What is at Stake?

googleearth

Above is a google Earth image of the Wood Lot. It spans from Tall Pines Road all the way to the solar panels off Camelot Dr.

Corehabitat

This photo was taken using OLIVER MassGIS. Which is an online data viewer with layered maps of ecological data. Please check out the facts for yourself: http://maps.massgis.state.ma.us/map_ol/oliver.php

CORE HABITAT: Species of conservation concern

Many species in MA that are under conservation concern face threats that are from habitat loss and climate change factors. This map targets conservation needs of individual species, particularly uncommon and potentially threatened species. There are 435 native plant and animal species listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).

critical landscape

Critical Natural Landscapes:

The dynamic nature of intact landscapes provides an array of habitat types and patches that support an immense diversity of species. Conservation of landscapes is crucial to ensuring the long-term persistence of rare and native species and their habitats.

Landscapes and core habitat are complementary each represents biodiversity in MA. However, they each focus on different criteria.

ConservationConcern

Species of Conservation Concern:

Species of conservation concern include species that meet the criteria for listing under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act, in addition to some that are considered a special concern. A species must meet strict criteria including rarity, population trends, and threats to survival.

Why did the County spend $700,000 of the public’s money to buy access to the County Wood Lot – when they say they have “no plans” to develop it?

As reported in the Old Colony Memorial in June 2018, the County Advisory Board voted to transfer $700,000 from the sale of the old Brockton registry building to an account to be used to buy access to the County Wood Lot.  Negotiating behind closed doors, the County Commissioners then spent this money – $700,000 of the public’s money — to buy access lots assessed at a mere fraction of what they are worth.  Old Colony Article on Access Lots June 2018

Yet, the Commissioners say they have no plans to actually develop the Wood Lot.  Isn’t this the cart before the horse then? Spending $700,000 of public money for no purpose at all? For a development that may never come to pass?  Or is this just another part of the shell game being played by the County behind closed doors?

Why then, set up a “Wood Lot Subcommittee” to decide on the future of the Wood Lot? If this Subcommittee has any real clout, shouldn’t it have been able to weigh in on whether the County should have spent $700,000 on access — or on another alternative for the Wood Lot — like conservation?  Or is the Subcommittee a smokescreen to try to deflect the public’s attention, to lull the public into thinking the Commissioners are actually interested in what the public thinks?

All the facts point to the Subcommittee being a mere smokescreen.  Behind closed doors in a series of illegal “executive sessions” the Commissioners cut a deal for access, spending $700,000 of our money, without consulting anyone but themselves.  Now, they won’t even release the minutes of these executive session minutes and are forcing the public to go to the Attorney General’s Office to get them. Only after the fact of spending the money, when the public balked, then they set up the Subcommittee.

When challenged about access in June 2018, Commissioner Pallotta said “We actually already have access to the property through Tall Pines Road and frontage there as well. But we don’t want to disturb these neighbors.”  Can we believe Commissioner Pallotta when he says this?  No, we can’t.  If the County cared at all about the impact of the Wood Lot activities on the neighborhood or the Town fo Plymouth they would not have put in industrial sand and gravel operation a few hundred feet from residences — with 80 trucks a day in and out.

Why wasn’t that $700,000 spent on preserving the County Wood Lot instead of overpaying for access for a project that, if things continue this way, will be doomed by public opposition. We will continue to seek answers.

 

Let the County Commissioners know we are watching! Attend Wood Lot Subcommittee meeting Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m. at County’s Plymouth office

We are urging everyone to attend this important meeting about the Wood Lot.

The Coalition to Protect Natural Plymouth, through its Save the Wood Lot Ad Hoc Committee shared this letter with us:

***Beginning of Letter***

Dear Neighbor,

I would like to share some information with you regarding the County Woodlot, the 106-acre parcel of forest and meadow behind your sub-division.

The zoning consists of 20 acres of Light Industrial at the northern end on which the County Commissioners have installed a cell tower and attempted to develop a fire fighting training facility that never got off the ground.

In 2010, the County entered into a deal with a local businessman for $345,000 that granted him the right to remove the sand and gravel from the site. After our court challenge, I’m sorry to say that several acres of the forest have been cleared and sand and gravel mining operation has begun in the County Woodlot.

The remaining 86 acres in the southern portion, below the powerline right-of-way, are zoned Rural Residential and abuts the Tall Pines community and Town conservation land.

This year, the Commissioners made purchases of two lots adjacent to the County Woodlot for $675,000 that has given the County additional access to the property. Such access makes it more likely the County will seek to further develop the Woodlot.

We anticipate that in the coming weeks the commissioners will take under advisement the findings of a seven-member committee that has been charged with determining what is the highest and best use for this land.

This could include selling the land to the highest-bidding developer and/or allowing further sand and gravel mining or other industrial uses to occur.

I’d like to encourage you to attend the meetings of the County Woodlot Wood Lot Land Use Sub-Committee and show them that you care about the land near your home. The next meeting is November 15, 2018 at 5:30 p.m. at the Plymouth County Administration Building, 44 Obery Street, Plymouth, MA.

You can find postings of the Woodlot Subcommittee meetings on the County’s website at plymouthcountyma.gov. Please check this site for last minute cancellations.

More information about the Woodlot is available Online at https://savethecountywoodlot.com/.

You may direct questions or comments to slheller@comcast.net.

Sincerely,

Sharl Heller, 204 Long Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360

Additional information:

The County Woodlot lies within the Massachusetts Natural Heritage BioMap2 data layer for “Core Habitat.” Other data layers show that the Woodlot is marked “Critical Natural Landscape” and is covered by the data layer “Physical Resources” as a “Sole Source Aquifer” recharge area.

Deeded to the County in 1917 for the “Inhabitants of Plymouth County” as a woodlot for public use, the residents of Plymouth have had free and unfettered access to the Woodlot for wood gathering, hunting and recreation.

Beginning in 2008 the County Commissioners have eyed the Woodlot as a source of revenue to cover budget shortfalls. Most recently the forested land in northern portion was scraped and a sand and gravel mining operation is currently in operation where once some of the most beautiful forest on the property existed.

An on-the-ground ecological assessment of the County Woodlot is needed to understand the full value of the County Woodlot as a recreational and natural resource.

Please take the time to attend the County Woodlot Subcommittee meetings and express your thoughts on the highest and best use of the property in your neighborhood.

****End of Letter****

The County Commissioners like to play games with the Open Meeting Law, and instead of posting meetings well in advance, they do the bare minimum posting only 48 hours before the meeting. Naturally, this prevents the public from knowing about the meeting until almost the last minute.  It forces the public to constantly check the County website for the meeting notice to find out when it might be.

It makes it almost impossible for anyone to actually attend the County’s meetings, including the Wood Lot meetings, because it’s practically impossible to find out in advance when they are.  This, of course, is exactly how the Commissioners like things — keeping the public in the dark and instead of embracing open government, doing everything they can to sidestep the law.

We will do our best to inform the public of the Wood Lot meetings, since so much is at stake for this wonderful property located in the heart of the Plymouth Pine Barrens.  Despite the County’s outrageous shell games, dishonesty, and blatant disregard for the public’s interest, we will continue to push for transparency.

 

 

 

 

County Commissioners continue to hide public records & stonewall citizen efforts to obtain transparency in County government

On September 27, 2018, we wrote that the County Commissioners are “abusing their authority and blatantly violating the open meeting law, making decisions that affect every resident of the County, behind closed doors, invoking “executive session” then refusing to produce the minutes of those executive sessions.” We have continued our investigation of the County Commissioners’ activities revealing an even more troubling picture.

In August and September 2018, we invoked the state’s public records law to try to get public documents from the County Commissioners that they are required to provide to the public on request. These documents are records of their meetings and decisions. The County stonewalled and refused to provide the documents we asked for. We appealed their refusal to the Massachusetts Secretary of State who handles these appeals. Read our appeal here.  Appeal of Public Records Violation

About the same time we also filed an extensive appeal to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office under the Open Meeting Law. Part of this appeal involves the County’s refusal to produce public records and their blatant, repeated, intentional abuse of the state’s Open Meeting Law. These violations are described in detail in our appeal to the Attorney General.  Read that here: Open Meeting Law Violations Letter  (Let us know if you would like copies of the back-up documentation to the letter).

On October 31, 2018, the Supervisor of Public records, seeing our appeal to the Attorney General, closed our public records appeal pending the Attorney General’s review. State’s Response on Public Records Violations

We continue to have grave concerns about the County’s lack of transparency, blatant distain for the public’s right to know about what goes on in their so-called “executive sessions” — most of which are entirely illegal.

The County makes important decisions about the public’s property, collects “fees” from its member municipalities, and runs county government. The County Commissioners, the County Advisory Board and all the employees work for the taxpayers and residents of the County. By law, they are accountable to the public. Yet, they operate like a fiefdom, behind closed doors, violating even the most basic rules of open meetings and public records.

We will continue to fight to make the County accountable. Not only for the destruction of the publicly owned County Woodlot but for their blatant abuses of power exercised behind closed doors out of the public’s views.

Stay tuned: we are a determined group of residents who care about the County Wood Lot and everything the County does that impacts our local communities.

 

 

County Commissioners refuse to release public records & reject citizen call for transparency in Woodlot decision-making

Update: September 27, 2018

Citizens for a Better Plymouth and local residents continue to seek transparency in the County’ Commissioners’ decision making about the publicly-owned County Woodlot.  The three County Commissioners, led by Chair Dan Pallotta, continue to stonewall and rebuff all efforts by residents to obtain public records of County meetings and answers to questions about the County’s process for the sale and lease of the Woodlot.

Beginning in August 2018, residents made Public Record Requests for the minutes of Commissioners’ meetings over the last three years.  When the County refused to comply with the Public Records law and Open Meeting Law, attorney Sheehan filed a complaint under the Open Meeting Law.  See the complaint here: OMLComplaint

The crux of the Open Meeting Law complaint is that the County Commissioners unlawfully entered in to executive session about 20 times from 2016-2018 to discuss the Woodlot and other matters.  Not only did they unlawfully enter executive session, but now they refuse to produce minutes of 20 executive sessions where decisions were made.  The Commissioners also violated the Open Meeting Law by failing to identify documents they relied on in executive session.  The Commissioners refusal to produce the minutes is illegal and will be appealed to the Attorney General’s Office.

The Commissioners have also violated a critical state law restricting their authority to sell or lease real property.  Under Chapter 34, Section 14 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Commissioners have to follow a state-mandated procedure before selling or leasing real property such as the mining rights in the Woodlot.  It appears that for years the Commissioners have been ignoring this law – not only for the Woodlot but for the sale of the courthouse at 155 Elm Street in Brockton and other real property held by the Commissioners for the public benefit.

In September 2018, over 45 concerned residents sent the Commissioners a letter alerting them to the violation of Chapter 34 process for sale and lease of the Woodlot and asking for an explanation.  2018.09.25_CountyViolationsLetterUpdated-1 In a curt letter on September 19, 2018, the Commissioners denied any violation, with no explanation.  County Response to Chapter 34 violations 2018.09.19  Attorney Sheehan, for the residents, promptly responded asking the Commissioners for an explanation of why they think Chapter 34 does not apply to them.  2018.09.25_ResidentsResponseCountyViolationsChapter34-1An explanation from the Commissioners is critical to the future of the Woodlot.

We want to know exactly why the Plymouth County Commissioners think they can violate a state law and sell and lease real property in violation of Chapter 34,  14 — making decisions about the sale and lease in executive sessions behind closed doors — and then refuse to provide the public with minutes and documents under the Public Records Law.

Our state has very strong laws promoting open government and transparency in decision making by public bodies like the County.  The County Commissioners have violated these laws with impunity for far too long.  Today, the consequences of their unlawful actions and blatant disregard for any sort of legitimate public input is playing out in the destruction of the publicly owned County Woodlot.  Commissioner Pallotta’s hand-picked “Woodlot Subcommittee” that he claims is intended to get public input is a sham.  The process for appointing members was closed-doors.  He refused to include a representative of the conservation community, instead picking only members who he knows will follow his party line.  The Commissioners must act with full transparency and accountability to the public.

A wide cross section of the community is coming together to demand transparency in Plymouth County government.  This effort will succeed and although part of the Woodlot is being lost to illegal timber removal, road building, and sand and gravel mining  the remainder of this public land is worth fighting for.

Stay tuned and get in touch if you would like to join our effort.

 

County & Town continue to try to dupe the public

Update: August 7, 2018

  • County Commissioners continue to flout the law — allow mining operation to start on the Wood Lot without a performance bond; try to hide behind the hand-picked “Wood Lot Committee”

  • Town denies request by Coalition to Protect Natural Plymouth to enforce the Special Permit conditions for mining the Wood Lot

Our July 25, 2018 blog asks why the Town of Plymouth and Plymouth County Commissioners are standing by while the Wood Lot is irreversibly destroyed by a mining operation that will extract at least 201,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel from one of the most pristine parts of the site — in violation of the Special Permit and the County’s mining contract with Kingstown Trucking.

Town continues to refuse to enforce the Special Permit

In 2015, when Plymouth’s Zoning Board of Appeals granted Kingstown a Special Permit to mine the site, it imposed 22 conditions – including (1) a performance bond, and (2) proof of a legitimate, legal “end use” for the site following the mining operation.  Now, three years later the Town won’t enforce the Conditions.

On July 17, the Coalition to Protect Natural Plymouth, in a letter signed by over 64 residents, asked the Town to enforce the Special Permit and in particular the two conditions.  The letter is here July17.2018.CoalitiontoProtectNaturalPlymouthLetter

On August 1, 2018, the Town denied the request. August1.2018TownDenialLetter

By granting a Special Permit with conditions then failing to enforcement them, the Town duped the public into believing there would be strict controls on the mining operation that would protect the natural features of the site, as required by the detailed provisions of Section 205-18 of the Town’s Zoning Bylaw – but as is the case with most of the sand and gravel mining permits in Town, no one follows through. When local residents want to ask the Zoning Board of Appeals to enforce the Bylaw,  are forced to pay an exorbitant  $1000.00 “filing fee” just to appear before their own Zoning Board of Appeals.  (More on this later.)

County fails to protect the public’s interest

Now that the Town has refused to require a performance bond, the County is hopping on the shell game bandwagon. On August 6, 2018, in an email the County admitted hasn’t gotten the performance bond required by the County’s own contract with the mining operator.  The bond is supposed to protect the public’s interest in the Wood Lot and ensure proper site restoration after the mining is done. The County implies no bond is required yet because no work has started on the Wood Lot. That is completely false, as photos from July 25, 2018 show.

2018.07.24_PhotoRoadThe County Commissioners have a duty to prevent destruction of the Wood Lot and an obligation to oversee proper execution of the mining contract. Instead of verifying the facts and doing its job, the County implies in its August 6, 2018 email that it will rely on the Town’s performance bond requirement – but as we have reported, there is no Town performance bond. (The Town illegally accepted $10,000 in cash instead).

County Wood Lot Committee a farce

Still facing controversy over its decisions regarding the Wood Lot – and most recently over it’s decision to spend $660,000 of taxpayer money to buy two lots for access, Commissioner Pallotta hand-picked a “Wood Lot Committee” to “advise” the Commissioners about the future of the Wood Lot. Mr. Pallotta voted at a 5 minute Commissioners’ meeting on June 29, 2018 (lasting from 8:35 a.m. to 8:40 a.m.) to vote with one other Commissioner, Mr. Hanley (Commissioners Wright being absent) to “finalize” the Wood Lot Committee.

Commissioners Meeting minutes-06-29-18

The Wood Lot Committee membership is skewed and fails to provide a voice for diverse community views about the Wood Lot. There is no voice for the conservation community and others who seek to preserve the Wood Lot– despite a request from a well-qualified representative to be named to the committee.

Mr. Pallotta’s hand-picked, lopsided Wood Lot Committee met on August 1, 2018 – not in Plymouth where the Wood Lot is located, but in Hanover. Chair Pallotta explained that the Committee has no authority, but is advisory only. Given the Commissioners’ long history of making unilateral decisions and carving the Wood Lot up into chunks and leasing it out – for a cell tower, fire fighting center, and sand and gravel – with only the minimum opportunity for public input – it is hard to see how the Wood Lot Committee is any thing more than window dressing for the County Commissioners.

Concerned residents are pulling back the blanket of secrecy that has allowed the Commissioners to operate without accountability and transparency for years.

Concerned Residents Advocate for Wood Lot

Despite these unfortunate events, concerned residents are continuing to pressure elected officials to stand up for the Wood Lot.

We want transparency and accountability in the process for determining the Wood Lot’s fate.

The way forward is clear — we will:

  • evaluate legal options for appealing the Town’s August 1, 2018 denial of the Coalition for a Better Plymouth request for enforcement of the Special Permit
  • continue to raise awareness about the unique ecological, cultural, and environmental heritage aspects of the Wood Lot
  • push for enforcement of the County’s contract and a performance bond that reflects the legitimate, documented cost of site restoration
  • document the presence of Massachusetts listed endangered, threatened and special concern species

Our goal is to 

protect the Wood Lot from ill-advised, arbitrary and destructive

development by elected officials who refuse to acknowledge its’

ecological and cultural value

 

 

More illegal activity on the Wood Lot

Kingstown Trucking is violating the law, the Town won’t enforce the Special Permit it granted to Kingstown for the mining operation, and the County stands by and lets a public resource be destroyed

Bulldozing a globally rare Pine Barrens ecosystem is bad enough but now Kingstown Trucking is illegally dumping debris mixed with asphalt on the new road it is cutting in to the Wood Lot.  Will Kingstown’s $10,000 cash payment really cover clean up of this mess?

2018.07.24PhotoPileAsphaltMaterial

Kingstown should not be doing any bulldozing, cutting trees, or laying any down roads at all on the Wood Lot because this is illegal – it violates the Special Permit and the Town’s own zoning laws.  As we’ve written in our prior blog on this site, Kingstown hasn’t given Town the legally required performance bond and the Town has not approved an “end use” for the mining site.

But there is now even more illegal activity occurring on the County Wood Lot!

Illegal access road

Kingstown is building a road to get to the location on the Wood Lot where it will remove sand and gravel from the public’s land. This sand and gravel is estimated to be worth several million dollars – up to $7 million by some estimates.

As far as the road, Kingstown told the Town, “The access road is proposed to be improved to a 22 foot wide gravel surface with two foot shoulders.” This was documented by the Town’s consulting engineer, Beals and Thomas, in a 2014 Letter, page 2. TownConsultantReport

Kingstown’s own plan shows a gravel road.

KingtownSiteDetailPlanGravelRoad.png

What Kingstown is dumping on the Wood Lot is not gravel.

Kingstown is not doing what it told the Town it would do and what is required by the law – the road is not “gravel” at all.

According to an eye witness, Kingstown is using what appears to be “material that comes from recycling asphalt from road removals. There are chunks of brick and concrete mixed in with rock….[it has] a heavy, heavy gasoline smell.” 7/25/18 personal observation. Use of this material is illegal.

The road shoulders are also illegal – they are higher than two feet.

The entire Wood Lot, including where Kingstown is dumping debris-laden material with a heavy gasoline smell is within Area 3 of the Plymouth Aquifer Protection Map. Kingstown’s dumping of this apparently toxic material could easily threaten the Town’s drinking water supply.

2018.07.24_PhotoRoad.jpg

Kingstown’s told the Town this road would “temporary”.  Beals and Thomas report, Comment 5. This road has to be removed when the mining operation is done and the area restored according the Bylaw specifications. Is this really going to be done?

