The Planning Board on Monday night granted two permits for Eversource’s facility improvement project at the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at 52 Wilson St. after a two-hour discussion that encompassed a growing concern about stormwater mitigation in the area that was beyond the board’s purview.
An earth removal permit was required because of trenching needed for an electrical conduit and a new water line. However, there is not expected to be a need to remove much material offsite.
Eversource made a waiver request to reduce the buffer zone to 60 feet because of encroachment at the Tennessee Gas property line for the entrance and egress from the site. This prompted a discussion about waiving the areas that currently exist within the 100-foot buffer zone.
A finding was made that this was pre-existing and does not affect the visibility of the site.
“What this would do is make a finding that these incursions are already existing,” explained Principal Planner John Gelcich, noting that the buffer would have to be crossed to access the property to perform the work. “Applying the buffer would not make the intent of the buffer happen because it wouldn’t change the visibility of the site. In this situation, the existing conditions almost negate the need for the buffer in these areas because it wouldn’t change the situation on the ground.”
There are existing buildings in the buffer zone that exist, but the way the bylaw is written, a vegetated 100-foot buffer would need to be applied sitewide, even though the earth removal work is not in the buffer zone itself.
The waiver language was modified to incorporate the existing incursions within the 100-foot buffer zone. It was also changed to a 30-foot buffer along the Tennessee Gas property line to allow for additional working space. Earth removal is proposed for within 60 feet of the Tennessee Gas property line, but space for stockpiling materials may be needed.
Member Dave Paul noted that the project has to go into the buffer zone at one point to create the access road requested by the Fire Department for public safety access.
The revised measure was approved 8-0.
Numerous conditions then were approved to allow for construction activities and to prevent pollution and dust from impacting the town. A traffic management plan will be put into place before work begins. Any damage caused during construction would have to be repaired.
The stormwater permit also generated a lot of discussion. Soil testing is needed to determine if the mitigation strategy is appropriate and was a condition of the permit being granted.
Resident Katie Towner had submitted three written questions to the board about stormwater runoff that she asked to have addressed. Her main concern was water she said was running off of the Eversource site, which poses a public safety hazard when it freezes. She noted it can run all the way to Route 85.
The applicant contended that the property is not causing the runoff there. However, the site does cause drainage further along the property. The drainage system that will be installed with the project will stop some of the flow through the site and convey it into a catch basin.
“Think we’re adding a benefit to the area,” said Jim Blackburn, Eversource’s project manager. “We’re adding a stormwater system that doesn’t exist.”
“The water flows where the water flows,” Towner said. “To assert that no water is coming from your area, I don’t think you have any data to support that. I don’t think what you have proposed will address your portion of the issue.”
Phil Paradis of BETA, the town’s engineering consultant, explained that because of the site’s topography, the water drains into three different directions.
“We asked them to differentiate among the three watersheds to make sure that this flow is not increasing overall,” he said. “I am completely sensitive to the stormwater issues in the area.”
The poor soil quality contributes to the problem, he added, but this project will address the area in which the work is being proposed and will “slightly decrease” the overall impact.
Paul asked that the Department of Public Works (DPW) be brought in to discuss the ongoing issues with drainage in that area and determine where the problem is coming from.
Chair Gary Trendel added that the rain over the past six months has highlighted an issue with multiple properties that are not coming before the board.
Gelcich said the Planning Board’s authority is limited to construction impacts, not work already done.
Eversource representatives said they would be willing to work with town officials to help improve the overall area impact.
Vice Chair Mary Larson-Marlowe thanked Towner for bringing her concerns before the board so that they can be addressed “on a larger global scale.”
Trendel said he looked forward to a “broader discussion” on what can be done to decrease the stormwater impact in this region.
A number of findings and conditions similar to those on the earth removal permit were made when the permit was approved by a 9-0 vote.
“We have added a lot of conditions in here in hopes to address some of the past shortcomings that we’ve had in that part of town,” Trendel said.
17 Main St. to be reviewed by BETA
Stormwater mitigation also was a concern for the 17 Main St. project. The board determined by a 6-0 vote that the building, which experienced a fire about a year ago, needs to be reviewed by town engineering consultant BETA to address any potential stormwater issues. The owner wants to expand the building into the parking area as part of the renovation.
Gelcich explained that the upper levels of the building, which contained offices and apartments, need to be replaced. The gross square foot area will be expanded by about 4,000 feet, which allows the project to undergo a minor site plan review process. An underground retention area will be built.
Usually minor site plans do not get reviewed by BETA, he added. However, the review suggestion was prompted by growing issues with stormwater runoff in the downtown area.
“Stormwater is becoming a bigger issue this year,” he said, noting the extreme weather this summer. “Making the site different in stormwater characteristics potentially could have larger impacts here than elsewhere.”
Doherty named to Design Review Board alternate seat
In other news, the Planning Board unanimously approved Jeff Doherty to an alternate seat on the Design Review Board. He previously served on this board.