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DEC discusses Devens truck traffic via Shirley’s Walker Road

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DEVENS — After quickly dispatching a public hearing and granting a common victualler’s license to applicant Georgette Pulsifer for the Natural Café on Jackson Road, the Devens Enterprise Commission launched into a discussion of heavy truck traffic on Walker Road in Shirley that is headed for the wastewater treatment plant in Devens.

Director Peter Lowitt explained to the commissioners how an accord was reached with the town of Shirley to address the problem.

To summarize, Shirley has jurisdiction to permit a driveway curb cut for a proposed greenhouse facility – Salad Bowl Farms – that MassDevelopment has lined up for a Devens site off Walker Road.

In that context, the town brought up neighborhood complaints about truck traffic to the Devens wastewater treatment plant, Lowitt said.

In response, he told Shirley officials that the issue involves several entities, he said, including MassDevelopment, the state agency in charge of redeveloping the former military base and its temporary governance, Devens’ utilities and the haulers with contracts to use the WWT facility, which Shirley’s public sewer system also ties into.

Tapping previous experience with a similar situation in Devens neighborhoods, DEC had a truck traffic strategy in place, Lowitt said, sketching the current proposal.

First, the haulers, other than local companies transporting septic waste from the host towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, would be informed when renewing their annual licenses that there was a “preferred access route” they were expected to use, from Front Street to Walker Road, rather than traveling from Route 2A to Walker and rumbling about three-quarters of the way down the rural road to the unpaved drive that leads to the Oxbow Wildlife Refuge and the Devens WWT plant beyond.

As commissioner and Walker Road resident William Castro pointed out, the road is zoned industrial on one end and rural/residential on the other and increased use by heavy trucks from distant points can overtax its infrastructure.

In the second part of the process, DEC would provide a form on its website for residents’ complaints. “Then, we’d check” that information versus hauler receipts from the WWT plant and could send out letters to violators, Lowitt said.

As the third and final step, DEC could invoke a three-strikes policy in which three “confirmed” complaints against the same driver could result in revoking the license issued to that company to use the WWT facility, he said.

In most cases, though, step two – the letter- should fix the problem, he said.

Some of the commissioners, however, questioned the process.

John Oelfke suggested modifying the proposed letter to include a “preferred alternate route” that would get the trucks to the Front Street and Walker Road intersection rather than allowing them to choose their own, possibly disrupting other town neighborhoods.

Christopher Lilly, who is an attorney, was concerned about “language.”

“You’re proposing to revoke licenses based on three confirmed complaints,” Lilly said. “Shouldn’t there be hearings?”

Lowitt said it was a flexible policy in which haulers could explain why they didn’t comply and exceptions could be made as needed. “We’ll listen,” he said.

DEC Environmental Planner Neil Angus said that DEC staff, Devens Utilities and MassDevelopment’s Devens VP Thatcher Kezer mapped out the plan together.

After some discussion about which alternate routes would work best, including McPherson Road if trucks can clear the railroad bridge, the commissioners agreed to send the modified letter Oelfke recommended and to take a wait and see approach after that.

Angus told the commissioners the Jackson Road infrastructure improvement project is on track for completion next winter, when Jackson Road would “hopefully” reopen to traffic. Meanwhile, the alternate route is designed to bypass residential neighborhoods that might be impacted by detoured traffic.

More information about the road reconstruction may be found at http://www.devenscommunity.com/jacksonroad, Angus said.

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