 No Performance Bonds for site restoration

There are three legal requirements for the performance bond: 1. the Special Permit that Plymouth’s zoning board granted to Kingstown, 2. Kingstown’s contract with the County, and 3. the Bylaw.  All require Kingstown to provide performance bonds before starting work. A bond is supposed to cover the cost of site restoration in case the developer does it wrong, or worse yet, walks away.

There are no performance bonds in place. This is illegal.

On July 18, 2018, Plymouth residents asked the Town building inspector to enforce the Special Permit and Bylaw against Kingstown and to require a performance bond. There has been no response. Concerned residents have made multiple requests to the Town for proof of the performance bond required under the law. After the fact, and after residents asked for proof of the bond, the Town Planner wrote a memo saying he had received a $10,000 check. That is not a performance bond.  2018.07.17_10,000checkMemo

Yet, in 2014, this same Town Planner told the ZBA that a performance bond was required. 2014TownPlannerMemo

Now, the Town won’t enforce the Special Permit and the zoning law, the Town Planner has gone back on his own word, and the County refuses to enforce the contract.

All of this is illegal and puts the public’s Wood Lot and assets at risk.

By allowing this work to go ahead, the County Commissioners are violating their duty to care for and steward the public’s assets. G.L. c. 34, Section 14. It’s bad enough that they are giving away millions of dollars of the public’s sand and gravel to Kingstown for a mere $345,000. Now, the Commissioners are laying waste to the area by allowing Kingstown to construct an illegal road.

No proper plans

No “finished contours” plan

The Town admits  Kingstown hasn’t given the ZBA a plan of the finished contours of the mining site, which is required by law. In a legal document, the Town admitted: “Kingstown did not submit to the ZBA a preliminary plan showing finished contours of the topography of the County Wood Lot following completion of the sand and gravel mining operations allowed under the 2015 Special Permit.” Stipulated Agreed Facts: Municipal Defendants and Plaintiffs, Sharl Heller et al. v. Peter Conner et al., Land Court Case 15 MISC 000481.

Such a plan is supposed to show all the grading, slopes and types of vegetation Kingstown will use to restore the site. Without this information, there is no there is no way to determine the amount of the performance bond Kingstown is supposed to give the Town and the County. This violates the law.

Other missing information

The Town’s own consultant, Beals and Thomas, wrote a report saying Kingstown failed to submit four types of information required by the law:

  1. No construction phasing plan. “The submission of a construction phasing plan is required to identify the progression of the removal operation. Appropriate details should be provided as to where and in what manner the excavated materials will be deposited or stored as required by Section 205-18 G(1) of the Bylaw. See, Beals and Thomas letter above, Earth Removal Comment 8, page 8.
  2. No verification of soil texture prior to construction. The Special Permit requires soil testing to make sure that Kingstown accurately described the rate at which rainwater runoff from the gravel pit will infiltrate to the surrounding soils. Runoff that is too fast and too heavy can cause damaging erosion. The Town’s consultant recommended the soil test, and the Special Permit contains this requirement, but it has never been done as far as we know. See, Beals and Thomas letter, above, Stormwater Management and Erosion Control, Comment 3, page 11.
  3. Inadequate plan showing how the gravel pit slopes will be stabilized. The Town’s consultant said Kingstown’s plan should address a means for immediate stabilization of the slopes with materials other than seed mix. There is no plan showing this.  See, Beals and Thomas letter, Stormwater Management and Erosion Control Comment 7, page 11.
  4. No proper plan showing revegetation. Beals and Thomas also told the Town there was no such plan.  See, Beals and Thomas letter, Stormwater Management and Erosion Control Comment 8.

The public wants to know:

Why is Kingstown getting away with this illegal activity?

Why did the County  sell off millions of dollars worth of sand and gravel belonging to the public for a mere  $345,000?

What is going on here and who is responsible?

Stay tuned as we continue to reveal the facts behind this troubling project!