Friday, June 4, 1999
DEP clears path for Middlesex expansion
Middlesex School has taken a giant step forward in its decade-long battle to secure a right of access to its holdings in the Estabrook Woods. At issue is the school's proposal to expand the present campus eastward, a plan that requires crossing the extensive wetlands that surround it on three sides.
This weekend, Concord officials received a superseding order from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reversing a denial of the project issued by that town's Natural Resources Commission in October of 1995. If there is no appeal challenging the DEP decision, the school may soon be able to proceed with its plan to construct two soccer fields and up to six tennis courts in the uplands above Bateman's Pond. Access would be via a two-way bridge and roadway spanning the wetlands. In the absence of a formal objection to the DEP order, there remain only two steps for consummation of the school's proposal: acceptance of the roadway by the Concord Planning Board and confirmation of limited permit status from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The town is precluded from an appeal owing to its acceptance of an agreement between the NRC and the school reached in April of 1997 following months of intensive mediation. At that time, although the commissioners each expressed a strong wish that the proposed development not take place, they clearly feared a reversal of their decision by the state and felt the agreement offered the best option available to the town, short of an expensive appeal process.
In return for the NRC pledge not to file a future appeal or court action, Middlesex promised to grant a permanent conservation restriction on 94 acres of its Estabrook holdings. The two tracts concerned included a preponderance of environmentally sensitive and generally unbuildable wetland acres (CR-1 on the map) 13 acres of Bateman's Pond with a major portion of its shoreline, and a 100-foot buffer adjacent to Harvard's Estabrook Woods. A portion of that buffer zone has since been removed from protected status owing to a surveying error.
As for the school's remaining 95 acres of undeveloped woodland, its officials could proceed with the proposed sports facilities once all federal, state and local permits are obtained. Further, the school agreed to refrain from development in the 49-acre upland abutting the Harvard Woods (B Land) for a period of 20 years.
A brief telephone conversation with Middlesex business manager James Saltonstall confirmed that, assuming the period for a counter appeal passed uneventfully, the school intended to "move forward." That reported, it appears the 1997 agreement and last week's decision by the DEP is not destined to be the final chapter. Immediately upon receipt of the superseding order, private individuals and members of groups who have opposed the school's approach to its expansion needs throughout the eight-year process have announced their intention to appeal the DEP decision.
Temporary spokesman Lansing Olds of Concord told the Mosquito that a meeting is being scheduled almost immediately to discuss options and "we will definitely go through with the appeal." He said he has agreed to head up a drive for pledges to support the expensive legal process ahead. Explaining that he has lived in Concord all his life and has known the people who made the Harvard Estabrook Woods a reality in the 1960s and thereafter, people like former Middlesex headmaster Monk Terry, the Hutchins family, the Newburys, and others, he wants to see their vision remain a reality. He would like to see the school take a lead in shaping a realistic program of environmental education for secondary schools worldwide.
More biting was the comment of longtime opponent Steven Ells of Lincoln, who upon perusing the superseding order believed that this was "a narrow technical decision" which rested almost entirely on the impact on an area of proposed wetland fill. Noting that the person who signed the order ignored a request to accompany opponents on a site walk, he termed the document "a decision made with blinders on."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito