Friday, January 14, 2000
Officials chart course of action to protect town's water rights
The Carlisle Conservation Commission's January 6 meeting produced a decided ratcheting up of the town's reaction to the Chelmsford Water District's proposal to pump up to 250,000 gallons of water per day from the Cranberry Bog's water sources. The commissioners and board of selectmen chair Doug Stevenson listened intently to recommendations for action from farmer Mark Duffy, who regards his Cranberry Bog operation as seriously threatened. Others also feared long-term depletion of Carlisle's potential water resources.
Defining the problem as he views it, Duffy pointed out that he is "registered" to take up to 357,000 gallons a day from the holding ponds adjacent to the bog and/or Heart Pond in South Chelmsford. During a drought, if the Chelmsford district were to pump 250,000 gallons a day from the ponds, he would be forced to go to Heart Pond, which is a relatively shallow 100-acre feature created by the original owners of the bog. A withdrawal of 357,000 gallons comprises "ten acre-feet" or 40 acres of water ten feet deep. That resolution would not set well with those who live or enjoy their boats around the pond.
Appealing the certification
Stating his concern that the privately-owned water district will bring increased expert fire power to their continued public hearing before the Chelmsford Conservation Commission, Duffy called for a multi-pronged counter-attack. He felt the Carlisle commission should question the need for the wells, while pointing out both the inadequacy of the district's engineering specifications and the submission of "incomplete and misleading" information before the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Administration (MEPA). Most important, due to the proximity of the January 18 hearing date, he recommended a clear legal explication there of Carlisle's water rights under the Water Management Act, which he said gives clear preference to agricultural water use over all others. In summary, he felt Carlisle should present the Chelmsford commission with ample reasons to appeal the MEPA certification of well impact or deny the application as presented.
Commissioner Tricia Smith doubted that there is a process for appeal of a MEPA permit. Rather, based on the fact that the district "has enough water, but not the infrastructure to distribute it," she recommended that ConsCom let the Chelmsford commission know that, if they do approve the application, Carlisle will appeal. The appeal will cite the district's deficient water management and engineering, plus the fact that Carlisle's registered water rights were not taken into account in the MEPA process. She did not share the opinion that time was short, and that Carlisle therefore needed to hire a hydrologist and/or environmental lawyer immediately. Citing the town's current financial squeeze, she believed the commission should encourage the Chelmsford board to force the water district to hire the experts.
On the other hand, commissioner and federal environmental attorney Carolyn Kiely said it was critically important that the town go to a recognized Massachusetts environmental or water rights attorney, who would impress both the Chelmsford Water District and Conservation Commission. "We need to get the basics of our case on the record January 18, so that, if an appeal is necessary later, we can say, "You didn't listen to us." Admitting that legal specialists come high, she noted that they are not usually more expensive in the long run, because they don't need to do a lot of new research.
Kiely reminded her colleagues that the town paid $1.86 million for the bog and that it is one of the features that makes Carlisle the desirable community it is. "The town should pull out all the stops," she concluded, "even if it means a little money now, it's well worth it."
Water quality committee member Tony Mariano, Sr. concurred, observing that the issue goes far beyond the bog. "It is a matter of water for the town of Carlisle," he insisted.
Importance of January 18 hearing
Both commissioner John Lee and Stevenson backed "a multi-level approach" that would include a strong presentation of Carlisle's legal position on January 18. The selectman revealed that following a board vote on December 28, he had discussed the issue with town counsel. Assuring the commissioners that, "We [the selectmen] are determined to protect Carlisle's rights at the Cranberry Bog," he added that he would communicate the commission's information to town counsel on Monday and ascertain whether that firm has environmental lawyers who are up to speed on water rights, and if not, whether they can recommend someone. He confirmed that the selectmen have the authority to hire a specialist, but that this decision would require a vote of the full board on Tuesday.
When Duffy again emphasized the importance of the January 18 hearing, Lee agreed that the first imperative is to get a legal opinion concerning Carlisle's rights into the record. Second, he said, the commission needs a full and accurate engineering report from a qualified hydrologist.
Also reiterating her conviction about the importance of speedy reaction on the bog issue, with its strong implications for the future, Kiely observed, "It's a precedent we need to setThis isn't just a toothache, it's a heart attack."
Before turning to other business, the commission and Stevenson agreed to three concrete actions:
· A joint letter from ConsCom and the board, addressed to the Chelmsford Conservation Commission, outlining our concerns.
· A letter to state representative Carol Cleven.
· Consultation with town counsel, to be followed by a strategy session between Stevenson, Duffy and the chosen attorney.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito