Pepperell residents don't dig the proposed, multi-year project to back-fill an abandoned quarry. They showed up en masse to reject the plan, which would make the area a dumping ground for discarded construction soil from around the region.

Monday night's Board of Selectmen's meeting was moved to a larger venue due to the anticipated, larger-than-normal turnout. The widespread interest is in a proposed plan to develop a soil reclamation center at the 161 Nashua Road gravel pit. And "99 percent of the 70 people there were opposed to the plan," said town administrator John Moak.

The 7-9 year project, if approved, will return the 50 acres of abandoned quarry back to its original state of topography, including native vegetation over top of the fill. With an undertaking of this magnitude, there is sure to be controversy and conflicting interests. The parties embroiled in this tug-of-war are the developers, the town, and the neighborhoods that will be affected, according to the proposal filed on June 28 by Terra Environmental, LLC.

An outline of the project was submitted to the town by Terra, which detailed the scope and specifics of the design. Terra represents the developers behind the proposal, Mass Composting Group Inc., who own the barren tract. In that proposal is an offer from MCGI to pay the town $1 million for the damages and inconvenience it will incur, so long as it accepts the proposal with 45 days. "That will never happen," said Moak.


"Even if they were to ever get approval from the town, it will take far longer than that, several months."

At the town meeting, Moak briefed the Board of Selectmen and the residents on hand about his meeting, which also included town officials from four other departments and executives from the state Department of Environmental Protection. In a memo outlining that briefing, Moak explained that although the DEP is the authorizing body for permitting such projects, it is the town who must approve it beforehand. Town officers, supported by residents, haven't had much interest in approving the plan.

First, the project itself violates existing zoning laws in Pepperell, according to Moak. So in order to approve it, zoning laws would need to be rewritten. Second, Moak explained, the town would need scientific data from studies conducted on adjoining wetlands, town drinking water and other environmental impacts to assure safe operations. Third, without those assurances, the residents, especially abutters, will push back against it.

One of those neighbors, Caroline Ahdab, in an eight-page letter dated July 2, expressed concerns on many fronts. She cited noise, safety, road damage, scenery and traffic as strong deterrents to the project, which she wrote would ultimately bring very little benefit to the town. One estimate puts the total number of truckloads expected to deliver the 4 million cubic yards of fill at 50,000. Those trucks will drive through the community, on town roads all throughout hours of operation for the duration of the project.

MCGI's plan for soil reclamation on the site is to provide a dumping ground for "clean fill" from construction sites around New England. The fill, which must comply with both town and DEP purity criteria, would be used to back-fill a massive hole that was created by the decades-long excavation of rock, shale and gravel from the area. Terra asserts that the delivered materials would be compacted according to DEP regulations, leaving what Moak describes as "a 125 foot high mountain that will be covered in grass."

"The land after the project is done can not be developed for residential or commercial structures of any kind," Moak said.

So why then is MCGI so adherent to their intentions?

"Because each arriving load of dirt and organic matter means more money for them," Moak said. "Developers from around the region would pay MCGI for each ton of earth they dispose of at the site."

Monday's meeting saw near unanimity among residents and official opposed to the project. But Moak said the town will meet with legal counsel and explore the possibility of a scientific study.

"We don't want to decide on something like this too quickly," said Moak. "When we make a decision, it's based on facts, not emotions."

The matter will be updated at future town meetings.