Monday, July 20, 2009

Coalition for Aquifer Protection protests railroad development

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The public is invited to a community meeting July 29 at Ayer, Mass., Town Hall on protecting the underground wells at Spectacle Pond, organized by Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas, local newspapers report. Representatives from the Surface Transportation Board, EPA, DEP and railroads will hear community input and questions about the plans to protect the aquifer that supplies drinking water to 15,000 people in Ayer and Littleton, Mass.

Pan Am Railways is building a 25-acre parking lot on the Ayer/Littleton town line, over underground wells that supply 60 percent of Ayer’s drinking water and is a Zone III aquifer for Littleton. The water supply could be permanently contaminated by runoff and spills from the railroad and new Ford cars to be unloaded at the 800-space lot. The handling of toxic chemicals by a known polluter over an irreplaceable water source poses a huge risk for Ayer and Littleton. The public is invited to comment on the plan and ask questions.

In March 2009, Pan Am Railways was fined $500,000 for a spill of 900-1,700 gallons in Ayer, which was the largest criminal environmental fine in the history of the Commonwealth. The fine was one of many imposed against Pan Am Railways because of scores of spills in New England. Ironically, the fine was levied while the company broke ground on the lot, without giving the town 60 days notice, as stated in the 2003 Consent Decree, which the towns and company are legally bound by.

Pan Am was back in federal court July 8 with its parole officer (yes, Pan Am Railways has a parole officer) to ensure it had implemented environmental protections and trained employees to prevent spills. It hadn’t. Another hearing is set for Oct. 15, with Pan Am’s parole officer. The $500,000 fine is in escrow because Pan Am Railways appealed the fine.

The towns of Ayer and Littleton have been fighting this project for more than a decade.

Attorney General Martha Coakley described Pan Am in the March 2009 memorandum on sentencing: “The defendants have a long track record of violating the environmental laws, including a particularly long record of unreported releases of oil and other hazardous materials to the environment, and have utterly failed to develop reliable or consistent environmental management systems despite having been ordered to do so repeatedly.”

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge [D-Ayer/Littleton] is working to intervene.
“I am deeply concerned about Pan Am and Norfolk Southern Railroads’ proposed car unloading facility being placed so close to an aquifer. A spill at the site would be devastating to our local communities, deeply compromising the safety of the water we drink. We have the responsibility to protect our supply for current residents and generations to come.”
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