Yard Boss Sues Town for Defamation

Mattapoisett landscaping company Yard Boss has listed Mattapoisett Conservation Commission Chairman Bob Rogers and Conservation Agent Elizabeth Leidhold as defendants in a civil lawsuit seeking $250,000 in damages the company says it suffered due to defamatory claims against the company during three separate public meetings of the Conservation Commission.

In the April 14 complaint, Yard Boss acknowledged its use of water withdrawn from various public sources in Mattapoisett, including the Mattapoisett River, but stated it had done nothing illegal and had, in fact, been given the green light to do so ten years ago by an unnamed Conservation Commission member.

Additionally, in 2011, Yard Boss claims the Department of Environmental Protection said, “[T]here is nothing illegal within their jurisdiction regarding siphoning of water from the river.”

The complaint also states that in March 2015, Mattapoisett police reviewed Yard Boss’ withdrawal of water from the riverway and contacted the Massachusetts Environmental Police who told them that they were “not aware of any Mass law prohibiting the removal of water from a river, stream, etc.” Furthermore, the complaint states, the DEP told police that Yard Boss could remove a maximum of 100,000 gallons per 90 consecutive days without a permit, yet the company only withdraws up to 1,000 gallons at a time for hydro-seeding.

Trouble began on September 14, 2015, when Leidhold raised the issue of Yard Boss’ withdrawal of water from the river and the matter was discussed without the prior knowledge of the company.

During the meeting, Leidhold alleged that the Yard Boss truck might not have the proper safeguards installed to prevent backwash into the water, possibly polluting it. Yet, in its complaint, Yard Boss asserts their equipment has been inspected by the Mass Department of Agricultural Resources and deemed in full compliance.

In addition to inaccurate statements about Yard Boss’ activities made by Leidhold, the lawsuit serves to address a number of inflammatory comments Rogers made about Yard Boss, which the company claims has resulted in a loss of business and damage to its reputation.

During a September 28 meeting of the Conservation Commission, Rogers made statements about Yard Boss, such as, “They know they’re not supposed to be doing it,” and “They are shameless,” and later asking, “Can we do stop sticks for their tires?”

Also during that meeting, Rogers acknowledged that the Town could do nothing without a local bylaw in place and stated, “Other than shaming them in the press, we don’t have … any teeth. We don’t have a bylaw.”

All along, asserts Yard Boss, the claims that Yard Boss was doing anything illegal were erroneous, stating in the complaint, “Rogers and Leidhold made false and defamatory statements without doing any due diligence and without consulting easily accessible sources, including DEP, Town Counsel, and/or the Town’s own police department.”

Yard Boss owner Todd Rodrigues attended the November 23 ConCom meeting and defended his actions, arguing against Rogers’ assertion that Yard Boss needed a permit to withdraw the water from the Mattapoisett River. Again, Rogers called Rodrigues’ actions “shameless,” to which Rodrigues responded, “I’ll show you shameless…”

The complaint filed by Yard Boss brings to light email correspondence between Town Administrator Michael Gagne and Rogers in which Gagne informed Rogers “…I feel as an observer is that comments of the Commission members are what I would characterize as inflammatory and character defaming of Yard Boss.” Gagne further stated, “What is troubling is that these [comments] are made before [Rodrigues] has a chance to tell his side of the story and be present to respond.”

Gagne then asked for the commission to draft an apology letter to Yard Boss.

As stated in the complaint, in his email response to Gagne, Rogers replied, “…If circumstances warrant it moving forward I will be more than willing to issue [Rodrigues] a personal apology.”

Selectman Tyler Macallister also sent an email to Rogers in December, stating, “Because you disagree with the DEP does not constitute the right for the Board to supersede them and make regulations, apply conditions or even require that he come before the Board.”

In town counsel’s email to Gagne on December 15, 2015, he stated, “In my opinion, withdrawal of water in and of itself is not regulated under the [Wetlands Protection Act],” and further stated that the town would need to create a bylaw in order to regulate it.

Gagne’s email on December 16 to the Board of Selectmen further confirmed that the Conservation was wrong to get involved in the matter and suggested the commission refrain from further involvement.

“…[I]t would seem to me that an apology is in order to [Rodrigues] for the comments that were made before it was known if the matter was something that should have been appropriately before the Conservation Commission to start with.”

Gagne’s email further stated, “My advice for what it’s worth, the Commission should in the future watch what is said, editorialized, lobbied, and advocated for beyond the Wetlands Protection Act and regulations because of what problems can be created such as this situation.” Gagne said ensuing problems could have been “checked” before expressing personal opinions, and subsequent litigation because of Rogers’ and Leidhold’s false claims against Yard Boss could be costly.

“To date, neither Rogers nor Leidhold have made an apology to Yard Boss or Rodrigues for their defamatory statements,” reads the defamation complaint. “To date, neither Rogers nor Leidhold have made a retraction of their defamatory statements.”

By Jean Perry

 

RMS Presents ‘Twelfth Night’ This Friday

The Rochester Memorial School students will perform William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on April 29 at 7:00 pm in the Rochester Memorial School Cafetorium.

Scripted and directed by Danni Kleiman, the students have been working hard on this year’s annual Shakespeare performance.

Tickets are $9 at the door or to reserve tickets in advance, please call the RMS office at 508-763-2049.

Mattapoisett Woman’s Club Documentary Showing

The public is invited to attend the showing of a 25-minute documentary video about the history and accomplishments of the Mattapoisett Woman’s Club. The video is the first in a series of events celebrating the club’s 75th anniversary and diamond jubilee. The showing will be at 1:30 pm on Sunday, May 15 in the meeting room at the Mattapoisett Public Library, 7 Barstow Street, Mattapoisett.

Mattapoisett Land Trust Annual Meeting

The Mattapoisett Land Trust invites everyone to join in celebrating their 42nd Annual Meeting and Family Activities Event on Saturday, May 14.

At 10:00 am, the celebration will begin with the opening of the new trailhead and parking area on Prospect Road at Rock Street and a short hike on the new trail to the Blueberry Patch.

At 11:00 am, the celebration will move to the Congregational Church, Reynard Hall, 27 Church Street, Mattapoisett. The ORR high school students will report on their water sampling project of Eel Pond, followed by a potluck lunch at noon (bring a dish or salad to share) with complimentary beverages and desserts. After lunch there will be a brief annual meeting to elect this year’s officers and directors and hear updates on upcoming activities.

At 1:15 pm, Meet the Live Raptors! Marla Isaac, owner of New England Reptile and Raptors, will introduce us to her live hawks, owls and other raptors that she has sheltered and nursed to recover from serious injuries and explain their place in a healthy habitat. For more information, please go to our website at www.mattlandtrust.org.

Crowd Backs Chief in Defense of EMS

Around 30 people, including local and regional emergency services personnel, attended the Rochester Board of Selectmen meeting on April 25 to defend the town’s public EMS service against Selectman Richard Nunes’ criticism last week of the program’s cost to the town.

Fire Chief Scott Weigel broke down the fiscal year numbers for Nunes, explaining to him why the expense to operate the EMS Department has risen in increments since it first began in fiscal year 2013.

First, said Weigel, a grant for $100,000 was available to the town that first year to help cover the cost of new equipment, leaving the town with an expense of just $58,800. Fiscal year 2014 jumped up to $95,500, and FY15 then doubled to $200,000.

As the department got busier and new full-time shifts were added to cover the demand, Weigel said a cost of $200,000 to the town is still far below the cost of employing a private ambulance service, which Nunes had earlier stated he would like the town to investigate.

Chairman Naida Parker and Selectman Brad Morse were not as enthusiastic about the notion during the last meeting, but entertained Nunes’ request nonetheless.

Weigel wanted to clarify some issues Nunes brought up, in particular Nunes’ use of the word “deficit” when it came to the EMS budget, which Nunes asserted should be self-sustaining.

“I go to Town Meeting … and my numbers are in black and white,” said Weigel. “The people of Rochester agree … to fund that amount to provide them with a service.” All the money that is returned through collections goes to offset that budget, he explained, so if a budget of $450,000 is approved, Weigel said the $250,000 in collections that comes back means the town pays $200,000 for the service. “They know exactly what it’s going to cost to run this department and they vote for it.”

“I think that’s a pretty fair amount, a pretty fair coverage,” said Weigel. “I understand the figures. If I overspend is a deficit.” Weigel said the $200,000 it costs the town to run the ambulance service is less that what it costs for trash collection one day a week.

Weigel provided Nunes with a spreadsheet for the month of February to demonstrate the number of ambulance transports and subsequent reimbursement. He said Medicare/Medicaid reimburses the town $435 per run, while the town collects anywhere from $2,100 to $2,500 from other insurances and private payers.

“But it’s not about the money; it’s about providing patient care,” said Weigel. “It’s about providing the best patient care that we can.”

Weigel put to rest Nunes’ assumption that on-call workers who respond to incidents are paid a minimum of four hours, saying they are paid only by the singular hour. The average call lasts about one hour, he said, adding that Nunes’ criticism of the department “hurt me personally.”

“And I know that you have worked very hard … to keep this on an under-20 hour-a-week basis so that we are not incurring the benefits,” said Parker, adding that he further saves the town money.

Weigel said, “This is a part-time job … and we have a great group of people. I think a couple hundred-thousand to run that service is not a lot of money.”

Weigel assured Nunes that the town would not get a private ambulance service in Rochester for less than $500,000.

“We don’t know that,” said Nunes.

“I’m telling you…” said Weigel. A quote that Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson once sought for the same services backed Weigel’s claim.

Dr. Nataniel Vasquez, the medical director for Tobey Hospital, supported Weigel’s assertion and called Rochester EMS “top-notch quality care,” and voiced concerns that a private ambulance service would slow response time down.

The idea of an outside ambulance coming in to service Rochester, Weigel told selectmen, was a conversation that needed to end there and then.

Morse made a motion to indefinitely table the discussion, to which Nunes replied, “I’m not seconding that.” Parker seconded and the motion passed.

“Thank you for putting this system together, it’s awesome,” said Morse, eliciting loud clapping and cheers.

Also during the meeting, residents of Hiller Road took their complaints about Wellspring Farms to the selectmen after receiving no response from Building Commissioner Jim Buckles after he was asked to investigate whether the business within a residential zone had outgrown its original permit.

The therapeutic riding facility, owned by James and Holly Vogul, would require a special permit if deemed a commercial business serving above the original 30 patients per week the couple were allowed by the town.

Abutter Cathy Mendoza said the business likely exceeds $800,000 in revenue, judging by the number of patients she and other neighbors witness coming and going at the property, with neighbors alleging that buses full of patients and anywhere from 60-80 clients arrive for services every week.

Mendoza said she allegedly had financial data from the Medicare system showing that $622,000 was collected from the insurance.

The noise, traffic, and the disruptions, said Mendoza, are affecting quality of life and property values in the neighborhood.

Town Counsel Blair Bailey said Buckles was doing his best to conduct due diligence before taking action; however, he understood Mendoza’s and the neighbors’ frustration that Buckles has not responded in a timely manner to their complaint.

Aside from a cease and desist order, which Bailey clarified was highly unlikely from Buckles’ department just yet, the neighbors simply wanted someone to give Buckles a nudge to move forward with an investigation.

Bailey said he would contact Buckles and tell him that he himself would draft a response on behalf of Buckles, so long as Buckles instructs him on his decision.

“We cannot oversee zoning issues,” Morse reminded the neighbors, reigning in a debate that had gone beyond the jurisdiction of the selectmen and too in-depth for Morse’s comfort level given that the Voguls were not present.

“I just want to use my pool this summer,” said Mendoza. “I don’t think this is too much to ask … without people looking, kids screaming, weird people…”

In other matters, selectmen heard from resident Tobias Paulo who initiated a citizen’s petition to have a bylaw amendment put on the Town Meeting warrant to create a buffer zone of a quarter-mile to restrict the conversion of one-family homes into two-family homes in single-family home neighborhoods.

The procedure mandates that the zoning bylaw article be presented to the Planning Board to forward to the Board of Selectmen, which in turn refers the matter back to the Planning Board for a public hearing.

Selectmen approved the process moving forward.

The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for May 2 at 6:30 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

By Jean Perry

 

Seahorse Explorer Summer Camp Experience

Join us for a fun-filled summer! Each week, Explorers will enjoy fun-filled days of games, crafting, sports, tennis lessons, swimming lessons, visits to the library and free swim time. Each week has a different theme for games, crafts and activities. Sign up for a full week, three full days or three half days. Program runs Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. We also have early drop off and late pick up options. Summer 2016 themes are as follows:

Week 1: June 27-July 1, Mad Science. Explorers will have a chance to participate in fun and exciting experiments every day, including growing crystals, making melting dough, creating eruptions and more! Children will be mad scientists for the week!

Week 2: July 5-8, Seahorse Superheroes. Explorers will take part in an exciting week fighting crime and saving the day. Children will participate in superhero training, have the chance to dress like superheroes and take part in superhero challenges! They will also do fun crafts like creating their own disguises, making a superhero power bracelet and more!

Week 3: July 11-15, Mad about Movies. New this summer! This week will be all about your favorite movies and movie characters. Come dressed as your favorite character one day. Be a Seahorse Star in a mini movie. We are also planning a surprise field trip to go along with this week’s theme!

Week 4: July 18-22, Seahorse Gives Back. Back by popular demand … this week is dedicated to our Explorers learning about and helping in the community! Children will learn about firefighters, police officers, soldiers & more! They will also create cards and care packages for soldiers, make get well cards for children in hospitals, run a food drive and create treats for an animal shelter.

Week 5: July 25-29, Pirates and Princesses. We will spend this week doing fun activities including the Explorer favorite Seahorse beauty salon, a treasure hunt, tie dying, walking the plank and a themed photo booth. Earn pirate booty playing fun games and by winning challenges. Explorers will also create crowns, masks and more! A fun field trip is also planned for this week.

Week 6: August 1-5, Seahorse Olympics. Get ready for the Summer Olympics during a fun-filled week of the Seahorse Olympics! Games and competitions will be played all week and campers can earn “medals” for being outstanding participants. The week will end with an awards ceremony and celebration.

Week 7: August 8-12, Waterworks. This week is all about water. Learn about where our water comes from and what we can do to conserve it. Paint with water colors, slip n’ slide with fellow campers, participate in water balloon battles, and end the summer with a pizza party where Explorers can dunk their favorite counselors in the Seahorse Dunk Tank!

Please contact Mattapoisett Recreation for more information at mattrec@mattapoisett.net or call us at 508-758-4548. To sign up online or download a registration form, go to www.mattrec.net.

May Day Pancake Breakfast at Knights

Join the Damien Council 4190 Ladies Auxiliary at May Day Pancake Breakfast at Knights located at 57 Fairhaven Road (Route 6), Mattapoisett on Sunday, May 1 from 8:00 to 11:00 am. Breakfast includes plain, blueberry or chocolate chip pancakes, bacon & sausage, coffee and orange juice. The cost for the breakfast is $6 per person at the door or $20 for a family of four or more. Proceeds will benefit Community Outreach programs of the Ladies Auxiliary. Hope to see you there!

Withdrawing my Name from Consideration

To the Voters of the Town of Mattapoisett:

When you go to the polls on May 17, you will in all likelihood see my name listed as a candidate for the Board of Selectmen. Regrettably, I informed Town Clerk Kathy Heuberger that, due to possible significant health concerns, I felt there was a strong probability I may not be able to effectively serve out a term if fortunate enough to be elected. Therefore, to be fair to the town and to possibly save it from the unnecessary expense of needing to hold another election in the near future, I am withdrawing my name from consideration for the position.

Given State guidelines, Clerk Heuberger said it was too late to remove my name from the actual ballot, so I write to you today in hopes that no confusion be made concerning my candidacy. I would take great pride in serving the Town someday, as I did back on the Personnel Board in the late 90s. Unfortunately for me, now is not the time to seek office in any capacity. I commend Jordan Collyer for his many years of service on the Board and have all confidence he will continue to work towards what is best for Mattapoisett.

Again, my sincere apologies to the voters of Mattapoisett for any confusion I may have caused.

Respectfully submitted,

Timothy O’Connor, Mattapoisett

 

The views expressed in the “Letters to the Editor” column are not necessarily those of The Wanderer, its staff or advertisers. The Wanderer will gladly accept any and all correspondence relating to timely and pertinent issues in the great Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester area, provided they include the author’s name, address and phone number for verification. We cannot publish anonymous, unsigned or unconfirmed submissions. The Wanderer reserves the right to edit, condense and otherwise alter submissions for purposes of clarity and/or spacing considerations. The Wanderer may choose to not run letters that thank businesses, and The Wanderer has the right to edit letters to omit business names. The Wanderer also reserves the right to deny publication of any submitted correspondence.

Residents Face New Solar Farm Neighbors

Some residents on Marion Road got acquainted with their new neighbors on the night of April 26 at the Rochester Planning Board meeting with Meadowatt, LLC, developers of a proposed solar farm. Although the tone was civil, the sentiment wasn’t exactly welcoming.

