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!

Coalition to Protect Natural Plymouth asks Plymouth officials to stop Kingstown Trucking’s destruction of the Wood Lot

 

Group asks Plymouth Board of Selectmen for help in protecting the County Wood Lot from mining operation

Letter to says Kingstown/Cushing’s mining operation violates the 2015 Special Permit issued by the Zoning Board of Appeals 

At the Plymouth Selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday July 17, 2018, a group of 65 residents who are members of the Coalition to Protect Natural Plymouth asked the Board of Selectmen for helping in stopping the ongoing destruction of the County Wood Lot.

The group’s representative, Sharl Heller, gave the Board a copy of a letter it was planning to send to the Zoning Board of Appeals asserting that Kingstown Trucking Co.’s mining operation on the County Wood Lot violates the ZBA’s Special Permit.  The letter cites two violations:

  1. No performance bond submitted to the Town by Kingstown Trucking
  2. No “permitted end use” for the mining operation — which means that because neither Kingstown nor the landowner, the County, have approval to put anything on the mined land after the sand and gravel mining is done, this is a stand alone sand and gravel operation – prohibited by the Zoning Bylaw, Section 205-18.

The group asked the Board of Selectmen for a natural resource inventory of the site, enforcement of the Special Permit conditions, and to get evidence of the alleged end use of a solar field on the site.

On July 18, 2018, the group formally asked the Building Department to enforce the special permit.  Here is the request:

Request_Enforcement_SpecialPermit3751R

This is the second time residents have asked the Town to enforce the Bylaw and to stop the illegal mining operation on the County Wood Lot site.  In March, 2018, over 60 residents also asked for enforcement of the Bylaw, but the Building Inspector denied the request.

Here is concerned residents’ March 2018 request to the Building Department for enforcement of the Special Permit:

2018.03.09_RequestforEnforcement_FINAL-1

The Building Department denied the residents’ request but never addressed the fundamental, most basic requirement of the Town’s sand and gravel mining Bylaw requirement: there can be no “stand alone” mining operations: the developer has to have an “approved” use for the site after the mining is done.  Here, Kingstown and the County have no end use approved, and this is an illegal stand alone mining operation.  The Building Inspector fails to address this fundamental question — shirking his duty to enforce the Bylaw.

4.10.18_DIS_DenialReqEnf_Sheehan ltr 18

County violating the Plymouth Zoning Bylaw and Massachusetts laws against destruction of the environment

The Plymouth County Commissioners are violating Massachusetts law and the Plymouth Zoning Bylaw by allowing Kingstown Trucking Company and its owner, Brad Cushing, to start sand and gravel mining operations on the County Wood Lot off Long Pond Road in Plymouth.

Photos on July 6, 2018 show the work starting.

The 2015 Special Permit issued by by the Zoning Board of Appeals to Kingstown Trucking/Brad Cushing for the Wood Lot mining operation requires performance bond.

The purpose of a performance bond is to provide funds in case the developer fails to properly restore a sand and gravel mining site — which happens often in Plymouth.

Kingstown/Cushing have NOT filed the performance bond — but have been allowed to start work anyway.

The Special Permit, Condition 5 explicitly says a bond is required, stating:

“A performance bond determined by the Building Commissioner, and directly tied to the restabilization of the work site, shall be required in an amount equal to a documented, verifiable estimate of the cost to vegetatively reclaim the work site according to the site plan and existing conditions site plan. The estimate shall include an adjustment for projected inflation or other predicable factors over the term of the permit plus one year.”

See the 2015 Special Permit here.  SpecialPermitZoning2015

Other mining sites in Plymouth have not been  properly reclaimed, but the Town zoning officials have done nothing about this.  For example, here is what a  “vegetatively reclaimed” mining site looks like on Kingstown/Cushing’s property abutting the Wood Lot. When concerned residents viewed the site in July 2016 there was erosion and no plants meeting the requirements of the Bylaw that govern site restoration on mining sites.

2016.02.03_Lot19ESlope.JPG

Photo: Looking northeast, January 2016 at Blue Wave Solar Facility on Cushing property, Plymouth MA.

The County Commissioners are violating the Bylaw because they are allowing the mining to begin without an “approved end use” for the Wood Lot site.  For more on this issue, check out other pages on this site.

All of this work is causing damage to the environment in violation of Massachusetts law.

Join us as we fight to stop exploitation of the publicly owned Wood Lot in Plymouth

The County Wood Lot is a 106 acre tract of land located off Exit 5 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  It is held in trust by the County Commissioners for the benefit of the public.  Yet, closed door deals, corruption, and lawsuits are embroiling the County’s efforts to sell of this land to the highest bidder so that it can pad its budget.

As County Commissioner Dan Pallotta stated in 2010, “the key to our financial stability is gravel.  It’s cash and carry…if we are generating substantial revenues from the sand and gravel on our properties we we’ll be in better shape than most every city and town in the county.” http://plymouth.wickedlocal.com/x1409378993/Sale-of-county-land-on-Long-Pond-Road-still-in-limbo

2010_WickedLocal_Sale of county land on Long Pond Road still in limbo

Now, the second “bait and switch” involving local zoning and this area of Town is likely to result in complete destruction of the Wood Lot by County Commissioners who see nothing but dollar signs for their salaries.

The Plymouth County Commissioners are engaged in various money-making schemes that will destroy the 106-acre County Woodlot on Long Pond Road.  The County operates like a fiefdom, under the tyrannical hand of County Commissioner Dan Pallotta.  The County Woodlot is owned by “the inhabitants of Plymouth County.”  Yet, Mr. Pallotta believes this is the County’s asset to be exploited in any way he sees fit.  The County needs to generate some cash-and guess what, the public’s land has valuable sand and gravel that can be mined for millions of dollars.  After it levels the site, the County will likely seek to change the zoning from residential to commercial or industrial.  Then the Town of Plymouth — not the County — will bear the cost of more water, sewer, schools, traffic, and loss of community character.

For over 100 years since the Woodlot was donated to the public, local residents have enjoyed the County Woodlot’s unique ecology.  There are trails for hiking, hunting, and nature observation that are enjoyed by people from all walks of life.  There are open fields where the public picnics, flies kites and walks.

Join the fight to Save the Woodlot and tell the County Commissioners: hands off our Woodlot!

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead