HARVARD — Dunroven Farm owners Jay Wallace and Laura McGovern and their Mill Road neighbor, Janice Perry, came to the Nov. 2 selectmen’s meeting to ask the board not to abandon them as their fight to cut noise output from Evergreen Solar continues.
The solar panel manufacturing plant is located on Devens, just across the railroad tracks from their formerly quiet neighborhood.
Noise from the plant has been an ongoing headache for the Mill Road group, with mitigation efforts under way for over a year.
Now, the Devens Enterprise Commission (DEC), which is the one-stop permitting authority for Devens, plans to close the book on the issue, Wallace told the board Tuesday night. But the conditions the company agreed to have not been met.
“They (Evergreen) were in violation in March, 2009,” he said, and the problem is still not resolved after 600 days. “In July, 2009, things came to a head,” he continued. DEC was giving the neighbors “unsatisfactory answers” to their questions, Evergreen was “dragging its feet,” and the selectmen stepped in to help.
Wallace said the “understanding” the company and the town worked out was that Evergreen would live up to conditions both sides agreed to, separate from MassDevelopment and DEC regulations.
Another wall designed to absorb audio chaff from plant equipment has not done the job, Wallace went on, but there were apparent anomalies in the measurements and tests must be done again.
Meanwhile, measuring devices at his property line are due to be removed, he said, leaving only the devises outside the plant. That will effectively take away the neighbors’ backup to challenge company assertions that noise is under control, Wallace said.
In a recent conversation with DEC staff, Wallace said he learned the board did not plan to pursue the matter any further. “They would not affirm compliance, but they want to put the whole thing to rest,” he said. “I believe the commissioners need to wear a different hat to enforce the agreement, not only as regulators,” he said. As Devens’ sole permitting board, DEC acts in lieu of traditional land use boards, including zoning and health boards. “We have no faith in this process,” he concluded.
Janice Perry obviously doesn’t, either. She asked the selectmen not to give up. The issue was due to come up again at the next DEC meeting.
In other business, the selectmen wrote a letter to the DEC about its upcoming reconsideration of the request of Devens Recycling Center to expand operating hours to include Saturdays. The original request was denied at a previous public hearing, in part due to complaints from neighbors backed by objections from the Harvard Selectmen.
Company officials came to the board more than once since that time, asking them to retract their opposition. The selectmen had tentatively agreed to back off, based on proof that Devens Recycling was doing its best to control truck traffic via designated routes and anecdotal evidence that their efforts were working.
“Since the original request was denied, they (company) have attempted to ensure truck traffic is limited to designated routes,” the letter begins. Despite “some success,” however, one board member has noticed “an increasing number of dumpster trucks driving on Ayer Road, in violation of the conditions of the original permit.”
If problems continue, the letter indicates that the permit process may be to blame.
“Prior to issuing any permit, the DEC and/or MassDevelopment should ensure there is a reasonable separation of the industrial and residential area such that the nearby residential properties do not suffer adverse affects. The letter goes on to make specific suggestions as to how that should be done.
In the final paragraph of the one-page letter, the Selectmen address Devens authorities on moral as well as practical grounds. “Devens should be an example of businesses and residences coexisting in harmony,” they wrote, adding that the suggestions in the letter have that goal in mind.