Engineer Bob Bersin addressed a number of the board’s concerns carried over from the prior Planning Board meeting, including a number of grammatical corrections in the documents, some comments made by the town’s contracted engineer, and the specification of fencing color, among other things.

Bersin said the grass and the grading would remain untouched for the most part, saying, “We tried not to disturb as much as possible.”

Planning Board member Gary Florindo reminded him that many of the green fields in Rochester are hay fields, and they don’t necessarily stop growing at 4 feet.

“The whole idea is to leave it a grass field,” said Bersin, although neighbors will no longer be able to see it behind the 8-foot high highway barrier wall the developer proposes, which one neighbor Morgan Cecil later called “gaudy plastic.” Cecil asked the board for its opinion on the project.

“I just want to know where it stands,” said Cecil. “Does the board feel that this is an appropriate place for a solar field on a scenic highway as you enter Rochester in the watershed protection [district] for something that is solely beneficial to the owner?” asked Cecil.

This, replied Planning Board Chairman Arnold Johnson, was outside the purview of the board.

“As far as the board is concerned … it does not review per se whether we feel or not … that it is an appropriate use in the town,” said Johnson. “It’s not really a popularity contest and a vote up or down on whether or not we like it.”

But, added Johnson, the board is proposing some changes to the solar bylaw; however, they likely will not affect the current proposed project. These changes will affect any future projects that seek to develop solar within the limited commercial and historic district in the center of town. Furthermore, the solar bylaw would mandate all solar projects to undergo site plan review regardless of size and scope.

Some residents were concerned about their property values and held many of the same concerns other new solar farm neighbors expressed, such as safety and screening.

Florindo told them that the Planning Board does not take these applications lightly, saying, “We go out and get our feet wet to make sure that when it’s done, it gets done right.”

The board assigned Bersin a list of other requirements, including an updated landscape and maintenance plan, as well as separating the plan into two planes – one for during construction and one for after.

The next meeting of the Rochester Planning Board is scheduled for May 10 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.

By Jean Perry

 

Mattapoisett Cultural Council Grants

State Representative William M. Straus and Kathleen Damaskos, chair of the Mattapoisett Cultural Council, have announced the award of 11 grants totaling $5,009 for cultural programs in and around Mattapoisett.

Grant recipients include Mattapoisett Free Public Library, Friends of Old Rochester Drama, and Showstoppers Performing Arts, Inc. A complete list of recipients and grant amounts can be found below.

The Mattapoisett Cultural Council is part of a network of 329 Local Cultural Councils serving all 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. The LCC Program is the largest grassroots cultural funding network in the nation, supporting thousands of community-based projects in the arts, sciences and humanities every year. The state legislature provides an annual appropriation to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, which then allocates funds to each community.

Decisions about which activities to support are made at the community level by a board of municipally appointed volunteers. The members of the Mattapoisett Cultural Council are: Anne Bedser, Kathleen Damaskos, Carol Dildine, Annemarie Fredericks, Gary Hoyt, Gail Kaloplastos, Teresa Nelson, Kathleen Reed, and Elliott Thrasher.

“The arts, sciences and humanities play an important role in the everyday lives of the citizens of the commonwealth,” said Representative Straus. “I am pleased that these grants will assist cultural programs in Mattapoisett. Without the commitment of our local volunteers to make this system work, it might otherwise not be in existence. The continued dedication of these volunteers allows limited resources to be utilized to the maximum extent.”

Statewide, more than $2.34 million will be distributed by local cultural councils in 2016. Grants will support an enormous range of grass-roots activities: concerts, exhibitions, radio and video productions, field trips for schoolchildren, after-school youth programs, writing workshops, historical preservation efforts, lectures, First Night celebrations, nature and science education programs for families and town festivals. Nearly half of LCC funds support educational activities for young people.

This year’s Mattapoisett Cultural Council grants include:

Friends of Old Rochester Drama – $400

Mattapoisett Free Public Library – $534

Mattapoisett Historical Society – $700

Mattapoisett Lions Club – $500

Mattapoisett PTA (2) – $775

New Bedford Art Museum/ArtWorks! – $500

New Bedford Festival Theatre – $500

New Bedford Symphony Orchestra – $500

Showstoppers Performing Arts, Inc. – $300

Tri-County Music Association – $300

The Mattapoisett Cultural Council will seek applications again in the fall. Information and forms are available online at www.masscultural council.org. Applications will be due in mid-October.