Friday, April 28, 2000
Special counsel helps ConsCom map strategy on Chelmsford wells
Last week, Carlisle Conservation Commission members became fully aware of the legal and political ramifications the town may face as it prepares, if necessary, to protect its Cranberry Bog water resources. The board met April 17 with special counsel Frank DiLuna, the water rights expert retained by the selectmen in the matter of the proposed Barnes Terrace well field in Chelmsford. The immediate objective was to coordinate strategy for a continued hearing before the Chelmsford Conservation Commission, which is currently considering an application from the privately-owned Chelmsford Water District to install six wells with a pumping capacity of 360,000 gallons per day within the Chelmsford Cranberry Bog Reservation. The importance of this proposal to Carlisle lies in the potential impact such a large withdrawal of water could have on farmer Mark Duffy's Carlisle Cranberries operation.
The targeted water system, which consists of Heart Pond, the River Meadow Brook with its associated wetlands, and two holding ponds that supply water to Carlisle's bog, has been formed in major part by dams built early in the twentieth
DiLuna made two recommendations for immediate action by the commission, acting on the town's behalf. First, they should undertake to convince the Chelmsford commission that the water district's proposal could well have a harmful impact on the wetlands which they are charged with protecting and thus threaten the Cranberry Bog operation. They also should be made aware that, should they approve the water district's proposal, Carlisle is prepared to pursue its rights to the end of the process. Second, he believed it imperative for the town to get its concerns heard by decision-makers in the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which gave the water district a waiver and preliminary approval for the project back in 1993.
Addressing the recommendation for a strong presence at Chelmsford's April 25 hearing, commissioner John Lee noted the existing uncertainty as to which way the Chelmsford commission was leaning. In previous sessions, their commissioners have displayed considerable skepticism about the reliability of methods used by the water district in preparing its impact analysis. However, Chelmsford has not, so far, responded favorably to an offer from Carlisle to share the cost of a peer review by a qualified hydrogeologist who could either confirm or challenge the district's conclusions. Definitely on the positive side was an article in the Boston Sunday Globe that quoted Chelmsford commission chair David McLachlan stating that a request has been drafted for bids on an engineering review of the project.
Drawing on her experience as an environmental attorney at the federal government level, Carlisle ConsCom chair Carolyn Kiely repeated her consistent opinion that, in spite of encouraging signs from their Chelmsford counterparts, Carlisle should state its position at this stage in the process, in order to strengthen its case, should an appeal eventually prove necessary. DiLuna seconded her analysis and emphasized the importance of Carlisle making its water requirements clear, since Chelmsford has other sources it can tap.
As for the DEP, DiLuna told the board, "Your regulatory process must be to take part in their regulatory process. The most important thing is for you to convince them to reconsider the MEPA variance issued in 1993." Kiely reported that she had already asked for a meeting with either Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand or his chief of staff Chuck Anastas. Agreeing that this was the right place to start, DiLuna added, "The more aware the DEP becomes of the situation, the more closely they will watch." He noted that the department has been careful to protect cranberry bogs in southeastern Massachusetts which "sit on water supplies," so it is important that they be well-informed on all aspects of this case.
The Thursday strategy session ended with the adoption of two action items. First, DiLuna will accompany the Carlisle contingent to the April 25 hearing and make a formal presentation of the town's concerns. Second, Kiely will again request a meeting with Durand's chief of staff and three or four DEP department heads concerned with water usage. Carlisle will be represented by selectman John Ballantine, Kiely, Lee, Duffy and DiLuna.
To keep things in perspective, it is important to remember that the current hearings in Chelmsford and the preliminary approval by the DEP are by no means the end of the process. The water district must get final approvals from DEP, plus an okay from the state Department of Environmental Management to transfer water from one watershed to another. The Chelmsford Town Meeting needs to vote by a two-thirds majority to convey the land, and finally, a home rule petition must be passed by a two-thirds vote of the Massachusetts General Court and be signed by the Governor.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito