Friday, July 20, 2007
Clearing halted for new athletic fields at CCHS
The controversial project to build two athletic fields on a wooded site behind the Concord-Carlisle Regional High School (CCHS) got underway on Monday, July 16, but was halted two days later as opponents continue attempts to halt construction.
On Tuesday a Middlesex Superior Court judge heard a request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) filed by the non-profit group, Friends of Thoreau Country, to prevent further tree removal. According to Concord Town Manager Chris Whelan, representatives of the town, the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District, and the Friends of Thoreau Country spoke for about 45 minutes. The judge then requested a voluntary cessation of tree removal for a few days while he reviews the documents. The town complied and the work on the site was halted. Whelan estimates that about two or three of the nine acres have been cleared.
The restraining order, if granted, would expire after ten calendar days.
The project opponents have also filed a complaint in Superior Court to stop the project. The lawsuit asks the court to:
• Halt tree clearing.
• Prohibit building planned artificial turf athletic fields on the site.
• Prohibit use of Community Preservation Act (CPA) Funds for the project.
• Award plaintiffs their attorney's fees and expenses.
MEPA review not needed
Last month, the Friends of Thoreau Country requested that the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) consider whether the project required an environmental impact review under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The EOEEA said in a letter dated July 2 that a MEPA review is not needed "unless it can be established that the project would require MEPA review based on traffic impacts." The opinion was given in response to a request made in May by a group opposing the project, the Friends of Thoreau Country.
Deerin Babb-Brott, Assistant Secretary in the EOEEA, issued the advisory opinion, which addressed several questions raised by the Friends of Thoreau Country, including:
• The use of CPA funds "does not entail state Financial Assistance for the purpose of establishing MEPA jurisdiction." CPA funding used on the project includes state matching money but does not qualify as a "state agency action" that would trigger MEPA review, because CPA grants are dispensed and supervised at the local level.
• According to the advisory opinion, the project site does not qualify as protected open space under Article 97 of the amendment to the state constitution, because the land was bought for school use in 1955 and has been part of the school district since 1958.
• The EOEEA declined to include past construction on the 94-acre CCHS campus or possible future school renovation in judging whether the athletic fields required MEPA review, "It would be premature to determine the scope of any eventual MEPA review for a project that has not yet been defined."
• Increased traffic due to use of the playing fields was judged unlikely to exceed MEPA transportation thresholds.
• MEPA review might be needed if the state highway department were to decide that the project required a State Highway Access Permit because of its proximity to Route 2. Any such MEPA review in that case, "would be limited to the subject matter of the required permit, specifically the project's transportation and traffic impacts."
According to Whelan, the tree removal will require five or six work days. He said that, if work is allowed to resume in a few days, all the Phase 1 site preparation should be completed by mid-August. Contractor bids for Phase 2 are scheduled to be opened by the end of August, with construction of the roadway and two artificial-turf playing fields to begin in September. Whelan hoped the project will be finished in December.
Concord voters approved the plan twice — once at their Annual Town Meeting in April, and again at a Special Town Meeting when petitioners asked voters to rescind the April decision. Carlisle was not asked to share the costs, although the fields will be located on land belonging to the Concord-Carlisle Regional School District. Instead, Concord town funds, Concord CPA funds and private donations will finance the project.
© 2007 The