Doubts on site’s safety linger; Neighbors seek tests for pollution

The Boston Globe
July 17, 2011 Sunday


BYLINE: By Megan McKee, Globe Correspondent

SECTION: REGIONAL; West; Pg. 1

LENGTH: 988 words

For a few months this spring, development looked forthcoming at the site off Danforth Street in Framingham known for a former tenant – the New England Sand & Gravel Co.

The company responsible for Hopkinton’s new mega-development, Legacy Farms, was interested in building up to 525 homes on the 131-acre site where, more than 25 years ago, a chemical spill by an Air Force contractor unaffiliated with the sand and gravel operation started leaching volatile organic compounds still detectable as recently as 2008.

But since Roy MacDowell Jr. and his Weston-based company, Baystone Development, decided against the deal about a month ago, citing Framingham and Wayland’s too-costly mitigation requirements, neighbors are left wondering about the fate of the site that has concerned them for years, and whether an asphalt-crushing operation next to it could also be a source of hazardous pollutants.

Some aren’t taking any chances, and have complained to the state’s Depart ment of Environmental Protection about the asphalt-crushing operation. Town officials said they’re looking into whether Ellingwood Construction’s operation is a health hazard.

“There always seems to be some kind of issue in that neighborhood,” said neighbor Marilyn Zimmerman, who has lived on Old Connecticut Path for more than 40 years. “I would really like the air and that soil to be tested.”

William Ellingwood, who has run his asphalt-, brick-, and concrete-crushing operation on a 3-acre site next to New England Sand & Gravel for 25 years, said he was surprised to hear about the concerns because he is a strict adherent to the law.

“As far as I am concerned, 90 percent of the neighbors are extremely happy with the way I run the businesses,” he said. “We do everything we can to not disturb the neighbors. We never run on Saturdays. We close at 4 p.m. every day even though we don’t have to.”

He said if anything, the dust is blowing from the adjacent New England Sand & Gravel site, which is independent from Ellingwood’s operation.

“Compared to roads and 500 homes, we’re going to be a drop in the ocean,” said Ellingwood, referring to the effects of potential development on the neighboring property.

But Framingham may not see those hundreds of homes, which have been proposed in various forms since 2003. Baystone was the latest in a string of developers, including the Pulte Homes organization, to back out.

MacDowell said that his company had the land under agreement at one point, but nixed the plan because Framingham’s permitting process is too cumbersome and Framingham and Wayland’s mitigation requests were too much in the current economic climate.

A mitigation expense acceptable “in the `go-go’ days of the 2000s just doesn’t work anymore,” said MacDowell. He estimated the cost of off-site infrastructure improvements and mitigation would top $10 million.

“We took a very hard look at it,” he said.

James Stewart, who also lives on Old Connecticut Path, said he was pleased at the prospect of well-built homes taking the place of a parcel that served as a testing site for the Air Force in the 1980s.

The 1986 chemical spill by a military contractor caused volatile organic compounds to leach into the soil and groundwater. A test in 2008 found two samples at the site above the acceptable limits for tetrachloroethene, which is considered a potential carcinogen. The site has never been deemed hazardous to human health, however.

“The marketability of our homes would be a lot more with beautiful houses down there,” Stewart said.

But he isn’t lingering on what could have been. Instead, he’s been organizing his neighbors, who have formed a group called Concerned Citizens for Continued Clean-up, and petitioning officials to take a hard look at Ellingwood’s operation. They are scheduled to appear before selectmen on Aug. 23, and are hoping to bring between 50 to 100 like-minded neighbors.

Stewart filed a complaint with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which last year issued a decision allowing Ellingwood to operate as long as the facility does not “adversely affect the public health, safety or the environment.”

In the meantime, the town’s health agent said his department will be looking into the issues cited by neighbors.

“As far as the Board of Health is concerned, it may or may not be in compliance. We’re concerned with whether he’s doing things in an environmentally safe way,” said Ethan Mascoop, Framingham’s public health director.

Selectwoman Ginger Esty has been sympathetic to neighbors.

“I don’t know why on God’s green earth the DEP gave Ellingwood permission to grind up asphalt,” she said. She said one issue is the crushing operation is within a buffer zone for Framingham drinking water wells that are now closed, but the town is hoping to open back up.

Stewart and neighbors were successful in getting another operation next to New England Sand & Gravel shut this year.

P. Gioioso & Sons Inc. was using a 3-acre site off Old Connecticut Path as a staging area for Framingham’s massive ongoing sewer and water public works project. The town in January ordered the company to cease operations and vacate the property because they were storing heavy equipment, piping, road improvement materials, and excavated soils on the residentially zoned property.

Ellingwood agreed that Gioioso should have been shut down, but said his business is different.

“The neighbors did a good thing,” said Ellingwood. He said he thoroughly cleans all the material brought in, only runs the crusher once or twice per week, and uses dust control methods.

Ellingwood said his above-board business practices are proven by the numerous municipal and commercial clients who buy his recycled construction materials.

“Everything we do is legal, down to where we put the oil,” he said, adding, if Stewart “wants to talk about it, he can talk to my attorney.”

Megan McKee can be reached at megan.mckee@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s