WVN #461: Residents, officials press NStar on clear cutting
- Dear Wayland Voter,
Wayland officials and residents bombarded NStar with facts, questions and warnings in the wake of the utility's clear cutting of trees and brush along its right of way.
Since that meeting, follow-up efforts continue.
NStar's recent clear-cutting near power lines has created outrage in several communities and attracted wide media attention including a major Boston Globe story. Wayland's response showed a coherent and united effort.
NStar Meets With Board of Selectmen
The tone of the meeting with NStar on July 18 was set early by the four selectmen in attendance: Although NStar may have had the legal right to cut down residents' trees in its right-of-way running through the Oak Hill/Meadowview Road neighborhood, it had not done the right thing by the property owners and the town.
NStar agreed to attend the meeting to discuss its actions and planned mitigation for impacts on the neighborhood and the Meadowview Well. Pressed for an explanation of its drastic methods, since pruning and topping of trees under its transmission lines had previously been accepted practice, Bill Hayes, NStar's senior arborist, pointed to new company and regulatory standards as the reason for the change.
Hayes explained that NStar has not finished this year's mechanical work under the transmission lines in this neighborhood. Stump grinding would take place through August. After meetings with individual residents this week, they would work on a case-by-case basis to seed lawn areas which they think should be restored and replace trees with more compatible vegetation. Any erosion in affected areas would be dealt with after the fact. Although no budget has been set for these mitigation measures, their goal would be to combine homeowners' expectations with compliance with strict requirements for power line clearance.
The chairmen of Wayland's Board of Public Works and the Board of Health expressed their concerns regarding future herbicide usage in the town.
BoPW chair Mike Lowery (speaking only for himself) urged NStar to respect existing town pesticide regulations and their designation of the "cone of influence" surrounding a well, whether or not the state is deemed to be the authority for herbicide application. He emphasized that herbicides should be prohibited in the Meadowview Well capture zone, which extends beyond the protected 400-foot Zone I radius. Capture zones for all Wayland wells were scientifically established and detailed in the town's Wellhead Protection Plan approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
There was considerable confusion on where NStar would use herbicides in the future. NStar revealed it plans to apply herbicides this year along its transmission line right of way that roughly parallels Route 20, but not in the Oak HIll/Meadowview area. Board of Health chair Tom Klem cited possible public health effects from the use of Roundup, particularly along denuded areas. He suggested that additional sensitive areas be delineated for strict regulation. While herbicides are not allowed within 100 feet of private wells used primarily for irrigation, NStar may not have obtained up to date information about well locations from the Board of Health records.
Tom Sciacca, speaking on behalf of WaylandWells.com, the former Wellhead Protection Committee, enumerated the possible negative impacts of using the Meadowview wellhead area as a staging site for NStar clear cutting. Supporting photos of prohibited activity within Zone I of the well and problematic activity extending into the larger capture zone were provided. WaylandWells.com proposed a comprehensive mitigation plan to include evaluations and funding of soil testing and water sampling as well as payment for any damage to service buildings and underground structures.
The protective screening removed by NStar at the entrance to the wellhead should also be restored since security is now at risk. Sciacca reiterated the importance of protecting the Meadowview Well by keeping herbicides out of the established capture zone. In contrast to its interaction with other speakers, NStar offered no comment after the WaylandWells presentation.
Town residents spoke passionately about the potential use of herbicides. While acknowledging NStar's standing to remove trees, one resident questioned the right to "spew poison" and threaten the health and well-being of his family, friends and pets. Another resident requested that "approved herbicides" no longer be used to describe the chemicals since "approved" doesn't necessarily mean "safe." Hayes responded to these and similar concerns with his assurances that only qualified vendors would be applying the herbicides and special circumstances would be considered case by case.
Kurt Tramposch, another member of WaylandWells.com, commented on recent research of herbicides such as Glyphosate or Roundup. He pointed out that the state regulatory agency is now studying the inert carriers or surfactants which are often more toxic than Glyphosate itself. Contrary to previous thinking, the formulations are mobile in soil and a legitimate concern for water protection since they can travel through storm water. More recent scientific studies suggest a link between these chemicals and genetic damage and endocrine disruption.Tramposch urged an herbicide moratorium like the one initiated on Cape Cod where only mechanical alternatives for vegetative management are employed.
