Friday, February 11, 2000
Conference called to settle Middlesex School dispute
Representatives from Middlesex School and a group of citizens opposed to the school's plans to extend its campus into the Estabrook Woods have been summoned to a "mandated settlement conference" by administrative law Judge Steinman of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The parties will meet February 17, along with their attorneys, to attempt to reach common ground in a dispute with a long history.
On October 20, 1995, the Concord Natural Resources Commission (NRC) for the second time issued a denial of the school's plans to cross a stream and wetlands, expand its athletic fields and build faculty housing on 46 acres in the Estabrook Woods. Middlesex immediately appealed the decision to the DEP, and revised their plan to propose an access causeway and metal-grate bridge across the wetland, an eight-inch sewer pipe and approximately 1,000 feet of roadway. The playing fields were included; faculty housing was not.
In the summer of 1997, following the Middlesex appeal and revision, the school, along with the NRC and other interested organizations, entered into a mediation process which resulted in the NRC accepting an agreement that would permanently protect 94 acres of the school's Estabrook holdings. However, it also precluded the Town of Concord from further legal opposition to the development proposal. The other parties to the negotiations did not accept the settlement.
When, in June of 1999, the DEP overturned the original NRC denial and issued a Superseding Order of Conditions (SOC) allowing the school to proceed with construction, the opposition group appealed that decision and called for an adjudicatory hearing. The upcoming attempt to find middle ground and avoid the court fight is a regular step in the appeal process.
Basis for opposition
The gist of the appellants' opposition to the DEP's superseding order as detailed in their 1999 complaint was as follows:
· The SOC failed to require the applicant to consider alternatives that could minimize wetland impacts.
· The SOC is erroneous because it permits the applicant to submit critical plans and data for approval by the department subsequent to the issuance of said order, thus violating appellant rights.
· The conditions imposed on the applicant in the SOC do not meet the department's own stormwater management policy.
· The order fails to ensure that the project, including mitigation measures, will have no adverse effect on habitat sites of rare vertebrate or invertebrate species.
· The area of wetland altered by Middlesex's amended plans is in excess of the 5,000-square-foot legal limit, and not the 1,650 square feet indicated in the order.
·Even if it were correct that only 1,650 square feet of wetland were altered by the amended plan, it would not meet the 5,000-square-foot limit because the school had already altered more than that square footage by illegally filling what is now a proposed replication area, perhaps including oil or other hazardous materials.
In view of the last listed discrepancy as to cases of contaminated fill having been used, Judge Steinman has issued an order that the appellants be permitted to test the soil in the contested area. According to their attorney Mark Roberts, it is their intention to do so once a Notice of Intent and Order of Conditions has been obtained from the NRC.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito