By Dan Brosgol
Imagine waking up one day and hearing that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) plans on building an enormous salt barn in your backyard.
For residents in the Meadowbrook Road neighborhood, the first time they heard about the plan was when a survey crew was out in the woods, and next thing they knew they were reading about plans for a 5,000-ton gambrel-style salt shed just above their homes, adjacent to the Route 3/Route 62 off-ramp.
In recent years, towns throughout Massachusetts have fought the Commonwealth and MassDOT about their salt sheds. Andover successfully got the MassDOT to relocate their shed based on compelling environmental concerns, such as the fact that sodium chloride levels in Andover’s Fish Brook were 300% above normal; and Boxford has been litigating for years trying to fix four decades of environmental damage and groundwater contamination from a MassHighway facility off I-95 in their town.
It’s hard to imagine how Vine Brook, Wilson Dam, the Shawsheen River, and the groundwater in the area would not be negatively impacted by the runoff and seepage, especially given the overwhelmingly damning evidence from other communities. This Bedford resident has serious questions about 5000 tons of salt and chemicals leaching into the ground water, given what towns like Andover and Boxford have been fighting the DOT about. Not only that, but given the remarkable survival of the rare Bridle Shiner fish in Vine Brook, Bedford should think twice about disrupting the fragile ecosystem of Vine Brook and putting this “species of special concern” at risk.
Beyond the environmental concerns, a specious argument is being made about how this particular parcel of land was selected for the salt shed. MassDOT sold a 4.46-acre site on Crosby Road to The Davis Companies in a grand gesture that was designed to “provide MassDOT–Highway Division with new, more efficient facility with better access to Route 3, while at the same time returning 4.46 acres of developable land to the town of Bedford’s tax base.” Well, according to sources, The Davis Companies’ grand plans for this parcel seem to be to… wait for it… expand the parking lot for iRobot, not to develop the site for new businesses. So the MassDOT is doing us a “favor” by moving their facility from an Industrial-C zone into wooded land, above a residential neighborhood and numerous waterways; a “favor” that would require the clearing of trees and a not insignificant amount of environmental damage, all so there can be more parking on Crosby Drive. That just doesn’t scan.
It’s also quite a zoning precedent that the town is setting itself up for. Until this moment, the Zoning Board has successfully kept all Industrial C zoning on the eastern side of Route 3, far away from residential neighborhoods. This 5000-ton sodium compound would be the first Industrial zoning area on the western side of the highway. This huge intrusion would be a dramatic change, and one that should not be welcomed by the town.
But I’ve saved the best for last. Andover, with the data and environmental impact study firmly behind them, made their report and their recommendations, and in the end, MassDOT moved the shed from a wooded area to an industrial area—exactly the opposite of what is being planned for Bedford. How could it be, by anyone’s calculation or reasoning, that we should not be actively working to not repeat the mistake that was made just up the road?
For those of you that think there’s nothing we can do, or that the Commonwealth and MassDOT can put this shed wherever they want, don’t believe the hype. The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that towns can sue the state due to well contamination from salt sheds and that they can’t just build the sheds wherever they want. So let’s do whatever we can to make sure they don’t build one where they are trying to.