By: Brian Genest, August, 2019
Have you ever dealt with the Conservation Commission in Dracut? Did the board require staked haybales and siltation fence for your project? Would you be surprised to find out the town didn’t comply with that standard requirement or other environmental regulations for its own Beaver Brook trail project?
“Where we got into trouble is that apparently during construction, nobody read the order of conditions, apparently. It’s my take,” Conservation Commission Chairman James Jendro told the Lowell Sun. “I was quite surprised to hear that there was some clearing much wider than 12 feet. It was my personal understanding that the width of the trail was 12 feet. I assumed that, wherever it went, it was 12 feet and it would be at least 25 feet away from top of the bank.”
In some areas, up to 45 feet has been cleared in the protected wetland area along Beaver Brook, under the not-so-watchful eye of the Conservation Commission. What’s surprising is that Jendro would actually be surprised. Last January, Conservation Commissioner Fred Spicer pointed out that no one appeared to be properly managing the project and called the way the town was handling it “loosey-goosey.”
A few months later, the bulldozers rolled into and over what was once pristine woods, wetlands and wildlife habitat. Last month, all work on the project was shut down by Conservation Agent Lori Cahill, based on a complaint filed by my wife that outlined numerous violations of the MA Wetland Protection Act and the Dracut Wetlands Protection Bylaw.
By the way, loosey-goosey is exactly the way the project has been handled by the town. The project was substantially changed after it was approved by a bunch of town boards, including the Community Preservation Committee, the Beaver Brook Farm Committee and the Conservation Commission. Originally, the plan called for a path that would be 6 feet wide with mulched wood chips as the surface. Then, it was increased to a 12-foot wide path with a gravel surface and brought back before the Conservation Commission for a second time.
At that time, Town Engineer Mark Hamel couldn’t answer basic questions about the revised plan, including how far the expanded path would be from Beaver Brook or where the center line of the new path was on the plan. Regardless, “the powers that be” get what they want in Dracut. So, naturally, the Conservation Commission approved it anyway, issuing a revised order of conditions for the project.
Among those conditions was the requirement that siltation fence and staked haybales be used in the work area. Surprise! Not a stitch of siltation fence was used and the haybales weren’t staked. Recently, some haybales that washed away in a rain storm were replaced and staked, but they are the exception.
One of the other conditions mandated by the Conservation Commission was that the edge of the trail be no closer than 25 feet to the top of the river bank. Surprise! You can add that one to the town manure pile, too. You don’t need 20/20 vision to see it’s much, much closer, which is convenient considering the Conservation Commission didn’t even bother to take a single measurement during a recent visit to the cite.
“I see no devastation to the wetlands,” Jendro said afterwards.
Therein may lie the problem: the project has altered more than 12,000 square feet within the 100-foot protected inner riverfront resource area along the brook. Only 5,000 of alteration is allowed under the law – and it’s allowed outside the 100-foot wide inner area. Jendro has been on the Conservation Commission for more than 25 years, so the law shouldn’t be surprising, either.
Jendro should also take another look at the certified vernal pool on the property. He told the newspaper that it was “missed” by the original biologist who surveyed the area. Surprise! What you can’t miss if you walk the area is the trash still in the vernal pool and the destruction all around it, including wetland vegetation and trees that have been removed from the bank.
Anyway, the Conservation Commission has finally called for a project manager to be named. Surprise! And better late than never, considering the Department of Environmental Protection, Army Corps of Engineers and other regulatory agencies will probably be surprised when they take a look at the project, too. In the meantime, someone surprise the Conservation Commission with a tape measure.
– Brian Genest is chairman of the Dracut Republican Town Committee and a member of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee representing the Second Essex & Middlesex District of Andover, Dracut, Lawrence and Tewksbury. ◊