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Devens Commission to consider ‘Stretch Code’ in ’11

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DEVENS — The Devens Enterprise Commission has placed on hold consideration of the so-called “Stretch Code” until after New Year’s Day.

While the Dec. 9 meeting began with 11 of the 12 commissioners on hand, four left the room due to the length of the meeting. Consideration of the Stretch Code was left on the agenda.

Land Use Administrator Peter Lowitt said “we still have a quorum” and urged that deliberation commence regarding the alternative, energy-focused state building code that requires local approval before taking affect in a community.

For towns, the code is enacted by Town Meeting. For cities, it is enacted by its by vote of a city council. On Devens, the Commission acts as a one-stop land-use permitting authority for the former Army base now owned by MassDevelopment.

“If we table it, it can’t take place until July 2011,” said Lowitt. “If we vote now, it will take effect in January.”

However the Commissioners agreed to put the matter off until after the holidays. The matter is to be scheduled for consideration on Tuesday, Jan. 25, at 6:45 p.m.

In other commission business, by an overwhelming vote, the Devens Enterprise Commission voted to approve the recent issuance of a license by Devens Fire Chief Thomas Garrity for Johnson Matthew Pharmaceuticals. Garrity had issued the license after finding the company had more flammable and explosive materials at its 25 Patton Road plant than the Commission permitted earlier.

Land-Use Administrator Peter Lowitt said the company performs limited-run manufacturing for drugs that have made it through preliminary biotech research. The consolidation of the company’s other locations to the Devens facility, as well an uptick in new clients with varying manufacturing ingredient needs, pushed the amount of hazardous materials up over the Commission’s previously permitted 10,000 gallon threshold, to 11,250 gallons.

Garrity discovered the issue when performing an annual building inspection. The building was otherwise geared to handle the increase in materials with fire suppression and foam systems in place.

“It is a state-of-the-art building. Class 1, Division 1 — you don’t get any better than that.”

He discounted the situation as a “paper problem” that’s been fixed.

“That’s not uncommon. Once we find that, we make them change.”

Garrity chairs the quarterly Compliance University meetings he hosts for Devens enterprises that handle hazardous materials. Garrity said Johnson Matthey representatives are in regular attendance.

The assurances didn’t sit well with Commissioner William Castro, who cast the sole “no” vote. Castro asked if the company was in violation at the time of inspection.

“Technically, yes,” said Garrity.

“And they’re not being charged with violating the law?” asked Castro.

Garrity explained that storage in excess of 10,000 gallons of the various materials was the “tipping figure” that then required the license.

“Given that this was their business, shouldn’t they have known?” asked Castro.

Garrity explained that the company experienced turnover in employees handling the chemical count in the building.

“There wasn’t any continuity,” Garrity said. Garrity added that such occurrences were common in industry.

” ‘No one dropped the ball,’ ‘These things happen’ and ‘It’s common in the industry’ … but is this right? Someone has made the decision to allow this storage,” said Castro, who cast the sole no vote against supporting the license already granted by Garrity.

“I’m very comfortable with what I saw there or I’d have shut them down,” said Garrity. The company exceeded the 10,000-gallon limit by having 11,250 gallons of the flammable and explosive materials on hand.

Castro asked if the increased storage capacity should be granted on only a temporary basis in the event some of the company’s business falls off.

“From a business standpoint, we hope they don’t decrease,” said Johnson Matthey Health and Safety Manager Martin Anderson. “Batch-wise, we buy chemicals and we produce product.”

Voting to approve the license was Commissioner Victor Normand, who was previously employed for a decade by MassDevelopment. Normand’s fitness to sit in judgment over corporations he helped site on Devens has been challenged in recent months. For Johnson Matthew, Normand confirmed: “In my former position as an employee of MassDevelopment I did work on this project.”

Normand’s votes on matters relating to Evergreen Solar and Devens Recycling Center were challenged this fall — each corporation he helped site and each a corporation with business before the Commission. Normand recused himself from Devens Recycling Center matters but not on votes relating to Evergreen Solar. On Dec. 9, Normand explained why he was participating in the Johnson Matthey vote as well.

“In the interest of full disclosure, I have no financial interest in any company on Devens, and no family or relatives work for any companies so I want to disclose that fact. In my opinion as a layman, I don’t think that disqualifies me from voting.”

In other commission business, the board voted to renew four liquor and two common-victualler licenses for several Devens businesses. Commissioner Martin Poutry recused himself from the vote and left the conference table to sit in the audience during deliberations, citing a conflict of interest in the outcome of the decision. The decision was unanimously granted on a voice vote by remaining members before Poutry returned to the table for other Commission business.

For a third time, the Commission continued a public hearing on a MassDevelopment initiative to build a household hazardous waste collection center behind the Devens DPW depot. The matter was postponed at the agency’s request until Thursday, Jan. 6, at 7:30 a.m.

The matter was first placed before the Commission on Oct. 26. Earlier that day, one week before his re-election to office, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray awarded a $100,000 state grant for the proposed facility, which is being co-sponsored by MassDevelopment and the Devens Enterprise Commission.

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