Friday, June 9, 2000
Carlisle officials head to the state with Chelmsford well concerns
Five Carlisle town officials traveled to Boston May 30 to take out some water rights insurance. Although the Chelmsford Water District has withdrawn its application before the Chelmsford Conservation Commission to locate a well field in the Barnes Terrace portion of the Cranberry Bog Reservation, the wording of their communication suggested that they might renew that proposal in the future. Therefore, the Carlisle delegation decided to keep its previously scheduled appointment at the office of Secretary of Environmental Affairs Robert Durand.
The objectives of the town's representatives were twofold. First, they wanted to remind state officials of the history and legal status of Carlisle's Cranberry Bog. Second, and equally important, they hoped to persuade Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) personnel to reverse their November 1999 decision that waived procedures prescribed under the Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act (MEPA) as it applied to the Chelmsford Water District. Present from the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) were chief of staff Chuck Anastas, his assistant Sarah Miller and Fisheries and Wildlife official Jack Buckley. Introduced later was EOEA director of water policy Mark Petschek-Smith.
Speaking for Carlisle at the closed meeting, selectman John Ballantine provided background information; Carlisle Cranberries president Mark Duffy described the bog operation and the extent of its reliance on water usage; conservation commission chair and environmental attorney Carolyn Kiely outlined the legal issues; conservation administrator Sylvia Willard identified some of the perceived deficiencies in the water district's engineering reports, and commissioner John Lee highlighted conservation aspects of the project.
In the course of the presentation, the Carlisleans emphasized that the bog was purchased by the two towns separately for conservation purposes, and that Carlisle has deeded rights to "all water power, water privileges and flowage rights" from Heart Pond. In addition, it enjoys registered rights under the Commonwealth's Water Management Act to pump 357,000 gallons of water per day from the wetland that was proposed for the new well field.
Addressing the MEPA process, it was pointed out that the materials submitted to the DEP for the Barnes Terrace wells failed to mention Carlisle's previously existing registration or the fact that the water resources involved are not located within Chelmsford alone. Further, the district's engineering studies did not take into account the impact of the well field on Carlisle and other downstream users, such as Great Brook Farm State Park. Therefore, Carlisle considered the state's decision to waive the MEPA process to have been based on incomplete information.
As for engineering issues, Willard noted the commission's concern that the district's records of tests conducted to measure water withdrawal impact were insufficiently documented and may not have been conducted under optimal conditions. The commission recommended that more attention be paid to water management and conservation measures, concluding that " a comprehensive approach to addressing water concerns in Chelmsford is needed more than a new well at the present time." In this regard, Duffy observed that he has worked extensively with the federal government to institute water conservation measures at the bog.
Carlisle's legal case rested not only on its deeded and registered rights to water usage priority, but also on its continuous use of said water supplies for agricultural purposes. Kiely pointed out that Massachusetts General Law specifically establishes that dams and reservoirs can be maintained "to cultivate and grow cranberries," and case law since 1863 allows public rights for "great ponds," Heart Pond's category, that include taking water for agricultural purposes.
In view of the enumerated factors, Carlisle representatives requested that the DEP pursue the following actions:
· Reconsider the MEPA waiver for the Barnes Terrace well-field and require a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project.
· Require that new engineering and hydrological studies be conducted to appropriately document the true impact of water withdrawals on the wetland and surrounding areas.
· Involve Carlisle at every step in discussions with the Chelmsford Water District on utilization of the Chelmsford portion of the Cranberry Bog to operate a well field.
Interviewed following the closed sessions in Boston, Kiely commented that she and her colleagues were "very pleased with the outcome of the meeting." She reported that Durand's staff has committed to reviewing the question of why the MEPA process was waived for the Chelmsford Water District. She said they had found the action puzzling in a case that involved conservation land where the department usually requires the full MEPA process and an EIR.
As a final enticement, the Carlisleans invited the EOEA officials and their families to attend the colorful cranberry harvest next fall.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito