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Conservation Commission split on decision to proceed with gas pipeline at Mass. Laborers facility

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

The Conservation Commission at its meeting Tuesday night approved 4-3 the notice of intent hearing on the Massachusetts Laborers Training facility’s initially proposed gas line under the Wetlands Protection Act, the preferred option of the developer, after some concessions were reached during the meeting.

But under the town bylaw, the margin was 4-3 against the measure. On the initial vote, members Melissa Recos, Kerry Reed, Jim Ciriello and chair Jeff Barnes voted in favor, with Janine LeBlanc, Ted Barker-Hook and Ed Harrow dissenting. Ciriello was the additional dissenter on the second vote.

The project, located at 37 East Street, has been discussed over the course of several months. The main point of contention has been the location of the initially proposed gas line that would involve site work on the Clinton Street right of way from Front Street.

The gas line, which project attorney George Connors continually has stressed is the preferred option for the developer, would run through the main campus and necessitate the removal of about 100 trees. It would begin at Clinton Street and cross the campus, going behind the Maloney maintenance building. It then would continue around the pond to the ball field area and end at the dormitory building.

At the last meeting, three alternative routes were proposed. Some members and abutters preferred the route that would run from Clinton Street to East Street, known as alternative four.

Connors initially discussed the fourth alternative. He noted that this proposal would result in a 629-square-foot stream crossing, which would be greater than the one on the first route. He introduced Tom Giola, the vice president of project management for Standard Builders. Giola explained that he has been “in contact with Eversource” as an intermediary on the project.

Barnes asked about Giola’s role in this process, as it was unclear to him. Giola said his role is “helping with things like the gas” so that there is “a chain of communication with Eversource.”

The fourth alternative would cause some scheduling problems, Giola explained. It took nine months to get internal Eversource approval for the initially proposed route. To go through the same process for the fourth alternative would take another “six to nine months,” he said. The delay would mean that there would not be natural gas available for the facility in the fall. The campus systemwide would have to use propane tanks and plumbing, so the entire campus system would have to be converted for its use and then changed back for natural gas later.

As a compromise, Connors explained that a portion of the initial gas line has been moved outside of the riverfront area and into a part of the site that previously was disturbed. The two staging areas also have been moved outside of the buffer zone “to the maximum extent practical,” he added. After Barnes questioned him, Connors said he could move one entirely out, as well as proposed another small one near where the stream crossing would occur.

Connors also agreed that the trees removed around the gas line will be replaced at a ratio of two to one, depending upon the trees’ dimensions. There was a discussion as to what height and caliber the replacement trees should be.

Recos noted that putting all of the replacement trees in the area around the pipe might inhibit their growth, so some might benefit from being placed in another area of the site. Connors agreed with board members that the laborers would work with Conservation Administrator Kim Ciaramicoli to determine the best areas for the trees and other plantings that would help screen the project from abutters.

The notice of intent on the construction of a fire pond was continued until the next meeting on Feb. 28.

Turkey Ridge makes progress on erosion controls, but not enough after new violation

The other major case discussed was the Turkey Ridge Estates proposed development at 52 Cedar Street Extension, near the Southborough border. At the last meeting two weeks ago, the commission voted to issue fines for the violation of erosion controls witnessed by Ciaramicoli on Dec. 29, prompting her to issue a partial cease and desist order on construction. Those fines have been held in abeyance to allow the developer time to correct the problems.

Part of the issue is the result of the land’s challenging topography, Ciaramicoli explained during her presentation. She outlined the areas where sedimentation washed out into the riverfront. The area’s steep slopes direct water toward the Sudbury River, and recent rainfall has exacerbated the situation. There are two basin areas near the river’s edge, but they have not been fully constructed. Their completion would help the situation, Ciaramicoli said.

“You’ve got to be on fire to get those things installed,” she said.

She noted that on Jan. 26, there was another significant rainstorm that caused “additional areas of violations.” Turbid water had breached the basin areas, causing sedimentation to flow. In response, the developer placed hay bales to control the erosion, which Ciaramicoli showed in photos. The applicant also had constructed a dewatering area, which she said had been doing well in controlling the water until the last storm.

While the developer did make progress in placing stormwater control barriers on the site including mulch, erosion control blankets, a swale and hay bales, Ciaramicoli stressed that more work needed to be done. Two areas have not been addressed, she explained, noting “there is a large area of unsecured soil at the site.”

“I know that the applicant is trying to get there, but I would love to see more,” she added. “More mulch, more blankets.”

Barnes told developer Shane Perrault that Ciaramicoli also noted that the site has been “minimally staffed,” which did not reflect the urgency of the situation from his perspective.

Said Barnes: “I’m not quite sure that you get the gravity of what we’re requesting.”

Perrault countered that he and his crew have been working diligently on the erosion problem. There has been a construction supervisor on site “every single moment anyone’s been on that site,” he explained. He also switched contractors to Goddard Engineering and added more personnel. Retaining walls will be built by the end of the week, which will be “a huge accomplishment” to complete the basins.

“The month of January will probably go down as the hardest month of construction I’ve dealt with,” he added. He noted that the vast shifts from warm and rainy to frigid and snowy weather have caused delays.

Goddard representative Andrew Thibault said one of the two main breaches occurred outside of the buffer zone. Seeding would help, but it cannot be done until the spring. The sites will continue to be monitored and addressed.

Harrow explained the complexity of the site, which he previously walked with Ciaramicoli.

“The horse is already out of the barn,” he said, noting that silt fencing was not done properly. “I was very dismayed, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Barker-Hook noted the expanses of exposed soil, questioning why the area could not have been mulched six weeks after the initial violation.

Perrault said that one of the areas is under construction for a pond, and the area of greatest flooding is where he has concentrated his efforts.

“Everywhere that you can stabilize on the site collectively is going to improve the water quality,” Ciaramicoli replied. “All of the small areas you can stabilize will make a big difference cumulatively.”

Barnes said the fines for both violations are being held in abeyance. Ciriello said this situation is “out of control” and that fines should be collected from the developer.

Added Harrow: “I look at this as a platoon on this job, and we need a brigade.”

Perrault said he will put “every man I have” to work on stabilizing the site.

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