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Planning Board Renews Analysis Of Proposed Asphalt Plant

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The Westford Planning Board held their fifth hearing this year on the proposed Newport asphalt plant, with a focus on traffic, noise and other topics related to those two issues.

Newport’s proposed plant, which would be located just off Groton Road near the Chelmsford border, once again drew a large crowd of concerned residents, necessitating a special overflow room as well as a visit from a police officer due to several cars blocking portions of the police station.

Overflow capacity for the meeting watched inside the police station training room.
Overflow capacity for the meeting watched inside the police station training room.

The meeting began with an update regarding the issue of noise and remediation efforts required for the proposed site.

Specifically, in the Land Court ruling that brought the matter back to the Planning Board after earlier hearings in 2009, noise on the site must be either 70 decibels or 10 decibels above ambient sound to meet Westford’s zoning bylaws.

The estimated ambient noise at the site was indicated as 43 decibels, although projections at a part of the western border of the property would rise to 75 decibels if nothing was done.

Newport attorney Douglas Deschenes and the board described a proposed noise attenuating wall that could reduce noise at that specific area to the required 53 decibels, or 10 decibels above the estimated ambient noise.

Due to topographical irregularities in that area, the proposed wall could rise as high as 35 feet to, in the words of Deschenes, ensure that the limit is kept from ground level “to infinity.”

Newport is also pursuing a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals to waive the requirement, claiming that the only abutting property requiring the wall would be Fletcher’s Quarry, which has stated no concern with noise over the proposed site.

However, residents and board members expressed concern over the estimated ambient noise given that sound from nearby rock crushers at a stone crushing facility owned by Newport was not calculated into the estimate and those rock crushers could potentially be moved to the proposed asphalt plant site.

Deschenes told the board that his client estimated the ambient noise based on rulings from the Land Court decision and that the rock crushers would not be used at the proposed asphalt plant site and that the only potential materials used from the stone crushing facility might be some RAP, or recycled asphalt material, used in the production of the asphalt.

The issue of using nearby RAP versus transporting new RAP was one of many topics related to the traffic issue, which ranged from required widening of entranceways to the site from Groton Road to concerns over trucks heading past the entranceway to the proposed facility and down Groton Road toward other parts of town.

In particular, the board discussed projections that each truck at the facility, which Newport has agreed to cap at 250 trips in and out of the site each day, would technically be equivalent to four standard-sized cars in their impact to nearby traffic and roadways.

As the meeting dragged on into its third hour, several people in attendance expressed concerns over the lack of electronic traffic study data provided by Newport, which they did provide in 2009 during hearings before the matter went to Land Court.

According to Deschenes, Newport provided non-electronic data to the town’s peer reviewer, which he says is available to the public, a claim challenged by several residents.

The Planning Board continued its public hearing on the plant to April 13, where it will renew its discussion on issues related to the plant and in particular Newport’s four applications before the Planning Board related to the plant: a site plan review, a special permit for a Major Commercial Project, a special permit for storage of hazardous materials within the Water Resources Protection Overlay District and a Stormwater Management Permit.

Any decisions the Planning Board might must follow guidelines provided by the Land Court case, which concluded in January.

A tentative April 14 date is also scheduled, with both hearings expected to be held at the Blanchard School Auditorium.

The Zoning Board of Appeals has also reconsidered three other issues, which requires a hearing in late April, although those decisions are not bound by the Land Court’s decision.

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