The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 26, 1999


ConsCom reacts to public response on Sachs dam ruling

Upon completing their official November 18 agenda, Carlisle Conservation Commission members commented individually and informally on the published criticism of their procedures and rulings in the matter of the Sachs dam controversy. Referring to an editorial in the November 12 issue of the Mosquito and a letter to the editor from former ConsCom member Alex Parra in the November 19 newspaper, commissioners' reactions followed logically from their prior statements and recorded votes.

In hearings on October 27 and November 4, the board had addressed a number of clear-cut, but unintentional, failures by homeowner Jonathan Sachs to follow procedural requirements of the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act and the Carlisle Wetland Bylaw during repair of a failing dam at the Baldwin Road end of Evans Pond. Concluding an intense and often confrontational rehash of a two-and-a-half-year sequence of events, the commission had voted to issue Sachs a Certificate of Compliance, with commissioners Tricia Smith and Eric Jensen opposed and to levy a $2,500 penalty, with commissioners Jo Rita Jordan and Thomas Brownrigg in the minority. The editorial that perturbed the board took issue with the atmosphere of the hearings, which it found lacking in proper respect for a guilty but repentant citizen, while the letter questioned the commission's legal logic in issuing a Certificate of Compliance and then levying a fine. The letter also called on the commission to rescind the fine.

Jensen was the first to question the editorial, saying it relied on "vague implications without specifics" and that it suggested "baiting of the audience." The latter implication bothered him, and he asked his colleagues to speak frankly and challenge him if he, at any time, should appear to be badgering anyone.

Chair Jo Rita Jordan, on the other hand, admitted that she had been "very uncomfortable" at certain junctures in the proceedings and felt that Sachs had, at times, "been treated like a criminal." She found this approach to be at odds with the atmosphere that had prevailed during other controversial deliberations.

Veteran member John Lee pointed out that the clearly partisan audience had come "with a very specific agenda that put us in a most uncomfortable position." Saying that he felt the commission had tried hard to ferret out exactly what had occurred and to deal with the matter fairly, he hinted that the commission might not "know the whole story on the Sachs dam project," but failed to elucidate.

Vice-chair Smith, whose stance had been unforgiving throughout both hearings, commented that she still thought there had been "clean water violations," and that a lot of what had happened seemed to have been "outside the public view." However, she, like Lee, did not elaborate.

All members, the three veterans in particular, expressed their conviction that the Carlisle board normally "bends over backwards" to be accommodating to applicants. Smith, who is an environmental engineer, confirmed that in her experience, "most boards are much tougher."

Suggestions for the future

Sylvia Willard, who as a new board member has tended to look toward the future rather than past history, reiterated her desire to see a booklet developed explaining procedures to homeowners and other applicants. In addition, she called for a clear notice to all contractors in the area that they will be expected to "toe the line" themselves and to inform their employers as to their responsibilities under the law.

In the same vein, Proctor handed out copies of a letter from Sachs, who suggested procedures that he felt would go a long way to avoid "inadvertent violations." Included were a rewrite of the board's standard orders of conditions which, "while perfectly adequate for developers and contractors, could be made more useful and accessible to homeowners." He proposed that the board develop a short booklet in plain English, for homeowners, one that would be given to applicants at the start of a project and would define environmental terms, explain what one can and can't do in or near a wetland and delineate the responsibilities of both applicant and contractor at each stage of the project.

Finally, Sachs backed a suggestion from contractor Douglas Macone that the commission require a meeting between a ConsCom representative, the homeowner and the contractor following issuance of an order of conditions and prior to the start of work. In his cover letter, Sachs wrote, "I hope these suggestions will be received in the friendly spirit in which they are offered."

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito