September 26, 2014

Fairhaven has its fair share of environmental issues

Fairhaven has its fair share of environmental issues; Local officials say they hope EPA answers questions on dredging | By Peggy Aulisio, Editor | September 26, 2014 |

Several neighborhoods in Fairhaven have concerns they’ve wanted addressed by environmental agencies over the past few years and the response gets mixed reviews, according to town officials interviewed by The Advocate last Friday.

The latest is the dredging and confined aquatic disposal (CAD) cell planned for an area about 200 yards off Fairhaven.The CAD cell will contain carcinogens like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dredged up from the harbor bottom and moved.

But local groups have requested responses from either the Environmental Protection Agency or state Department of Environmental Protection for a variety of issues. These include the noise and health effects of the town’s wind turbines and the operations of Fairhaven Shipyard.

In distant memory, there’s also the Superfund site, Atlas Tack, which the EPA says has been cleaned up. The forlorn-looking old factory building remains, however, with nothing much happening as far as finding a new use for the property.

These environmental issues affect different areas of Fairhaven and residents of those neighborboods tend to come together to public meetings on issues affecting them.

The wind turbines were opposed by the very active group, Windwise. Later, a group was formed supporting the turbines, Friends of Fairhaven Wind.

Karen Vilandry of Hands Across the River wants the town to form an Oxford Village Environmental Review Commission on the dredging and CAD cell. Unlike the turbine groups or shipyard neighbors, hers would be a town board.

So far, no one has tried to form one big group to address the environmental issues affecting the whole town with the EPA or DEP. Select Board Chairman Robert Espindola said it could be too complicated for one town group to try to deal with all of Fairhaven’s envirionmental issues.

Espindola said he hopes the EPA answers people’s questions on the dredging and CAD cell in two meetings planned in Fairhaven, one during a selectmen’s meeting next Monday, Sept. 29, and at a public meeting on Oct. 22. The selectman said he may ask people to submit questions on index cards so they can be prioritized and so that all the most important issues are addressed.

Espindola said he’s very concerned about the monitoring of PCBs that might be released into the air during the one-year process of dredging and building a CAD cell. He said it now takes months for results of air tests to come back, leaving “no time to react to it.”

Like many Fairhaven officials who deal with local activists, Espindola said some can be off-putting. He said one person who kept contacting him about the dredging seemed to be “threatening me.” But he said there are very real concerns about the PCB cleanup in New Bedford Harbor, which never seems to end, even after so many years.

“People have a right to know” why the EPA has decided to take the route it is now taking with the CAD cell, Espindola said.

On the old Atlas Tack building, although it rarely comes up at public meetings, Espindola said he still hears from people who would like the old building to come down. “The neighbors would like to see the eyesore torn down,” he said.

Several officials said this area seems to be treated differently by the EPA than other parts of the country where residents have mounted stronger efforts.

Espindola said people in a community in New Jersey hired lawyers to try to prevent something the EPA was doing. He said, “That seems to be lacking here.”

Selectman Charles Murphy commented at a selectmen’s meeting that he’d felt rebuffed by the EPA officials he contacted about dredging. Murphy said he was given to understand that the cleanup was “not under our control” as selectmen.

Murphy said he was glad to see the group of about 15 neighbors who came to ask about the dredging. The residents all live in Oxford Village, which includes Poverty Point.

Murphy recalled how neighbors in the area of Long Road made a presentation before selectmen that was so convincing, the board voted not to allow a cell tower there.

“They really changed the selectmen’s opinion,” he said.

As for the dredging and CAD cell, he said, “I’m concerned about it. I think when the EPA comes they are going to get flooded with questions.”

The issue Murphy approached the EPA about was the plan to dredge from around 6 or 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. He said the answer he was given was, “We’ll look into it,” but not in a tone that was reassuring.

As for placing the CAD cell so close to Fairhaven, Murphy said, “Why do we get to be the lucky ones? At least place it in the middle.”

Murphy said no matter what residents say at public hearings, he thinks the EPA is going to respond the way it often does, saying it held meetings in New Bedford and previously in Fairhaven and that people should have spoken out then.

Even if they did speak out, Murphy said, the EPA seems to have made its mind up about the dredging and CAD cell.

Jeannine Lopes, chairman of the Board of Health, said they would meet with residents about the dredging if requested. She said she’s sure at least one if not all the health board members will attend the EPA’s meetings in Fairhaven.

When called last Friday, Lopes said she was just talking with former Selectman Brian Bowcock about how unresponsive the EPA can be, or the attitude the federal agency conveys that it knows best how to deal with environmental issues.

“They’re tough bunch,” she said.

Lopes said she and Dr. Bowcock were talking about a court case in another community in Massachusetts against the EPA where the judge said he agreed with the complainants but that, “‘The EPA rules.'”

“They have that attitude,” she said, “and they know they can get away with what they want to do.”

Lopes added, “The decisions they make are really the last word, which really isn’t fair. You have to take their word like it was written in the Bible.”

Like others who grew up here and swam in Buzzards Bay, Lopes said she too wonders if she will ever be affected by having had contact with PCBs. Lopes said she guesses she’ll know one day if her “body starts to glow.”

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