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Monday, October 05, 2009

Delegation to Feds: Demand Pan Am documents

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Three members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation are renewing and amplifying the call for greater construction oversight of Pan Am Railways' rail-to-truck auto distribution yard off Willow Road in Ayer, Mass., local newspapers report.


In a letter addressed to the chairman of the Surface Transportation Board and dated October 1, Lowell Congresswoman Niki Tsongas and U.S. Senators John Kerry and Paul Kirk urged increased supervision to ensure the railway is sticking to environmental safeguards required for the project. The 26-acre rail yard is the first project for the railway for its 125-acre parcel off Willow Road. The entire area sits atop the overlapping aquifer protection districts for Ayer and Littleton.


The letter references the STB's request at the July 29 town hall meeting hosted by Tsongas that environmental concerns are brought to the its attention. The delegation states that the July meeting was itself originally prompted by "escalating concerns about the environmental impacts on drinking water from the construction of this facility.

Of greatest concern in recent weeks has been the company's paving of much of their 26-acre site without required storm water treatment devices in place. The race is on for Pan Am to both complete the project this year in order to start accepting shipment of Ford Motor Company vehicles for New England distribution.

Also, the company is under the microscope simultaneously at Middlesex Superior Court, where a breach of their construction mandates may trigger a violation of the terms of their criminal probation. Pan Am Railway is on probation for three years after being found guilty of the criminal cover-up of a more than 900-gallon diesel fuel spill in 2006 at another Ayer location.

Pan Am and Norfolk Southern (collectively known as Pan Am Southern, or PAS) have entered into a joint venture to corner the market for rail haulage between New York and Ayer. PAS lawyers yielded September 25 in court after being brought to task for failing to show for a September 17 meeting requested by town, DEP and EPA officials to discuss the infractions.

The company has since met with the local, state and federal officials September 29 in a "positive discussion" regarding the governmental concerns. A probation hearing moved up to October 7 has since been moved back to its original date of October 15. Yet, the delegation is asking the STB to get involved.

The letter reads, "After spending the last year working with PAS and stakeholders to ensure this project has no adverse environmental impacts, it is clear that continued oversight of this project would benefit all involved." The delegation wrote, "In order to fulfill this goal, we encourage the STB to require documentation from PAS of compliance to all the concerns laid out by the EPA and DEP."

The overarching environmental concern is that the rail yard was constructed atop the overlapping aquifer protection districts for both Ayer and Littleton. Yet construction forged ahead without several required environmental safeguards in place.

Those items include a stormwater treatment device to filter sediment and other contaminants flowing across the enormous paved lot. Another concern is the lack of a liner under the locomotive holding area, though the company has apparently recently pledged to ultimately double the length of the planned liner to act as a tray under the length of two instead of just one locomotive. There had also been concerns in recent weeks about the source of the pulverized concrete being trucked into the site to act as a footing before hot top was rolled out.

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