Selectmen and other commenters questioned the adequacy of NStar notifications regarding herbicide use. Hayes repeatedly stated that proper legal notice had been given to various town entities (which had not taken the opportunity to respond within the required public comment period). Confusion regarding which right-of-way NStar had scheduled for herbicide applications this year added to residents' anxiety. NStar's community relations representative, Annemarie Walsh, had assured the town in a June 12 response to selectmen's questions that it planned no herbicide application this year.
More than a month later, only when a legal notice appeared in the Boston Globe on the day of the meeting, was it clarified by Walsh that the intended right of way for herbicide application this year was not in the Oak Hill/Meadowview Road neighborhood but in fact involved the railroad bed running through the center of town and over the Sudbury River (Wayland's future rail trail). NStar cut back the vegetation in this so-called "8-2" right-of-way last year in anticipation of returning to finish the job with Roundup in 2012. NStar is not required to provide more specific notification to the town or abutters when this will happen within the approved three-month time period.
One resident asked by what legal right NStar is allowed to profit by the trees it cut down on private property. The utility easement gives it the right to cut the trees down, but the land and trees still belong to the property owner. While some of the trees were chipped and spread on defoliated areas, some of the wood apparently was taken away. Property owners were given no option to keep their own trees' trunks for firewood. Some homeowners lost 25-30 mature trees, which equate to many lost cords of wood.
The extended discussion concluded with an action plan to deal with numerous legalities, mitigation solutions for damages due to mechanical means and proactive strategies to help to protect the residents and the Meadowview Well from future herbicide use. The selectmen asked for a follow-up meeting with NStar to review the status of the utility's responses to the issues.
The Selectmen's July 18 meeting is available at WayCAM's Video on Demand archive:
Board of Public Works Weighs In
Discussion of NStar's misuse of the Meadowview Well site and potential recourse against the utility continued at the Board of Public Works meeting Monday night.
Chairman Mike Lowery outlined the possible damage to the underground infrastructure by heavy equipment in the Zone I. An inspection by the water superintendent for obvious problems will be requested. The board also reviewed the removal of the wellhead's vegetative screening which no longer protects it by anonymity from the street.
Representatives of WaylandWells.com warned against devaluing the importance of the Meadowview Well, which draws its water from the same aquifer as the Happy Hollow Wells. The Meadowview Well is registered with the state and tested on a regular basis but used only as an emergency source due to high levels of iron and manganese. The public works director, who was absent from the meeting, formerly advocated for a second water treatment plant near the site.
According to Tom Sciacca of WaylandWells, the Happy Hollow Wells are vulnerable. They are heavily relied upon during seasonal peak demand and particularly with ongoing problems at the Baldwin Pond Treatment Facility. In addition to a pattern of increasingly high sodium concentrations, a serious accident or spill on Old Connecticut Path could wipe them out. Then the Meadowview Well would become a primary backup to the Baldwin Pond wells, which are adequate to satisfy winter demand but not the increased demands of summer water use.
The board was also advised to consider communicating with the property owners at 14 and 20 Meadowview Road and Fish and Wildlife officials regarding mitigation because the lost vegetative security screening had been on their properties.
Town counsel will be consulted regarding NStar's liability due to physical property damage. Board members agreed that they should be ready to respond to any future proposal to use herbicides in the capture zone of the Meadowview Well.
-- Thursday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. The Design Review Board will meet to continue discussing the proposed redevelopment of the former Finnerty's Restaurant property.
Information about the proposed project is posted on the town's website:
--Thursday, July 26, 7 p.m. The School Committee will meet in town building to continue discussing "2012 Agreed Upon Procedures for Certain Accounts of Wayland Public Schools."
-- Friday, July 27. The Route 27 entrance to town building will be closed due to construction.
The entrance off Pelham Island Road will be open.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor