By Beth David, Editor
At a long meeting on 8/19/19 that included lots of input from the residents, the Fairhaven Selectboard heard complaints about the FY18 Community Development Block Grant project, and also discussed the navigational dredging project in the harbor, with comments on both sides of that issue.
The CDBG project is reconstructing Hedge Street from Cherry Street to the Acushnet River, and is underway now. Several residents complained about various aspects of the project.
One woman told the board that she was not at all happy with the project because they had installed granite edging around her property, which was not on the original plan.
She also complained about the way a large tree with overgrown roots was treated. She said the tree was “very, very ill” and needed to be taken down.
Mike Carter of GCG Associates explained that some minor field adjustments were made based on conditions in the street. Some residents also complained about the cut curbs, angles and tapering on the corners. Mr. Carter explained that the specifications were to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make it easier for people in wheelchairs, and those with strollers, to move from sidewalk to sidewalk.
Mr. Carter said the tree in question was not dead, and they decided to save it, so they did cut the roots with a saw. He said that was a common practice.
June Peters Wylie, on Hedge Street sid she thought the guys did a “fantastic job.”
She said they were very helpful and let residents know when work would be going on.
Ms. Wylie said she preferred the old style curbing, but, the new style is “what we have.”
She said she also has a problem with a tree near her house that has interfered with pipes underground, and suggested that the town plant smaller trees in the future.
Mr. Carter said that the current practice is to pick trees that do not grow as large as the old shade trees. He said they use ornamental trees rather than the larger trees that line Green Street, for example.
Mr. Carter also explained that the neighborhood is densely populated, with 40-foot frontage. The street is also not as wide as some other streets, making it necessary to adjust some of the plans.
The board asked that the consultants and Paul Foley, the Planning and Economic Development Director, meet with the neighbors and possibly make more adjustments to the plan.
“My goal is to make them happy,” said Mr. Carter.
The board also heard from several representatives about the Phase V dredging plan in New Bedford-Fairhaven Harbor.
The dredging is more for navigational purposes, but because it does require removing sediment contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) federal and state money are helping to offset the costs.
There is currently a large dredging project in the harbor that is removing PCB contaminated sediment and placing it in Confined Aquatic Disposal cells. CAD cells are buried in the harbor and covered with clean sand. The controversial method has received much criticism from environmental groups and residents who want the sediment removed completely out of the harbor.
Karen Vilandry, from Hands Across the River Coalition (HARC), read a letter to the board objecting to the latest phase (see page 10 for complete letter).
While the proponents of the project stressed the economic benefits of a deeper harbor, Ms. Vilandry focused on some familiar themes, including the dangers of the PCBs becoming airborne after they are dredged up and moved by barge to the CAD cells.
Edward Anthes-Washburn, Executive Director at New Bedford Port Authority (Port of New Bedford), said the project would result in more than 800 new jobs. The deeper harbor will allow for larger boats to enter the harbor, and allow them to dock in more places. He said some places, such as the Marina at Slocum Cove, the US Coast Guard Auxiliary, and Pease Park will greatly benefit from the dredging.
Fairhaven Harbormaster Timothy Cox said that Pease Park is “getting silted in.”
The dredging will also allow the town to add moorings where it is currently too shallow to put boats.
He said the town spent a lot of money getting Union Wharf rebuilt, and they went low enough with the wall that the dredging can go deeper. He said the lobster basin is also getting shallower and the boats have been having trouble at low tide.
The dredging will be a “win-win for everybody,” said Mr. Cox.
Ms. Vilandry, however, said that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had disclosed that it was not planning to monitor air quality during the Phase V dredging as it had for the other dredging.
One woman said that despite the assertions that the dredging material does not get airborne, she had a lot of it coming into her house.
“When I was cleaning my kitchen sink that stuff was everywhere,” she said.
Ms. Vilandry said the dredging was not the issue for HARC. She said it was the handling of the material, and especially that it would be buried in the harbor. And the new CAD cell will be only 200 feet from a Fairhaven residence.
“People don’t realize how deadly, how toxic PCBs are,” said Ms. Vilandry, disclosing that she has been tested and PCBs have been found in her. She also noted that a resident complained that she could not grow tomatoes during the dredging.
“What we’re saying is, find another disposal site,” said Ms. Vilandry.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles Murphy directly addressed Ms. Vilandry’s claim that he personally authorized the dredging plan in 2010. He said he was one of three Selectboard members who supported the plan, and as the chair, he signed it.
“I love that people think that Charles Murphy can do all these wonderful things by himself,” he said. “It’s great, but not factual.”
He said all the same issues came up years ago, and the EPA monitored for air quality.
Mr. Murphy noted that the current phase would go on whether Fairhaven supported it or not that night.
Mr. Washburn said that the material in the Phase V CAD cells would be much cleaner than the other cells.
Ms. Vilandry said PCBs accumulate in the tissues. She said she wished someone would follow the students who played on the football field at Fairhaven High School to see if they had children with neurological disorders.
Mr. Murphy took issue with that line of thought, and raised his voice to note that his children attended FHS and his son played football.
“If you don’t agree with this, why don’t you take them to court,” said Mr. Murphy, adding that lots of environmental groups do exactly that when they disagree with a government action.
“You spend money,” he said. “I’m not going to spend the town’s money. Our tax money pays for our lawyer.”
He then shut off Ms. Vilandry and moved the discussion along.
Town Administrator Mark Rees said that there was a “more extensive” meeting in New Bedford the week before when many of the same issues were discussed.
It was unclear by press time if that meeting is available online.
Fairhaven is paying 20% of the cost of dredging around Union Wharf and the Pease Park boat ramp. Town Meeting approved $179,000 for the project, with the money coming from the waterways users fund.
Businesses and residents in the harbor also have the option of paying for dredging in front of their businesses for a discounted rate.
Fairhaven Harbormaster Timothy Cox said that the estimate is around $100 per cubic yard for residents. He also said it would be about $600 per cubic yard if residents paid for the project on their own.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola voiced strong support of the project.
“I am in support of this project,” said Mr. Espindola. “The economic benefits are tremendous, not just good.”
He said it was not ideal, that he would like to see the sediment taken away.
“I think anyone would, but that’s not the reality of any options presented to us,” said Mr. Espindola. “I’d rather see them buried in a CAD cell than tossed up by the tide. I’ll go on record saying I’m in full support of this project.”
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas expressed some concerns with how close the CAD cell is to a residence, and he said he wanted to make sure the EPA continued to conduct air monitoring.
“I work in that industry, so I don’t trust the EPA that much,” said Mr. Freitas.
In the end the board voted unanimously to approve the proposal on the condition that the EPA continue its air monitoring.
For more information on the Harbor cleanup, including EPA air quality reports, visit https://www. epa.gov/new-bedford-harbor
The Selectboard meeting can be view at https://www.fairhaventv.com/
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