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Conservation Commission blasts The Trails for repeated stormwater violations

by | Aug 9, 2023 | Business, Featured: News, News

The Trails water barriers

Numerous attempts to manage stormwater at The Trails have been unsuccessful. PHOTO/JERRY SPAR

During its nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Conservation Commission lost its patience with the developer of The Trails after the project incurred additional stormwater management violations after the deluge of rain earlier in the day.

The Trails, an 80-unit open-space mixed-use development (OSMUD) off Legacy Farms Road North, between Wilson Street and the Ashland border, has been plagued by stormwater management issues that have negatively impacted the water system in Ashland. Now in its fourth phase of development, The Trails has a history of nearly three years of stormwater violations over different phases of development that have caused turbid water to run into Ashland’s reservoir.

At last month’s meeting, chair Jeff Barnes and vice chair Melissa Recos called out the developer for violations following a rainstorm, and the commission issued a new fine on July 10. At the June meeting, the commission decided to enforce $43,100 in fines that had been held in abeyance for nearly two years because the pattern of stormwater violations on the project had not been broken.

Conservation Administrator Kim Ciaramicoli shared pictures from the violations seen in July as well as earlier in the day. A violation incurred on July 16 when an infiltration basin north of Weston Lane topped out with water that flowed onto Wilson Street.

Earlier on the day of the meeting, the stormwater bypassed the infiltration basin and “jumped over the footpath” into the wetland system. She noted that she emailed project engineer Peter Bemis a week earlier noting that this could occur, “but I’m not sure if anything was done about that.”

Barnes chastised Bemis and property owner Vin Gately of Heritage Properties for failing to adequately prepare for the rain, stressing the project’s history of poor stormwater management practices. He made it clear during the half-hour discussion that the commission had had enough.

Asked Barnes: “How could this happen again, sir, after everything we’ve been through over the past three years?”

He noted that Gately was informed before the second phase of the project of the steps that needed to be taken to keep the project in compliance.

“I’m beside myself, really,” Barnes continued. “How does this happen again?”

Replied Gately: “I’ll let my engineer talk to you about that.”

“I have as much disappointment as you,” said Bemis, noting that crews tried to install a detention basin two weeks before. “We have failures at several areas of the site — no question. The basin is in place, but the water couldn’t get to it.”

“These are the same excuses we heard in the first phase of the project,” Barnes said to Gately, visibly frustrated. “They’ve had three years, and we’re experiencing the same problem. I don’t have confidence in Engineering Design Consultants [Bemis’s firm] .… I don’t think Mr. Bemis understands the gravity of what’s happening here. You’re contaminating a public water supply.

“As a commission, we want to know when it’s going to stop, honestly,” Barnes continued. “Because this is embarrassing for us as a commission. Frankly, It’s ridiculous.”

Bemis explained that the area had been stabilized, but reconstruction in the back of the lots disrupted it. Water flowed off roofs that do not yet have roof drains installed.

“We’re working to stabilize that area,” Bemis said, noting that there was significant rain. “This is why we’re where we are.”

“The site contractor has taken certain liberties with this site,” he said, indicating that wood chips were spread “unbeknownst to us” where Bemis said sod was more appropriate. He explained that he is not on-site full time to supervise the contractor, who had cleared more land than he had expected.

Said Bemis: “I’m being put in the role of contractor, and it’s been unfair.”

“Mr. Bemis, stop with the apologies!” Barnes fumed. “It’s unprofessional, number one, and it’s disingenuous at this point. You’re not at the principal’s office because you put a bullfrog in little Suzy’s lunchbox, OK? This is a serious situation. You’re impacting a public water supply in another town.”

Member Ted Barker-Hook questioned Gately about his responsibility. He later asked whether Gately thought it was better for the project to absorb fines rather than to spend money getting the project done right. Gately initially remained silent.

Barker-Hook called the silence “a bit of cowardice.”

Replied Gately: “I’m just listening to you guys rant, that’s all.”

“I’m not getting much credit for all the mitigation work that I have done,” Gately added. “I’m certainly not happy that we’re in the place that we are. But you’re totally off base with these comments.”

Ciaramicoli noted that the site is under a cease-and-desist order, with the exception of stormwater management remediation work.

Recos questioned whether the same contractor was being used as in the previous phases, and Bemis confirmed it.

Said Barnes: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

The Trails needs to present its action plan to the commission at its next meeting on Aug. 29, which will take place in person at the Senior Center at 7 p.m.

This is not the first town in which Bemis has faced issues. He was involved in a lawsuit in 2021 for clearcutting land along the Holliston-Medway line without a permit, according to a Metrowest Daily News article.

Laborers’ Training gas line hearing continued

In another ongoing project, attorney George Connors appeared before the commission requesting a notice of intent to realign a proposed gas line at the Massachusetts Laborers Training facility at 37 East Street.

He explained that the project does not have the Department of Environmental Protection file number that the commission requested. Connors then described where the gas line would be placed. The first section he described is in the wooded rear area of the property, while the second one is in the campus proper within river zones. The proposed gas line will go in where there are existing gravel and paved driveways on previously disturbed land, he said.

Connors requested that the hearing be closed with the understanding that the DEP file number will be submitted when it is received. He explained that he submitted the complete file the commission had requested on the previous NOI to review earlier that day.

He said he was “anxious” to get the gas line installed before winter. He said that the file he just submitted on the previous NOI is “not really germane” to the current request.

Ciaramicoli said the DEP requires that an alternatives analysis be submitted to show other options where the gas line had been proposed that may be “less impactful to the riverfront area.” This is “the missing piece” that was not included in the current application.

Connors said he didn’t believe it was required because it is in a previously disturbed area and because the documentation had been submitted in the previous application.

Ciaramicoli noted that the commission had been “burned” previously when it did not have a DEP number on file for a case.

Barnes said the case needed to be continued until the next meeting. Recos agreed, saying that the completed packet needs to be filed.

“It’s a shame that the [commission] is getting this kind of pressure for an application that I think we feel good about, that is likely headed towards an approval on the 29th,” said Ciaramicoli. “It’s something where I’ve really got to put my foot down. It’s burned this commission in the past. This is how we end up in court.”

Commercial building proposed at 28 Lumber Street

Scott Goddard from Goddard Consulting appeared before the commission with a presentation to build a two-story commercial medical office building at 28 Lumber Street on a 3.4-acre vacant lot close to the Hopkinton Stone and Garden nursery property. The parcel is divided by an elevated ridge line, he explained, because the site previously had been used as an excavation pit. This caused the creation of an isolated vegetated wetland when the groundwater table was hit, although it is “largely barren.”

Some of the land has been used as a “borrow pit” during the construction of Interstate 495, he explained. There also is encroachment onto the southern edge of the property by the abutter.

To construct the building, encroachment into a small corner of the buffer zone is proposed. He proposed replicating the disturbed wetland at a 1.5:1 ratio, as well as replication in the fill pile areas. A septic system is proposed at the front of the building.

Ciaramicoli noted that the applicant needs to provide an alternative to disturbing the wetland, according to the town bylaw.

Barker-Hook noted that the stockpiles need to be removed from the buffer zones. He said this should not be counted as part of the mitigation effort. Goddard said it is “part of a long-term operation” by the nursery. That area will be restored.

The hearing was continued until Aug. 29 so that the applicant could look at rain gardens and other restoration practices.

Two Myrtle Avenue homes approved, three others put on hold

The commission approved two notices of intent for single-family homes on Myrtle Avenue proposed by Toll Brothers as part of a subdivision after some discussion. Two others on Myrtle Avenue and one on Fitch Avenue — both roads to be constructed off Blueberry Lane — were continued.

The applicant’s representative, Ted Merchant, explained that there will be tree restoration on the properties and that measures will be put in place to update stormwater management practices to modern standards, even though this is not required. He asked that the first two properties be approved because the deadline for their permits will expire before the next hearing.

A discussion ensued about obtaining a permit for a sewer hookup from the Department of Public Works. Marchant said these may not be sought until the building permit is requested.

Discussion about the caliper of replaced trees also occurred. Smaller trees would be more likely to succeed than those of larger diameters, commissioners explained. Questions also arose about grading in the buffer zone and the need to replant trees there that were more than 12 inches in diameter. There are mature red oaks on the site ranging from 12-30 inches in caliper. This discussion will continue at the next meeting.

Merchant said that the project would be unlikely to continue unless all five lots are approved.

A condition was made that there be a 2-to-1 tree replacement ratio. The two lots were approved 5-1, with member Ed Harrow against.

188-190 Fruit Street proposal discussion continued

The commission also continued the hearing on a proposal for the construction of two homes at 188-190 Fruit Street. Barnes and other commissioners noted that the poor soil quality and disturbance to the land required because of its sloping nature likely would prevent two homes from being built on the site.

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