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It can be a costly proposition to sue on principle. But, after a year of patiently waiting for a solution, Harvard neighbors bearing the brunt of sonic trespass due to the Evergreen Solar plant on Devens need to consider pulling the legal trigger. Cast the net wide, and throw them all into the soup to fight it out among themselves.

When is the correct time to pull the legal trigger?

Over the summer it seemed that the Harvard selectmen were going to get involved in the fray when they consulted town counsel. Later, the selectmen believed they had brokered a deal to put the matter to rest, laying a solution on the lap of the largely ineffective Devens Enterprise Commission. Deadlines were set and an agreement signed-off on to quiet the Evergreen Solar manufacturing plant on Barnum Road else the operation would be shut down until “compliance” could be met.

What’s compliance? It depends on the language you speak.

If you’re a thoughtful, rational person, you’d think that compliance with the Devens industrial zoning noise standards would mean remaining under 38 decibels during the day and 43 decibels at night consistently.

Or, if you’re fond of legalese, then you like to play with words. To borrow from the Clinton catastrophe, it depends on what the meaning of “is” is.

Here, the Devens Enterprise Commission has chosen to use legalese to define compliance as occasional compliance. If the noise dips down to 38 by day or 43 at night from time to time – that’s OK.

Um, what? Maybe you missed that over the din. So, let’s ask the question?

Does compliance mean keeping quiet ALL the time? MOST of the time?

What would the outcome be if, pulled over on the highway, you told a state trooper that you believe “compliance” with the speed limit means staying at or under 55 mph occasionally. Wouldn’t go over too well, right? You’re nonsensical definition of compliance would be another one for the trooper to add to his book of tall tales. They’ve heard them all.

Judges, like policemen, have usually heard it all, too.

But unfortunately, some private Harvard citizens are going to have to lawyer-up at their own expense to silence the noise that was foisted upon them.

It’s a potential legal hijacking to have to bring this into court. It’s not cheap. It’s not fast. Like a messy divorce, it’s worse still when parties are unreasonable. In this case, the DEC decision-makers knowingly permitted Evergreen Solar to build on a tiny lot abutting residential property knowing full well before granting the 2007 unified permit for Evergreen Solar that those specific Harvard residents would be impacted.

Hanging in the balance is the health of people and pets, property values, and, well, the principle of it.

Does Evergreen have a case against the DEC? Maybe. But they were heavily front-loaded with experts of their own. Is PanAm Railway responsible for noise from their intermodal facility on Barnum Road? Good luck there. Can’t sue the crickets now, can they? The little critters, targeted this summer as the source du jour of the reported noise, are both judgment-proof and now deceased.

DEC seems content to stall along with MassDevelopment, Evergreen Solar and even the Patrick Administration, to give the plant time to move partially, or we suspect entirely, to China. Taxpayers’ dollars here in Massachusetts just weren’t enough to stabilize this dicey endeavor.

DEC, you didn’t ask for it, but let’s try out a couple of reasonable concepts:

First, to the individual members of the DEC, try to actually open your mouths during meetings instead of consistently deferring to your paid administrative staff. There is zero deliberation at DEC meetings.

Second, allow the collective public, including Evergreen Solar and the suffering neighbors, to speak at your meetings. Retract your un-American stance of forcing all input to be submitted in writing. While it likely saves the DEC and Evergreen from having to pay to have experts in attendance on an hourly basis, it’s downright un-American. Written comments often fall in deep dark holes, and rarely result in open discussion.

Third, DEC administration, please appeal to your MassDevelopment masters to outfit your meeting room with video cameras. Why? With regionalization all the rage, and the DEC and Joint Boards of Selectmen meetings held in the same MassDevelopment board room, let’s shine a little light on your permitting board.

Perhaps the towns would like to see first-hand how decisions are made on Devens before the JBOS considers running Devens or dividing its acres among themselves.