WVN #274: Interior Dept. appeal on Town Center permit
- Dear Wayland Voter,
There's a new obstacle to building the 370,000-square foot Town Center development on Route 20. The Department of the Interior and local environmentalists have filed appeals that must be resolved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Washington decision could be weeks, months or longer in coming.
Meanwhile, the developer, Twenty Wayland, asked for a delay in its permit negotiations with the Wayland Conservation Commission just days after asserting that the $140-million project could fail for lack of financing unless the town issues permits
by Jan. 15. Twenty Wayland's request to delay submitting documents until Jan. 10 makes it impossible for permits to be issued by mid-January.
In any case, local action could be clouded until the EPA makes its decision.
WASTEWATER IS THE ISSUE
On Sept. 30 the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued a permit to allow Wayland's Wastewater Treatment Plant to continue to discharge into wetlands on the Sudbury River with relatively lenient requirements.
The Interior Department's Nov. 14 petition to the EPA's appellate board challenges that permit. The appeal represents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, National Park Service Wild and Scenic Rivers Program and
Minuteman National Historical Park. The Town Center site is close to federally protected lands and the river.
The Department argues, among other things, that the slow-moving Sudbury is already badly damaged by polluting activity along its 16-mile course, and further degradation would violate the federal Clean Water Act and endanger a valuable scenic
and recreational river.
The Town Center requires not only an EPA-approved permit but more wastewater capacity than is available now.
The permit allows phosphorus effluent requirements for part of the year only half as strict as the 0.1mg/liter imposed in recent years on all other plants along the Sudbury, Assabet and Concord rivers. Phosphorus encourages invasive species such as
duck weed and particularly water chestnut.
Water chestnut has proliferated in recent years, choking off the river channel, restricting recreational boating and fishing, reducing habitat for fish and waterfowl, and destroying the historical ambiance around the Old North Bridge in Concord. When
the plants die they rot and can stink. Federal agencies and most river towns, including Wayland, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove it.
The second appeal is from Thomas B. Arnold, a prominent Sudbury environmental attorney, and has been consolidated with the Interior Department action. In addition to the phosphorus limits, the appellants claim that the Town of Wayland hasn't
complied with the previous permit for the existing plant issued in 1998. That, they say, makes the existing permit invalid, and therefore tighter standards and processes for a brand new plant, rather than for a renewed or expanded plant, must be
Arnold's attorney for the appeal, Deirdre Menoyo, a former DEP assistant commissioner, is chair of the Sudbury, Assabet, and Concord Wild and Scenic River Stewardship Council and active in other environmental protection groups.
The outcome of these appeals could curtail what can be built on the property. The Town Center plans include restaurants and a large grocery store, which burden waste treatment systems, and up to 100 condominiums.
Phosphorus is not the only substance in the appealed permit. EPA is concerned about metals, which can be toxic to wetlands organisms, especially aquatic invertebrates. Some metals, like lead and aluminum, are major problems for human health.
The Sudbury is heavily contaminated with mercury from an upstream Superfund site. Another contentious provision in the permit allows the plant to extend its outfall pipe directly to the river channel from its current location in the marsh.
The existing permit was initially issued to Wayland Business Center in 1998 and transferred to the town in 1999 along with ownership of the plant. The permit imposed a relatively loose .5 mg/liter phosphorus limit but also required a phosphorus
trading scheme. Under this plan, the plant owner was to find other ways to reduce phosphorus in the watershed to compensate for the high level of phosphorus coming from the plant.
Annual progress reports were required. None of this ever happened, the appellants say.
Dean Stratouly's firm, Wayland Business Center, owned the property. Twenty Wayland is the legal entity created to develop the Town Center, with Stratouly as a principal.
Wayland selectmen negotiated a Town Center development agreement with Twenty Wayland assuming a new plant would cost $3 million, and agreeing that the developer would be responsible for only a portion of that cost. Last spring Town Meeting
approved $5.2 million for that plant. The present treatment plant serves five households, some businesses and a municipal user.
The appeal notes that the plant discharges waste within 300 feet of the federally protected river and wildlife refuge, and argues that alternatives should be considered. If the EPA requires discharge into a large leaching field somewhere else, there
could be problems finding a site, and there could be added costs.
The selectmen have repeatedly affirmed that the town has legal responsibility to provide disposal capacity to Twenty Wayland, even though the current issues exist only as a consequence of the Town Center development.
The selectmen, the Finance Committee and many residents have backed Twenty Wayland from the beginning, arguing that the Town Center would produce significant tax revenue to help avoid overrides. An independent consultant's study concluded
that an all-residential development would produce similar tax revenue, estimated at the time as well under $1 million annually. After one failed vote, a record Town Meeting turnout approved zoning for Twenty Wayland's proposal.
The Environmental Appeals Board docket is at:
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor