Selectmen will reconsider a controversial settlement regarding an asphalt plant that has enraged residents throughout town, and was the sole subject of an Oct. 24 protracted public meeting that ended with demands for selectmen to negate the agreement.
Selectman Chairman Kelly Ross announced yesterday his board will meet behind closed doors on Nov. 1 with the five-member Planning Board to discuss whether to take a new course of action.
“We will have a discussion in executive session because…it’s about litigation,” said Ross. “It’s about a settlement and if we’re going to potentially change what we’re going to do, we have to talk about that without the other side observing what we’re talking about.”
The asphalt plant was proposed for 3 of 115-acres at 540 Groton Road in 2009. The property belongs to Nashua businessman Richard DeFelice owner of Newport Materials, LLC, and 540 Groton Road, LLC. The Planning Board denied the project in April 2010 and DeFelice appealed the decision in Land Court, where Judge Alexander H. Sands, III, remanded it back to the Planning Board. Sands indicated in a Dec. 8, 2014 decision that the site DeFelice had chosen would be “ideal” for an asphalt plant. The land includes a gravel crushing operation and abuts the Fletcher granite quarry.
The Planning Board denied the proposal for a second time in April 2015 and DeFelice again appealed. The matter was pending in Land Court when the Board of Selectmen, and three Planning Board members reached an agreement with DeFelice that would permit the asphalt plant in exchange for stringent restrictions and $8.5 million of concessions for the town.
Ross stunned the community when he released an Oct. 6 letter announcing the settlement. Opposition swelled fueled by social media communications and the Route 40 Clean Air Coalition composed of Westford and neighboring Chelmsford residents. The group formed years ago to fight the asphalt plant.
Much of the anger was directed at Ross who, as board chairman, became the face of the controversial issue.
“…as the chair of the Board of Selectmen I was the face of that settlement that they don’t like. So I completely get why that was directed towards me,” he said. Ross said he hopes the airing of grievances and selectmen’s willingness to rethink the settlement would calm the waters.
But in a closed Facebook group created to fight the asphalt plant, residents were organizing, Oct. 28, to keep pressure on selectmen. An “Asphalt Plant Protest” is planned for tomorrow, Oct. 29, on the town Common beginning at 1:30 p.m.
“Sorry for the short notice,” posted Hui Huang. “The reason is because the BOS ( board of selectmen) of Westford is going to have a meeting on next Tuesday to discuss giving the special permit to the asphalt plant. We need to show our strong objection to the town and give them pressure! Otherwise once the special permit is given to the plant, it is hard to appeal.”
Ross, who spoke on camera at the Westford CAT studio, said he has no sense as to what the other town officials will decide in Tuesday’s meeting regarding undoing the settlement.
“I have no idea where it will go. As you know I can’t ask the other members in advance. That would violate the Open Meeting Law, so I will find out in that meeting if anyone has a change in thinking and we will proceed from there,” Ross said.
An announcement would be likely to come within a day, he said.
“I think it’s important that we really work on the wording of what we say and because it’s very much intertwined with a legal situation I think we might want town counsel to review what we have to say to make sure we are following the rules,” he said.
Ross stressed that the information would be presented as a written statement available to everyone.
“I would imagine like maybe the day after the meeting…we would put out a written statement that everyone can look at and see what our thinking was and see what our decision was and get a full explanation of where we go from here,” he said.
In the meantime, the selectman is making it clear that he won’t be seeking re-election when his term ends in May. Ross is completing his third three-year term as a selectman. Prior to that, he was a member of the Finance Committee for six years.
“…I’m not going to be running again in the spring,” he said. “I announced that back in 2014 on election night.”
Follow Joyce Pellino Crane on Twitter @joypellinocrane.