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DRACUT — The town’s Conservation Commission last week issued an enforcement order to the town to address Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act violations made during the course of the Beaver Brook trail project.

The order, which was ratified Wednesday, Aug. 21, by the commission, details non-compliance of an amended order of conditions for the construction of the 12-foot walking/running path.

“During construction, the trail was widened in some areas to 14 feet,” the enforcement order reads. “Herbaceous vegetation, shrubs, and small trees were removed on both sides of the trail and within the intermittent stream on the Bank beyond that authorized and outside of the scope of work approved by the Amended Order of Conditions. Additionally, the trail was constructed in close proximity to a certified vernal pool that was not identified on the plan resulting in trees which provided shade for the vernal pool being removed.”

The order calls for a restoration plan to be completed by no later than Oct. 15. This is the latest development in what began with a July 12 complaint filed by Dracut resident Alison Genest that detailed alleged violations of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and Dracut’s wetlands bylaw. In her letter to Conservation Agent Lori Cahill and Conservation Commission Chairman James Jendro, Genest requested that there be a stop-work order on the project, and that the vegetation that was removed from the wetlands resource areas be restored as soon as possible.

“It’s the best possible news, really, because their enforcement order was ratified by the Conservation Commission Wednesday with everything that I asked to happen,” Genest said last week.

Genest said she contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection with a complaint because, to her, it didn’t feel like the members of Conservation Commission were concerned about the vegetation that needed to be replaced as a result of the job.

“I wanted to see the wetlands and the habitat restored to its initial condition,” Genest said.

Genest owns property that abuts the Beaver Brook area. The trail can be accessed through the town-owned Beaver Brook Farm property on Mammoth Road and runs in part by the Dr. Christos Daoulas Education Complex.

The original project proposal the town submitted to the Conservation Commission called for a walking trail between Dracut High School and Beaver Brook Farm. The trail would connect Beaver Brook to an 11.5-mile network of sidewalks and trails.

That trail was, at first, going to be 6 feet wide, but the commission eventually approved a new order of conditions allowing a width of 12 feet.

“We’re moving forward with the project,” Cahill said last week. “The Dracut Conservation Commission is handling it just like they would any other enforcement issue. They’re doing what they have to do.”

Cahill said the changes won’t happen overnight.

“The Conservation Commission and the volunteers that are on this handled it with the utmost amount of professionalism,” Cahill said. “They didn’t make the mistake. Someone else made the mistakes. We issued a permit, and then we expect it to be done correctly. This is all fixable.”

The work on the trail was done by RSG Contracting Corporation, based in Lowell.

Cahill said she recently met with a MassDEP representative, and a lot of what is in the enforcement order was discussed at their meeting.

According to MassDEP spokesman Joseph Ferson, the agency provided technical assistance to the town on the matter.

After Genest’s July complaint, Town Manager Jim Duggan said a third-party consultant would be secured to make sure the project is in compliance. And, if it’s not, Duggan promised the town would take corrective action.

Soilsmith Designs, based in Manchester, N.H., visited the site on three occasions and submitted a report to the town in response to Genest’s complaint letter and with its own findings. According to the report provided to The Sun by Duggan, adverse impact was found on a vernal pool.

“The vernal pool contains assorted rusted metal and other debris,” the report reads. “Our proposal would be to clean the rusted metal, debris and trash from the vernal pool thus improving the existing wildlife habitat.”

The report, prepared by Douglas J. Smith of Soilsmith Designs and MaryAnn DiPinto of Three Oaks Environmental, LLC, outlines work that must be done to satisfy the objectives of the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act.

Genest has said the 12-foot-wide path had become, in some areas, a 45-foot wide road. The consultants did not agree and said that is “clearly an exaggeration.”

“As I stated early on, if there is some corrective action that we need to take on, then we will do it,” Duggan said last Thursday. “We will do a better job monitoring the projects going forward.”

Genest last week said this was never about closing the trail but making sure environmental laws were followed by the town. She added that it’s too bad that more money will be needed to fix what went wrong.

“Why can’t the contractor who did the work that made all the mistakes pay for it instead of town taxpayers?” she asked. “Now there’s a bill associated with having to replant all of the trees and vegetation.”

 

Amaris Castillo’s email address is acastillo@lowellsun.com.