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Shirley selectman says Lancaster sewer hook-up proposal is off the table

Shirley selectman says Lancaster sewer hook-up proposal is off the table
Shirley selectman says Lancaster sewer hook-up proposal is off the table

SHIRLEY — Select Board member Brian Sawyer on Monday night told his colleagues — and the public — that a controversial proposal to provide a sewer hookup to the neighboring town of Lancaster is off the table.

The proposed tie-in was for a planned industrial complex taking shape in North Lancaster, just over the town line at the site of the old Chisholm sand pit. The developer is Steve Goodman of GFI Partners, based in Boston.

Years ago, Goodman built Apple Orchard Estates, a large residential enclave off Lancaster Road in Shirley. Goodman’s new project reportedly includes a major trucking depot with a warehouse that could service hundreds of big rigs at once, some of which, opponents feared, might rumble their way through Shirley.

According to Sewer Commissioner Chip Guercio, Lancaster officials “came knocking on our door” with the tie-in proposal, which he has said could benefit users in the Shirley sewer district by lowering their betterment fees. The commissioners subsequently pitched the idea to the Select Board.

The result was a memo of understanding that allowed talks toward that end to continue.

Sawyer served as the board’s liaison, with Town Administrator Mike McGovern and his Lancaster counterpart, Orlando Pacheco, at the table. The end goal was to negotiate an inter-municipal agreement to take to town meeting in the spring, giving voters the final say.

Now, however, it looks like that won’t happen. Amid social media outcry opposing the Lancaster project as well as the tie-in and with the board’s chairman, Debra Flagg, voicing doubts of her own, Sawyer said the deal was off.

It was Pacheco who pulled the plug.

In a message to his Shirley counterpart earlier in the day, Pacheco reportedly said “we see no need to continue our discussions with Shirley” regarding the proposed sewer connection, Sawyer said.

Sawyer had more to say as well, defending his own position and the negotiation process he was part of.

“I was … liaison. What I can tell you is that the town of Lancaster … (due to) skepticism … confronted so far, (felt that) the process probably wouldn’t play out to their advantage,” he said. So they withdrew. “I’m fine with that,” he said, adding that he would not have favored the project unless it was a benefit for the town of Shirley, with “no negative liability.”

“I was told it was a box factory,” he said.

The Shirley Water District was also approached by Lancaster officials about supplying water to the development, another concern the Select Board encountered while the talks were ongoing.

Sawyer said that after reaching out to the water commissioners, who did not “come to us” to discuss the matter, as requested, he finally heard back from the district’s superintendent, who responded in writing.

“They said they are not providing water to this development,” in part because of a DEP restriction related to “unaccounted water use,” Sawyer said. “Now we hear there is no agreement at this time to supply water to the Lancaster development,” he added, citing the superintendent’s correspondence.

Apparently confronting rumors circulating around town, Sawyer said there was no back-room deal in the works and the only meetings that took place were “in this room,” in the Shirley Town Offices.

Guercio backed him up, confirming that the developer was not in on the talks. “Nobody except (former selectman Enrico Cappucci) has met with this developer offline … you didn’t, we didn’t,” he said.

Cappucci has been a vocal critic of the Lancaster deal and distrustful of the project, citing, among other things, the developer’s past performance in Shirley and a pile of “toxic soil” the developer left behind from the Apple Orchard Estates building project.

Chairman Debra Flagg said that if she’d been on the board at the time, “that pile … would be gone.”

Resident Tim Hatch said he doubted it. “The DEP and the health board have been all over that site for decades,” he said, adding that the area is monitored and the site is lined to prevent leakage. Besides, the developer couldn’t move the soil elsewhere now, even if he wanted to, due to DEP regulations.

Guercio didn’t address that issue, but he took exception to other statements Flagg had made, indicating problems with the original sewer project and suggesting that the commissioner’s dealings with Lancaster were not as “transparent” as they should have been.

“I’m a little disheartened,” by the public’s negative response Guercio said. “We are not the town’s enemy, nor is the Select Board or the Water District … we were receptive to a request from Lancaster. … Nothing nefarious was done,” he said.

As for the “social media blast” that alerted Flagg to the truck issue, Guercio said it was her “prerogative” to look into that. “But please don’t disparage the sewer commission!” he said.

“All you have to say is ‘we don’t want to pursue this’,” Guercio continued, adding that there would have been many “moving parts” to this proposal, had it been fleshed out, with “nothing underhanded” about it. “I don’t see you as an adversary,” he said to Flagg. “Don’t say your sewer commission isn’t transparent … it is,” he said.

The Shirley Select Board had previously inked a memorandum of understading with the other town aimed at negotiating an inter-municipal agreement that would have spelled out the details for the sewer tie-in and would have required a 2/3rds Town Meeting vote approval for the plan to move forward.

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