Prior to the Fall of 2011 I’d never heard of the bucolic little town of Westford, MA, much less visited there on a regular basis. Yesterday I spent a great deal more hours in Westford than I’d intended. First in mid-morning doing my monthly grocery shopping at the local Market Basket Store situated at Cornerstone Square to replenish my empty larder. Returning later that evening for the Town of Westford Zoning Board of Appeals Hearing, a Public Hearing related to a recent Decision issued by Land Court (10 MISC 429867) regarding the proposed development of an Asphalt Processing Plant. I was there in support of local residents along with two other Assabet River Valley Green Rainbow Party members. Our presence at the meeting was intended as a show of support for those people who, like us, are opposed to the development of an Asphalt Plant and who intended to speak out against it at the Hearing; although because we are not Westford Town residents we refrained from speaking.
If you’ve never spoken publically, especially in front of a large crowd, on film, and at an official gathering, believe me it can be daunting. According to surveys, many people would rather die than speak in public due to the symptoms of Stage fright. Glossophobia, or fear of public speaking, is a condition that affects as much as 75% of people. During a flare-up, symptoms may include sweaty palms, shortened breath, heightened blood pressure, nausea, stiffening of neck and upper back muscles, dry mouth, and a distinct desire to flee the premises.
Housewives, mothers, and ordinary folks, our neighbors two towns over from Acton voiced their opposition for this proposed Plant for varied reasons in well thought out, extensively researched, and deeply emotionally felt arguments while displaying the symptoms of Glossophobia but they shouldered on. These people live in fear for the health of their children, seniors with respiratory problems, and of experiencing a decrease in the value of their homes due to this proposed Asphalt Plant. Our threesome sat in the second row of the Blanchard School Auditorium and listened first to lawyers from Newport Materials, the petitioners, who presented their case, asking the Board to approve two Variances and a Special Permit for the property in association with the development of an asphalt manufacturing facility and associated materials stockpile yard. These variances were required because the plant and processes involved have been deemed to exceed the limits of town ordinances for noise and additional use of property.
This struggle over the proposed use of the property has been going on for many years and has a lengthy history which you can familiarize yourselves with by reading these Newspaper articles detailing the particulars.
In the above Wicked Local article, that is highly favorable to Newport Materials, Scott Tranchemontagne, a spokesperson for Newport produced a 1981 covenant between the town and the H.E. Fletcher Co., which at the time owned 919 acres on Route 40. About 600 of those acres became the Greystone Estates residential development, according to Tranchemontagne. Greystone homeowners hold deeds in which they cannot fight any development of the remaining land owned by Fletcher, he said.
“So everybody who bought a house in Greystone went into the deal with their eyes wide opened,” Tranchemontagne said. “It’s in every one of their deeds.”
This issue was raised during last night’s meeting and soundly refuted by several homeowners in attendance, they succinctly pointed out that at the time of purchase there was no mention of an Asphalt Production Plant and had there been any mention of it they would not have closed on their homes.
Arguments in favor from an Industry rag:
Keep in mind that those in favor of granting the necessary Permits and Variances to allow this project to proceed do so solely from a monetary and business standpoint with little regard for the human toll or the concerns of the townspeople who would be forced to live in the shadow of this Petroleum Processing Plant, because make no mistake that is what asphalt production is. Asphalt is a heavy, dark brown to black mineral substance, one of several mixtures of hydrocarbons called bitumens. Asphalt is a strong, versatile weather and chemical-resistant binding material which adapts itself to a variety of uses. Asphalt binds crushed stone and gravel (commonly known as aggregate) into firm, tough surfaces for roads, streets, and airport run-ways. Asphalt, also known as mineral pitch, is obtained from either natural deposits such as native asphalt or brea or as a byproduct of the petroleum industry (petroleum asphalt).
Crude petroleum is separated into its various fractions through a distillation process at the oil refinery. After separation, these fractions are further refined into other products which include asphalt, paraffin, gasoline, naphtha, lubricating oil, kerosene, and diesel oil. Since asphalt is the base or heavy constituent of crude petroleum, it does not evaporate or boil off during the distillation process. Asphalt is essentially the heavy residue of the oil refining process.
Environmental protection laws have developed stringent codes limiting water flows and particulate and smoke emissions from oil refineries and asphalt processing plants. Not only dust but sulfur dioxides, smoke, and many other emissions must be rigorously controlled.
My purpose in writing this post is to point out the importance and power wielded by local town Committees and Boards. Many members of these Town Organizations are the individuals who make the decisions that affect the lives of ordinary citizens but unfortunately these men and women are more often than not closely allied with corporate interests at the expense of the public. I believe that the wellbeing of the people comes first, not the corporate bottom line or shareholder profits but many disagree and put business concerns ahead of people’s welfare. If these Town Boards, that wield so much power, are not populated by citizens with the right interests in mind then Goliath wins. I’ve said this before, the power is in the Roots and the roots are the people. I know that it is asking a lot, with all that you already have to do raising your families and such, to get involved in your local government by joining or seeking to serve your towns as Committee or Board members but if you do not then those positions will be filled by those with corporate interests as their primary concerns and believe me there are many who do not have the peoples wellbeing at heart. Several members of the Westford Zoning Board did vote in favor of approving the variances despite the fact that all of the townsfolk in attendance were against it.
The outcome of the Hearing, once all the bunkum from the lawyers had ended, was a temporary victory for the little town. It is a pansophy that living near and exposure to the particulates, noise, and traffic that will be generated by the process of producing asphalt is dangerous and deleterious to the health and wellbeing of the residents. I don’t know anyone who would willing choose to live in close proximity to one. Even a staunch Republican and self proclaimed capitalist spoke out against approving the variances.
Lest you think that all is well in regard to last evening’s short term positive outcome consider that the likelihood of Newport Materials filing suit again in Land Court is extremely high. The question is how long will small town David be able to fend off the repeated assaults of a large Corporation with incredibly deep pockets before they are forced to comply with the desires of Goliath’s business interests.