypit Hill four and five. The School Committee was told in past years that such a grade level configuration was cheaper and educationally equivalent to a neighborhood configuration. However, it might be less popular with parents.
Stein plans to include six community members and three teachers on the task force, along with the three elementary principals, a school committee member, the Director of Student Services, the Assistant Superintendent, and himself.
The School Committee advised him to include extensive public interaction in the committee processes.
-- Tom Sciacca
RIVERFEST IS COMING
The 11th annual RiverFest celebration will be held June 23-24. Over 30 family-friendly events will take place on and along the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Wild and Scenic Rivers in 11 towns. Local organizations host events including bird watching, canoe trips, picnics, wild animal displays, boat tours, art, music, history lectures and more.
All events are free and open to the public. RiverFest is a celebration of the nationally designated Sudbury, Assabet and Concord Rivers which flow through our communities. Come to any Riverfest event and discover what makes these rivers so special. Visit www.sudbury-assabet-concord.org to view a full listing of events, or call 978-369-3956. Or visit Facebook at Suasco RSC, Riverfest.
Wayland's event, the annual History Paddle, will be held at 9 am. on the 23rd. Brandeis Professor Brian Donahue will lead a flotilla leaving from the new Route 20 boat ramp built by the state at the request of the River Stewardship Council. You can paddle downstream to Sherman's Bridge while hearing about the fascinating history of our river, the reason why Wayland exists. Bring your own canoe or kayak, or call 508-358-2980 to make arrangements to boat-share.
AFFORDABLE-RATE CONDOS AVAILABLE
Four new condominiums are for sale at Wayland Commons under the Massachusetts affordable housing program at $159,000. The developer describes them as large, with market-rate finishes, a deck and a two-car garage. See: http://www.brendonhomes.com/wayland-commons.cfm
For information on the units and eligibility for the affordable rate, contact Beth Rust, the agent, at 978-638-3388, or housing@...,
Beth Rust, Community Housing Coordinator, Town of Sudbury, 278 Old Sudbury Road, Sudbury, MA 01776. (v) 978-639-3388 (f) 978-443-0756
TOWN BEACH OPENING DAY BEACH PARTY
The Opening Day Beach Party is scheduled for Saturday, June 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The Wayland Recreation Department welcomes all Wayland residents to join in on the fun free of charge for the day. Check out the town's new beach house. Enjoy live music from Wayland's first "all-dad band," the Wayland Daddios, who will play a unique style of pop and rock music.
For children, the moon bounce, games, prizes and other activities. This will be the first day for the snack bar, including grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and other items for purchase.
ODD/EVEN WATER BAN
Effective July 2 odd/even outdoor watering restrictions will be in effect, matching even and odd numbered days with the residence address.
Sprinklers are permitted between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. No time or day restrictions on hand-held hoses.
The Board of Public Works asks residents to water no more than twice a week.
The DPW is at 508-358-3672.
Water conservation and lawn maintenance information and recommendations are available at:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor