The Conservation Commission at its virtual meeting Tuesday night continued to seek more information on two longstanding town projects, the Massachusetts Laborers Training property on 37 East Street and The Trails in what Chair Jeff Barnes called “a challenging meeting.”
The commission issued an ultimatum to Peter Bemis, the project engineer for The Trails, to supply the information that both the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board have been requesting for several weeks by the close of business Thursday.
Laborers project insists on gas line through campus
Attorney George Connors represented the applicant for its three notice of intent hearings, with the gas line hearing spurring the most discussion and public comment over the course of an hour. At the start of the hearing, Barnes explained that Connors submitted new documents late that afternoon.
He also told Connors that the Department of Public Works (DPW) wrote to Conservation Administrator Kim Ciaramicoli, explaining that a winter moratorium on road excavation began on Nov. 15. Eversource did not request an extension, so excavation work cannot be performed on Clinton Street for the gas line until April.
Connors noted that the plans have “changed a little bit” since the last hearing on the pipeline. Adjustments were made to where the stream crossing had been proposed to make it smaller, and some of the staging areas were moved farther away from buffer areas, he said.
He added that a forester recently walked the site and identified 95 trees that need to be cut down, “not the thousand that was speculated at the last hearing.”
If the gas line were to go down Clinton Street to East Street, as commission members and residents discussed previously, it would cost roughly $1.7 million and require the removal of 15 trees on a scenic road.
Added Connors: “So our little stream crossing here is fairly small in terms of the impact versus $1.7 million. It’s no cost to the laborers because of the gas consumption.”
He explained that the applicant has met with Eversource to discuss the concerns raised by residents at the last meeting and the desire to connect with a gas line on Clinton Street. He said “they are trying to work out some sort of an agreement” that would allow abutters to connect to the proposed gas line.
Jay Sabatoni, the administrator for the New England Laborers Trust Fund that oversees the Mass. Laborers Trust Fund, said that the $1.7 million for a Clinton Street gas line would be cost prohibitive. Although he said the site is working to be a “good neighbor,” he cited his fiduciary responsibility as the fund overseer.
“The magnitude of this project cannot be understated,” he said of the $60 million campus expansion, noting that it should be done “as cost effectively as possible.”
“Hopefully we can come to some sort of compromise that makes this plan work that benefits everyone,” said Sabatoni, noting that 45,000 members rely on the training center.
At that point, Barnes asked if Eversource would share the cost of running the gas line through East Street. Connors said that Eversource was not willing to do that because it is offsetting the cost of the gas that the laborers would use, which would be extensive. Laborers would be performing about $700,000 worth of work on the campus proper, he added.
Members continued to express concerns about a 25-foot-wide corridor being necessary to install the pipeline as well as a desire to see the gas line benefit the neighbors while preventing the cutting of trees.
Member Jim Ciriello asked if the $1.7 million cost could possibly be offset by an agreement with neighbors to connect to the gas line if it didn’t run through the campus.
Said Connors: “There certainly isn’t enough use for that to be offset.”
Member Ted Barker-Hook continued to ask that the width of the corridor be reduced as a compromise. Connors insisted that this would not work because of the machines involved, plus the storage of dirt, sand, pipe and materials.
Several neighbors said they were concerned about their property values decreasing as well as the environmental and wildlife disturbance.
Barnes said that the residents’ comments would be “contemplated by the commission,” along with the new information submitted by the applicant. The commission voted unanimously to continue the hearings until the next meeting on Dec. 20.
Commission loses patience with The Trails
The other major hearing regarded The Trails, a 55-and-over housing development located off Legacy Farms North Road. The project continues to cause consternation for commission members. Last year, fines were issued against The Trails because sediment ran into the Hopkinton Reservoir, impacting both Hopkinton and Ashland.
The commission has made repeated requests for more detailed information from Bemis, the project engineer. The applicant did not appear at the Planning Board’s meeting one night earlier, as that board was seeking more details as well. Bemis said the drawings had not been officially submitted to the commission yet.
“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, Mr. Bemis,” said Barnes. “But at the last meeting, I think we made it very clear that the applications that have been submitted have been incomplete, and that we needed to have updated information to complete our review.”
Bemis replied that it was “a major undertaking” to compile data as well as to get a crew to assess the detention basin and potential impact on the lagoon system there.
Said Bemis: “You were also basically penalizing us [by] not releasing any additional units without information.”
Barnes replied that Bemis was given repeated clear direction on the information that the commission needs to complete the review. Bemis replied that the drawings were completed the day of the hearing, and the deadline was impacted by the holiday.
Bemis added that his bigger concern was that the commission had not taken into account “the 28-day construction season,” appearing visibly frustrated. He added that he is working with the Town of Ashland and two different Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) districts.
At that point, Vin Gately, the owner and developer of The Trails, stepped in. He said that it has been about three months since any foundations were released by the commission, which has made the project “almost business threatening.” Twenty-five units have been sold but cannot be built, he explained.
Barnes noted that some of the responses were first requested from Bemis on Oct. 18.
“I think it’s unfair to put the onus on us for not allowing the new foundations to be built, Mr. Gately,” Barnes said. “I think you and Mr. Bemis need to have a conversation about why the information isn’t being provided.”
Added Barnes: “I’m very frustrated, I’ll be honest with you. … We want solutions. We don’t want to hear about the problems anymore.”
The commission voted 6-1 that if Bemis could submit all the answers to Ciaramicoli by the close of business on Thursday, Ciaramicoli could decide to release two units at her discretion. Co-vice chair Kerry Reed voted against the measure. Also, Gately was asked to attend future meetings.
Ciaramicoli added that the $43,000 in fines from last year has not been paid to date.