Rochester Conservation Commission Chairman Michael Conway didn’t trifle with engineer Brian Grady after he explained why Decas Cranberry Co., Inc. deserved a Certificate of Compliance despite having deviated from the approved plan in five different ways.
“I think the changes that you made here … are substantial.,” said Conway, ready to reprimand the cranberry growing corporation for choosing to ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission before making changes without the commission’s approval. “Decas – they aren’t farmers,” commented Conway after the commission was asked to consider some of the plan changes as agricultural in nature and therefore acceptable. “For whatever reason … they chose to follow their own choice of action. … They should’ve come in here.”
Grady listed the five changes that he emphasized did not have any negative impacts on the wetlands, and perhaps, even, possibly some ensuing positive impacts. The changes Grady deemed unsubstantial included a concrete retaining wall not included in the original plan and a slab for a proposed pump house, but the biggest concern to the commission was the relocation of the pump house 200 feet away from the approved location; however, for Conway, all the actions Decas took were of concern.
“Decas is not the decision maker in this regard,” said Conway. “The commission decides what is doable in the wetlands and what is not. They have done what they wanted to do,” Conway continued. In his opinion, he said, “The Certificate of Compliance should be denied,” and Decas should file an after-the-fact Notice of Intent.
There was a brief stare down between Conway and Grady before Conway spoke again.
“And on top of that, quite frankly, I don’t see that we’ve made any progress since our last meeting on July 17,” said Conway. “Nothing has changed.”
In response, Grady said, “Well, I’ve given you my opinion relative to the project – [and] I agree with you 100 percent they should’ve come in … but, given the situation we’re in – what changes that were made to the approved plan relative to the overall project – I do believe them to be minor … [with] no increased impact.”
Earlier in the meeting, commission member Laurene Gerrior told Grady that the situation bothered her because it was the third time something like that has happened with Decas. And although she understands the work is agricultural in nature, “it was done without permission,” said Gerrior.
In response, Grady told the commission that all the nearby wetlands are created agricultural resource areas, not natural wetlands.
When it came time for Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon’s turn to speak, following Conway’s comments, her first remark was, “Oh boy. Ummm …
“This is dangerous on so many levels that I’m going to elaborate on that,” said Farinon.
Grady did what was asked of him, said Farinon: he provided the commission with the letter they asked for back in July, asking if the changes were substantial while stating his case for why they were not.
“I share the board’s concern with any applicant for a certificate of compliance, and we’re seeing it more and more and more where letters coming in from engineers say, ‘We think it’s been done in substantial compliance…’ and we really battle with that.”
Farinon said she fully recognized Conway’s concerns and the commissions’ collectively, “On a project like this where we’ve had a rocky road all along,” said Farinon. “It’s a very high-profile case, months of us sitting in these meetings. … That wasn’t a fun time.”
But for Farinon, the project went well and Decas complied with most of the requirements, with the exception of these five.
“The concern that I have about requiring … a notice of intent is that it could potentially be taken out of context and the headline being: ‘Conservation Commission requires filings for exempt [agricultural] activities,’” said Farinon. “That could spread like wildfire, and we have limits that we can ask for.”
Farinon pointed out that the actions Decas took would likely have been granted if brought before the commission first.
The commission ran down the list, and most members accepted Farinon’s interpretation.
“I don’t think that any of these items here are significant to warrant another filing,” said commission member Daniel Gagne.
“I know I’ve been a naysayer,” said Gerrior, “But I have to agree with Dan. At this point in time, it’s not going to hurt our wetlands … I was ticked off out in the field … but it is what it is.”
The commission took up each deviation separately, and Conway was the dissenting vote in two of the five. In the end, the Certificate of Compliance was granted.
“It’s been painful from the beginning,” said Grady, “and until the end, apparently, so I think you for your consideration.”
Also during the meeting, the commission approved the Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation for Pedro Rodriguez, Solar MA Project Management, LLC, for 0 Walnut Plain Road.
Farinon recommended the approval, remarking on the excellent job done in the wetlands delineation.
In other maters, the commission continued the public hearing for the An Abbreviated Notice of Resource Area Delineation filed by Steve Long of Borrego Solar Systems to confirm 6,662 linear feet of bordering vegetated wetlands at 75 Vaughan Hill Road.
Farinon stressed that the application was solely to approve the delineated wetlands line, not a solar array field. Any future project will require an additional application.
The public hearing was continued until September 4 to allow ample time for Farinon to walk the entire 6,662 feet of the wetlands boundary.
The public hearing for the Notice of Intent filed by REpurpose Properties for a 22-duplex age-restricted housing development at Rounseville Road was continued until August 21.
The next meeting of the Rochester Conservation Commission is scheduled for August 21 at 7:00 pm at the Rochester Town Hall.
Rochester Conservation Commission
By Jean Perry