Friday, September 28, 2001
'There's no fantastic piece of soil out there hiding from us' Another chapter in the school septic saga
Ed Whatley and Brian Lynch, engineers in charge of testing for possible sites to locate a new school septic system, were on hand at the September 18 selectmen's meeting with an update. Displaying a map showing dozens of dots where soil had been tested, covering every piece of land surrounding the school from School Street to the Banta-Davis Land, Whatley concluded, "We can say with confidence there's no fantastic piece of soil out there hiding from us." Most tested sites were found structurally unsuitable and incapable of percolating water at a rate required for a leaching field. Lower Banta-Davis, the only town site near the school that has proved to have good permeability, is currently considered off-limits due to a lawsuit brought by abutter Timothy Landers. Fox Hill, town-owned conservation land which has not been tested, was removed from consideration because of opposition by the conservation commission.
One of the test beds of last resort was the upper Banta-Davis field. According to Whatley, with the tests now completed, he is "not extremely hopeful, but not 100 percent ready to rule it out." Characterizing the soil as "glacial till, very rocky and compact," Whatley reported perc tests of soil permeability as long as thirty to sixty minutes per inch. Noting that the state department of environmental protection (DEP), which must approve the site, considers twenty minutes acceptable, Whatley characterized the land as "on the edge, maybe over the edge." Spalding Field, which was also tested, failed hands-down.
Upper Banta costly
Whatley estimated that further investigation of upper Banta would cost about $10,000 for borings to locate bedrock as well as tests of ground water levels. With this information, cost estimates could be arrived at for developing the field. Whatley cautioned, however, "There's a lot of uncertainty to that upper field. Even if tests show the site could work, it's marginal soil, and if DEP can't get past that, you're finished."
Lynch then interjected that the cost of developing the site could be extreme. "What's extreme?" asked school building committee chair Paul Morrison. "As much as $4 million" was the response. Blanching, Morrison agreed, "That's extreme." Lynch then hedged, "It will be an expensive area to construct a system. How expensive, I don't know." He compared the ten-to-sixty-minute perc rates of upper Banta to the two-minute-per-inch rates at lower Banta. "With such slow rates, the square footage [required for leeching] multiplies quickly. We're looking at multiple fields of multiple acres." He added, "The earthwork alone will probably be in the $700,000 to $1 million range." Lynch also agreed that DEP approval was a question mark. "If DEP looked at the info we have now, they would laugh us out of the room."
Further testing considered
Selectman Carol Peters asked, "Is the chance of success so low it's not worth it?" Morrison echoed her concern, "It sounds like it's not likely to be OK. Even if it is OK, DEP may not approve it. And even if approved, it would be too expensive to develop. Don't we have the answer already?" Selectman Vivian Chaput countered, "I think we need to do the testing to absolutely rule it out. It makes a stronger case for the remaining options." Adding, "we'll probably end up in court, whether we pursue Lower Banta-Davis or Fox Hill," she concluded, "We want to be able to prove we've exhausted all other options." Peter Cole, former member of the school building committee, concurred, "Last time [in court versus the Landers] we lost on a technicality. We hadn't 'officially' investigated alternatives."
Town Meeting to be rescheduled
The selectmen voted to make a reserve fund transfer of $10,000 to complete the testing on upper Banta field. Discussion then turned to whether testing could be completed in time to prepare a warrant article for Town Meeting, planned the first week in November. Recognizing time was too short, the selectmen asked McKenzie to investigate moving Town Meeting to a later date.
The Special Fall Town Meeting has since been scheduled for Tuesday November 27, the week after Thanksgiving.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito