DEVENS — After a two-town public-relations blitz Oct. 5, the Devens Recycling Center has been granted another bite at the apple in its quest for Saturday hours of operation.
The Devens Enterprise Commission, the one-stop permitting authority for the former Army base, said “no” Aug. 5 to the company’s request to receive truckloads of municipal and demolition waste on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The vote was 5-2 against Saturday hours, largely in response to nearby homeowners’ concerns that haulers strayed from designated truck routes. There were also concerns over odor, flying debris from passing loads, and rodent control at the plant.
The Harvard and Ayer boards of selectmen individually lobbied against the approval of Saturday hours. But last Tuesday night, each board softened its stance after visits from Devens Recycling Center Principal and founder Kurt Macnamara.
Neither board voted to endorse the center’s operation, but each agreed to neutralize their earlier positions for the sake of a rehearing for Saturday hours.
On Oct. 7, the DEC backtracked with a 9-1 vote to reconsider its August “no” vote. Commission attorney Edith Netter urged the review of the earlier vote. Though she was absent from the August meeting, Netter advised the record was devoid of a discussion of the merits of Saturday hours.
“You may find you didn’t ask yourself the relevant questions,” Netter said.
Macnamara told the commission that, as far as the Ayer selectmen were concerned, the company “satisfied” the selectmen and “we have their support.”
After meeting with Harvard selectmen this week, Macnamara said he “got them to turn their letter around.”
No Ayer selectmen were present, but Harvard Selectman Ron Ricci was there and refuted Macnamara’s characterization. Ricci said the Harvard selectmen’s letter in opposition to Saturday hours stands.
“I think Macnamara made a mistake in alluding to our support,” Ricci said. “In no way did the Harvard Board of Selectmen rescind the letter we sent … nor did we take a position supporting the applicant one way or another.”
Rather, Ricci said Harvard selectmen agreed to pull back to the extent that the company be heard again on the issues. But Ricci also promised “the Harvard Board of Selectmen will have other requests” if the reconsideration is granted.
There were some terse words when Devens Enterprise Commissioner Armen Demerjian pressed Macnamara to identify which commissioner had an “arguably biased view,” as Macnamara stated in a letter filed with the commission. Demerjian is a neighbor to the plant and has come to oppose its operations, though he voted to permit the flow of municipal waste through the plant in 2009.
“At this time, we don’t want to identify the person,” Macnamara said.
“I might be that person,” Demerjian countered. “If you are saying they are a person, can you please give the name?”
“I think we all know who the person is,” Macnamara said before his attorney, Marc Goldstein, asked the commission chairman for some relief from the line of questioning.
“Mr. Macnamara is trying to take the high ground,” Goldstein said.
Chairman William Marshall thought otherwise and asked Macnamara to identify the commissioner. Macnamara confirmed he was talking about Demerjian.
“You don’t have the right to yell ‘fire’ in a movie theater,” Macnamara said. “And that’s what was done here.”
“This unsubstantiated speculation and bias is an affront to my dignity,” Demerjian said, noting that he wasn’t the only resident complaining about the center’s operations.
Demerjian also challenged that Macnamara misrepresented the Harvard selectmen’s view, wasn’t timely with cleaning droppings off the trucks, and that the company only devoted three hours to traffic monitoring over the past 15 months.
“I am sorry,” Demerjian said. “You did not do your job, and that’s why, as residents, we’re up in arms about traffic.”
Demerjian challenged that while Macnamara has previously said Waste Management trucks don’t use his facility, they do. Demerjian said he’d apologize to Macnamara if he was wrong and company logs didn’t support his assertion.
But Commission Administrative Director Peter Lowitt confirmed Demerjian’s statement is correct. Waste Management trucks frequent the Devens Recycling Center.
“So I was right,” stressed Demerjian.
“Yes,” answered Lowitt.
“And he was wrong,” said Demerjian.
“They do business with us, but they don’t do all their business with us,” Macnamara said.
While Waste Management trucks strayed from the commission’s preferred truck route twice, Macnamara said, “If they continue to do it, we’re going to tell them they cannot come to our facility.”
Jay Thompson, of 20 Auman St., said it’s an example of the Devens Recycling Center reneging on earlier promises to block truck deliveries from any hauler that violates the Devens truck traffic rules.
“Kurt has always said ‘two times and you’re out.’ I say it’s the second time … Waste Management is out,” Thompson said. “He’s broken a great number of those promises that I knew he couldn’t keep.”
Thompson used to work part time in the scale house at the center but left when the company switched to accept municipal waste.
“Kurt would ask me as I worked in the scale house, ‘What can we do to change your mind?’ (I’d say) nothing. I haven’t changed my mind today and I will not change my mind.
“You have a responsibility to the businesses here, but you also have a responsibility to the people who live here,” Thompson added.
Unlike at prior meetings, Thompson was the sole opponent resident heard from the audience.
“There is no one here,” he said. “They have a job to go to. But they’re not here because they think you’re not listening to them. I agree with that. They’ve lost their faith in you, and that they can come here and speak their mind and be listened to. My faith is that you have to speak up for what is right, and that’s why I’m here this morning.”
Commissioner William Castro rebutted.”I reject the comment that we weren’t listening. I think we voted to deny Saturday hours. If that isn’t listening, what is?”
Thompson responded. “At that meeting, I could only talk about odor and traffic and I didn’t feel like I can say whatever I wanted to say.”
The commission swerved back into the heart of its reconsideration dilemma. Netter advised again. “My understanding is that you looked at the facility as a whole versus what is the impact of Saturday hours.”
Lowitt advised that the Massachusetts State Police, which patrols Devens, “has been more aggressive” in cracking down on wayward truckers. Flashing signs also warn truckers to stay out of the neighborhoods.
Ongoing trucking violations are separate and distinct, according to commission Planner Neil Angus. With a nod to Thompson in the audience, Angus said, “I got my first e-mail from Jay, and we immediately followed up on it. This is the sort of interaction that is helpful to us to know there is a problem and to address it.”
Castro said, “The common-sense answer is ‘yes’ and therefore there is an impact” to adding Saturday hours because there would be an overall traffic increase.
Netter restated. “There’s nothing in the record that discusses hours. I have all sorts of ideas, but there’s no discussion of it.”
Demerjian disagreed, saying he’d brought up the heightened likelihood of harm to children on a weekend when they’re out of school.
“That was the point I brought up,” Demerjian said.
Macnamara asked to rebut Demerjian’s statement but was denied. Still Macnamara blurted out, “It’s a 24-hour campus,” a reference to the fact that the industrial zone the company is located in permits around-the-clock operations.
“You’re acting like a court right now looking at our own decision,” Netter said. “It’s an appeal process.”
The board voted 9-1 to reconsider its August vote. The matter will be posted as a new public hearing with notice to abutters, etc.