The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 16, 2005


ConsCom faces enforcement fracas over property off South Street

Discovery of 11 violations of the Carlisle Wetland Protection Bylaw at a single construction site in late August brought an immediate enforcement order from the Conservation Commission and an unprecedented refusal to recognize it by a septic system contractor. After Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard conferred with the responsible parties, the commission then voted at their September 6 meeting to issue a fine and an order to remedy the damage.

The unusual series of events started in late August when, in the course of her regular duties, Willard noticed that construction activities appeared about to get underway at a South Street property. Anticipating a required prior notification before work actually began, the administrator got out the approved plan and accompanying Order of Conditions for the project. When no call was forthcoming over several days, she visited the site and saw that work had indeed begun, and there was also no sign of the haybale barrier that had been specified in the Order of Conditions. So on August 24 she informed the commission and was told to issue an enforcement order to the owner, H. LaRou Renfroe, demanding that all work be stopped. In addition she called the technical engineer for the project, Russ Wilson, who promised to get the haybales in place right away.

Willard reports that on August 25 she went to the site, found the septic system contractor, Robert Ratta, and informed him of the enforcement order and told him to stop work. To her amazement, he refused to comply, saying he had three trucks filled with sand on the way and had no intention of turning them away. She asked Ratta if he realized that ignoring an enforcement order was a serious offense and could result in a fine being levied. As they talked, the first truck arrived in the driveway and she was asked to move her car. Repeating her warning to the contractor, she departed. By the 27th, the haybales were in place, but the 15-foot zone of unpermitted clearing remained.

Over the long holiday weekend Renfroe left an apologetic message on the office answering machine, saying that his agent Stephen Quinn would be in touch with her, which he was. He too was apologetic and readily agreed that he or his boss, Chip Orcutt, would appear at the commission's September 8 hearing. On that morning Orcutt himself visited the ConsCom office and, in a conciliatory approach told her, "You are an officer, and when you say the Conservation Commission says to cease work, you stop."

Quinn represented the owner at the hearing that night. When asked if he had been on site the day of the confrontation with Ratta he said he was not, and that he could not understand why the contractor had refused to cooperate. Appearing contrite, he did not contest the allegations. Willard confirmed that the site was now stable, but Commissioner Roy Watson reminded Quinn that there were still existing violations to be remedied. He also observed that the affair had consumed the better part of three days of Willard's time and that she would have been within her authority to call the police.

Commissioner Tricia Smith proposed that the commission issue a fine for each violation, citing the town's Wetland Protection Bylaw. The list of violations included: failure to conform to plans, lack of siltation barriers, a 15-foot encroachment beyond the permitted zone of operations, lack of an obligatory Department of Environmental Protection sign, and failure to notify the office of the start of work. The discussion then turned to whether Ratta's refusal to halt operations constituted a second offense on all counts, which would have cost the owner $3,300. However, the consensus was that it could not be viewed in that way, because the owner's agents had complied with the order the next day.

There followed a unanimous vote to fine the owner $75 per violation, or a total of $825. Schultz said a letter should be sent to the Board of Health, which licenses septic contractors in Carlisle, informing them of Ratta's conduct. Smith added that, should he ever commit a similar offense again, the commission would ask the Board to revoke his license. There was no official vote, but agreement appeared to be unanimous.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito