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Conservation Commission sued by The Trails development; addresses stormwater violation at Chamberlain-Whalen

by | Jan 29, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The Conservation Commission at its meeting Tuesday reprimanded the representative of the Chamberlain/Whalen subdivision for the most recent stormwater management violations that the developer hoped would be managed in part by a “super silt” fence.

Conservation Administrator Kim Ciaramicoli told the commission that on Jan. 10, she observed turbid water discharging from Lot 4 of the subdivision. It ran beyond the approved limits of work and 100 feet into the adjacent vegetated wetlands.

She added that she was inspecting all active construction sites in town because of the deluge of rain Hopkinton recently received.

“There were flows coming off almost every single construction site,” said Ciaramicoli, adding that they all contained “ponded water.” “However this was the only one that had visibly turbid water. So it was a quality issue versus a quantity issue.”

Toll Brothers, the developer, previously received a violation notice regarding the Edgewood at Hopkinton development on July 28 for a violation that occurred on July 23, she noted. Another notice was issued on Aug. 24 for violations that occurred on Aug. 3, 18 and 23. An enforcement order was issued on Sept. 12.

Ciaramicoli noted that the applicant “has been responsive.” The following day, the developer’s consultant, LEC, visited the site to evaluate sedimentation and erosion control measures. All but one quickly was implemented.

Ted Merchant, the land development director for Toll Brothers, explained that the torrential rain overpowered the basin and ran into the wetlands. Materials for a suggested culvert were expected to arrive by the end of that week for installation.

He added that a lot upstream had been stabilized with straw, and a second lot had straw added to the grass there. A third lot currently is under construction.

While chair Jeff Barnes said he appreciated the applicant’s work to correct the problem, he asked if there could be “due diligence” to prevent issues from occurring.

Merchant noted that LEC has been hired to conduct stormwater inspections in an effort to be more proactive.

Member Ted Barker-Hook noted to Merchant that when previous violations were discussed, he had asked how much earth was being moved and left either uncovered or partially covered. A picture Ciaramicoli showed of the site when the Jan. 10 violation occurred showed that some land appeared to have been “radically cleared.” He raised concerns as to whether removing dirt to this extent was necessary. Member Jim Ciriello concurred.

Asked Barker-Hook: “Can we use these events to alter the building schedule and the plan and take some lessons from them?”

At another point in the discussion, he called the land clearing “utterly and completely reckless.”

Merchant said the super silt fence held back a lot of the water. Once the lot is constructed, water will flow directly into the woods without ponding. Other stabilization methods also are in place, including the straw.

Ciaramicoli noted that the super silt fence previously installed at the site of the flooding “gives a false sense of security at the perimeter.”

“We’ve had multiple significant rainfall events this year,” said member Ed Harrow. “My question is, is that an anomaly, or is that the future? This to me is not acceptable.”

He added that the applicant currently is developing a subdivision off Blueberry Lane, where he expressed concerns about the amount of land being cleared.

Ciriello added that there have been more “epic events” of rainfall in recent years. Limiting the amount of land that is disturbed during construction may help it stay stable.

Barnes noted that the commission needs “to be more deliberative” about the amount of land it allows to be cleared in subdivision development. Rain events like this are going to be more frequent with climate change, and he noted a few that already have occurred this year.

Added Barnes: “You could basically take a whitewater raft and raft down some of these properties.”

Because of the previous violations, he suggested that the amount of the fines be tabulated and presented at the next meeting to “determine next steps as a commission.”

Executive session held regarding The Trails lawsuit

The commission met in executive session to discuss a lawsuit against the Conservation Commission in Middlesex County Superior Court. It was filed by The Trails LLC.

The Trails, an 80-unit open-space mixed-use development (OSMUD) off Legacy Farms North Road, between Wilson Street and the Ashland border, has been plagued by stormwater management issues that have negatively impacted the water system in Ashland, and violations first were issued in the summer of 2021.

Those fines were held in abeyance until 2023, when subsequent violations had occurred. Both the Conservation Commission and the Planning Board sought remediation plans in the past. A peer consultant was brought in to review the stormwater management practices, and work has been performed off-site to control stormwater runoff.

The Independent contacted Peter Bemis, the project engineer for The Trails, via phone and email for a comment, but no response was received after a week.

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