AYER — Selectmen followed Harvard selectmen’s lead Tuesday night in voting to send a letter to the Devens Enterprise Commission in opposition to the Devens Recycling Center’s request for Saturday hours of operation.
The Commission shot down Saturday hours at their Aug. 5 meeting. The company has filed for reconsideration, which will be heard in October. Ayer selectmen urged the Commission not to reconsider the company’s request until a series of questions are addressed.
The Devens Enterprise Commission, the zoning entity for the former Army base, nixed Saturday hours on a 5-2 vote. The Independence Drive business sought to add 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday hours to their weekday schedule. Neighbors complained of noise, odor, safety, traffic, and rodent population concerns at the plant.
The Devens Recycling Center was permitted to process and sort construction and demolition waste when it was approved by the Commission in January 2006. Due to the construction downturn, the company successfully lobbied the Commission in 2009 to broaden its operations to accept municipal solid waste loads to combine smaller truckloads into larger lots for trucking away.
Access to the Devens Recycling Center is accessed largely by driving through a neighborhood of brick bungalow style homes that predate the recycling center. James Thompson bought his house at 20 Auman Street with his wife in 2005. He also used to work at the Center from 2008-2009, operating the truck weigh station for incoming loads. He complained to the Ayer selectmen that the company has disrupted the neighbors.
“I left because of this issue. I could not support a place dumping trash a quarter mile from my house,” Thompson said. He said he used to call the Center directly to have his concerns addressed, but lately residents have been directed to call the Massachusetts State Police, which patrols Devens, with complaints.
The Commission frequently conditions zoning approval contingent on its edict that truck traffic is to access Devens via the Jackson Road exit off Route 2. But, at the Recycling Center’s hearing, Massachusetts State Police Lt. Charles McPhail stated his troopers cannot bar truck traffic that access Devens through other entrances since the roads are publicly financed.
Trucks are only to traverse the neighborhood along a posted truck route. Thompson said that the trucks frequently stray of the approved path, driving over lawns to maneuver turns in big rigs.
Devens Recycling Center President Kurt McNamara told Harvard selectmen that his company performs “spot monitoring” on truckers to ensure the posted truck routes are followed. Thompson scoffed that McNamara admits to examining truck route issues for just an hour a month.
“To me that’s unbelievable. That’s not adequate at all,” Thompson said. “They’re just asking for more and more and more. They’ll just keep going to get a full-fledged dump all the time.”
Ayer Selectman Frank Maxant asked his peers to band with Harvard to oppose Saturday hours. He blasted the Commission and MassDevelopment, the redevelopment agency for Devens.
“This is one example — a microcosm — of how they have been treating everybody in this entire region in the Devens Enterprise Zone. They break a promise and make another promise. It’s a bait-and-switch operation,” Maxant said.
Maxant told his fellow selectmen: “It’s definitely a live issue. If you want to weigh in on it, we could perhaps have an effect.”
Devens Enterprise Commissioner Russ Smith, an Ayer resident appointed to the Commission by the governor, attended the selectmen’s meeting. He was one of two who originally voted in the minority to approve the Center’s push for Saturday hours.
Smith said the Center had hinted at a desire for Saturday hours last summer so this is no surprise. Smith said vermin aren’t attracted to the Center’s municipal waste, but rather they come into the plant aboard loads of demolition waste. Smith assured the Ayer selectmen that DEC planner Neil Angus is overseeing the Center’s rat population monitoring measures. Smith didn’t know the status of the one-year delay in having the Nashoba Boards of Health conduct monitoring measures at the plant.
Regarding truck traffic, Smith said the State Police “have nothing on the logs” as far as complaints are concerned. Smith added, however, that McPhail “was a little bit unaware that we wanted the primary access through Jackson gate, but he said he cannot restrict trucks on other roads.”
“While we (the Commission) put this condition on and we ask the companies to try to monitor it, it’s not their job to be the police. So there’s a little bit of a disconnect from what we ask of truck traffic versus what can be allowed,” Smith said.
Nonetheless, the Devens Recycilng Center is “dead center” in an industrial zone. “It doesn’t seem to be reasonable to offer incentives for a company to locate within a zone and then shackle them with difficulties in operating their business,” Smith warned. “My perspective is that they’ve done everything they should be doing. They’re well within the zone we’ve given them and there’s no reason to deny anything they’re asking.”
Ayer Selectman Jim Fay tended to agree. “We need to be cautious about over regulating a company that’s already operating within the rules.”
“Well yes and no,” said Ayer Selectman Carolyn McCreary. “Originally they were demolition recycling only. This is a whole new endeavor to include municipal waste.”
Ayer resident Harry Zane suggested the use of video cameras to monitor truck traffic at intersections to “see which trucks are violating and which are not” straying from approved truck routes.
In the end, the Ayer selectmen voted unanimously to ask the Devens Enterprise Commission to continue to withhold any Saturday hours for the Devens Recycling Center until answers are provided on rodent-control measures, truck traffic and the possible use of video cameras to monitor the situation, and odor control measures. The selectmen agreed to copy the Harvard selectmen as well as the towns’ legislative delegation and the governor’s office.