Selectmen mull pipeline penalty
By Colin Steele, Harold Media
16 April 2003

Board commissions safety study, may involve state, federal agencies

The Boxford Board of Selectmen are one engineering report away from taking out the big guns in their battle with the company building a natural gas pipeline through town.

"You can't [fine Maritimes], but FERC can," Town Administrator Alan Benson told the selectmen Monday night. "Get them in here ... Get [Rep.] Brad [Hill] on the phone, and tell him to get DEP in here. Get your state senator in here. If you want to crank it up, crank it up."

The selectmen had told Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, L.L.C. to pay for a safety study of the metal plates and concrete barriers its workers placed along Lake Shore Road to block further mudslides. Maritimes rejected that request, saying the plates and barriers go "above and beyond Maritimes' permit specifications."

The selectmen will now pay for the study, saying they don't want to wait any longer on a potentially dangerous situation. If the study deems the plates to be unsafe, the selectmen could meet with pipeline officials, state legislators and representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as early as Tuesday night to voice their concerns and discuss their recourse.

Maritimes attorney Jon Bonsall asserted in an April 7 letter to the selectmen that the makeshift erosion controls were safe, but did not cite any specific evidence. The selectmen say the plates and barriers pose a danger to passing pedestrians and drivers.

Safety officer Thomas Nentwig from the Boxford Police Department inspected the site earlier this month, shortly after Maritimes put up the plates but before supporting them with concrete barriers.

"I'm concerned that water may erode the soil, causing the structure to collapse and, because of the angle, fall into the roadway," Nentwig wrote in a report to the selectmen.

"It's the most jerry-rigged thing," Chairman Robert Clewell said. "The plates are still listing [into the road]. It's not a structure. It's half a dozen independent plates. One may fail while the other doesn't."

The selectmen have been involved in a back-and-forth dispute with Maritimes since December, when rainstorms caused mudslides across town roads. Several other mudslides have occurred since then, including the one on Lake Shore Road after which Maritimes workers erected the plates and barriers. The Conservation Commission also fined Maritimes last month and threatened its officials with jail time when sediment washed from a construction site into a protected wetland.

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